I don’t have to reiterate what an unending slog of a year 2020 has been, or why. Possibly the worst part: knowing everyone around you, the people you’d typically turn to for help, have it so much worse than you do.
For the most part, we’ve gotten through it together, though in some cases we might have had to adjust our expectations. While I organize another blog post about how my neurodivergence compounded my already limited marketing and promotion inclinations — including, well, blogging — it made sense to show some gratitude for the things that have gone right this year.
As a contractor, my work life was actually a lot less precarious than many of my colleagues’ this year, which is enough to be thankful for in itself. However, specifics go into that, and I want to spend some time on them:
1. Forensic Focus
The contract job I took after my second layoff, in 2019, initially was “something different while I get my bearings.” This year was about growth — in both the role and personally, as a writer — and I can’t express enough gratitude to site owner / publisher Jamie Morris and managing editor Scar de Courcier for their guidance and encouragement.
2. My sources
At one time in my freelance career, I burned out in part because I didn’t know how to form relationships with regular sources. I would conduct a new set of interviews every month, and over time, it got to feel like a hamster wheel.
When I signed on with Forensic Focus, I knew I wanted to do things differently. I reestablished connections with a lot of people in the digital forensics community and reached out to new ones. While I still struggle sometimes to know how often to reach out or to be consistent (especially on deadline), on the whole, I’m happy with the go-to contacts I’ve worked with this year.
3. The Lawyers
As technology advances and the law struggles to keep up — much less catch up — perspectives are needed on the way it all impacts, well, everyone. I’m pretty good at parsing legal decisions and legislation (even if it does make my eyes cross at times), but obviously I don’t have a law degree.
Late last year I worked together with a source to come up with an idea for what would become the Forensic Focus Legal Update: a small group of attorneys who could contribute content and advice regarding new case law and legislation as it related to digital forensics.
For a time, scheduling meant I wasn’t sure if it would fly. Then the pandemic came about, and our standing meetings stood, and we soon found ourselves talking through new opportunities and ways of looking at things that (for) satisfied a deep intellectual itch. The group is growing, and there are lots of new ideas that I’m looking forward to fleshing out in the new year.
4. My readers
Writers don’t always get feedback on what we write, whether in the form of book reviews or comments on posts or emails. “Likes” and “claps” on social media help, as do social shares. Ultimately, though, we’re all busy, and not everyone has a chance to share their thoughts — but read stats are a metric, too, and obviously I still have a job, so thanks to all my readers, regardless of whether you like or share or simply read.
5. Forensic Focus’ sponsors
Part of my job is to keep in touch with advertising sponsors to help them plan and submit the different pieces of content that are part of their ad packages. I’ve worked with most now for about two years, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know them — especially throughout the pandemic, several of us now regularly check in on one another, commiserate about the challenges of online schooling, and hope the politics of the situation will improve. They’ve been a bright spot in a dark year.
6. Virtual conference formats
Because I was able to attend more events than usual this year, I was exposed to a lot more ideas. In one case, attending three conferences in two weeks, my pattern-seeking, puzzle-solving brain saw themes emerge across different presentations, which led to different articles that might not have been possible writing just one recap at a time.
Additionally, the online formats helped me connect to people in other countries as sources for both active and future articles. Bringing more international perspectives to my articles was a goal I had for this year, and in some weird way, the pandemic might even have helped me reach it.
7. My book publishing partners… and their patience
I published two books this year, then promptly failed to promote them.
In the spring, this was directly related to supervising two teen e-learning workloads in addition to my own, which was stressful enough without adding A/B tests or other marketing details. By autumn, I’d mentally moved on and was focusing almost exclusively on journalism.
In some respects I’m afraid I may have missed the boat on, say, getting stories and lesson plans into the hands of parents who were seeking them for their kids during lockdown. I also worry that I haven’t done justice to all the people who were involved in putting these books into the marketplace.
But I’ve often said this year that book marketing could be a full time job in itself, and with neurodivergence making it harder to switch mental gears, I did what I could and will continue to do what I can into 2021.
I’ve worked from home for nearly my entire career (except for my first full-time job, as a Help Desk support person). It hasn’t always been easy, on a variety of counts; but I’ve made it work, and I needed every bit of that experience this year.
8. The essentials
The other day I passed a homeless couple — one barefoot. In 50F weather, with probably a 35F wind chill. A trip to Walmart later, and he had a pair of shoes, 6 pairs of socks between them, and some other assorted odds and ends.
I drove away in my heated car, insulated hiking boots, and layered clothes. Yes, our house needs repairs, we need a new roof and a new oven, we’re paying down debt for dental work and our HVAC and other things. But those are things we take for granted when in fact, most of us are just a catastrophe away from losing everything.
9. The excuse for introversion
I’m not a big social butterfly. Never have been, and although I can fake it for a few hours or even days, it takes a lot out of me. I need a few days to recover fully from a conference, and copious downtime in the evenings while I’m attending.
So, lockdown was not all that unpleasant — I managed it with hikes and drives, when needed — and I’d like to think the way I managed mine had a knock-on effect for others, too.
10. The time and space to work
We’ve been a one-car family since we moved here nearly 12 years ago. My husband was a stay at home dad for a number of years, and I worked from home, so we never needed a second car, and the cost savings were invaluable.
That is, until I lost my job and he picked up work in a town 25 minutes from our house — on the opposite end of the county from where our son attends a magnet high school. We needed two cars, yet couldn’t afford a second. So I was doing a lot of driving. My biggest time block was three hours in a day. That made it difficult to do deep work.
When the pandemic started, lockdown meant he could take the car while I could stay home, which nicely coincided with more work requested by Forensic Focus. I got to build out a lot of projects and the relationships that went with them — the foundation for next year’s plans.
11. My kids’ teachers
They did their absolute best with an absolute crap situation. No one was trained for virtual school last spring, yet they managed. When one son started missing assignments, they called and checked in. To the best of their abilities, they made sure to get our kids what they needed.
These were people who were also checking in with students who had lost family members to COVID-19 or were helping to care for sick family members, and hearing that my kids were (generally) okay helped them. And after summer’s reprieve, they picked right back up again. They’re absolute heroes. (You can support South Carolina teachers by supporting #SCforEd.)
12. Unus Annus
The one-year-only project entertained my teenage son for hours, and I must admit, it did me too. Granted, hearing “Memento Mori” from a couple of
kids on my lawn guys who make money videogaming and being silly (even if one of them did grow up in poverty) was a little over the top.
But the show was well done, especially as it counted down its final episodes. It not only kept my son busy while I worked, but also gave him decent young-man role models (if not in living-making, then at least in values).
13. My neighbors and neighborhood
I live in a very small subdivision with a mix of homeowners and renters, and while most everyone minds their own business, we take pains to be a neighborhood. Our Facebook group is active, and we all watch out for each other’s property, lost pets, kids, and even safety. During the pandemic, when we needed yard work and some handiwork done around our house, the way a couple of our neighbors came through was nothing short of gracious.
14. Upstate South Carolina businesses
Like my kids’ teachers, they did the best they could to be responsible to customers’ health and safety as well as their own bottom lines. Curbside pickups, limited capacity, and mask policies went a long way to helping us feel safe on the rare occasions we do venture out.
15. The chance to promote my books
There was a lot I wanted to do this year, chiefly a spring “photo shoot” in downtown Greenville that I wanted to turn into a contest for young readers. COVID-19 derailed that for many months, and my day job got busy, and then I just… didn’t promote (see above).
Then along came the South Carolina Punk Flea Market with a not-bad offer for a table at Black Friday weekend and… back I went into a trade-show environment! I brought both my children’s books and my novella collection, and the best I could do was break even, but….
… in large part, my breaking-even was the result of the SC Punk Flea community of vendors: artists, collectors, even other writers. We made purchases from one another and supported each other’s work on Instagram and had conversations and encouraged each other through what turned out to be kind of a difficult weekend for a lot of us. At the end of it, I decided that even though it wasn’t profitable, the community would be what could bring me back.
17. Small kindnesses from strangers
You know — drivers who let you into a long line of traffic, or grocery stores who let you with your small basket go ahead of their cart. We hear a lot about strangers refusing to mask up, but plenty of strangers graciously comply. It counts.
I experienced some massive personal change this year: healing old stuff that in some cases, I never thought would be healed. It’s a process, of course, but I’m unlearning a lot of old habits that were holding me back, making better choices, fixing the parts of me that need it, and accepting the hurts that linger — all so I can do my part making the world a better place.
18. Yoga with Adriene
Much has been written about Adriene Mishler and the explosion in popularity of her YouTube channel, particularly during the pandemic. I had started sporadically practicing yoga years ago thanks to DVDs, but it didn’t become a daily practice until last year, when I discovered Adriene.
Her channel has just the right mix of short and long practices for virtually every mood or need, and her gentle style invites just the right amount of self-reflection. ADHD means I’m not great at sitting or lying still to meditate, but yoga is the “moving meditation” I need to shut my brain up, tap into my intuition, and focus on the practice’s lessons: balancing, making space, being patient, when to extend energy vs. when to reel it in, and carefully stretching toward flexibility.
19. Lake Conestee Nature Preserve
When I needed a more active meditation, off I went to LCNP. This Reedy River watershed started as a poisoned brownfield and ended up a sanctuary for all kinds of wildlife… as well as a place to scratch the hiking itch when I needed to get out in nature this year but couldn’t drive all the way up to the mountains. It’s only about 20 minutes from our house, and in the afternoons over the summer I would frequently go to walk there.
20. My hammock
I love my two-person hammock so much, it’s in my author bio. It allows my body to virtually melt, is enormously relaxing to my nervous system as a result, and was part of my daily routine in spring and autumn, when I would deal with the stress of e-learning by going out and meditating for 15-30 minutes.
21. My garden
Not because I was particularly good at maintaining it, mind you. My front landscaping was a wild weedy mess for most of the summer, in part because weeding around heat and bugs has never been as attractive as writing and editing.
However, the yard provided plenty of entertainment even in this state: the bees collecting honey from my primroses, the tiny critters using the tall greenery for cover. I thus posted this picture and caption:
In fall when I did finally weed and prune, the azaleas lasted a lot longer than they normally do, the birds scratched for worms beneath the mulch, and I even finally divided the lilies. And it all satisfied my visual need for neatness.
22. The wisdom of life experience
The result of all this reflective time: getting to see my own role in at least some of my traumas, and what I can do differently next time to make for a different outcome. The experience drives my writing work, which is how I make sense of what happened — not just for myself, but also for others in similar situations.
23. My family and friends who:
- gave me the space, either literally or figuratively, to work through things
- stuck around rather than decide I wasn’t worth the energy
- responded to my requests for help with compassion and grace
Like, I learned that people want to help when you ask. Who knew??
24. Great stories: books, Netflix and Hulu
We all need to escape sometimes, including (especially?) from our own self-reflection. I love great writing in any form. Some of my favorites this year:
- The Watch urban fantasy series by Sergei Lukyanenko
- Alabama Rain by Aila Stephens
- The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Keirsten White
TV and movies
25. Access to health and dental care
Not that the bills have been easy. But getting the care — especially a rapid COVID-19 test for one of my sons — was far better than the alternative. Having been in a position where we didn’t have access because we didn’t have insurance, this is not something I take for granted — broken healthcare system notwithstanding.
On the whole, knock on wood, we’ve managed to stay COVID-free, and as far as I know we don’t have any other major complaints. There’s quite a lot to be said for that.
27. Everything that goes into my dietary habits
I’m on an anti-inflammatory diet to help me control various unrelated autoimmune symptoms (i.e. all of which are autoimmune, but together don’t add up to any particular “syndrome” like Hashimoto’s or Sjogrens or whatever). Interestingly, my ADHD is a lot easier to manage — still there, but easier to manage — when I follow this diet strictly enough.
Food shortages last spring made me nervous, but I managed OK by either going without or finding substitutes. I am grateful for the grocery stores that order the “specialty” foods I consume, the delivery drivers that get the goods, the workers who pick the vegetables… all while cognizant that labor on many farms is tantamount to human trafficking and in need of organization.
28. My neurodivergence
Sometimes it’s a challenge still — I’d rather write long, in-depth analytical pieces, which aren’t in high demand. But I’m great at stringing together disparate articles and other pieces of information into a theme, and I have a unique take on the field I’m in. I’m told I make people think with the questions I ask — and that’s my goal.
I live with anxiety, and I work from home where I’m up in my head all day, so I tend to blow a lot of things out of proportion (which I think is related also to neurodivergence). That’s one reason I hang out with wildlife rehabbers, emergency services personnel, and others: they have perspective on people with real problems, and keep me in check.
30. The opportunity to give back
With privilege comes responsibility, and I’m making enough to share, so for #GivingTuesday I donated to three organizations:
- Izzie’s Pond. One of the most heartwrenching stories of a year that has already seen so much came from my friend Angel Durham, founder and director of this wildlife rescue: “One thing we have learned through the most heartbreaking losses of this past year, is that we can’t stop. We might have to change, but we’ll change for the better. And come through smarter, tighter, closer. So for now, we’re taking deep breaths, loving each other, putting one foot in front of the other, and most of all, surviving.”
- SHIELD Task Force. I had the great privilege to get to know founder Robert Peters while working on various projects for Forensic Focus and other outlets. His nonprofit helps kids in West Virginia, where I lived briefly when I was very little and where my brother was born. For me, child welfare and animal welfare are closely linked — they are often the most vulnerable and voiceless in our society. How we care for “the least of these” says much about our values.
- As-Sabeel Academy. I love what my friend Johnna Malici had to say about this school: “Muslim children need a safe space to learn and develop their identity. They need a place where they are valued and loved.” I had the privilege to visit the school a couple of years ago together with Angel and ambassador raccoon Dory when I gave a little author presentation there. The kinds of questions the kids asked about raccoons and writing reflected exactly the kind of nurturing environment Johnna and the other teachers are working to build.
What are you thankful for this year, and how are you showing it?