Though I'm not one for New Year's resolutions, preferring to simply resolve and attempt throughout the year, the dawn of another annum does make me nostalgiac. As when fall's cool fingers tousle my hair for the first time, letting me know what's coming and ushering in waves of retrospective review, the first few days of January drape my shoulders in a similarly introspective way. What was good about the previous year? What are my hopes and dreams for this next one? What did I learn? How was I disappointed? What took me by surprise? What was a thrill? Growing up, I was definitely a glass half (completely?) empty kind of gal. My mom nicknamed me Eeyore, a moniker which stuck for some time. I don't recall having any say in the matter; pessimism was just my natural tendency. But when I left for college, the chance to start anew was an opportunity I didn't squander in the least. The designated driver became party girl extraordinaire, the high school valedictorian brought home very much less than stellar grades three quarters in a row (I did rebound and become an excellent student again; my nerd self needs you to know that!). Unconsciously, I'd left the albatross of my pre-college identity home in Louisiana; no one in Evanston knew the malaise and uncertainty I'd felt just months prior.
Mine is not a unique story but rather a common tale of growing up and out. This is why college is, for so many, the "best four years." It's a time of freedom and self-discovery and mistakes made in a fairly safe, consequence-free environment. I started really getting to know ME during those years, I graduated with a solid foundation from which I would and have continued to unearth my deepest passions, beliefs, and self.
High-school me didn't really know how to authentically hold my head high, spine erect, shoulders back. She was meek and unsure. She wasn't in command of a clear and confident voice; when she appeared to speak with one, it was a disguise conjured from my parents' good advice to "fake it 'til you make it." The me of 2014 has a voice and a strong posture most of the time. But I'm not sure one ever completely escapes her inner child, the nascent self of yore. The tentacles of that self are those which can reach through the years into our present and cause doubt, uncertainty, self-judgment; those which can make our shoulders slump and precipitate a sadness that's hard to name or even understand.
Sometimes it is returning to a context in which that old self was birthed or most known. For many of us, that's our childhood town or home. Sometimes it's a turn of season or a song, both of which can powerfully zip us back in time or place, into the arms of an old love, the eye of a relational storm or simply a difficult time to which return is not welcome. I, myself, find time of year to be the most powerful method of transport, and so here we are, on January 4. The bubbly happiness of the holidays is finally subsiding, school and work are soon to resume, flights are carrying family members away instead of towards each other.
I am not sad, but there is a sadness about this series of moments, perhaps because I finally find myself with time to reflect. The externals are thus: I miss my sister and her husband and wish we all saw each other more; my parents are getting older, and I'm sorry I can't spend more time simply being with and helping them; the chill of winter isn't one that's easily escapable and so I burrow, into myself and my home; the weeds in which I find parenting young children to ensconce me necessarily limit what I can realistically accomplish beyond that.
The internals are the tougher ones, the ones that are simply easier not to consider but which must and should be. These are the sources of the time-traveling tentacles-the things that have always plagued and still do though now possibly, hopefully in a weaker way. But the fact is, they still affect. For me, the most prominent is self-doubt, an unfortunately tenacious trait that can color many aspects of life with a muddy tinge.
This morning I saw that a post from a blog I really like had been shared on Facebook by a mutual friend. Immediately I read it, very sincerely "liked" it and almost simultaneously began to judge my own work with a butcher's eye. A brief moment of coveting something another had, led, via the interconnected filaments of my history, to a momentary plummet of self-confidence and also to some envy. I know myself well enough to realize that most accurately, my reactions were simply a reflection of my own insecurities. I don't begrudge my friend's success; I just want it too, and I'm not sure I have or can obtain it.
The root of this is doubt, of self and my relationships. I take things personally and my first reaction is always to ask "What have I done wrong?" even if that's not a remotely reasonable question. Over the past year, it has pained me (to a degree I wish were less) that some of my very closest friends have not "Liked" Em-i-lis, even when I sent an invitation to do so. One "Liked" and then "Unliked" my page, an action that confused (just how seriously do people take their Likes??) and hurt me. Is my writing that unappealing? I find it hard not take these actions/inactions as direct comments on our friendship, so I just try to compartmentalize and move on. That Facebook has become some marker of success is troubling enough, in my opinion, but that is one of the facts of the matter regarding success in the blogging world.
I know that if I'm proud of what I write and produce, that should be all that matters. But that's easier said than done, despite years of effort. I do care what others think, at times entirely too much so. What I might think is hilarious or refreshingly honest or right might be uninteresting or totally untrue to another. I have to walk the line between those poles, and sometimes doing so gets the best of me. Optimism and strength can be straight shots to painful sadnesses.
But as this new year opens before me, I look into the unknown with eagerness, not a speck of pessimism in sight. I do believe I wrote some really good stuff last year. When I can shrug off the self-judgment, I can recall the wonderful notes I received from readers: thanking me, encouraging me, complimenting me. My husband is a doll who brought me coffee this morning and has played with the boys downstairs all morning so that I could write. My sons are gleaming jewels of wonder and light, and I adore them. I love that Ol's perky, taut little butt still mostly fits in one of my hands. I love that Jack's teeth are so enormous and gaping, and he has no idea that he sometimes resembles a jack-o-lantern. I love that even when they don't eat what I make, they tell everyone in earshot, "Mommy is the BEST cook in the WHOLE world." I love that Oliver says "flowlers" instead of flowers. And I love that Jack doesn't correct him even when I know the mispronunciation makes him tic with firstborn Type-A'ness.
And as I always do, I'm going to try and keep these things in mind when the other stuff wades in and makes me wonder and doubt and feel sad.