A year ago I wrote here to summarize what had happened that year. I realize now I wrote it for myself, and realize all my writing is like that: for me, and for you as me. I hope I don’t presume to know you too well.
In graduate school, I have the vaguest memory of a discussion on historiography. Arnold Toynbee’s colossal Study of History was a professor’s favorite, as was Arthur Schlesinger’s Cycles of American History. I never read beyond bits and pieces, but latched on to the idea that there are different types of history. History is a cultural idea as much as music or dress, my professor believed. What clicked for me was the connection with the idea of time and experience in the quantum age: nothing exists until we observe it. Applied to history, nothing exists in the stream of shared memory until we apply a preformed idea of the story of what it’s supposed to mean.
A year on, I see evidence of cycles and a new sort of meaning. 2012 began well, had a terrific middle, and collapsed at the end. 2013 began with a wrack of anxiety and questioning, frustration that things weren’t going fast enough, and a long descending period where I tested where rock bottom was, or at least felt that place’s yawning hole. At the middle it turned around, and now here I am, already five days into 2014–a year used in Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke stories–and the sun is out, and I am okay.
It is easy to think I have failed. I meant to have a novel first draft by October. At the moment I am midway through the fifth chapter. So, objectively: fail. But over the year’s rise and fall I can see my driving, wretched attempt to make something happen in a way and at a rate I wasn’t prepared for undermined my mental health and made my right shoulder really hurt. Now I feel better about writing, and at moments have the sense that it really is possible, that I am writing to the best of my ability, that it will come together. Other days I don’t. This must be that package old folks keep talking about.
It took a long time to get over a woman I’d fallen in love with. There, I said it. New York made me realize I had never felt that way before, and it was something I wanted. I kept holding on to it through 2012, still grieving about my cat’s passing away, and I don’t care how sentimental you may think that is. I understood my teenage self in a new way, grasped another reason why I had steered clear of such involvements then. Fall of 2012 was all this, plus being jobless in a way I hadn’t planned: heartbroken, alone in the way of heartbreak and grief, and with a stack of vet bills. Unemployment had me out looking when I’d planned to get writing in earnest, landing interviews but no jobs: failure and rejection on three fronts (love, job, writing). 2013 opened with a new job, but with it the anticipated terror of failure. What am I getting into? Am I wasting my life in a different way?
From here, safe with the bright winter sunshine and citalopram, I can see the year’s weight came from holding on. This is the baggage that is so talked about! Voices as old as middle school I could at last see, high school’s crusty and overwrought ideas of success. I would have rather taken the appropriate meds from the start and avoided the darkest nights. The darkest nights are what I needed to have.
This past nervewracked summer, a friend asked why it was so bad to not have my life’s aspirations completed already. Are you in a hurry to be all done, to live a few more decades bumping into furniture, lost and rudderless? By the end of 2013, my inner animal understood what she meant.
2013 did not close with a first draft done, but I am friends with writing again: I can see back to the verve I had in college, and at last have the patience to make a good story instead of just good sentences. I feel like I know where I am in the book. I’ve held a job a year and saved most of the money. I was able to loan some to friends in need. I have a new car for another twenty years. I have a warm and safe place to sleep. I am healthier than I have ever been. I have met someone new.
It’s taken a little longer than I thought, but it always takes longer than you think. Today I will take down the Christmas lights and put them away, free of sadness, free of Monday school dread. It will be fine, for all of us, on the bus together.