An End of Year Non-Review
The end of the year is upon us, and along with Christmas parties I’m not invited to, Christmas shopping I refuse to engage in, and Christmas decorations I can’t put up in a house that isn’t mine, I am prompted, by the “finality” of this moment, to carry out some kind of “review” of this year and arrive at some kind of conclusion.
I have mostly given up on this tradition, because I have endured way too many years of “I have achieved nothing”, and I’ve learned that it’s better for my mental health if I stay out of the process altogether.
This year is no exception. “Achievements”, like romantic partners, are for other people.
This year, like last year, I’ve been busy with survival. Most days I wake up and I say to myself I have to keep going, because I’m alive and that’s what living people do. Yet there is nothing actively motivating me, no “ghost inside the machine”. I run on the momentum set in motion by my upbringing, mostly the love and dedication of my parents to keep me going, and I supplement it nowadays with caffeine.
As for dreams, I don’t have any, since life showed me one, two, three times too many that having dreams and actively pursuing them produces the same result as lying in bed doing nothing.
So I don’t.
Instead, I write, for myself, mostly, and for enjoyment, usually. Sometimes I write not because the process is enjoyable, but because there is something that must come out of me, that lump in my throat that won’t leave…
Instead, I write…
This year my writing got better. Sometimes. A little.
It’s not something I am eager to showcase or quantify. I “felt” my writing getting better once or twice, coming from a deeper place than it used to, and for me that is enough.
Enough for what? Enough to keep me engaged with my writing.
Engaged… nice choice of word. My writing has been the only “partner” I have ever been engaged to. And with.
My writing getting “better” has been the only saving grace of this year.
Well, that and a single moment of sweetness, condensed in time and place, a single speck of fairy dust. It meant nothing in the “Grand Scheme of Things”, but in that single moment, it was everything.
That “Grand Scheme of Things”, though. Nothing is ever good enough on that level. I feel like a squirrel scuttling among giants. They celebrate “real” accomplishments, like books, babies, marriages.
I only have one or two hours of good writing in a year. Writing that never even made it to the “real world” because I just cannot be bothered.
On that “Grand Scheme of Things”, my writing remains inconsequential.
Not that I mind. If other people are allowed to be proud of their babies, I should be allowed to be proud of my squirrel. And who’s stopping me? Those who achieve actual things in that “Grand Scheme of Things”? There’s only one solution to that, my tried and tested method for dealing with people who don’t think your accomplishments are “good enough”: don’t talk to them.
My Tried and Tested Method: Don’t talk to them
That’s it. Yes, sometimes they will be your mother, and that will be difficult to navigate. Your mother will bring up how “you could be a scientist by now!” if you hadn’t screwed up, and how if she was you, she wouldn’t be single, and you will break down in tears, and scream and she will hang up the phone. That is, if your mother and you are Latinamerican women. If you are both British, I imagine all you do is say “chilly weather” and have a cup of tea. It seems easier, so long as neither of you ever reach for the bottle and let the feelings out… which, come to think of it, British people seem incapable of doing… So maybe it is not easier, and mothers are a pain the world over. Perhaps you can do what I do, move to a different continent, write in a different language and communicate with her sparingly. That way I only have to deal with 4 breakdowns per year, tops.
But for everyone who isn’t your mother, my tried and tested method works. Just don’t talk to people, and if they ask, “colour the truth”, which is a creative term for “lying”. Lying is tricky at the best of times, especially for me, someone born to tell the truth, but when it comes to husbands and babies, it’s not easy to make something up, especially with co-workers you see everyday. Co-workers, man. These people… Doubly specially if the work is boring and any excuse to distract from it is a good excuse. And no excuse is more entertaining than “let’s find a man for the single woman!”, version 2.0 of “Pin the tale on the donkey”, adapted to the digital age. Because I have poor boundaries, they start their little game and I don’t know how to stop it, until it gets completely out of hand and I have to yell and tell them to fuck off.
Like I said: better to not talk to people, full stop. When in doubt, revert the attention back to themselves.
This Year, A Lot of Emily
Now, back to myself. This year, that’s all I have to show for. A single speck of fairy dust, and a couple of hours of good writing.
And in between, a lot of Emily. I’m always Emily, whether “Christmas card Emily” or “Corpse Bride Emily”. I’m either “bright and alive, but single” or “so single I’m a corpse”.
But most people cannot understand any of this, so I go back to my tried and tested method and not talk to them.
There’s a point at which this approach backfires, and I want to talk about that. The point at which you become an embittered writer who is writing good stuff and cannot be bothered to share it with the world.
Yeah, that point. And not just in writing.
That point where even if your very cosmic soulmate were to show up at your door, you have been driven insane and delirious with heartbreak and grief, so you would run away, arms in the air, cackling maniacally to yourself “ha ha, too late, sucker!”.
Have you encountered that point of having been driven insane with heartbreak and grief? I have. Many times. I am not even “Emily” anymore, I am straight up “egg salad”.
I actually love egg salad, so that’s not the point. The point is that point, of having been driven insane and embittered, when for once in your life you are producing things of worth but you cannot be bothered to share them with the world. Because “the world” is all of the people who have hurt you, all of the people who have looked down at you, who didn’t help you when you most needed help, who ignored you when you were burning up with words that needed to be said, or with tears that needed to be shed on someone’s shoulder.
I go back and forth between “this is a good place to be in” and “this is a worrying place to be in”.
On the one hand, it’s wonderful to no longer care (so much) what people think, or whether my writing ever makes it to “the people”.
On the other hand, it’s probably not good for anyone if my writing stays in my laptop. Well… my Evernote folder. I still have “laptop issues”.
Then the World comes to You
I was chatting briefly with my ex yesterday, whom I still love, because when I love I love forever.
He asked, like many people before him, why are you working at a cafe, when you could surely get a better job somewhere else.
Now, throughout the years I have answered this question in different ways, most often referring to the fact that no matter how hard I try, how many applications I fill up, how many jobs I apply to, I simply cannot find a better job than “waitress” or “barista”.
That used to be the answer. This time I said “I just cannot be bothered anymore”.
And what came back from him is something I’ve never heard before: “you should be bothered, you should try to find something you are skilled at, you’ve got a lot of talent that you could be using”.
I have long suspected this would happen, that one day it would be the world who comes to me and tries to get me out, rather than me perpetually showing up in the world to the attention of no one. Much like in the movie “Good Will Hunting”, when the protagonist, a gifted genius, refuses to do anything with his talent and works instead as a cleaner in MIT. Not that I’m as smart as Will, though I did work as a cleaner at a school during my first 2 years at University.
Refusal of the Return
This phenomenon is real, though. Real enough that Joseph Campbell identified it in his study of world myths and “the hero’s Journey”, and named it “Refusal of the Return”. It goes like this: the hero, having gone through the trials and earned the wisdom, refuses to return to the village to share those gifts with the world.
That’s me. I have been through too much, been driven too insane, and now I don’t want to come back to the “everyday world” and share my knowledge.
Screw you all. I am egg salad. First feared, then loathed, now I wear it as a badge of honour: I am single and I earn my living in a job of no importance. You had your chance to read my writing, when I was publishing it, and you had a chance to be my lover, when my heart was open.
It’s too late now.
I wonder if there’s a return from this place, this place called quite literally “Refusal of the Return”. I wonder whether the world will come to me, and convince me to come back, or whether something will happen and I’ll go back on my own.
The truth is, I’m tired. I cannot imagine ever finding the emotional strength to show up again.
Perhaps this is a good thing.
Perhaps I need to let go.
That is, let go even more than I already have, for I am no stranger to surrender.
My Indian friend, who has some knowledge of Indian astrology, gifted me some predictions of sorts for my birthday back in May. It wasn’t good. It said that nothing much would happen in 2017, that I would continue to struggle with “job” for 3 years, and that “change” would take place in 2018.
So far, he’s been right.
It’s a strange thing, to know your future. You panic, like a trapped creature in a cage, with nowhere to go and nothing to do, then eventually acceptance sets in. You realise there is nothing you can do to change your fate, so you accept it.
He said nothing much would happen in 2017, and nothing did.
He said I would continue to struggle with job, and hey, here I am, struggling.
Yet he also said that something would change in 2018, and though I cannot possibly imagine what, or how, I am clinging to it, because I have had too many years of no change.
I have grown past “restless” and sunk right into “bitterness”.
See More, See Deeper
I am now spending Christmas with my friend in Wales. And in view of my Mum’s protestations, and despite my reservations to not want to contribute to rampant consumerism, I have bought gifts for my friends. Though one is a nice jumper, which my friend asked for, and the rest is food, which will be consumed and enjoyed.
I am grasping for words, because I don’t want to end this post with “everything is awful”, and I couldn’t possibly say “everything will be alright”. The world is demanding a lot more nuance, and fast. It is demanding that we look at *everything* going on and see more, see deeper.
No, I don’t know how to do this, I’m new at it as well. And as you can see above, I too get stuck in my small stories about being Emily, and not having accomplished much this year. So I try to see more, see deeper.
That’s my one and only piece of advice. All the mainstream narratives are failing us, and we need to write new ones. And we will find the seeds of our new narratives in the wreckage of the old.
How can you look at that narrative of “The Grand Scheme of Things” and rewrite it, celebrate, treasure, honour your own small “squirrels”?.
How can you re-write your own Christmas card and celebrate being Emily, or Egg Salad?
How can you look at the year that passed and see it clearly, then see more, and rewrite what it all meant?
Perhaps all you can say is that you kept busy with survival. And that’s a good narrative on its own.
And perhaps you can find something entirely unexpected.
Whatever it is, know that you are not alone in surviving, or in watching your life not fit any narrative at hand.
We are all co-creating history together.
It’s not easy, but we’re here. We are doing our best.
And that’s enough.