Hello lovelies and happy New Year! I hope you had wonderful celebrations, whether they were quiet or raucous, and that you had someone you love with you, even if that someone was yourself.
Right now I’m in Key West. I traveled here with friends from my time in Shreveport, Louisiana, where I taught Modernism (poetry, drama, and fiction) for two years. They were my first and last years as the scholar I’d always thought I was going to be, before writing sidled up to me one night and took me home. We hit it off, writing and I, much to our mutual surprise. So I left Louisiana for a job as a creative writing professor, but I cherish my memories from there as well as my friendships.
Not least because these friends know how too cook. In fact, I’ve been banished from the kitchen, a position I am not very familiar with, while they make a traditional New Years Day feast of black eyed peas, cabbage, corn bread, and pork chops. So I thought I’d use the last of my brain cells not burned out by the beach this morning (or the champagne last night) to reflect on what I learned this last year:
- Listen to podcasts
This is an easy one, but I mean it. Listen to podcasts. Listen to Dear Sugar, for sure, and Ted Radio Hour, to hear brilliant people say brilliant things. Definitely listen to Risk!, or the Moth, or This American Life, because storytelling will make you a better human being (it will also entertain you). Better yet, take a walk every day at some point and listen to one episode of a podcast and I promise you virtually anything you’re struggling with will be better.
- Take time
I’m pretty driven. I had one boss call me Pure A, as in Pure Type A. That’s not entirely accurate, as I can also be a total sybarite, but this year I really let myself unapologetically take time for myself. It’s not that I didn’t get my work done, it’s that I also prioritized things like exercise, and eating well, taking time to go out with friends, and canoodling. In other words, I treated myself like a whole being and not just a writer or professor. And I got a hell of a lot of good work done, actually. So don’t forget to take time for yourself; you’re not a machine.
- Have faith
Not in a higher power, muffins, but in yourselves. You’ll get through stuff that’s bad, you’ll enjoy stuff that’s good, and you deserve to do both. And on that note…
- Be kinder to yourself
I listened to a podcast (!!) where a wise woman talked about how we say horrible things to ourselves, things that we would never say to a friend. So I started doing what she counseled: when I went on a mental tangent listing all the stuff I’d fucked up or forgotten or was behind on, I would stop. Then I’d reframe the conversation so I sounded like my best friend rather than my worst enemy. I’d encourage and counsel, rather than remonstrate. Rather than sounding delusional, as I’d feared, I sounded reasonable. Better yet, being positive meant I’d think through solutions rather than festering in disappointment. So be nice to yourself! You smell good and people like you. Never forget that.
- Millay is right
One of my favorite poets is Edna St. Vincent Millay, and one of my favorite poems of hers is this one:
Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution’s power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.
This year I learned to act like love–be it between friends, family, or lovers–is exactly as important as it is. And you should, too. We are small and we are insignificant, and the greatest of us are as ephemera. But we are here, and the connections we forge are our only real grace. When love ends, we learn about ourselves, and when love begins we learn about other people. So put your heart out there, friend, and be amazed by who picks it up.
Anything you’ve learned this year? I’d love to hear in comments. xoxoxo