We began this blog in January of 2017. And now we’ve come twelve months hence- the closing of a year. We measure our days using this 365 cycle, relying on our history, our tradition, relying on the wisdom of cycles and systems and celestial rotations beyond our capacity to control. We do not need to measure time for it to change us; it does that all on its own. Rather it is our measuring of it that throws us most often into the moment of reflecting on what its passage has created. We each reflected on thirty years of life as we passed this milestone, but now Maggie and I look at just one year. Just these 365 days. What has their imprint been, what do we want to remember, what do we keep and what leave behind as we head forward into 2018? So naturally, I return to my roots: a list!
You know those lists that are like “10 Things You Need to Know Today!”?
Well, here are 17 Things I Want to Say Today (your needing to know these things is up for debate- you can determine that!)
- Carnevale-A farewell to flesh. I stopped eating meat this year, though I never started calling myself a Pescatarian (I still occasionally eat fish). Instead, I sheepishly (pun intended) just continue to qualify my actions by saying “I haven’t eaten meat since February,” which feels somehow different than assuming a labeled identity. I’m describing my behavior- a habitual choice- while not having to take up a personal descriptor and claim a tribe. I certainly have reasons that this feels right to me currently, but I didn’t at the onset make some deliberate and highly purpose-filled decision to stop. I wasn’t to achieve a specific health goal or launch a personal moral crusade. I’m not trying to convert anyone (yet). I just began around Lent to forgo meat, and I haven’t gone back. I’ve had the sporadic bite-ful, mostly accidentally, of something containing meat, and each time have realized I’m not ready to return to eating flesh. And truth be told, I suppose I wonder if talking about our behaviors, choices, and opinions instead of describing ourselves as certain types of people might help us talk to one another. We can’t necessarily control the labels placed on us by others—male, female, black, white—but we do actually control what we call ourselves. So for now, I’m not a Vegetarian, I’m a person choosing not to eat meat. And if you are curious why, maybe we’re in a better starting place because I haven’t led off with a category, but an action. Though useful and necessary, labels tend to neaten up and consolidate, while I hope a description might invite dialogue.
- New Orleans…Or how after talking for years about how I never go anywhere except home for holidays/weddings/births/funerals/showers, I finally went on a trip literally anywhere else. In other words, for really the first time since my overseas adventures, I took myself to a completely unknown place for three days and explored. My friend Val and I went to New Orleans— a new spot for both of us—and enjoyed museuming, eating, drinking, music, and perhaps most importantly, our favorite activity: just strolling around with our eyes open. Turns out fortunately that we are good travel companions, which will most certainly be something to keep in mind when I remember that having done it before, it is totally possible to take time off, plan a trip, go on a trip, and enjoy a trip. I’m eyeing Yellowstone…Val?
- Fellowship of the Triangle: In launching this blog, sharing our thoughts about one another, our friendship, growing older, change, my already life-giving relationship with Maggie and Jillian only deepened. And this is a beautiful thing. I loved them intensely before, but in looking forward to the next thirty years (maybe the next thirty after that, inshallah) I’m so blessed to know that I have these two ladies in my life. The blog may end, but our relationship is like Celine Dion crooning on the bow of the Titanic about her heart going on and on. Wait, scratch that. Our friendship is a lot better than that.
- Babies. And Hope.I’ve visited this topic in other posts throughout the year. I have no kids of my own, but my life is now brimming with little people that I interact with regularly: the children of my sisters, cousins, and friends. There have been too many discouraging moments over the span of this year—the current chaos of our government, natural disasters, mass shootings, and seemingly increasingly vitriolic discussion in our cultural conversation (it didn’t seem possible to increase THAT after last year, but ah well)—but I must concede that we continue hoping. My hope is that we are simply better to one another; not that we are right or capable of changing someone’s mind, but that we see Christ in the stranger (or the Republican, Democrat, man, woman, immigrant—fill in your trigger). When I feel discouraged, I remember that these little people still need a world to grow up into, and I want my life to reflect a more loving and empathetic world. My sister recently asked me to be Godmother to my nephew Conor, and I take incredibly seriously the responsibility of nurturing the spiritual upbringing of a child. So in spite of the exhausting news cycle, there’s no throwing up my hands in disgust and fatigue; I have things to do, and I have to keep hoping.
- Stillness. Believe it or not, I’m still thinking about Tech Sabbath. So much so, that I suggested to Maggie that we incorporate some screen-free time into our Advent practices this year. We won’t be taking full days away from tech, but weekly spans of time in which we deliberately and consciously step away from our technologies. I’m trying to not feel alarmist about what screens are doing to my brain without me even fully being aware of the impact, but it does feel scary to me to reflect on the frequency with which I have the itch to look at my phone. God gave humans an incredible capacity to dream, create, and invent, so I’m not denigrating our technologies; I just want to make sure I’m using the tools and not letting the tool use me. I agree with the theologians who argue that God has no bad things in His Creation—there is nothing inherently good or sinful in and of itself, be it food, sex, or your KindleFire. Rather, it is our use or abuse of these things that leads us to glorify God or alternately, to move further from good. With technology infiltrating every single aspect of our lives now, practically, I want to make sure I can still find stillness within the signals, calm in the tweetstorm (I don’t actually tweet, this just sounded good), freedom from finger-tapping.
- Roundabout! I got a new gig this year with Roundabout Theatre Company after almost six amazing years of running wardrobe with Manhattan Theatre Club. Change is not always easy to me (beginnings and endings trigger quite a bit of anxiety for me), and I also tend to feel incredibly loyal to people and places that mean something to me. So a transition that required me to leave my former daily contact with dear colleagues and friends, take on more responsibility, and step into something of an unknown was a huge challenge and a weighty decision. That said, I am tremendously glad I took the leap. It’s meant great things for my world, like increased job stability, new friends and colleagues, and a renewed sense of my own capabilities and capacity in my career. This was undoubtedly one of the largest and best changes that happened in my life this year, and I continue to be grateful for what it means.
- Keep Waking Up. Yes, I am borrowing from the cultural catch-phrase of becoming “woke” (and I’m not the hugest fan of catch-phrases) but this year I was continually reminded of all that I do not know and cannot inherently and obviously see in this world. I can only understand certain things in my small sphere, and let’s be honest, sometimes it’s even difficult to know ourselves. On the flip side, though, this year also reminded of the enormous capacity of humans to continue expanding knowledge and empathy. I think this empathy-expansion is like a muscle we must vigilantly exercise to keep it from atrophying; it is up to us to remain open people. We can’t know everything, but we can always be open to learning and listening, and fight the temptation and comfort of becoming rigid in our opinions and viewpoints. I’m going to keep trying, and I take no shame in the simple statement that there are far more things I DON’T know than what I DO.
- My Top Pop Culture Discoveries 2017: I was a bit late to the party, viewing this relatively far after its release buzz, but I really enjoyed The Crown on Netflix, and also (more Brits, you say!?) the sooner we can get more seasons of Great British Baking Show on Netflix the better, in my opinion. I also really enjoyed a fairly short BBC series drama on Netflix called Doctor Foster. A new podcast I discovered this year is ‘It’s Been a Minute With Sam Sanders’ (NPR), as I really enjoy Sam’s positivity and the warmth he shows in speaking with his guests and listeners. I didn’t see many films this year, but I loved the nostalgia of the Star Wars movie Rogue One, which I saw in early January, so I’ll say it counts for a 2017 movie! My favorite new musical I saw this year was ‘Groundhog Day,’ and not just because I worked on it so am most definitely biased! I also loved seeing my friend Bob (husband to my friend Andrea) in a wonderful small Off-Broadway musical called ‘Baghdaddy.’ It was about the mishandling of intelligence leading to the start of the Iraq War, and it was both tragic and hilarious all at once. You’ll just have to trust me on this one.
- Best Thing I Read this Year: I have an unfortunate tendency to forget what I’ve read as soon as I dive into the next book, but alas! (It’s one reason I have a word document on my computer with a list of completed books.) Probably my favorite memoir I read was Shrill, by Lindy West, and my favorite fiction was still, I maintain, (as I wrote about in an previous blog), The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante. Another surprise favorite was Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino. He creates these beautiful word spaces in the mini-chapters of his novelette that are nice to slip in and out of.
- Boundaries and Balance. I can say categorically that I’ve done a better job this year at setting some boundaries of time management, rather than compulsively saying yes every time someone asks me to work or do something. I’ve made careful decisions about how many hours to tack on with freelance jobs outside of my regular show schedule, resisting some of my impulse to over-schedule my work calendar with various projects (ah, the freelance juggle). Mostly I’ve left my one day off a week as untouchable, so I haven’t gone for weeks on end without a day off, and I’ve also been increasingly confident at telling people what works best for me with scheduling, instead of feeling like I should work as much as the person will possibly let me…even if that results in me being exhausted and miserable. Setting some boundaries allowed me to have some balance for other things that give me life—time with friends, new experiences, travel, yoga, church—and it gives me enough space so that I can more often enjoy work when I AM working, instead of just feeling like I’m slogging through it. For years after I arrived in New York, I felt I needed to work every single hour and minute that someone asked me to, and while I still feel tremendously guilty when I am not working every minute and hour, at least I’ve gotten better at saying no, and I’m working on the guilt part? We’ll say it’s a start.
- Best Practices: Speaking of careers, at the beginning of the year I set myself a goal to hold myself to high standards in my working life regarding communication and respect for the time and efforts of others, especially as I took on more responsibility. I want to have an earnest golden rule principle: treating other people in the workplace the way I hope to be treated. One side of this is trying to evaluate what is true kindness to the other person in the situation (honesty and transparency are pretty much the way to go, even if you have to ultimately give someone disappointing news and end up feeling like the bad guy). The other side of this is not getting frustrated when other people do not reciprocate and behave oppositely (ie. Poor/absence of communication, focusing on petty issues, time waste, etc.) I have no grand point to make about this, since it is an ongoing practice. I feel just as committed to this idea of best practices as I did in the beginning of the year. I am not going to let other people change the way I act. Just because someone is a poor communicator, that doesn’t mean I am going to start withholding information. Just because someone else drops a ball, I’m not going to drop balls or procrastinate on things that other people are waiting on me to complete. Importantly, though I am not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, so I’m also going to have as much grace, flexibility (and at times forgiveness) as I can for the other ways that people work and operate (and sometimes flub) around me!
- 2018 Goal: Do more things that make me nervous. Things that I did like this in 2017 turned out to be pretty darn wonderful. Things like the Women’s March on Washington. Starting a new job. Taking an overnight bus to North Carolina to surprise my entire family for Thanksgiving/my nephew’s first birthday. I fretted anxiously about the details, logistics, and possible scenarios around these things, then went through with them, and when all was said and done, was tremendously happy I had. Next year I hope to look for more of these opportunities, lean into the discomfort, and see what happens!
- Thanks legs, thanks feet. Thanks body. After a stress fracture in my heelbone in early 2016, followed by anterior tibialis and achilles heel tendonitis, and THEN a strain in my high hamstring, part of me felt like I would never again feel comfortable in my own legs and feet while I walked around New York City. These were minor injuries and pains compared to what many people deal with chronically, and I’m not trying to compare or complain. What I’m trying to say is that prior to these injuries, I did not appreciate enough my pain free moments, deep yoga practices, and long walks the way I currently do. Of course I will experience pain, illness, and injury in the future, along with the inevitability of aging, but as my body continued to heal from last year’s injuries over the course of this year, I actually started having some gratitude for my body. Maybe a tiny bit of body acceptance, which feels a little radical to me. At any rate, I’ve been feeling grateful when I can for my own physical form, for its enormous capacity to heal. I’m trying to notice not only aches, twinges and fatigue, the messiness at times of the human body, but instead acknowledge and give thanks for energetic moments, pain-free activity, and the satisfaction of breath, movement and my own physical experience of the world around me.
- Chaos- Or rather, using chaos to help us let go of our illusion of control. You only need to listen to the news for a few minutes to witness the fragility of human life and experience. It is not hyperbole to say that people can and do have their entire universes transformed in an instant. Natural disasters, political turmoil, threat of nuclear conflict with North Korea, terrorist attacks in my own city and many others…fear is a natural response to this constant parade of suggestions that our world could implode at any minute. I’ve actually been trying to think of this reality instead as a way to disentangle and detach myself from the (laughable) concept that I could ever reign my life into an orderly, neat, whole entity. We lay plans, we try our best, we strive, we build, but we must also live with the knowledge that we may have to give up literally everything at any time. So maybe it is best to hold onto things a little more loosely, and to quit grasping so hard—to hold gently onto my possessions, abilities, ambitions, and dreams, instead of anchoring myself to them. A metaphor to illustrate, perhaps? When people are in car accidents and they are tense their muscles, their injuries are often far worse than when the muscles are relaxed and unclenched. As life happens, collisions necessarily happen. So time to start practicing the art of release.
- Maggie and I can write a book. And maybe we will. Thanks to the 3:30 project, I have written more this year than I have since college and my year of blogging while I was serving overseas in Jerusalem. Sitting at my laptop, I remembered how satisfying and yet at times frustrating it is to try and craft a perfectly expressive sentence. Also how much time it takes. I’ve said this all along, but I wrote because even if no one read it, the practice of figuring out what I truly felt or thought about a topic and articulating it was clarifying, and at times, therapeutic. Midway through this year Maggie and I read a book together by a woman not much older than us. I think we were both struck in reading the book that it was an exploration of her life experience, a millennial just like us, and that people were still interested in reading her story. Suddenly it seemed far closer to imagine just writing something more developed together—that maybe it’s okay to keep telling simple human stories, even if our lives or thoughts don’t strike us as revolutionary or remarkable much of the time. So while this blog may come to its conclusion, Maggie and I are exploring what it might mean to write something together in the future. Who knows what 2018 or 2019 will hold, and maybe they will hold words some of you might be interested in reading. At the very least, I think we could enjoy the process of writing together.
- Alone-ness. Speaking of body acceptance. I also think that turning 30 and still being single has led me to a new kind of acceptance of my own independence. My upbringing primarily showed me examples of people who lived in pairs, a Noah’s Ark of two by twos, which is how I then naturally envisioned my life playing out. For a long time in my twenties, not having a partner therefore seemed something of a failure on my part- a way in which I was not fully adult or growing up. I think I let that reflect too heavily on how I saw myself. Perhaps moving into my thirties is merely showing me the importance of all my adult relationships, along with the important aspect of living within a community. There is no longer a time table or set of expectations surrounding my need to find certain types of relationships (my mother’s marrying age of 24 no longer looms large in my consciousness, but is far in my rearview). Perhaps marriage will one day be in my future, but I think in the meantime I am becoming more capable of seeing a partnership as an outpouring and expansion of the love I already have within me, rather than an attempt to fill an emotional hole, “complete” myself, or check off a box deemed by my society and cultural as a natural developmental progression. Being single does not mean you aren’t in fulfilling and deeply developed relationships, and I appreciate that daily.
- You. Here’s the final thing I need to say in 2017; to YOU, the person reading this. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for being in my life and Maggie and Jillian’s lives. Thank you for holding space in your time and in your minds and hearts for our offering of words. Thank you for responding, either online, in email, or in conversation with us. I said before that I’d write even if we had zero readers, but the fact is that we DID have readers. Many people so important to us took the time to read, and having you has humbled and honored me. In the constant clamor for our minutes and our attention in modern life, you gifted us with some of yours, and I cannot express resoundingly enough how much it is appreciated, and how meaningful it is to have shared this yearlong project with you. I think when we give careful attention to the thoughts, ideas, soul searching, and humor of one another, we become more human—more fully ourselves—so I say again, thank you, thank you, thank you. You have nurtured my humanity.