Following the advice of happiness expert Gretchen Rubin, I chose a theme for myself last year on my birthday. I was dating someone at the time so I might have been thinking more snuggles, more connection, more being taken out for steak. In that respect, I’d call the year an absolute flop-o-rama, but in so many unexpected ways, it was a year of more.
Last September when I stood on the Port-A-Potty lined Parkway feeling oppressed by the preparations for the Pope’s visit, I vowed to de-colonize my body as much as possible, and that was a lightning-strike change that felt, paradoxically, like a religious experience. I wanted to liberate all of the hoo-has and saw the world in a more radical way. At first it was alarming and terrifying but eventually I figured out that I have the power to change things for the better.
It was a loss. I lost my Unitarian church, my circle of friends, and my underlying idea that if I was well-behaved, I’d be loved and welcomed in the world. I’ve lost (I think) the ability to be what any man expects of me. And though I experienced a drastic reduction of fucks that I had to give, it was still a painful process. But as I lost the just-take-a-deep-breath-and-be-accepting-of-your oppressor Unitarians from my life, I gained something too—the realization that we all can be more than religion and society reduces us to. I realized that while women and LGBTQ+ people are always asked to make ourselves smaller for others’ comfort, I didn’t have to anymore, and more importantly, I could put myself to work trying to reduce those limitations for others.
Luckily, it was an election year, and I had the chance to hit the streets for women and fight for hoo-ha freedom in very concrete ways. Primaries gave me the chance to clear hundreds of sexists from my friend feed and stand up for the bullied-feeling handful of pals that were feeling the weight of oh-no-we-have-to-keep-a-man-in-charge scary groupthink.
Being loyal to Hillary helped me to be loyal to myself. One night, fired up after the debate and scrolling through facebook, I ended up accidentally standing up to one of the biggest bullies in my life, someone I’d somehow thought was a little bit in charge of me. Watching Hillary take decades of smear campaigns and bushels of hate-Tweets and still do so much good in the world made me realize that being hated wouldn’t necessarily make me less awesome. Recently I stood up to another of my life’s me-appointed Svengalis and was surprised to see that my world did not come crashing down. It’s given me the courage to realize that what seems an immovable force can actually be dislodged, either easily or incrementally—I’m not helpless and don’t need to be in anyone’s thrall.
Paradoxically, shifting to a positive lens on the world and trying to work for change has been somewhat alienating. I’m still dragging behind me the heavy wagon of disapproval that I can’t quite seem to let go of—they say you can, so maybe someday soon I’ll be able to let all of the baggage slide Grinch-sled-style down the mountain. Either way, I can see the world as a place where we can and should make a real impact. I’ve shaken off a little fraction of the learned helplessness that comes from having a depressed brain and from just living in the world.
Professionally, it’s definitely been a year of more—I branched out into tutoring, which is one of the greatest joys of my life.
It was a lonely year, but I really got a chance to hear myself think and retrace my steps to the connections that mean the most to me. I made a TON of art and got the habit of stapling it onto phone poles around the neighborhood. I FINISHED A BOOK! I did my best to find an agent and publisher but that didn’t pan out, so I’m left with an incomplete feeling that means I need to figure out what’s next.
After the election is over, I’ll need ways to refresh and renew myself. That’s why my theme for age 42 is “Plant the Seeds.” I need time to cultivate, to rest, read, take walks, watch things I haven’t seen before. I want to fill myself up with inspiration so that good work will be able to germinate and grow. I want more time in the woods, at the beach, with the people I love, with kind friends. I want to make this a year of creative and personal indulgence, of sunlight and breeze and rain, of treats for the muses. I’m satisfied with serious 41, and now I’m ready to bloom and play.