Welcome to the 2017 edition of my honest holiday newsletter. I hope whatever 2017 has been like for you, that something in what I share can encourage you (or, at the very least, entertain you).
As a society, it has been an odd year to be alive. At the same time, our personal lives still exist. While some parts of our personal lives remain surprisingly unaffected by what’s happening in the larger world, other parts will never be the same.
I’m going to try something a little different this year. I usually write month by month. It forces me to truly remember the entire year. It also helps to include the mundane in order to put the peaks and valleys into perspective.
But, writing that way can be somewhat tedious, and I imagine sometimes it’s tedious to read, too. So, this year, I’m going to pick out five high points and five low points. Of course, it’s not as simple as that. Nothing is purely “high” or purely “low,” and I hope that will come out in my descriptions. While this will be a different type of exercise to write (and to read), my goal is still to be honest and open in a way that contrasts with the over-simplistic way we often present ourselves (including sometimes in holiday newsletters).
Still, I’m intermixing the (relative) highs and (relative) lows in an effort to maintain a semblance of the reality that these are not isolated events.
Low #1, Birthday: I purposefully had a low-key birthday this year. After the past few years of fundraising for my birthday (and years of being single and trying to drag people into celebrating with me in the aftermath of the holiday season), I just wanted to keep this one quiet. Tom and I went to see La La Land (which, as a lifelong musical fan, I loved). When we exited the theater and I turned on my phone, I expected to see several voicemails from my family. We always call on birthdays, even just to leave a message. But, this time, I didn’t have a single one. I started sobbing, and thus continued the tradition of crying on my birthday. As much as I have established my own life and have worked through my issues in therapy, my family still has the ability to cause my emotions to plummet in seconds.
(To clarify, most of my family didn’t neglect to call “on purpose.” Also, what I did do “better” is telling most of them within a few days how hurt I was. I ended up meeting some of them for dinner later that week and we had a nice time).
High #1, Women’s March: January 21, 2017 was an incredible day. Seeing pictures and watching footage from that day still gives me chills… millions upon millions of women and their supporters marching in solidarity around the world. I wrote about my experience in these two posts: My Decision to March, When I–When WE–Marched
Low #2, Trump: I am so tired of thinking about this presidency and the people that continue to support this president. I’m tired of talking about it, I’m tired of hearing about it. I’m guessing you might be, too. So, suffice it to say, the “cloud” that has been hanging over our country has been upsetting and oppressive throughout the year. It’s certainly added a layer of stress for many of us. And we’re the fortunate ones. For others, it has been a complete disruption of their lives. Here are a few of the posts I’ve written about it: On Inauguration Eve, You Don’t Have to Be Christian to Love, Can We Afford Nuance Right Now?, In Defense of Anger, Yes, I’m Still Here. (Albeit Discouraged).
Low #3, 5th anniversary of my dad’s death: April 21st marked 5 years since we said good-bye to my dad. This is absolutely a low point in the sense that he hasn’t been a physical part of the past five years. At the same time, I did have a sweet time with some family members on the day of the anniversary. At my request, we visited our old neighborhood and walked past the house that had, until recently, been part of my family for most of my life.
As I mentioned in my newsletter last year, I didn’t feel as though I’d had much chance to say good-bye to the house before my mom sold it. I regularly had dreams in which I was in the house and was confused and distraught because I couldn’t remember if we still lived there or not. I thought going by the house and seeing the evidence of another family living there might help my brain accept the fact that it was no longer a place I would visit.
It did and it didn’t. I still have dreams about the house, and while I’m sometimes confused, I’m rarely distraught. I wake up with more of a, “Hm, that was interesting,” feeling rather than a homesick feeling.
High #3, wedding anniversary: In May, Tom and I celebrated one year of marriage. That in itself is a high point, because I love being married to this kind, giving, supportive man who makes me laugh uncontrollably. We also went to New York City for our anniversary, and had a great time.
The absolute highlight of our trip was getting to go to a taping of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. I adore Stephen Colbert, and I was unbelievably excited to be there. Tom and I ended up with seats in second row center, so we had an amazing view, and were on camera several times. I especially loved that we got to see Colbert do his “Late Night confessions” segment. Before he starts “confessing,” he asks the audience, “You won’t…tell anyone, right?” And we respond, “Of course not!” The camera flips to the audience, and you can see me in my bright yellow jacket, effusively shaking my head as I swear to keep to the secret. Here’s the clip, if you’re interested… Stephen Colbert’s Midnight Confessions, Vol XXV
One of the guests was Bill Nye (the “science guy”), which was fun for me, as a teacher who primarily taught science for six years. But it was also neat to see him so soon after the March for Science, which I’d participated in “from afar” at a satellite march in Winchester, VA.
Hardly anything is simple for me emotionally, however, and the complexity of our actual anniversary date (combined with being tired and overstimulated) resulted in me spending a considerable portion of our visit to The Met holding back tears. I’d love to say I was just *so moved* by the artwork, but it had way more to do with the fact that I just don’t connect with art, trying to understand it felt overwhelming, and the rule-follower in me was upset when a security guard told me I wasn’t carrying my bag correctly (even though I’d never been told–or seen any signs to indicate–there was a correct way to carry one’s bag). Sigh. (Parallels to a year of navigating an expectations-laden institution, anyone?)
High #3, the gym: I joined a gym for the summer so I could take classes. It helped me with my summer in so many ways–getting up in the morning because I had a set time to be somewhere, seeing and being around people (even if I didn’t talk to them), getting different types of exercise. It was one of the best summers I’ve had since I started teaching (nearly ten years ago!), and much of that was due to the structure of my gym routine.
High #4, closed facebook groups: 2017 became the year of the closed facebook groups for me. “Closed” (or sometimes “secret”) groups are ones you have to be added to or approved in order to join, so what you post can only be seen by other members of the group. The handful I’m a part of are incredibly supportive spaces, where people feel they can share openly and where disagreements are more often followed by respectful discussion than by inflexibility or personal insults. Even when I’m not participating (which is a lot of the time), their presence is an encouragement to me.
High #5, Seattle: Tom and I originally planned to visit his grandfather in New York in July, then tack on a trip somewhere nearby for just the two of us. Those plans unexpectedly fell through, which essentially reduced our vacation plans to Tom and I staring at one another saying, “I don’t know… where do you want to go?”
We eventually settled on Seattle. I’d wanted to go there for several years, because my dad used to go there on business and really liked it out there. I’d held onto an e-mail he’d written for one of my friends when she was planning a trip out there, and I used that as a sort of guide in planning our trip. Tom liked the idea, and Seattle seemed to have a good mix of the sites of the city along with several national parks within driving distance.
We packed our five days there quite full (maybe a little too full), but every experience was worth it. One of my favorite moments was when we went whale-watching. There was something so calming and comforting about watching them slowly bob up and down as they’d come up for air and then submerge again. I also loved our visit to Mount Rainier, one of the most beautiful places I’ve been in the United States. Mount St. Helens was gripping and awe-inspiring.
One of my goals while we were there was to try to find a Thai restaurant my dad used to go to while he was in the area on business trips. He once said it was his favorite restaurant. I found two that fit the description, and since they both had his favorite dish (pineapple fried rice), I had to just pick one. We also drove by the other restaurant just in case I’d picked the wrong one.
Low #4, job stress: I really had to gather my last bits of energy and resolve to get through the end of last school year. The beginning of this school year, however, was stressful and discouraging in a whole new way. The past three school years have been especially difficult, but all in different ways. I joke that it’s like the concept of rotating fields of crops–leaving some fields “fallow” (unplanted) certain seasons to give them time to replenish their nutrients. I’m able to handle the stress because it strains a different skill set each year. It’s probably true in some respects. But I am concerned that I am getting to a point where all my “fields” of stress tolerance and skills will be depleted at the same time, and I will have nothing left from which to draw.
Low #5, Christmas memories: Christmas brings up some hard memories for me, and this year, the memory of my last Christmas with my dad was on my mind more than it has been in recent years. I was already feeling vulnerable, and then something else happened that brought me down pretty quickly. Relatively speaking, I’ve had much harder Christmas seasons, and this “down” period somewhat resolved within a few days, but the depth of it surprised me. As my counselor has reminded me again and again, grief is unpredictable that way.
Whew. If you have made it this far, congratulations. I don’t have a prize for you, but I do appreciate your interest. 2017 has been an interesting year, to say the least. I laughed and cried writing this newsletter, which is fitting for a year characterized by both laughter and tears. Whatever your 2017 contained and whatever 2018 holds, I hope and pray you are able to approach and process the experiences in an honest, healthy, and meaningful way.