Whew! That was a close one, wasn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I’m ok with putting 2017 to bed. We did it gently. After watching some football and eating tacos with the grandkids, Fred and I watched a little Jeopardy, complained about how inane the Times Square coverage was, and talked about how hard it seemed to stay up till midnight this year. Wild times in Albuquerque!
This morning the new year was waiting for us like the newspaper when we woke up, wide open pages swelling with invitation and possibility. I’m planning to check off my first resolution (“Get back on my bike”) today, but right now it’s a little cold out. While I’m waiting for the temperature to crest forty, I thought do some of that new year’s reflecting and make a list of things I know.
One: It’s madness not to be who you are.
I thank Franz Kafka for this one. I’ve been thinking about him lately, since this was one of those years when words like “Orwellian” and “Kafka-esque” could be used unpretentiously in pop culture. Who didn’t imagine, at some point this year, that they were waking up like Gregor Samsa, freshly transformed, into a world that was different than the one you went to sleep in? or like Joseph K, summarily arrested one morning “without having done anything wrong.” That’s just how the year felt, I think.
I’ve always felt a kinship with Kafka. In his diaries, he reveals how his writing life torments him. “My talent for portraying my dreamlike inner life has thrust all other matters into the background,” he tells us. “Nothing else will ever satisfy me.”
And yet, Kafka, like most of us, artists or not, got up every morning and went to his day job. His art had to elbow its way in at the edges. In a letter to Max Brod, his friend, biographer, and editor, he noted that “a non-writing writer is a monster inviting madness.”
It was in something of that spirit that I started this blog, back in April of 2013. That feels like such a long time ago! A handful of you have been reading since that very first post, Into the River, and I’m grateful that you’ve walked through these years with me.
Two: Living into your real life is self-perpetuating.
When I started this blog, I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. I woke up one morning, and the insect I’d been transformed into was a blogger. I spent the rest of that day much like Gregor Samsa, figuring out what to do with this new body I found myself in. I learned what a blog was and how to start one, and then, I started writing.
Since that morning in 2013, I’ve kept my feet in the river, and my life has been better for it. Every day the silty muck oozes between my toes and convinces me, again, that we can help love have an edge in this achy, beautiful world.
Writing is like prayer or meditation; it keeps calling me deeper and deeper into myself.
Three: Things change.
I know you didn’t need me to tell you that, but sometimes I need to remind myself that I’m ok with change. In the years since I’ve been writing here, I’ve lost a few important people, deepened some old relationships, and gained a few new
pounds friends. I’ve developed an autoimmune disease and joined a gym. The grandkids have started turning into teenagers. My hair is longer and lighter because I’m still too vain to let it just be gray.
Four: Things stay the same.
Who knew? A lot of things have stayed the same in these years. I live in the same house with the same man and the same dog. Some nights I cook great meals and some nights I still eat Oreos for dinner. I still struggle to be the teacher I want to be while writing all the words I want to write and playing all the music I want to play and loving all the people I want to love. I still have days when lines from Rilke follow me around (see this old post if you’re curious).
Five: The road appears when you start walking.
I thank Tolkien for this one. It’s right there in the walking song.
The road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began
Now far ahead the road has gone
And I must follow if I can
I like how Bilbo Baggins assumes the road is out there, and it’s just a question of “pursuing it with eager feet.” I don’t have to plot the course, bulldoze the rocks out of the way, or lay gravel. I just have to start walking. Looking back over these past few years, I can see that the road has been unrolling itself before me as I set out on it.
That’s pretty damn reassuring, now that I think about it.
So there you have it.
It’s a new year and I already know five things. You probably know more. If 2018 is anything like the year we just lived through, we’re all going to have to up our games. Living, really living, in this raggedy, awful, glorious world isn’t for the faint of heart. These times are calling all of us to step into the river, to listen to whatever it is that is knocking in us, to keep living ever more deeply into who we are.
My plan for the new year is to slow down and keep listening. I want to hear my life as it pounds on the door of my hectic schedule. I want to write about what I hear to make sense of it and to remember that I’m not alone.
Thanks for coming with me on this journey so far. Let’s keep walking through it together.
Note: I’m planning some changes for the blog, including one all of you email subscribers will have just seen. Please let me know how you feel about them!