Once there was a way.
Just the other day, I was thinking back to 2018 and a new kind of resolution I had decided to try. It was something called, “My Word for 2018.” At the time, I thought it was a new trend, as I had seen it going around on a few blogs/Twitter profiles. Upon deeper reflection, I realized this is probably something people have been doing for generations, but the internet has a way of making things new again. In any case, when thinking about my 2018 word, “SEE,” I struggled to think of my 2019 word. I went back to blog posts and old journal entries, and realized that I never came up with one last year.
If one holds oneself dear, one should diligently watch oneself. Let the wise man keep vigil during any of the three watches of the night. -Attavagga: The Self (157)
I tend to work in cycles like this. Some cycles are long, like annual ones, and others seem to be a little shorter. There are times when I’m completely in control, positive and energetic, and then there are times when everything seems to go wrong and, much as I care to act/react differently, I can’t bring myself to do so. In looking back on those old posts, one thing I noticed was that, at the end of 2017, I wrote an annual reflection and commented on what a difficult year it had been. I could be writing that exact same post right now. Literally, to the word. That year, I wrote, “This past year has been a real struggle, psychologically, emotionally, and financially.” Those are the exact thoughts that brought me back to my journals and to the idea of selecting a word for 2020.
Something important, then, might be this: I ended 2017 by reflecting on that challenging year and tried to write something positive about the year ahead. Then, I began 2018 by choosing a word, SEE, to focus on (no pun intended.) And, you know what? 2018 was an a very good year, all things considered. But, when the year came to an end, I did not reflect. When 2019 began, I did not think ahead. I wonder if I only make time to self-reflect when things are going poorly, and perhaps that is part of what creates such imbalance in my life. If I cannot pause just as well during good times to acknowledge what is good, to think about why things are going well, and to remind myself of those feelings–to keep at them–then how quickly and easily might they slip away?
One should first establish oneself in what is proper; then only should one instruct others. Thus the wise man will not be reproached. -Attavagga: The Self (158)
So, I will try again. I admit first of all that I’m trying, just as in 2017, when things have not been very good. This year has been a very difficult one for many reasons, including a physical injury in January that seemed to set the tone for everything else to come, then struggles with mental health that I have been battling all year. I don’t want to end the year with those thoughts, though. Instead, I’ll think about the good:
As an educator: I’m more than half-way into my tenure term as a college faculty member and will be planning and submitting my tenure application late next year. I’ve built a good rapport with my students and colleagues at the college and have participated in a number of things, events and programs and developments, that I believe are important and helpful to the college and its community. I designed my own course, which has run successfully three times already, and I am currently designing a second one.
As a writer: In February, I published my first book (academic non-fiction) and this year I wrote and revised my first novel, which is now being beta read and queried to publishers. Recently, I compiled and edited a collection of essays that I’m working on assembling into my next book, a collection on LGBT issues in literature, and I hope to publish it early in 2020. I successfully “won” both Camp NaNoWriMo in June and NaNoWriMo in November. I submitted a short work that I care about deeply to multiple journals and, though I did not get an acceptance at any of them, I’m very glad that I wrote the piece and that I’ve been putting it out there, regardless of the outcome.
In service: I’ve made strides in public service, one of my goals for last year. Most of my activities have been in service to the college and local community, such as assisting at the county public library during LGBT family day. I was also asked to serve as a national juror for the Scholastic Writing Awards this year, a task which is rather monumental but has already been so rewarding. I’ll be finishing my services as a juror in the next couple of weeks and hope to attend the ceremony this spring, to see these young writers be recognized for their talents and hard work.
As a person: Something I’ve been trying very hard to do is break the chains of social media. It’s difficult now that I live so far away from everyone I care about, except my husband. The majority of my family and friends are 2,000 miles away now, with some a little closer (300 miles.) So, giving up something like Facebook, which is what my entire generation “grew up” on and has made ubiquitous in our lives, from sharing photos and personal updates, to invitations for important events, is easier said than done. I’ve deleted my account a number of times, and tried the same with Twitter, etc., but I kept going back. I have managed to stay mostly off of it (Facebook) for one month, now, and I’m going to consider this progress that I can build on. I fear social media has done more harm than good, particularly in the way we communicate with one another but also in the way it has decimated individuals’ capacities for critical thought, patience, and development of common sense. It is, in my opinion, stifling our growth and simultaneously cultivating our basest instincts. I’ve decided to keep in touch in more old fashioned ways, like text messaging (can you believe that’s “old school”?), sending physical cards and letters, and making phone calls. I created a spreadsheet with important people and their important information, things I want to remember, like birthdays, which for the last 15 years I’ve relied on Facebook to tell me. No more.
In addition, I’ve tried to keep up with some of my other personal goals, like developing my philosophical self. I almost wrote spiritual self, there, but I’m not really that kind of person, even though I do think I’ve been settling into Buddhism this year. A secular Buddhism, if that’s possible. (Well, of course it is.) I thought for some time that Stoicism was my route, and I still respond to much of its teachings and will continue to rely on it, but it wasn’t exactly right. Buddhism has been making much more sense to me. In a way, it brings me back to a kind of humanism that I pursued for nearly a decade.
Easy to do are things that are bad and harmful to oneself. But exceedingly difficult to do are things that are good and beneficial. -Attavagga: The Self (163)
One thing I’ve failed at has been maintaining my physical health. 2018 was a “Red Letter Year” in that regard. I absolutely nailed my physical health and was making incredible progress toward the kind of strength and balance I had been seeking. I think part of the success was found in the new environment–my first full year living in a new state, one where it’s possible to be outdoors nearly every day, and certainly a great deal more than I was able to when I lived in the Midwest! But when I came home from a Christmas visit last winter and injured myself just a few weeks later–an injury that took months to heal–I somehow lost all that drive and ambition, and of course physical and mental/emotional health are intimately related. I let that setback and major disappointment infect the way I thought and felt about everything else, the way I responded to every other event, and it drove the choices I made all year. The summer of 2019 brought another major setback, this one financial, so that just as I was beginning to heal physically, I was hit mentally/emotionally with another whammy. And, I believe, because I had allowed myself to sink into such a pit in the first place, the second punch landed much harder than it might have otherwise.
By oneself is evil done; by oneself is one defiled. By oneself is evil left undone; by oneself is one made pure. Purity and impurity depend on oneself; no one can purify another. -Attavagga: The Self (165)
My Word for 2020: HEAL. Taking everything into consideration, then, including when, where, and why I feel I have been struggling with when, where, and why I have succeeded, I’m making my focus for 2020 healing. I know I have a tough year of recovery ahead, which will be even more challenging as I prepare for my tenure application. But while I spent 2019 feeling slighted, disappointed, and ultimately angry with myself for not being perfect all the time, I want to look at 2020 as a year of renewal. A re-commitment to myself on every level: physical, intellectual, and emotional. I’ve subscribed to a few magazines that I hope will offer me interesting news of the world, in arts, science, and philosophy. I plan to set aside time each week to read these and to engage with the world, in lieu of being on social media. I plan to continue to learn more about Buddhism and to do more writing, much more writing, than I did even in 2019. I plan to give an enthusiastic “YES” to doing things that are important to me, to taking those opportunities, and give thoughtful “NOs” to those things that demand too much of my time or attention and for which I’m not as suited as someone else might be. I will make myself a priority, again, and that means forgiving myself for a bad year of bad choices.
Job number one, now, is to look at healing as a gift to myself, not a punishment for what I didn’t do right when I could have.
I will begin with what makes me: writing, reading, and music.
Happy New Year.