Thoughts Behind the Gratitude Journal: 2020

Maybe we’ll wither and die. Well, of course we will. But maybe we will be mocked, stones hurled our way because we don’t own houses and pot plants. Maybe our skeletons will lie in our graves long after we’re gone, mourning all the success we could have had -success valued via the quality of the couches we could have had, the threadcounts of the sheets we could have owned, the extra cars and holidays we could have flaunted.

Or maybe our skeletons will be grateful that we dared to choose. That we even realised there was a choice.

No, this is not a poor man’s anthem. This is a recognition of the value of choice. The choice to value life over and above the assumed value of life. That living and existing is enough over and above the thing we call net worth. That a human being can be weighed by the beauty of their choices, the various colours of their love, the honour of their free will -rather than what that all amounted to in dollars and cents.

…the honour of free will, the will to live the life we each want – regardless of how lowly it may be perceived by family, friends and the masses. The will to be a plumber in a world of white collar dreams. The will to happily own nothing in a world that is calling for a fight against ‘owning nothing yet being happy’. The will to be a housewife when the future of work has been proclaimed female -if not automated. The will to strive for a house in the suburbs, a spouse and two children when that can be looked upon as accomplished brainwashing. The will to wander, a nomad in a culture that pushes us to settle down.

Maybe our skeletons will be grateful for having lived at a time when they could be anything they wanted (when whoever said that could actually mean it): the acting-accommodation for a soul that was old-fashioned or trendsetting or comfortably mundane or in the middle or world-renowned or on the fringes. All we needed to do was choose, those of us who could choose.

We know ourselves, the ones who were lucky enough to be in an environment where we could find out that we could choose. Where our liberties are not as few and far between as the world would like us to believe. Where the Sub-Saharan sun shines on landscapes populated by unpredictable economies, stubborn cultures and even more stubborn subcultures that insist, “But did you know you could…?”

And you wouldn’t believe the breadths of the coulds. Things unimaginable to my mother – just one generation away. And I know what you’re thinking: it’s always like this. From the beginning of time, the first family: the generations were broken up by cracks and gaps -gaping differences each issuing out sensitive and sensible arguments, at times waging all out war -pressing fissures deep into, against our roots. But then why does this time feel different?

With us, it’s not a matter of free will. Not anymore. Now, we have the privilege of free will. We don’t have a few options open here and there. We have a wealth of options. But we know it, this time. We know it. It’s not something we will find out from our children. The coulds have been revealed to us and now we live them. Whomever so chooses – if she dares, if he dares – may live them.

And more and more, some of us don’t have to die for our chosen coulds…

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Copyright © 2021 Tebogo Ndlovu

PS: This article is based on my concept for my gratitude journal in 2020. Every year, I set a theme for what I should remember to be grateful for. My 2020 theme was based on some of the thoughts above.

Checking In

Hi, there.

I hope you’ve been having some good days and that the rest have been unexpectedly loyal.

Just checking in to let you know: I had scheduled some posts for the 20th, the 23rd, 26th, etc. But I still wasn’t happy with them right before the first one was due to publish. So bear with me while I fix the problem. Chances are my best shot will have to be good enough if I’m still not content with those posts by the 1st. If you’re expecting to hear from me in your email, I’ll be in your inbox by next weekend. I’ve drafted my emails to you but I need to go over them again.

I’ve received a few respectful comments over the course of the year about how the poetry I publish here may be negatively affecting some people. Any time that happens, I urge you to take a break from this blog and regularly visit Keith Kreates. Well, at least that’s one of the things I do whenever I feel quite down. He’ll turn your emotions in a more positive direction. At the moment, I do not seem to be writing upbeat poetry. Turns out ’tis not the season.

I was just thinking the other day that I’ll write bluesy posts versus nothing at all so I’m not too worried about what I’ve been coming up with. As gloomy as it is, I’ve enjoyed coming up with it and sharing it with you all.

Don’t take what you see here so seriously 🙂. It is just one stranger’s point of view out of billions.

If, perchance, some of you meant that I inspired you (hides blush, puts on modesty) to come up with some bluesy poetry of your own otherwise you’re okay then (breathes again) thank God. Can’t wait to read it! (hoping you’ll share)

If I completely misunderstood your comments, picture us sitting at a table laughing our heads off, hot beverage in hand.

In the meantime, I hope you’re all enjoying the last few months of this year. It’s almost Christmas again. We made it! (To this moment, anyway.)


’til next post; take good care.

-T. N.

Stolen Joys

My gratitude goal for 2020 was to learn to appreciate free will by exercising it.

I’m quite lucky. I live in a country that many wouldn’t want to belong to at this moment in history.

Yet I do have certain freedoms. A lot of people in this country don’t have the freedom to dream. Life is all about survival for most. Seeing beyond that is difficult under such circumstances. But for some, we can deal with the issue of survival and dream about what comes after that at the same time. We have the privilege of free will. If my job torments me, I can figure out how to supplement that income and leave – especially now that this volatile country is experiencing an upswing. If I have an abusive husband, divorce is a possible option. I was not born into the kind of circumstances where child marriage was ever something that could happen to me. I have had the opportunity to travel and experience totally different cultures. I could go on.

The long and short of it is that I would be lying if I said I had no choices in life, because in some ways, I have had the advantage of free will where someone else didn’t or where it would have been dangerous for that person to activate it.

So, at the beginning of the year, I dedicated 2020 to activating the freewill I do have and using the privilege of exercising this free will in order to straighten out a few things in my life. I thought that doing this would be a good way to show my appreciation for this gift. And I’m proud to say it worked. Not only did I manage to deal with key things that had been a thorn in my flesh for a few years now, I also was able to see where I could have taken responsibility but fell short.

It’s true what they say: a lot goes wrong while the rest of us are passively thinking there’s nothing we can do. I became the solution to problems I thought I was not equipped or positioned to handle. I learned how valuable each of us are. When we think we’re not, is when somebody needs us or when we need the best part of ourselves the most. Thinking we’re not important serves no one. It’s not that we’re insignificant, it’s that we opted out of significance: in our families, amongst our friends, at work, in our love lives, in achieving our goals, in being true to ourselves.

I also learned that shortchanging myself when times are good means that I’m definitely a victim whenever a crisis hits. If I’m a victim, I can’t help anyone who never really stood a chance. It’s a domino effect.

That was 2020. I learned to take charge of my free will in order to give myself what I need by putting my advantages to good use. I don’t regret them, I don’t apologise for them, but I do take on the responsibility that they come with. I’ve learned to enjoy that freedom and responsibility. I acknowledged all my good and bad points, owned them, built some good stuff on them. This way, I don’t get to blame anyone else for my mistakes. I don’t get to blame my culture, my upbringing, my environment, somebody else. Instead, I build my life on my strengths and the advantages that all these things gave me – while I dull my weaknesses and, eventually, transcend the bad hands that were dealt me. And, in the first place, I’m actually alive. I’m so relieved I’m still healthy and breathing (and still around to think about what to do with my hair next.) I get to wake up and run my life, eat, be silly and fantastic in the little ways I’m silly and fantastic. I get to be able to even be myself. So many don’t have that privilege.

I titled this post ‘Stolen Joys’ because what I got from this year was snatched from the jaws and clutches of a year that was supposed to be horrible. Yet such fine pearls and life came from it, things I haven’t even mentioned here.

I’m truly grateful.

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Copyright © 2020 Tebogo Ndlovu

The Act Of Wanting (3/3): Owning Your Deep Desires

…And the journey continues.

This is the last instalment in a three-part series concerning being in conscious alignment with one’s subconscious wants and vice versa. (Do I mean to sound like a wanna-be spiritual guru? Not at all. Oh well…)

I thought I’d share some tips I use to check myself whenever I seem to be straying from who I am (=somebody who is important to herself) or what I want. How I know when this is happening? I start to do inexplicable, self-destructive things that make no sense even to me. In addition, my bar or standards for what I consider self-sabotage lowers. Then I realise I’m not right with myself. Here’s a little example. I say that writing is important to me, right? And that I want to become a talented writer someday. (Yes. If I wasn’t born gifted I’m hoping I’ll become gifted. Leave me to my madness, please.) When my standards are high, I’m making time for writing no matter how busy the rest of my life is. I’m waking up at 4 or 5am. I’m reading novels and essays as well as writing during tea and lunch breaks at work. I’m editing before bedtime religiously, after reading another chapter of someone. And every night before I turn the lights out, I’ve scheduled a blog post for the next day or three. I’m doing everything I can to stay on track. It doesn’t matter that sometimes there are power cuts or sometimes I don’t have access to the internet or my devices are not co-operating. It doesn’t matter. Because I’ve already done everything possible to counter those eventualities.

But when my standards are low and I’m being self-destructive, I always have the perfect excuse. I’m entertaining people who have zero respect for my schedule while I make all sorts of allowances for their schedules. I’m spending extra time with people whom I love but who always take liberties with my self-esteem. I’m forgetting that guarding my peace is a constant endeavour until I am able to remove myself from toxic environments. I’m forgetting that how I feel, my time and my self-respect are my responsibility and are mine to protect.

So here are a few things I do to get back on track. Here is how I own my deep desires:

1. Say them out loud and/or write them down (right before you thoroughly dispose of the piece of paper). This works for me if what I’m desiring sounds horrible to me. I’ve found myself saying:

“I only did that because I am so lonely right now and I’m desperate to belong.”

-which made me sound pathetic

“When she said nothing I do should work out because her life didn’t work out the way she wanted it to, it made me want to make sure my projects don’t work out. Because who would I be if I didn’t have her approval?”

-which sounded so twisted, I was appalled

“Of course, he doesn’t care about me. Why would he? The other guy? No, I want someone ‘better’ than that.”

-which made me think, ‘Pick a struggle, b*tch! Plus you know you don’t even want to pick anyone because you think they’ll all hate you once they know you. How cliché and how effed up are you? Is there no end to your issues?’

([sigh] Yes. Myself and I actually said that to me. The nerve…)

So once I’ve said these things, I can’t take them back. I spoke them from my heart. I said it. So now it IS. And I need to do something to replace what IS with what I want there to be. It already was because it was in my soul/spirit/head. But now there is no denying it.

And it might take some time and unintentional messy behaviour to decipher what you even need to say to yourself. Some of it has taken me years. But every second was worth it. I’m more at peace knowing than not knowing.

2. Wean yourself off your unhealthy desires. Based on my above examples, (a) I would go about this by taking care to enjoy the time I spend alone even more than I usually do as well as making quality time for people who have been trying to reach out to me while I was pushing them away in favour of the people who make me feel like scum. I find that I am usually only as lonely as I allow myself to feel. The world has been kind to me in certain respects. There are people who actually appreciate me. It’s what I do with that affection that either makes or breaks my friendships. As I mentioned yesterday, taking responsibility is important. Here I’d be weaning myself off the desire to desperately belong; the desperation was never necessary. Some people made me feel alone, I let them and, in the process, I let the people who actually appreciate me go. Context is crucial. (b) Get away from anyone who directly or indirectly encourages you to fail nomatter how much they tell you they love you. (c) Remind yourself each morning of your ‘dateable’ points: good, precious things that come naturally to you –always have since you were a child – and go for people who particularly appreciate you when you’re being your best self without trying much.

3. Fill that gap with something else and don’t romanticise your flaws. So in example (a), you’d do that by filling the time when you feel lonely with quality time with yourself and people who are sincerely good to you. In that quality time, do your favourite things and do something for those people who genuinely care about you. Show them things that you love about them, not because they’ve helped you but just because you have also grown to genuinely care about them. I know some people will say every human interaction is a transaction anyway but you don’t have to do it the greedy, unfeeling way, right? (b) After getting away from people who make you want to self-sabotage, fill the gap left by your desire to fail with remembrance. Remember a time when you got an accolade that became dear to you and the influx of positivity winning that accolade brought into life. Soak in that feeling then set a goal for yourself and work steps to take towards the goal into your daily routine. Don’t forget to set timelines. When you achieve the goal, make sure to celebrate with people who would truly be happy for you. Rinse and repeat until you can feel it in your bones that you deserve to win when you set a goal for yourself. *And please don’t romanticise your flaws.* People you’re trying to get away from will try to make it sound like you were living your best life when you were miserable, why did you change, and all that. Remind yourself that those were not the good old days and keep it moving.

4. Start hanging out with people who represent what you really want. For example, if you’re a daughter who wishes she had a better relationship with her mother, hang out with friends who get along well with their mothers in a healthy way. This counters that ‘absoluteness’ that happens when something has been a staple in your life, causing you to subconsciously believe that life is like that and daughters ‘just don’t’ get along with their mothers.

5. Act as you really want to be. I don’t like the phrase ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ but I do agree with it in this case. Put on the attitude you want to have towards friends, colleagues, men, women, children until it becomes who you are. If that attitude is that you want to be respected, treat yourself with respect in front of everyone around you until that is your reality. Put on your best clothes regularly, walk with your chin up, smile at crying babies, if someone is mean to you cut down the amount of attention and time you usually give them, express gratitude when you would have complained because this sends the message that your life is going to be okay and you’re able to handle it, make time for your own needs.

That concludes this series. What it boils down to is this: the day you acknowledge what you really want is the day you decide who you’re about to turn into.

The Act Of Wanting (2/3): Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Disclaimer: Apologies for the preachy tone of this article. I’m sharing some things I’ve learned. I might just be talking to myself, quite frankly.

Yesterday, I wrote about how we have two versions of our lists of desires: the list of what we think we want and the list of what we really want – which is usually buried in our subconscious. The two are not always in alignment. How do I know when my lists don’t match? By observing my actions: I really want what I am actually investing my actions into.

I know it probably sounds obvious but it took me a while to understand this much deeper than from an intellectual standpoint. It’s as if my life –or the development of my mental self – has been a backpack full to the brim. I have been unpacking this backpack (pretend the unpacking hands are my experiences) and, each time I do, the knowledge is transferred from my subconscious to my conscious(ness?). I was born with this backpack but I could not unpack it unless I actually went through some things.

One of the lessons I’ve learned during this process is that you really want what you are actually doing not necessarily what you say you want. As it applies to yesterday’s article: the people who wanted to be super rich did whatever was necessary, restructured their behaviour, shifted whole aspects of their lives in order to get there. Sometimes getting to where you want to be is a matter of strategy, particularly if you’re even remotely in an environment that can support your goals and you’re there at the right phase of your life. Some other things may simply be a matter of talent and genes but I’m not talking about those things.

I’m talking about things that we know we would have liked to have, had the opportunity to have, but somehow let that opportunity pass by. It’s fine. It’s also fine not to have wanted what you ‘should’ have wanted. I’ve come across people where this applies to children, steady careers, lovers who were perfect but just not for them, a relationship with one’s mother, fame… Success, even.

Not being in alignment with what you think you ‘should’ want tells you so much about your current situation and who you really are or what you truly struggle with. Please do not ignore it. Don’t be ashamed of it. Don’t allow yourself to sink into guilt. Don’t numb yourself until you get used to an undesirable situation. Even when what you really want seems evil, wicked and anti-social, it helps to acknowledge that you want it. That way you can deal with it. You do not have to come across as a healthy or good person if it means shutting down your real self until one day you snap and it affects a number of people’s lives. If you acknowledge that aspect now, while you still have some modicum of control over yourself, all the better for everyone –as long as one thing is understood: with acknowledgment comes responsibility.

Once you’ve seen yourself for all your different sides, you must take responsibility for everything –particularly the things that will definitely have a widespread negative impact on other people. Do something to make sure you unseat these deep psychological worms or kinks. Also, take responsibility for the things that are simply you. Things that maybe your family or culture doesn’t allow but really only truly affect you. If your parent is abusive to you – in whatever way – and it would be culturally unsound to cut ties with them, think about how cutting ties might allow you to heal and have a healthier relationship with your own children. If travelling the world instead of settling down in the corporate world is what you want to do, maybe do it. Your future self won’t understand when you someday try to explain that nobody approved of you –a grown adult – going off by yourself to explore. Yes, eventualities and worst case scenarios must be planned for but do something. If you have a complex that makes you self-sabotage or you feel uncomfortable whenever you’re successful, ask yourself what makes you feel you shouldn’t be the one to have a life of achievement and good things. Why should you always be right there with everyone who is having a hard time? Yes, empathy is good but not to the extent where you feel guilty for anything good in your life. Being a good person is ideal but why must you be the martyr in every equation?

There are so many situations we may find ourselves in that require us to understand why we want to remain in an untenable circumstance or why we want to want what we say we want. But life is short. Even 80 years is not all that long. There’s nothing noble about sacrificing your life to your psychological burdens, or cultural norms that are just not for everyone, or people who never really loved you in the first place, or people who love you so much it limits and stifles you. Are you willing to give yourself a fair shake in this life?

How much do you desire to want better for yourself?

All Rights Reserved
Copyright ©️ 2020 Tebogo Ndlovu

The Act Of Wanting: On Money

Last month, a friend said to me, “Not everybody wants to be the founder of a thriving business and own a Rolex.” Last week, the same friend said, “Of course we all want to be super rich. We’re just lazy.”

I’ve begun to think about what it is I usually say I want and how it is that I want it. Do I want it so that it can lift me up on a pedestal and cushion me with social status – a ticket that paves paths for me in this world? Do I want it because my wanting it is a symptom of a problem I have not yet worked through? Do I want it purely, simply because I do? Answering these questions may be a way to avoid undesirable long-term situations or even find solutions to things that pick at one’s energy. Or to prevent that disappointment or anti-climax that happens when we finally get what we think we want.

If my friend was a character in a book I was writing, I would think that –based on his usual characteristics and disposition- being rich is not something he wants. He wants nice things. He wants to be respected more than an average person ever could. He wants to be able to buy his little girl a pink tutu without thinking about his budget. He wants to go a lifetime without being shrunk by somebody in top management. But he doesn’t want to be super wealthy.

He doesn’t want to have to think about how to prevent paying large amounts of tax, how to go about life so that he incurs as few law suits as possible, how to have friends but not bring them too close because people become a liability and untrustworthy when you get to a certain level of wealth, how to keep jealous relatives from selling information they know about him, how to protect his children from kidnappers, how to talk as cunningly as possible since honesty comes at a high premium for certain people, hiring a trustworthy chauffeur to drive him around because he’s on the phone all day and is probably too tired to drive, how to budget his time so stringently that he gets the best out of his 24 hours, how to check if he has anyone in his life who would still love him if he lost all his money, how not to lose all his money, having a large or even decent-sized workforce under him knowing that they’re a crisis or a few bad decisions away from losing their livelihoods and it’s up to him to make sure that doesn’t happen, never spending nearly enough time with his children… And all the problems and stress that could possibly arise from owning and controlling a large amount of wealth. What (I’m guessing) he really wants is to be special and for everyone to know it.

I’m sure there are happy rich people out there, with loving families and friends. But it could easily go the other way. The thing is, certain types of people like to constantly deal with large amounts of stress. If you’re one of those people, then chances are you’ll do well as an ultra-wealthy member of society. If you’re laid back or sensitive or above a particular degree of empathetic, these things might have to be sacrificed in favour of a more logical, obsessively driven version of you – if your goal is solely to make ocean loads of money.

We don’t tend to look at the nitty-gritties of what we want. Every time I got myself into a situation I thought I wanted to be in but loathed by the end, I figured out that I didn’t want to be there in the first place. Somewhere in my heart of hearts, I knew that I would rather be in my element – or even just comfortable – than fight this particular battle. But I looked at all the approval I’d get from doing that thing and dived in based on those societal rewards. But the day-to-day of The Thing is what gets you or misses you.

If you don’t generally enjoy being what you say you want to be on a routine day, you will suffer. If you don’t thrive being what you say you want to be in the middle of a crisis, it was never meant for you. And you’ve invested more time play-acting a role that doesn’t fit you and less time perfecting the role that would have made you. Yes, doing what you’re meant to be doing can involve pain and suffering but all the trouble tends to feel worth it. That’s the mark of alignment or lack thereof.

That said, if my friend was a character in a book of mine, I’d give him a heartbeat. I’d give him a passion that makes his heart race every time he’s investing himself in it. If it was women, I’d give him plenty of adventures with women and make him a painter (cliché but let’s go with it, okay) –who likes to paint all kinds of women from different cultures and walks of life- or a poet who ends up making a lot of money from his hard-won talent. If it was money, I’d make him a ruthless capitalist. If it was fatherhood, he’d come up with a controversial but very potent system of raising kids who were the best versions of themselves –and he’d accidentally make money from his system. If it was being respected, he’d be a walking, talking version of How To Make Friends and Influence People –and he’d end up making a lot of money that way. Material wealth would be a byproduct of him getting what he really wants. If it was comfort and family life, he’d have a steady 9-to-5 and a few rental properties just for back up; he’d go to church on Sundays (maybe), take his sons fishing some Saturdays and try not to hardcore cheat with his work-wife on Mondays. Or he would live a self-sustaining, minimalist existence and have the kind of friends Seneca would have appreciated. And he’d absolutely love his life. In all of these cases, money is not the central element, with a human life revolving around it.

If my friend was a character in my book, I’d give him the courage to go after what he really wanted and to be content with it in a world that commercialises the concept of a good life.

Copyright ©️ 2020 Tebogo Ndlovu

There’s A Song For This

2020 has been a horrendous year for various reasons, some of which I’ve been encountering over the last two weeks or so. The most common problem we may have experienced this year is the outbreak and consequences of the COVID19 pandemic. It’s possible we all know people who lost their lives due to the virus. It’s been a devastating year for some also because of job losses, being on lockdown with an abusive person, succumbing to depression and other mental health issues as a result of isolation, dealing with disturbed plans, delayed academic progress. The list goes on. So yes, this has been a challenging year.

However, I think it’s fair to say some of us have salvaged something from this year. Others have not fared so badly thus far. We still have our sources of income. Despite many opportunities to catch something, we still haven’t caught the virus (as far as we know?). We restarted projects we previously claimed not to have time for. We realised what or who we can’t do without and mended relationships before it was too late. Some introverts managed to have life their way for a while, lol, and got to enjoy the peace that came with lockdown restrictions. Some got to know their children better.

I like to think that out of every survived crisis is a silver lining – like surviving a war having discovered a secret version of yourself in the middle of the upheaval and being able to witness all the development and social change that at times comes afterwards. Because what is life without optimism, especially at times like this? One of my silver linings was restarting this blog and finally figuring my way out of a long, long spell of writer’s block. It’s amazing what idle time can do if you can afford any. I’m even more grateful that anyone came to read what I publish here. Several times, I’ve hesitated to click on ‘publish’ but I’d put myself in a corner so I had no choice. I had told myself I’d publish everyday until I felt I had become a writer -regardless of whether or not I had anything good to publish. Now I write constantly and have a few projects I’m actively working on -regardless of how busy the rest of my life gets. So, according to whoever said you’re only a writer if you’re writing, I think it’s safe to say I’ve happily, finally accepted the vocation. Took years but I’m happy it happened at all.

On that note, I’d like to thank you so much for visiting the village I’ve built here -with its stories and characters and whatever you may have picked up while passing through. I appreciate every second you’ve spent reading my posts, commenting, liking. I’ll be taking another tour around your blogs as I haven’t done it in a while and miss it. One of the last times I did it, Ivon got ‘The Sound of Silence’ (Pentatonix version) stuck in my head, Keith had a hilarious story out, I found out about Rosaliene’s ‘Under the Tamarind Tree’ -which I’m psyching myself to read; I think it’s one of those that will make me an angry, crying mess but in a good way- and Melody Chen blew me away with her imagery and flow. I cannot get over the way she writes.

I’m truly looking forward to reading your work. And please know that each and every one of you has made a major, unexpected difference in my life. Every action you’ve performed on this blog has helped me rebuild a vital part of myself I thought I had lost. The kindness or interest of strangers is invaluable. I hope you’ve gained something from visiting here.

Before this point, I was publishing to hold myself accountable so that I wouldn’t stop writing. Now my focus is shifting to reading more (Rosaliene, Paul and River, I’m getting to your books. So excited about that.), doing better research, and improving on the quality of my writing. I want to become better at writing and have had to rearrange my life accordingly as it’s so easy to fall into not getting time to read and write. The demands on our time can be numerous. So some changes had to be made.

Jai Lynn had some writing plans out and I thought it would be a good way to continue to hold myself accountable so my top 5 are:

  1. To complete the race series by 1 October, continuing to publish on weekends
  2. To complete my current writing projects by 1 November
  3. To post consistently (every day) until 15 October when I’ll evaluate and make whatever changes are necessary
  4. To embark on ‘The Historians’ which I’ll be carrying out here soon (it’s NOT about regurgitating historical facts -even though that can be fun to do, especially with history that’s not well-known)
  5. To change the blog name and update the blog in general.

Those are my major goals right now….That’s one of my 2020 silver linings: the year I started writing again and met you all. And yes, there’s a song for that.