By Stephanie Land
Since I became a single mom eight years ago, my day planner notebook has been my lifeline, my secretary, and a familiar heavy weight in my bag that I would be lost without. I journal, keep notes of work done and due, and it helps me plan financial goals, determining to a penny how much income I'll have and when. This year, it is showing me something telling: that I may no longer need to rely on food stamps to make ends meet.
The other day, I set the planner aside, and checked my bank account online to see less than $100 until next week's payday.
"I'll have food money on Wednesday, so I'll do a big trip to the store then," I said to my older daughter. I, for the most part, subsist on very little, high-quality, dense-in-nutrition food. My daughters are a constant revolving variety of snacking and keeping the fridge full is a challenge.
In March, I am up to re-certify for the small amount I receive a month in food stamps. I expect by then I will be close to no longer qualifying, so I've decided not to reapply. I won't go off government assistance in a celebratory leap that I will be living slightly over the poverty level. It is simply a matter of letting them expire. When I think of paying out of pocket for those big shopping trips, I want to gasp for breath from that extra expense. I've been steadily earning an increasing income as a freelance writer, just enough to get me close to the poverty line. But those few extra hundred a month doesn't mean I can easily sustain my girls and I. The thought is frightening.
So I find reassurance where I can, in my case, the day planner. As a mom raising two kids on my own, my life requires a certain kind of constant juggling that is hard to keep on track. My day planner is a constant companion as my organizer. And shows me that I am, in fact, getting things done.
Two years ago, I ended 2014 exhausted and overwhelmed. I had tapped every resource I could imagine and was grateful for the donations from friends to help with Christmas presents from my girls because otherwise I wouldn't have been able to afford any. But I had a faith so strong in myself that it almost started to manifest on its own.
Last year, I knew (somehow) that 2015 would be my breakout year. I created pages where I would list my publications, and how much money I made every month. For the last year, I struggled financially, only bringing in $500 or less to live off on, along with child support.
When things started to pick up in July, they did so quickly, it was difficult to keep track. There were hardly any blank spaces left. Almost every page had notes for a story, editor contacts, and work meetings. I forgot to list how many times I'd been published, and where. I still worked from home with a toddler, writing after she fell asleep in my lap at night. This thing I'd set my sites on, on having a writing career, was coming to fruition.
For 2016, I'm taking it a step further. I bought a version of the Moleskin day planner that is almost a daily log, or a journal with dates and times. It has an illustration from the book "The Little Prince" on the front, my daughter's favorite book when she was four that we read cover-to-cover three times in a row. I hope to fill the pages with stories I'll write and publish, and work on cultivating my own, bigger, universal story. I hope my work as a writer will support my family.
I don't like to think of goals I set at the new year as resolutions. I like to think of them as summits on my personal mountain. Each year gets me closer to the dreams I want to achieve, and the goals are those benches to sit and enjoy the view along the way. If I looked at my life as a simple list of things to quit or habits to change, I think that's setting me up for failure and frustration. Keeping a passion and solid vision as a summit to a long journey or climb is a much better visual. Every year is a step forward to the life I imagined for my family.
Stephanie Land is a writing fellow with the Center for Community Change.