Saturday, January 3, 2015

Looking Backwards: 2014

Amy Poehler said a few months ago, “I think the Internet is a disaster and a bad idea.” I can’t agree with the latter point because I not so secretly love the Internet and wouldn’t know what to do without it, but even on good days, I think she’s right about the first part. The World Wide Web is a mess. Infinitely accessible, it has become a virtual dumping ground for anyone’s uncontainable ego; a place where any moron can have a blog and call it something stupid like “Grumpy Girl Monologues” and lose sleep over search engine optimization issues and what her sites color scheme says about her as a writer. Because I know this to be true about the Internet, I have done my best in recent years to make sure that the content I add to Facebook, Twitter, this blog, or any of the other sites that I have written for serves a purpose outside of whatever mundane, self-serving thought or idea I have at any given moment. I aim to be a true contributor to our digital community – not only an attention seeker. I mean, I am that, too, but I try to seek attention in a funny way – is what I’m saying.

That all being said - this post is solely about me and is not really aiming to contribute anything helpful to your lives. You’re welcome. It’s more of one of those End-Of-The-Year letters people write that are usually littered with smiling family photos and a laundry list of activities and holiday trips that are determined to say, “Look how great and happy our family is! Nothing has ever gone wrong with the Joneses!” Except I’m not the Joneses, I’m the Eleanor-who-is-single, and lots of things have gone wrong. I didn’t think you’d want to see a bunch of pictures of me staring at a computer screen or lying on my bedroom floor doing my favorite activity called “procrasa-brainstorming,” so those won’t be present. Instead,  I’ve decided to take a self-indulgent moment to look back on the last year of my life, and reflect on what has happened, and what is yet to be.

2014 proved to be all the things a year’s worth of time has the potential to be – dramatic and tedious, fulfilling and hollowing, and constantly littered with those bits of unpredictability that make life worth pursuing for another 365 days.  When I started the year, I had big ambitions – I wanted to write my first novel, travel more, settle in and excel in my new job, and I wanted to take an entire year to grow in to the best version of myself. Sure, when you’re looking at December 31st from January 1st – that all seems completely reasonable. I mapped out some big milestones on my calendar, and off I went.

And then those bits of unpredictability started to pop up.

Firstly, let’s talk about traveling. Over the course of 2014, I saw a lot of airport terminals. In March, I made a trip up to Portland with one of my best friends from high school, and we spent a gorgeous, drizzly, 4-day weekend strolling around downtown, eating as much as we could as often as we could, and hugging, high-fiving, and laughing. So much laughing. It was my first real vacation – the kind where you travel somewhere you’ve never been, without a billion family members, and you just explore when you want, be lazy when you want, and chat always. Living 2,000 miles away from the town I grew up in, where most of my family and many of my friends still live, makes it hard to stay connected, so this trip to Portland was not only much desired, but much needed, and here’s why. In late march, as I sat near my gate to return back to Oakland – I realized how scattered I get in my day-to-day life. There are always people who want time and attention, and there are those that deserve it, and those that don’t, really. While in Portland, it was easy to give my best friend 100% of my attention, and it felt so good. That’s how I realized that 2014 would be the year that I learned to focus. I thought about the people who I call my close friends and family, and how easy it is to take them for granted, because even when I'm distracted and flaky, they'll be there when I return. But that's the opposite of how they deserve to be treated. So in 2014, I decided to make my best friends and family a priority, and spend all the time I had available to make sure that they knew they were valued, loved, and so, so, SO fun to be around.

I traveled back and forth to Houston a lot this year. I saw more of my parents and friends in 2014 than I had in the past 5 years of my life combined. And that was beautiful. I loved my time with them, and I also loved coming home. For as much as I was gone, 2014 was the year I really knew that California was my home. “Why do you live out there?” I was asked over Thanksgiving dinner this year, and I smiled. “Because that’s where I live.” The asker probably thought it was a cheeky answer, but it wasn't. I love Louisiana and Texas for the life I had there once, but Oakland, California is where I live.

This year I saw wineries in Napa and more of the beautiful California coastline. I listened to live music on a grassy hill in the perfection of a Bay Area summer night, and I spent more than one foggy afternoon lounging on the beach with my friends – the kind of beach day where you bring a sweatshirt and you wear sunscreen. There were home-cooked dinners and new restaurants, fancy cocktails and lots of craft-beers. There were hikes and museums and days out in the city and nights in on the couch. And there was the comfort of the San Francisco-skyline and that coming home feeling you get when you swerve around a pothole on the 880 freeway and you think, “Oh, California. You’re a mess and I love you.” No one has weirder, more expensive "problems" like the California Bay Area, and I just love it, even when I hate it. 

This year was also the first year I left the United States since 2003. In September, I boarded a JetBlue flight leaving from the San Francisco International terminal to make my way to the Southern and Western coast of the Republic of Ireland with three of my aunts. We spent almost 2 weeks soaking in the landscapes, the music, the food and all of the beer and whiskey and gin, and getting to know each other again. While there are more stories than I could even begin to recount, what I learned most from the trip was this: you are not your job. For so much of my short professional life, I have given so much credit to the title on my business card or the amount of money in my bank account. That’s how I had been measuring success. But surrounded by fishers and shop owners and sheep farmers, when not a single one of them thought to ask me what I did to make money, it dawned on me that there was a whole group of people who actually didn’t care about how impressive or unimpressive my work was. 

What they wanted to know was what I did for fun, or if I played a musical instrument. What were my interests? What made me smile? How big was my family and how often did I see them? Where else had I traveled? What books had I read? They wanted to talk about art and politics and what the West Coast of the United States looks like in the winter. It was calming, relaxing in a way I hadn't anticipated - they weren't expecting anything from me, and I didn't have to do anything other than just be. To have a life, no matter what it consisted of, was impressive enough. When I got home, I decided that’s what I wanted to talk about as well. I didn't want to just be an audio engineer or a writer anymore. I wanted to be a human being. 

And with that note, let’s end this post the way I ended 2014 – with the completion of my first novel. Boy howdy, was that an experience. At times, it was absolutely thrilling. The highs of breaking through a hazy plot-point were indescribable, and often left me feeling nothing short of a genius, but the lows, oh man, were they low. So much crying – so many ‘I can’t do this’ breakdowns, so much fear. By mid-June, I had finished the first draft, a whopping 385 pages of pure, first-attempt chaos. And by mid-July, I knew none of it was useable. That’s when a lot of the crying happened. It wasn’t that the first draft was wrong, or that the story was bad, it was just that it was the first time I had written the whole idea out. And after completing the third draft on December 26th – I knew what I had learned over the course of 2014, and over the course of 3 drafts of my novel: writing is patience. There are times when writing fiction is boring as hell, I’m sorry to say. There are parts of the story that were like pulling teeth to get through, and those were the parts that took the longest. Lots of dishes got done when I hit one of those parts. But they were necessary because the story needed those less-than-exciting moments. Without those moments, the readers wouldn’t know that the moments that mattered should matter at all. I guess writing a novel is a lot like living a life: euphoric peaks and miserable valleys.

So if life is a lot like writing a novel, then deductive reasoning would have me believe this: life is patience. Good things will come and they will be good. Bad things will come and they will be bad. They all take the same amount of time – you just feel like the bad things last forever because they’re bad and that sucks. And sometimes there aren’t enough dishes in the world to distract you from the bad things. Or sometimes the bad things ARE the dishes. Either way, it is simply a matter of patience and fortitude to get through it all. Get through the infinitely delayed flight, get through the hard chapter of the story, get through the rough week of work. And then when it’s time for a good thing – savor it. Savor that moment of genius, savor the long dinners or weekend trips with friends, and savor the entirety of life and its life…eyness.

I don’t know what 2015 will teach me. I don’t know if I’ll meet the goals I’ve determined for myself, though I’m sure I won’t meet them in the manner I’m hoping and planning to. I guess that’s part of the fun of it, right? As I looked back, I recalled 2014 as being “meh,” on New Years Eve, but in so many ways, it was actually incredible. It’s just a matter of perspective. Little things you don’t notice can be big things, and the big things you’re expecting might not be so big after all. 

So as I crack the spine on another bundle of days, I’ll just hope for the patience to endure and enjoy all of that which is headed my way: the good, the bad, and those bits of unpredictability.

Happy 2015, readers!