New Year’s Thoughts

It’s already 2022 in some parts of the world; here, it is still 2021 and I’ve just heard that Betty White died, after (on my part) a long day of difficult revision work on an essay that as of midnight tonight will be overdue, following a night of terrible insomnia, and on the heels of a rejection earlier today for a piece I submitted at the beginning of the year–and if that’s not pretty much a 2021 retrospective in a nutshell, I don’t know what would be. Striving, struggling, surviving, and then being kicked in the teeth by bad news after bad news. It’s really been a hell of a year, hasn’t it? And we thought we’d seen the worst of it …

We have certainly been living in interesting times.

I don’t know about y’all, but after the past few years I am tired of living in interesting times. I would like for times to be a lot more boring in 2022. Though paradoxically, even though it’s been such a beast of a year, I wouldn’t want not to have had 2021; there’s honestly been a lot of magic alongside the mayhem.

The worst of it, of course, were the deaths of friends and colleagues. I’d hear about them via text, a Facebook post, a phone call, an email. I didn’t go to the last several conferences because of the pandemic. And now they’re gone, and I’ll never see them at a conference again. People who just sent me an email about a project we were collaborating on, or hit “like” on a photo I shared on social media, and they’ll never interact with me again, they’re now mere ghosts in my inbox, on my timeline. Zoom meetings for mutual support with my mutual friends, toasting our loved and lost ones, sharing stories about them–why didn’t we just Zoom for no reason, if in-person interactions weren’t possible and I’ve missed these people so these past few years? In 2022, I plan to do so. I don’t want to receive another notification that someone I have thought of with wistful fondness has died and I didn’t tell them I was thinking of them with wistful fondness.

The best moments, by contrast, were moments shared with loved ones both together and apart, in the same space and virtually. The appreciation I’ve learned to feel for these moments and conversations, and how much I have come to treasure time spent with others. I’ve spent a lot of my adult life as an introvert and a working mother actively carving out alone time and quiet space for thinking, writing, doing, and being, with greater or lesser success, and when the success has been lesser, with no little frustration and impatience. I am finding that the intensity with which I pursue this goal has diminished, that my efforts at an iron grip on protecting “me” time have lessened, and throughout this past year I’ve begun to understand that life has rhythms I can either rail against or lean into. I’ve come to understand that railing against it is the surest way to losing my temper and becoming angry with people whose sole crime is wanting to spend time with me, and leaning into it brings many unexpectedly wonderful moments of connection. I’ve come to understand that this means that when I am feeling especially alone and disconnected, it’s on me, it’s coming from choices I’ve made, because people I love and like who love and like me back are right there, waiting for me to make time for them. And sometimes I can’t do that, sometimes the isolation and solitude are necessary, but it doesn’t mean they’re not there. I’m not alone. That’s a precious lesson that could not come at a better time as I step from 2021 into 2022 with a full slate of projects-in-progress.

My youngest daughter was able to perform her band concert and her winter dance recital in person with my husband and eldest child and myself in attendance. My eldest child has been working on their college applications. Next year will look very different for us with one kid out of the nest and the other moving into high school. I wouldn’t want to have missed the conversations, snuggles, and activities we shared throughout 2021, simply also to miss the awful bits.

And I wrote a lot of things and published some of them in really nice venues, and I drew a lot of things, and I read and watched a lot of interesting and excellent things, and I wouldn’t want not to have done all of that throughout 2021, simply also to miss the awful bits.

And I saw some amazing and heart-stoppingly, breath-catchingly beautiful things, like this late December sunset on top of the mountain where my parents-in-law live:

I wouldn’t want to not have seen this simply to miss the awful bits, either.

And we celebrated one full year of waking up every morning to this beautiful creature’s happy face, and giving her scritches and snuggles, and going on long walks, and watching her grow in confidence and skill through all her obedience classes:

I wouldn’t want not to have had last year with Korra in it simply to miss the awful bits, either.

In reality, what 2021 has taught me most is that life is precious and fragile, that human beings are capable of the greatest self-delusions and most incredible dreams, capable of being wholly thoughtful and wholly thoughtless and wholly careful and wholly careless, and plenty in-between, besides; and that there are definitely, absolutely, terrible things and terrible people in this world, but there are also definitely, absolutely wonderful things and wonderful people. And that when we dwell more on one or the other of those ends of the spectrum, we find ourselves wearing blinders that can be very dangerous to us, personally, and to those we love. So, in 2022, I plan to make it a point to celebrate the wonderful things, and to look directly without turning away at the terrible things, and hopefully to learn to arrive at some balanced place where I can handle grief and loss better for also actively acknowledging happiness and abundance at least as much as the rest. And I’d like to notice and appreciate more the everyday ordinariness of life, and not just the extreme highs and lows. I imagine I might be inching closer to understanding the happy medium of Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time. I hope so. I’d like to.

My wish for you in 2022 is that you, too, remember you are not alone, that you are able to be kind to others and receive kindness from others in return, and that you find pleasure and satisfaction in the ordinary as well as wonder at the extraordinary. I hope 2022 is easier on all of us; and that if it isn’t, we are able to manage things well enough; and that if we can’t manage things well enough, someone will be there to help us through, and we will be there for them in return. I hope we thrive; but if we can only merely survive, then let’s do that; and if we can only just barely get out of bed and make it through the day then we’ll do that, and be proud of whatever we can be proud of and avoid as much as possible coming down too hard on ourselves for things we can’t quite manage. And I wish you 365 glorious sunrises and sunsets, and 365 days filled with people and creatures and things you love, and 365 nights full of stars to wish upon.

About Melissa Ridley Elmes

Professor and writer; Unrepentant nerd; chaotic good. Author of Arthurian Things: A Collection of Poems. PhD, MFA. She/hers. Views my own.
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