Bless My Heart, What a Year (Part One)

In Which THE WORK is Discussed and Successes and Failures are Enumerated

Do you need another year-end list? Sure ya do.

I started this thing as an essay highlighting the adventures, thoughts, and successes / failures of 2018. After two hours of pounding the keyboard, I had an absolute mess: a scattered train wreck of ideas and subjects including but not limited to: The Donner Party, the scale of the universe, fate, God, mountains, the Tao Te Ching, family relationships, and chicken pot-pie.

As you are reading this on the internet and therefore mere seconds from clicking over to Facebook, I decided to scrap that (admittedly interesting) monster of an essay and attempt to focus my thoughts with a more list-like format. I’m also going to break it up into small(er) parts.

This part will be an overview of the year’s themes, a summery of my new professional adventures, and a brief discussion of my greatest personal successes and failures.

So here you go: Andrew’s 2018 Year in Review Part One!



2018 began with Rachael and I living in west Texas and ended with us firmly settled in the Sierra Nevada. This continues a theme of the last few years: westward motion. Interesting how my path has gone from the south-east to the Midwest to the true West over the last few years. History buffs among you will know this is the path of white westward migration in the seventeen and eighteen hundreds. In fact, our current home is mere miles from the trail used by those travelers on their way to California’s central valleys.

Roads and Airports

Rach and I drove across the country twice this year, in various fits and starts. Our U-Haul broke down in Wyoming. We ate at a Dairy Queen in central Texas that was probably standing when Sam Houston was alive and well. We dipped our toes in the Atlantic and then, three-thousand road miles later, watched seals frolic in the Pacific. I hiked in Montana and Wyoming, both new states for me. I added a bunch of new airports to my “places I’ve spent a few hours sitting in uncomfortable chairs” list. We went to Mexico at least three times.

I wrote articles on my phone while sitting in an airport. Rachael interviewed for and locked down a job while driving to Oklahoma City. I painted commissions while standing in kitchens in four different states. We knew when we left Ohio in 2017 that 2018 would be a year of vagabonding, but I don’t think either of us quite realized how high the highs could be, or how low the lows would sink us.  

Hospitals and Death

My family spent a great deal of time in hospitals across the country this year. I started calling it “The Hospital Coffee Survey of 2018”. For the curious: Best Coffee: El Paso. Worst Coffee: Oklahoma City.

We also had to put our dog, Daphne, down this year. She was sixteen. Rachael was out of town and so Dad and I took her to the vet together. It’s the second time in three years I’ve held a dog in my arms and felt the life leave it. Hopefully I won’t have to do that again for a long, long time.

The Work

Technically I began my new career in the summer of 2017. But it took until the first few months of 2018 for things to really take off.  I call it the “spaghetti approach”. I threw a lot of stuff at the wall, expecting maybe one career path to stick. To my unending shock, four or five did. I’m having a blast exploring all these creative and (for the most part!) money making endeavors.


I started painting because I wanted to create something that existed beyond the digital realm. Something that I could touch and that would last. It was purely a mental health move, I did it because I enjoyed the process. Nobody is more surprised than me that it has ended up as a viable income stream. In the last six months I’ve concentrated on improving my technique and finding my voice, and the results are starting to show, particularly in my non-dog and cat pieces. While I’ll always love those, and they are good money, my hope for 2019 is that I will continue to expand the market for my landscapes and abstract semi-abstracted pieces.


Our local library started a poetry night. Reading my pieces to an audience was a new (terrifying, invigorating, inspiring) experience. I published four or five poems in 2017, but none in 2018. I took a break from submitting work to concentrate on essay writing, and my poetry output slowed accordingly. But reading my work aloud to an audience on a regular basis has given me new impetus for writing verse, and my notebook has started filling up with new pieces, some of which are good enough (I think / hope) for publication. We’ll see what the journals and publications say in 2019…

Podcast and BPL

The Backpacking Light Podcast was in the planning phase for most of 2017, but March of 2018 finally saw it go into production. It is well received, with a steady and growing audience of a few thousand people. As my relationship with Backpacking Light has deepened, my responsibilities there have grown to include writing and editing, video production, and gear review.. I’m grateful for the opportunity Ryan Jordan and co. extended me. Very few people in this world get paid to write, think, and talk about backpacking. I’m lucky to be one of them.

Writing and Essays

I’ve been dreaming of calling myself a “professional writer” since I was twelve. 2018 finally saw it happen. How to describe seeing that first Venmo notification show up on my phone, indicating that I had been paid for putting words on paper?!

Again, it’s the result of someone taking a chance on me. In this case, it’s a guy named Seiji. I met Seiji exactly one time in the desert of southern New Mexico, and he gave me a shot writing about the outdoors for a start-up called Upventur. I’m not sure if he knew he’d be getting meditations on mortality and fatherhood, but he received and edited my pieces with patience and grace. He also attempted to curb my tendency towards overwriting. You’ll have to judge for yourself how successful he was.  

I also wrote some pieces just for the fun of it, and a few of them saw the light of day at Junto Magazine and other publications. I’ll post a comprehensive list of my 2018 published work at the end of this series.

Video and Photography

When I started the year, video and photography were my primary skill set and how I thought I’d end up making most of my money. This didn’t end up being the case, but I still had a few projects and clients to keep me busy. I anticipate more business in 2019 as I upgrade my gear and continue to develop contacts I made this year. The projects I did have in 2018 were the most enjoyable I’ve had in a long time. I did work I’m proud of for causes I believe in: social justice and progressive educational philosophies.  

Market Selling

I enjoyed spending the first six months of 2018 selling photography and paintings at the Upper Valley Artist and Farmer’s market in El Paso. There is something cool about seeing the effect your work has on people in real life (as opposed to online). Judging reactions and seeing how certain pieces sold allowed me to adjust my work and inventory accordingly. I found it to be a very valuable tool, and towards the end of my time I was making a few hundred dollars a week. I can’t wait to find a market here in Tahoe to continue that work.

How I Succeeded

As I’ve already mentioned, this was a deeply traumatic year for me personally as well as many of the loved ones in my life.  It took every technique, strategy, and support system I’ve developed to get through 2018 without spiraling into the kind of depression that unraveled my life a few years ago. But I did it! And I’m going to celebrate that unashamedly.

I wrapped up the year with my best financial month as a freelancer. For the first time since I started this crazy adventure, I made the equivalent of an actual (low) salary, and I did it with the ever-sloshing contents of my mind.  I think that is nothing to sneeze at.

This year I became a better husband. Some combination of books and conversations I’ve absorbed over the last five years finally clicked in my head, and I feel like Rachael and I are firing on all cylinders. Room to improve? You better believe it, but I’m happy with the progress made so far.  

How I Failed

I’m on social media to sell art, make contacts, and keep in touch with distant friends and family. But this year I let it distract me in a variety of ways.

My interactions on social media gave me food for thought about the direction of our society, the soul of our country, and the moral fiber of our people. It was…not good food. I saw people that I once respected espouse ideas and hateful thought that are in direct opposition to the faith or moral code that they claim is the guiding force of their lives. This shook me deeply, and my reaction to it was not always kind or appropriate. In 2019 I must search for a way to be 1) be an informed citizen 2) be engaged with social justice 3) interact with people without coming across as lecturing, hectoring, arrogant 4) do one, two, and three without letting the state of the world or my personal disappointment affect my mental health.  

At the same time, I have to become a better ally. I can’t keep letting moral relativism creep into a discussion as a way of avoiding conflict. Just because everybody is occasionally wrong doesn’t mean everybody is equally wrong about everything. Not all ideas deserve equal consideration. Not every point of view is valid. In 2019 I will not accept bigotry or sexism in any conversation of which I am a part, full stop. Certain people in my life have been getting a pass because calling them out would be awkward or possibly damaging to our relationship. But I’m a straight white dude from a reasonably privileged background. Surely, I can manage to have a few semi-difficult conversations. It is, quite literally, the least I can do.


Andrew Marshall