By Brenda Huettner
Being a technical writer is challenging, diverse, and engaging; it has been fun and lucrative for me. But after 40 years in the industry, I was looking to try something new. But what/where/when/how? Then my sister told me about her plan to try 55 new things before she turned 55. The only rule is that each person gets to decide what counts as new. Does a new flavor of jelly on your toast count? Buying something new instead of doing? Does it count if you don’t post on social media? I decided to give it a try, and the #60newthings project began.
My own rules were simple — I wanted the new things to be meaningful to me — that is, bigger than toast. And I wanted to post to social media as a way to keep myself on track and document my progress. I tried a wide variety of things, with varying degrees of success. Note: success was never a criterion for this project, the attempt is enough! Many list items were creative: I painted and crocheted and sewed and cooked. One project won first place at the Art of Planetary Science show (not bad for someone who never thought of herself as an artist). I even tried a 30-day poetry challenge, the only new thing that involved writing.
I started in September 2019, so a lot of my early things involved getting out and meeting new people (highlights included AntoniPorowski, John Waters, and Vint Cerf) or things like walking in my first Pride parade or developing and hosting a monthly “Solar System Sundays” event. But as we all know, everything changed in the early part of 2020, so a lot of the newness became more about new WAYS of doing things. Webinars, conferences, book clubs, even my 60th birthday were all held over Zoom.
I’d say the most successful new things were the ones where I made stuff to give away (hundreds of cloth masks, dozens of preemie hats, quite a few blankets). The least successful was that poetry challenge — writing a poem every day is hard! The most fun things were the one-offs (I fostered a kitten and it was sooo hard to give him up!), I got scanned and made into a green army man, I invented cocktails as guest bartender at an event called “Librations.”
The biggest surprise to me was how much I enjoyed being on stage. I participated in a Talk Back session with the play Silent Sky, the story of astronomer Henrietta Leavitt. I started singing regularly at a local karaoke bar. And I got a small walk-on role in the movie Even in Dreams as “Passerby #1.” It was a lot of fun, and it even got me my own IMDb listing!
After trying 60 new things, what did I learn? First, that I’m not that great at deadlines — it took me over a year and half to attempt 60 new things. Secondly, I enjoy being part of lots of different communities (including STC!) But mostly, I learned that I like learning new things. So, for #60 of my #60newthings, I’ve decided to go back to school and will be applying to the Pima Community College nursing program after I take all the prerequisite classes. Although the #60newthings project is over, being a student again is already providing me with new things almost daily. And who knows, maybe once I’m an RN, I’ll be able to contribute to improving medical documentation.
You can see more at Brenda’s Instagram http://instagram.com/bphuettner/ or search #60newthings