4 Recent TV Examples for Why I Love Hopepunk

When Breaking Bad and Games of Thrones were the most beloved TV shows I watched them with all the joy of a vegan eating an exquisitely prepared lamp chop. Yes, I could see why viewers liked their tense plot twists but their grimdark messages turned me off.

On a NPR podcast, fantasy author Alexandra Rowland defines grimdark as a philosophy “that everyone has an essential core of evil or malice or just petty selfishness that can’t ever really be overcome”, so it’s naïve to fight for a better world, instead you fight for yourself.

I disagreed with this grimdark philosophy and searched for shows that had hope. I didn’t need unrealistic happily-ever-after endings, but I wanted a more balanced view. People in my life are decent – sure we have our flaws – but we’re trying to care for others and do our best. Was grimdark really the best we could hope for? During the Trump years this has been an especially dark message. Where were the well-written stories about people I knew and the hope we have for society?

Thanks to the miracle of streaming TV I found a whole treasure-trove of shows that gave me what I needed. Many of them had smaller followings and less buzz than the grimdark shows but they had the same high quality writing and acting.

Then I discovered a name to categorize these shows.

What is hopepunk?

In 2017 Alexandra Rowland coined the term hopepunk on a Tumbler post that said, “The opposite of grimdark is hopepunk. Pass it on.” 

Many embraced that term and there have been numerous articles, podcasts, message boards and even classes discussing exactly what hopepunk is. Like most broad categories there are different views on the details.

In the 1A NPR podcast, “Do Get Your Hopes Up…Rocking Out with Hope Punk,” Rowland says that hopepunk is, “…not so much about whether the glass is half full or half empty. It says that there is water in the glass and that’s something that’s worth defending.”

Rowland adds, “…we’re all capable of doing some real atrocities to each other and also we’re capable of choosing to do something better and make the world a better place.”

In the same discussion, podcaster and freelancer Wil Williams says, “This is a time that we need something that is subversively optimistic and pointedly rebelliously empathetic.”

Yes! This is exactly what I want in a TV show during dark times.

In one of my favorite articles on the genre, “Hopepunk, the latest storytelling trend, is all about weaponized optimism”, Aja Romano also speaks with Rowland who says, “Hopepunk says that kindness and softness doesn’t equal weakness and that in this world of brutal cynicism and nihilism, being kind is a political act.”

Romano also interviews Andrew Slack, the creator of the non-profit Harry Potter Alliance, who says, “Hopepunk is a radical call to arms for us to imagine better.”

The idea that a TV show could explore what a better world might look like —while also accepting that everyone is struggling with their own flaws— appealed to me. I craved shows with main characters that struggle to be better people and often succeed, much like the people in my own life. 

Ubiquitous grimdark shows have given me an intimate understanding of the inner workings of troubled white men who give in to their darker impulses, but I was interested in characters usually relegated to secondary status in grimdark shows — people of color, queer people, and/or women. I wanted to see what a world would look like where they got to be the focus. I’m glad that these shows are starting to be made and hope for even more to come.

Here are four of my recent favorites:

Jane the Virgin

This is one of the best TV shows I’ve watched, but I almost missed out because I judged its premise as ridiculous. 23-year-old Jane Gloriana Villanueva is a virgin, saving herself for marriage, when her gynecologist accidentally artificially inseminates her with the sperm of a man she barely knows. I kept hearing how good the show was from people I respected, though, so I gave it a try and fell in love.

Genres about women’s lives – soap operas, telenovelas, and romance novels—are presented as fluff in our society. Issues that affect women are considered niche issues while issues that affect men are considered universal, despite the fact that women are slightly more than 50% of society.

The writers of Jane take their mostly Latinx characters seriously. We feel their pain, sorrow, heartache, pleasure and joy through out each soap opera plot. Yes, Jane has been inseminated accidentally, but now she’s really pregnant. She’s a real woman, with real dreams, and a real boyfriend. How will she handle this? Will she have an abortion? If she continues the pregnancy how would she care for the child while finishing college?

Jane’s relationships with her devotedly Catholic abuela and her fun loving mother, who had her at sixteen, ground the show. The baby-daddy is the owner of a luxury Miami hotel and his life provides a host of colorful telenovela plots and characters. The magic of the show is how it juggles wild soap opera plots with heartfelt human interactions.

The show also cleverly uses a narrator who breaks the fourth wall, catching viewers up each week and expressing dismay at how Jane’s life is “straight out of a telenovela!” The writers use technology in clever ways. Texting is used to create real emotion and one character’s constant hashtags add a whole new level of fun to watching.

Jane’s writers also realize abortion is at the heart of a women’s daily life. Every character— whether pro-choice or devotedly Catholic and pro-life— is respected. There’s a character that chooses to have an abortion and a pro-choice character that chooses to not to have an abortion. Both characters have good reasons for their choice. Abortion isn’t viewed as some abstract political argument, it’s seen as a very real decision in women’s daily lives.

Sex is another “guilty pleasure” that is also taken either too lightly or grimly in our society. In Jane the Virgin, sex and romance are given the thoughtfulness they deserve. Characters take their need for romance, love, pleasure, flirtation, and even lust, seriously.

The series showcases healthy, realistic families in many forms. There are single parents, married straight couples, widows, gay couples, and uniquely blended families. Everyone is flawed, but still trying to do their best.

I also personally loved that the main character has long dreamed of being a romance writer (another women’s genre seldom taken seriously). Throughout the series she struggles with typical writing issues like self-doubt, lack of time, and the frustrating realities of getting a book published and then promoting it. At one point she even gets her MFA and has to defend romance novels to her advisor.

The funny, entertaining way Jane the Virgin manages to take women and their issues seriously is a true hopepunk miracle! 

5 seasons of 17-22 episodes each, complete with a satisfying series end. Streaming on Netflix.

Please Like Me

In this Australian show, 20-something Josh realizes he’s gay and starts dating guys, while dealing with his mother’s mental heath issues. Like many of my favorite shows, this one takes a few episodes to get into. It has a naturalistic vibe that feels like you’re hanging with a group of clever friends, rather than watching a TV sit-com.

In many shows, gay relationships are treated as a subplot, a tragic tale, or steamy soap opera fodder. Please Like Me treats Josh’s dating life like it would the star of a well-written straight teen dramedy. Josh falls into romance, fumbles, and tries to figure out who he is and what he likes, while his straight friends provide subplots. It’s one of the first shows (besides Schitt’s Creek) I’ve seen that treats gay romances with the same importance of straight ones.

The show also treats mental illness in a naturalistic way rarely seen on TV. Josh’s mom is loving, funny, real, and deeply ill all at once. The show has some absolutely fantastic episodes that explore the love and heartbreak of having a parent with mental health issues. As an added bonus, Hannah Gadsby has a small recurring role in seasons two and three, prior to her break out performances in the Netflix specials Nannette and Douglas.

My favorite episode (in season three) involves Josh’s discovery that one of his backyard chickens is a rooster. The way Josh and his friends solve this problem is uplifting and heartbreaking in a realistic way, plus it involves one my favorite impromptu renditions of Adele’s “Someone Like You.”

4 seasons with 6-10 episodes each, streaming on Hulu

Schitt’s Creek

With seven recent Emmy wins this is best-known show on my list and proof that hopepunk can be just as popular as grimdark. If you know me personally, you know how much I love this show because I talk about it endlessly.

Why do I love Schitt’s Creek so much? First off, the basic premise is as subversive and hopepunk as you can get. A super rich family loses their money and is forced to have relationships with people they can’t buy. Along the way, they become happier, better people.

Like Dan Levy said in response to his wins: ”Our show at its core is about the transformational effects of love and acceptance and that is something that we need more of now than we’ve ever needed before.” Total hopepunk!

The show’s message that we’re all flawed, but worthy, plays out in such a delightfully funny way, too. Each member of the Rose family is ridiculous but very specific. For instance, former soap opera star Moira Rose (played by the fantastic Catherine O’Hara) dresses like she’s the Queen of the Haute Couture Underworld and speaks as if she’s on old-time movie. She loves her husband dearly, but tends to see other people as audience, and has to learn how to interact with everyone again, to include her own children. It’s a delightful journey to behold because Moira never stops being Moira, even as she grows. The other members of the Rose family have equally satisfying character arcs and quirks of their own.

Schitt’s Creek assumes the best in people. No one in the small town is racist or homophobic and women are not sexually harassed. The quirky citizens are proud of their town and their lives. As a result, the most compelling couple on the show consists of two gay men—whose romance stands in for the romantic feelings we ALL feel, not just the gay community— a very hopepunk sentiment.

It’s one of the few shows on TV where long-term couples don’t bitterly snipe at their partner. Sure couples tease each other about their idiosyncrasies but they also clearly love each other. Those idiosyncrasies are why they’re together.

Lastly, Schitt’s Creek knows how to balance sentiment with humor. The show’s human moments are sweet but never saccharine. Each scene deftly takes you to the edge of feeling and then makes you laugh.

Warning – This show is a slow burn. Everyone’s pretty unlikable in the first couple episodes. The enjoyable show people rave about really starts midway through season three, though season one and two definitely have their moments. Push through season one because they all start growing as people, and that journey is so much fun!

6 seasons with 13-14 episodes each, streaming on Netflix

The End of the F***king World

This show starts out with what seems like a very grimdark premise, 17-year-old James thinks he might be a psychopath and decides to go on a road trip with schoolmate Alyssa in order to work up the courage to kill her. Alyssa is also using James as a means to escape her self-absorbed stepfather and mother.

The neat fake out is that this is a hopepunk show, so instead of showcasing the worst in each other, James and Alyssa’s connection slowly shapes them into healthier people.

I should note that are a couple of very disturbing scenes, and not every one in the show is working as hard at improving their lives as the main characters. But the overall message is surprisingly hopeful, and laugh out loud funny at times.

Warning – Each episode cliff hangs, which means it’s likely you’ll binge the entire series once you start it.

Just 2 short seasons of 8 episodes each. Season 2 ends in such satisfying way I don’t even want a third season. Streaming on Netflix.

Other Hopepunk Shows Worth Watching

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – They’re still making new episodes of this funny, beloved series. Yay! (NBC, Hulu)

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – One of the best shows about mental health – with humor and songs! (Netflix)

Parks and Recreation – A Hopepunk classic about value of optimism and local government. (Netflix)

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power – Fantastic new cartoon remake with an emphasis on female friendship.  (Netflix)

Sex Education – Set at a fictional British high school, this fantastic show explores sexuality—in many diverse forms—in a frank, healthy way we don’t usually see in teen shows. (Netflix)

The Good Place – An irreverent show about heaven that starts out slow but totally delivers on its hopepunk promise by the series finale. (Netflix)

What are your favorite hopepunk TV shows?

Re-inventing My Empty Nest Marriage

In January 2019, I decided to try two new experiments:

1. Plant a window box garden, though I’ve never had a green thumb.

2. Live separately from my spouse, without ending a marriage I valued.

Obviously the second experiment was a little more high stakes than the first, but I was equally unsure of either plan. My biggest fear was that by the summer I’d have empty window boxes and a marriage headed for divorce.

What made me want to switch up my marriage?

2018 was a health year from hell.

The first half of 2018 I was unintentionally poisoning myself with a doctor-recommended digestive supplement that included licorice. (Be very careful if your medical provider suggests a supplement with licorice! Too much licorice can raise your cortisol levels and mess with your thyroid.) The second half of the year my thyroid shut down when I stopped the supplement. Restarting my thyroid turned into a hyperthyroid nightmare.

 No one wants to be around me when I’m hyperthyroid — including me. I perseverated on the negative and fought with my spouse over everything.  I had to figure out a way to calm my thyroid down without using medications.

I moved into my writing studio up the street. * My plan was to stay at my studio for a couple weeks, do yoga, meditate, and hope my thyroid calmed down. It worked! Within a few weeks of living by myself I went from hyperthyroid hellscape to precious paradise.

Along the way though I also discovered I LOVE living alone.

My Previous Life of Sharing

I have been living with people and sharing for my entire life. As a kid, I shared bedrooms, parents, friends, and our car with my three siblings. We were a road-trip family, and so much of my life was spent fighting for space in the back seat. When I was a teen, we moved to Europe, and stayed in temporary hotels and apartments for months before we found a house, often staying in tight quarters and sharing beds.

In college, my boyfriend and I liked each other so much we’d take showers together and shared a single bed. We got married, had kids, and brought them into our full size bed. As the kids grew they slept on mats next to us for years until finally sleeping in their own room. We all shared one bathroom. When they were teens we had weekly family meetings to negotiate 15-minute morning shower slots.

When our kids moved went college, I looked forward to finally having time alone to write. But I was still sharing our small house with my spouse—I dreamed of a room of my own.

My spouse suggested I rent a studio apartment for writing, since we didn’t want to spend the time and money adding onto the house. We have several apartment buildings a few blocks away and I found a fantastic studio with a kitchen, balcony, bathroom, and even my own washer and dryer. I am incredibly fortunate to have this writing studio and am thankful for it every day. I’d walk up there in the morning and come home by evening. For several years this worked well.

When I lived alone to heal my thyroid, I learned how much I like sleeping alone, cooking alone, being alone for days at a time. After years of sharing, I longed for things that were just mine, including solitude.

Oil and Vinegar Make A Great Dressing But Like To Be Stored Separately

My spouse is one of my favorite people. We’ve known each other since high school and started dating when we were in college. Just like oil and vinegar, we make a great team but at this point we’re best stored separately.

He’s a doer who pays attention to details and lives in the present. I’m a big picture person who thinks outside the system and loves to imagine a better future.

 He goes to bed at 9 pm like clockwork. I’m a night owl whose bedtime varies widely. He likes things neat and feels doing dishes immediately is a good use of his time. Ideally, I like things neat, but prioritize taking in new information over routine cleaning. I’m in my head so much I often don’t notice the mess.

When buying something new he likes to see what’s available, quickly make a decision, and buy the new item immediately. He’d rather buy something that needs to be replaced again than go without.

I’m reluctant to buy new things, want whatever I buy to last forever, and care that the company I buy from shares my values. It takes me a long time to research future purchases. I’d often rather go without than buy something that breaks easily, is from a company that I don’t agree with, or isn’t exactly what I want.

Like many women raised in the 70s and 80s, I was taught to prioritize other people’s wants over my own needs. Like many men raised in that time, my spouse was taught to think of himself first, then consider others’ needs. When I lived with my spouse I worked hard to take my needs seriously and he worked hard to think more about others, but it was a constant battle to fight decades of programming. When one of us gave in to that programming it created resentment. This strained our relationship.

But then I moved into my studio and…

“Are We Allowed To Do This?”

I was a bit worried how my spouse would react to my desire to live separately, but I also knew that he had grown a lot over our long relationship, and trusted my weird new ideas.

At first, he only reluctantly agreed. This was the first time he’d ever lived alone. After a month of living apart, I told him I could move back if this experiment didn’t work for him. By then he loved living alone, too.

“Are we allowed to do this?” he asked.

“It’s our marriage,” I said, “we get to make the rules.”

Better Lives For Both Of Us

In the past two years my spouse has had fun turning our former cluttered living room into a sleek VR gaming room. He got the downstairs repainted and redecorated the dining room and kitchen to his liking. He has one of those voice-activated systems so everything from the lights to his coffee is programed to his schedule.

Meanwhile, I’ve fixed up my studio to my tastes. My spouse bought me window boxes and soil for my balcony and I successfully planted my first zinnia garden. Like with my marriage experiment I was unsure if these tiny seeds – hidden in the dark soil – would turn into a garden, but by July I had an explosion of greenery and color.

How This Arrangement Works

Unlike my spouse’s quick decisions, living alone allowed me to be careful and thoughtful about what I bought. For over a year I lit my place with one overhead hall light or the glow of my laptop until I found the perfect stained-glass lamps on sale at a local shop. I didn’t hang anything on my walls for almost 2 years until I’d collected a series of individual pieces of art, mostly created by people I knew.

My official address is still our house. It’s my house, too. He consults with me before making any big changes and I’m easy-going about what he wants to do. We still share money and bank accounts. I still get all my mail at the house and he texts me if I receive a package. I see my studio more as an extension of the house than my own separate residence.

We text nightly to ask about each other’s day. When one of us gets sick, we help the other out. Twice a week we have “dates” – which mostly consists of hanging together at the house since I can’t eat at restaurants. Last summer we camped together at the beach. Last winter break, we took a family vacation with our kids in Vermont and began monthly family video chats (even before Covid). This summer he got a new puppy and I stayed with the little one in the afternoons for a few days before his vacation started. Now I’m one of the pup’s afternoon walkers four days a week.

Living apart has made our relationship stronger and let both of us figure out who we are—separate from each other—making our time together even better. We no longer fight over shared resources and have more time to discuss politics, music, books, TV, computer games – all the important stuff we loved to discuss in college.

Coming Out

At first, I didn’t tell anyone I was sleeping in my writing studio, afraid what others would think. In our society there’s a lot of pressure to do things the way other people do them.

When I told a friend about our new living arrangement, she understood and said, “You don’t need to be in each other’s pockets.”

Yes! I was surprised how many older women confided in me that they wished they could live separately from their spouse. The more women friends I told, and the more good reactions I received, and the more I realized women are often asked to give up more than they want in marriage.

The reaction from my spouse’s male friends was interesting, too. They were sure I was divorcing him and this was my way of easing him into my leaving. It wasn’t. But I found the different reactions from women and men interesting.

What The Future Holds

After two happy years we have no idea what we’ll be doing in the future. We’ve casually discussed renovating our house to create two separate apartments inside it, but are unsure about spending so much money during uncertain political times. For now, we’re happy with our arrangement and live in the moment – enjoying our time together and our time apart.

* Privilege

We are extremely fortunate to afford two residences and have a several apartment building blocks from our house. Many couples don’t have these options. I want to work to create a world where everyone has the financial means to create a relationship that works for them.

Finally decorated!

Why YA Rom-Com Novels About Filmmaking are the Perfect Pandemic Reads

Good YA rom-coms are as much about the characters figuring out (and accepting) who they are as they are about romance. I’m eternally figuring out who I am (especially in uncertain times) which makes YA rom-coms so satisfying now.

As a writer, I enjoy following the artistic journeys of characters who are dealing with issues like rejection or loud inner critics. Following actors, filmmakers, and set designers lets me see the common obstacles all artists share. But the beauty of reading about the artists in a rom-com is that they have a guaranteed happy ending, which is just what I need during a pandemic. 

Many of the books take place in interesting locations I’ve never been to: Ireland, a train trip across the U.S., or a fan convention. I was able to travel vicariously through the pages without leaving my house or putting on a mask.

Turns out there are a handful of delightful YA rom-coms that revolve around filmmaking. Here are five of my favorites: 

Everything Leads to You, by Nina LaCour

17-year-old Emi is getting over a painful breakup with her older girlfriend while she interns for an indie film as a production designer. While checking out estate sales for the film’s set pieces, she finds a mysterious letter from a famous movie star that reveals he had a secret child, and Emi decides to track them down.

Before I read this novel, I didn’t know what a production designer does. It’s the person who puts together the interior sets for a movie, based on the characters and script. Although I have little interest in interior design, I was totally pulled in by Emi’s dedication and passion for all the details of production design, which made the sweet romance even more appealing. This novel made me look at filming a movie in a whole new light. I love it when a novel does that.

Now a Major Motion Picture, by Cori McCarthy

It sounds like a dream come true to fly to Ireland to watch the filming of M.E.Thorne’s Elementia, a wildly popular fantasy series’ that’s considered the “feminist response to Tolkien.” But 17-year old Iris has no interest being seen as the granddaughter of the famous author she barely knew. There’s no way she can say no to her father’s request that she watch her younger brother on the set. Ever since his thwarted kidnapping by a rabid Elementia fan, Ryder has been obsessed with the series.

Iris is a witty, relatable character grappling with her own inner critic issues while dreaming of being a songwriter. In addition to a satisfying romance, almost every character in the novel has their own internal arc—from the female director who has to prove to the studio she can head a major motion picture, to all the endearing actors on the enchanting Irish set. I wanted to follow these characters forever.

Geekerella, by Ashley Poston

A delightfully nerdy Cinderella retelling that revolves around the movie reboot of the fictional TV show Starfield and the fandom that supports/criticizes the movie. Elle is a hardcore fan who blogs about Starfield under a pen name, while mourning that her dad will never get to see the movie with her. Darien is an up-and-coming actor hoping that the rabid Starfield fandom accepts him as the newest version of the beloved Federation Prince Carmindor.

Geekerella captures the joy of loving a TV show and is chock-full of delightfully geeky updated Cinderella details, like a pumpkin-themed vegan food truck driven by a wanna-be fashion designer with green hair. It was a refreshing change to have both Cinderella and the prince’s viewpoints throughout the story, so the prince is more than a trophy at the end.

The Princess and the Fangirl, by Ashley Poston

This equally charming sequel is a retelling of The Prince and the Pauper, featuring two more characters from the same Starfield world. Super fan Imogen Lovelace is determined to save her favorite Starfield character, Princess Amara, from being killed off. Jessica Stone, the actor who played Amara, is glad to be free of the princess so she can focus on roles the press will take seriously. When people at the fan convention mistake Imogen for Jessica, Imogen realizes she may have a way to save her favorite princess after all.

I loved how this sequel allowed us to see another side to Jessica Stone, a character who wasn’t seen in such a good light in Geekerella. This time, we get to see the no-win situations young women often feel when trying to build an acting career. I especially loved the diverse LGBTQ+ representation in Imogen’s family and the greater convention world. Imogen’s unapologetic geeky passion was a joy to read about, too.

Field Notes On Love, by Jennifer E. Smith

Two high school graduates end up on a train trip from New York City to San Francisco at the end of the summer before they go to college. British Hugo is one of the famous Surrey sextuplets and trying to figure out who he is without his siblings. Mae Campbell is on her way from New York to USC for college. She got into the school but not the film program and she’s still stinging from the rejection. She wants to use the trip to make a new film to convince the audition committee she belongs in film school. 

I absolutely loved this novel! First, it’s about train travel! Second, Hugo and Mae are likable, interesting people with relatable identity issues. I wanted to follow them even after their trip ended.

**

I love a good rom-com any day, but during uncertain times YA rom-coms about filmmaking are especially good reads because they focus on the characters figuring out who they are, take place in interesting locations that don’t require a mask, and are guaranteed to have a happy ending.

What are your favorite rom-coms about film making?

4 Things I Learned From 8 Months of Slow Living

In early February I announced that I would blog regularly about my slow living sabbatical. Two weeks later, my health fell apart and blogging was impossible. I’m doing a lot better now. As of September there are only 12 foods that I can eat without having a horrible reaction, but I feel mostly healthy again. 

So far, Covid-19 is one health issue I’ve avoided. After I announced my slow living sabbatical, Covid-19 forced the world into a modified slow living situation itself (though many still have to work, including enormous hours of extra childcare for some, and everyone still has bills to pay). My idea to stay home and live slowly fit right in with the rest of the world. 

Even with 8 months of health battles my slow living experience has been entirely satisfying.

Here’s what I learned:

1 – Taking time to feel my pain is the key to healing

March was a bleak time for me. My head felt like it was going to split open because of an extreme sinus infection, which made me finally notice my autoimmune food intolerance issues that had been getting steadily worse. 

(The food intolerances were related to me adding a few processed foods into my diet last year. Apparently my gut will never be able to handle processed foods.)

I spent hours curled up in a fetal position on my rug crying — the pain too much to bear. In slightly better moments, I paced my apartment, repeating over and over “I’m okay, I’m okay” until the pressure in my head eased. 

Pain has value. It forces you to pay attention to your body. Being so sick made me realize how much I have ignored chronic illness my entire life. 

I saw my childhood and adolescence in a new light. I wasn’t the “hyperactive” preschooler or the “overly-emotional” teen girl well-intentioned people told me I was. I was a human, constantly dealing with pain that the medical community didn’t understand in the 70s and 80s, just a human.

Slow living allowed me to embrace my pain. It allowed me to admit how bad it was and accept it. I no longer saw myself as an adult who can’t seem to finish anything she starts. I now see myself as a chronically ill person who has accomplished a hell of a lot despite being sick.

Slow living meant I didn’t have to worry about trying to go back to work or letting anyone down. It was a relief to be sick and not need to cope with anything but listening to my body, so I could truly figure out how to get better.

I wish every chronically ill person could have the chance to live slowly and listen to their pain.

2 – There’s so much good Art available and it saved me at my darkest

 I can’t take medication because I react to almost everything. Instead I used high quality TV as my pain management. In March, I binge watched Schitt’s Creek (Netflix) seasons one through five — at least four times — while I watched the new season six episodes weekly. 

That show made me laugh and nourished me all that at the same time. I can still watch it over and over focusing on new aspects: Moira Rose’s inventive way of speaking, her ever more incredible costumes, the satisfying character arcs of David, Alexis, and Stevie…

I asked friends on Facebook for their best feel good TV shows and watched dozens of their suggestions. My favorites were Please Like Me (Hulu), Modern Love (Prime), and The End of the Fu***ing World (Netflix). The last one doesn’t sound like a feel good show but it was surprisingly healing and hopeful, despite one or two disturbing scenes. 

In April, my health improved enough to read. I lay in bed for hours reading YA rom-coms with a theme of movies or filmmaking. There are a surprising number of charming YA rom-com novels that take place on a movie set or involve filmmaking.  (Post on this coming next week).

In May, I added listening to Hopepunk sci-fi fantasy audiobooks like Becky Chambers’ A Closed And Common Orbit or Amy Rose Capetta & Cory McCarthy’s delightful space-aged, gender-bending King Arthur duology, Once and Future.

I am thankful for all the writers, editors, actors, and crew that let themselves create. Living the lives all these characters gave me space from my pain. Living in these worlds made me want to create my own worlds. Each and every episode or chapter helped me grow stronger. 

Slow living made me realize the true value of Art and why it’s worth my time to create my own. I wish for everyone to have the time to make their own Art, too. You never know who will need your Art. 

 3 – Intentionally curating my life is the key to a good one 

The vast amount of good Art to choose from was a blessing when I was sick. Like any good medicine, dosing matters. A small dose of something is a cure — too much, a poison. That’s true for the entire Internet. Dosing matters.

When I started my slow living year I wanted to do EVERYTHING. Then I realized Art doesn’t cover everything, it’s super specific. Good Art makes choices. A good life means making choices, too.

I learned I need to pay attention to what I like and what I don’t. Curating is important. 

My past eight months of slow living have allowed me to get really clear about what works for me.

Which people emotionally feed me?

What activities do I get the most out of?  

What’s the right mix between being online and offline?

I began curating every aspect of my life. I need 8 hours of sleep so I have 16 precious hours a day. That’s it. 

 I realized time alone isn’t just something I like, it’s something I need. Time to research, write, read, and time for sensory activities like drawing or playing piano while my subconscious percolates. I’m happiest when I spend most of my day alone.

I’ve discovered I love online learning but need one-on-one or independent instruction. I can handle a small group of 1-3 people but groups of 12-15 others are not a “small” group for me. I can handle a larger group if we’re all together to listen to a lecture, without a discussion afterwards, though.

I’ve also learned how to be intentional about social media. I like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram because I can interact with relatives and friends across the world in short one-on-one interactions. 

But I don’t need to be on each social media platform every day. Nor do I need to spend hours on them. 20 minutes a day works well. 

I’ve realized how much I value having my own blog. Half the value in writing is figuring out what I think. Whenever I get out of my head and put my thoughts into words I clarify my understanding of that topic.

I’ve learned I like following a schedule. When I was sick I did whatever I wanted in the moment, always going for the quick high. I started to miss the slow satisfaction of going for a long-term goal. Scheduling helps me prioritize my 16 hours.

I wish for everyone to have a year of slow living to discover what works for them. I think the world would be a better place if everyone had the time to learn what activities truly feed them.

4 – Embracing the here and now is more important than I thought

I love ideas, theories, and systems. I love figuring out how society can live better. What would a post-patriarchy, post-capitalist society look like? That’s the question that gets me excited. I love thinking about the future. Abstract thought is my favorite place.

My slow living experiment has taught me the value of the here and now. I’ve learned that it’s good for me to take small chunks of time to get out of my head and notice where I am in this moment. 

What does it look like?

Smell like?

Sound like?

Feel like?

Taste like?

Staying in my head and not noticing my body was a coping mechanism for chronic illness, but it also kept me from noticing my when my body needed attention. 

Good Art puts the reader in the moment. How can I create Art if I never pay attention to the details of my own life?

 I’ve started making sure I take time each day to live in the moment — to get out of my head and notice what’s around me.

I notice:

the pink and orange lollipop zinnias on my balcony garden,

the sound of cicadas in the humid DC air,

the feel of the carpet on my bare feet when I do yoga,

how a cool breeze from my fan feels like the ocean air at Assateague Island.

Being in the moment made me realize my apartment walls were bare. I’d been happily living down the street from my spouse in my writing studio for almost two years. (An upcoming post will detail how and why that works for us.)

Paying attention to my surroundings made me want to fix up my apartment. I finally hung art on the walls and organized my things so I could actually see what I owned. 

I’ve been gardening on my balcony and love having a small green oasis steps from my desk.

Before Covid, I’d loved traveling to new cities, walking around the neighborhoods as I imagined what life would be like if I was someone else. Now I visit neighborhoods around me— neighborhoods I’d never really explored in my almost 30 years of living in my Maryland DC suburb — and notice exactly what each neighborhood is actually like in this moment. 

Living in the moment hasn’t cured my insatiable need to understand people or to imagine a better future society. But my new awareness helps me care for my health, so I’m able to do the research and writing I want. It’s given me the headspace to let those facts and ideas germinate in my brain, allowing my worlds and characters to ripen.

Slow living has been the life I’ve always dreamed of— even with months of health issues. Now I wish for everyone to have this kind of life. What have you learned from the forced slow living style of the pandemic about yourself?

4 Reasons I’m Taking A Slow Living Sabbatical in 2020

2018 was a bad health year. In 2019, I was healthy and tried all kinds of new things. It was my Year Of Yes. At first, it was a lot of fun! Then I took on too many extroverted activities and started getting sick again.

For 2020, I’ve decided to take my health seriously. I’m retiring from substitute teaching, taking a break from most volunteer work, and will focus on slow living and writing for the year because…

1- I Want to Start a Sabbatical Trend

I’m incredibly lucky. Most people don’t have the choice to take a sabbatical year, even if they need it. Out of all the things I could do with my good fortune (travel, switching careers) this one appeals to me because I think the world would be a better place if everyone had the option to take sabbaticals.

We are a culture that values being busy. There’s a lot of stigma associated with taking breaks. Taking the year off to live slowly and write sounds pretentious and lazy.

Many people don’t retire until they’re almost 70, which means a lot of people work for almost 50 years. To make the most of five decades of working, you need to take a few breaks to recharge and reevaluate. I’m starting the trend because I can.

I want sabbatical years to be a trend that extends to everyone. When the iPhone was first released in 2007, the only people with smartphones were the affluent. Now almost everyone has a smartphone. I want to make taking sabbaticals as popular as having a smartphone. 

2- I’m Taking My Health & Energy Budget Seriously

Responsible spending means looking at how much money you have coming in, then creating a budget for yourself so you don’t spend more money than you have. Like money, everyone has their own energy budget.

I over-drafted on my energy budget for 2019, and probably for many more years before that. I am an introvert. It took me a long time to realize just how much of an introvert I am because I genuinely like being with people some of the time.

 I also used to blame myself if I did a job and was exhausted afterwards. I’d believe it was because I didn’t do it right. I used to think there was a way I could “work smarter, not harder”. Now I realize there is no “smart” way for me to be around a group of people for an extended amount of time and not come away feeling exhausted, especially with my health situation. That’s my reality and I’m accepting it in 2020.

Now I take the messages my body sends me seriously. Teaching is an extroverted job. The climate change presentations and workshops I did last year were extroverted activities. I believed in the work I did and liked all the people I worked with, so I thought I could squeeze them into my life without any problems.

What I learned is that being extroverted is costly for me. I started having thyroid problems again. I started getting intense hip pain. I tried ice packs and blood tests to figure what was going on. The blood tests came back normal-ish and the ice packs worked some of the time. But I felt awful most of the time. 

Then my last climate change workshop ended and I decided to take the next month off from all subbing, workshops, presentations, meetings, emails, etc. Within four weeks my hip stopped hurting. My thyroid was better. 

Turns out I need HUGE amounts of solitude.

After 30 years of over-drafting on my energy reserves, it was time to listen to my body.

3 – I’m Giving My Writing The Time and Space It Needs

I have always wanted to write but never gave myself permission to write anything beyond journal entries as a kid. As an adult, I expanded my permission to writing stories I thought were publishable. I wrote them ever so slowly, striving to be as perfect as I could. I never wrote stories just because I liked them. Some voice inside my head would attack me the minute I wrote for fun or stopped striving to be perfect.

Doing things for others was my priority. I was a special education teacher, a family daycare provider, a stay-at-home parent, and a substitute teacher. These were activities I got easy praise for. Even when I finally went to grad school to get my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults I continued to be a part-time substitute teacher, despite not needing the money, because it was too scary to just focus on writing.

After grad school I added blog intern, then volunteer climate change presenter to my plate. I always needed to do activities that were helping others so I had a distraction from my writing.

None of these jobs was for the money either, because my partner has a job that makes way more money than I could ever make. Yes, totally and completely lucky! (Though being the person who does all the unpaid labor in the relationship has some real costs that I could write an entire essay about).

I wish I were the kind of person who could do a bunch of activities, then come back home and write as a way of decompressing. That’s not the way I work. My writing is forged out of hours and hours of solitude. The worlds I want to write about are complicated and require a ton of research.

 For 2020, I’ve decided it doesn’t matter if my stories ever get published. What matters is that I give myself the time and space to write whatever I want.

This year, I’m writing some stories that are probably publishable and some that are just for me. I’m giving myself the time to research my complex ideas about the future, and create the worlds I wish to see.

Creating time and space to just enjoy my writing is my gift to myself for 2020.

4 – I’m Committing Myself to One Planet Living

I write stories that take place in the future. I love to imagine how the world might look post-patriarchy, post-capitalism. What would that look like for a kid? For a teen?  For adults? The future is my happy place.

In reality, we can only live in the present and our planet has some big problems right now. I got interested in environmental issues because of my stories about the future. I wanted to learn who had a plan to reverse global warming and Paul Hawken’s Project Drawdown was the detailed pragmatic plan that answered my question. 

 I still want to be a part of reversing global warming, even if I’m not doing Project Drawdown presentations and workshops. But I need to help in a way that doesn’t zap my energy for writing. So I’ve decided to use my sabbatical year to live like we only have one precious planet.

I took a vow to stop flying. Now I take the train or bus when I travel. I rarely drive, and walk or take public transportation pretty much everywhere.

The beauty of taking a year off means I have the time to travel slowly.

I now write Monday through Friday. Saturday afternoons are for outings to museums, parks, or anything that feeds me. Sundays are for walking to my Unitarian Universalist church and for preparing for my upcoming week.

Living slowly means I have time to be a tourist in my own city. So far, I’ve been to the National Cathedral, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery of Art, and the Jane Goodall exhibit at the National Geographic Association. I fill my writer’s notebook with a few words about each place I visit.

Living slowly means I can have adventures in a sustainable way and support the arts community in my own backyard. I go to one live performance a month—dance performances, music concerts, plays, etc. So far I’ve seen the musical Newsies at Arena stage and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at the Kennedy Center. I go by myself and take everything in. It’s amazing how nourishing art can be for my health and happiness.

I’m also taking the time to shop local, compost, limit my plastic waste, and use more renewable energy. Taking a slow living sabbatical means I can have a full life while still maintaining our only planet.

The 2021 Planning I’m Not Doing

I don’t know what I’m doing in 2021. I don’t plan to substitute teach again. I could always be a tutor or a nanny or find another job, if I wanted. Finding a new career won’t be a part of my 2020 though. This sabbatical is all about writing, taking care of my health, creating a low footprint, and filling my spirit. It’s about being using my good fortunate in a way that makes me happy, because that’s what I wish for everyone to be able to do in the future.