Tuesday, December 31, 2013

That Time of Year

There is a general need to summarize each year at the end of it, for better or for worse, or for all the click traffic that definitive lists can bring you. I’ve been putting it off. For starters, I think it’s imprudent to make the “best of” lists before the year is even over – a lot could happen in that last two weeks. Not saying it necessarily does, only that it could. There’s no need to get ahead of ourselves.

For me, personally, 2013 was one of those years in which a lot of great things happened but now that it’s coming to a close, it just feels pretty mediocre. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and each year just kind of bleeds into the next. The steady march of adulthood continues on. I will be thirty next year. It used to be this huge milestone that I was dreading for reasons that were silly and never made much sense. The most logical reason is one that I haven't allowed myself to consider yet: I’m not ready for the existential torment of comparing where I am with where I thought I would be. It doesn’t matter, because this is where I am and this is what it is. This is my life, for better, for worse, for contentment, for disappointment. I suppose, by default, I have chosen the status quo. The idea of Big Change terrifies me. I will admit that. Especially since I am still so uncertain as to what I want. I don’t want to hastily rush into the wrong decision just because I feel like I should be doing something. I am not unhappy or discontent with my life as it is, so I’m not sure why I feel so much pressure to shake it up, turn it upside down, and do something big. I suppose I’ve read too much about all the other movers and shakers of my generation and the pied piper is calling me. But I don’t know where that road goes and I don’t want to go anywhere unknown. Not yet.

And anyway, thirty’s not that old. If nothing else, I am looking forward to be taken a little more seriously. I actually had my age thrown back in my face once, earlier this summer, to the effect that I was too young to be able to execute a stern conversation to an individual that had been causing headaches to the softball nonprofit I’ve been volunteering with most of my adult life, that perhaps it would be better if it came from someone older. Someone worth listening to, apparently. I chose not to fight the battle, because why willingly push for an opportunity to create a confrontation? But it stung. Perhaps it’s problematic that I’ve been with this group for so long. They still see me as the young college student that I was when I started. Even though it’s been nearly a decade. Even though I’ve been involved with this group longer than most of the current members. My seniority is constantly stripped from me because I’m too young to be taken seriously. It was frustrating. It’s always frustrating. I doubt that being able scream “BUT I’M THIRTY!” will actually help much, but it’s still a comforting thought that it might.

I stopped writing at some point. I don’t know how long it’s been. Months, probably. A quick peek at the archive count on the sidebar is pretty telling. The only other year that was remotely close to this one was 2008 – and that was because I started this blog in September of that year. 41 posts in three months that year, versus 52 posts (53, if you count this one) over twelve in this one. An average of 13ish posts a month, then, versus a mere 4ish, now. (Compared to my all-time high of ~22 posts per month in 2010, it’s almost downright shameful.)

I wish I could say that it’s because I was writing offline, but I wasn’t. I just stopped. It was too exhausting to put words together, and even if I started patchworking sentences in my head, by the time I got to the keyboard, there was no motivation or energy left to finish the thought. So I stopped, rather out of the blue, and for longer than I realized or meant to. It was only when I started to feel the nagging urge to summarize my year did I realize how long it had been.

Because of this, I’ve done a rather rubbish job of keeping up with the events of the last twelve months. The more behind I got, the more overwhelmed I felt, and the harder it was to start… leaving me here at the end with most all of it unsaid. I’ve switched positions within my company; it was a quiet move and I still haven’t gotten around to updating any of my social information with it, but my day-to-day looks different now. Part of the reason for this is that we are still patching together what it is I do. I’m still collecting tasks and duties and the only relevant description I can give right now is “web stuff” – I’m not a programmer, I’m not a web designer, but I work with them in some sort of information systems capacity. The product line that I’ve poured my heart and soul into is ceasing production at the end of this year, and it was sad to bid it farewell, but I am easing into this new position quite comfortably and I’ve already learned enough to make myself useful. This all started in June and I never said a word. I was already too behind. I never finished my BiSC recaps. I never wrote about my 5Ks – one of my most victorious of accomplishments this year. I’ve said very little about my adorable new nephew (though if you follow me on Instagram, you’ll see that he has, in fact, been well-documented.) I never wrote about the sleep study I did and how I’ve been struggling with getting my well-being situated back to functional. I’ve left my opinions on social, political, and cultural happenings largely unranted, save for my little soapbox speeches on facebook that eventually will be buried by time and by other less-relevant thoughts.

Perhaps it’s just as well; I’ve been contemplating a cleanup of this space anyway, to only leave the pieces I’m proud of, and to cut the inane babbling of my early twenties. It’s an odd feeling to be able to so readily dismiss the thoughts of your previous self as unimportant, uninspired, and a tad insipid… but I suppose, again, that’s just part of the growing process. Part of me wants to leave it there – evidence of how much I’ve grown and developed. But without much recent documentation, there’s not much to compare it to. During one very brief, very depressed moment last month, I considered just deleting the whole damn thing and erasing any trace of it ever having existed. I knew that it was just a rash impulse based on a very specific frustration (see: not writing), but I can’t be sure that the only thing that stopped me at that moment was the simple fact that I’ve built something and I’m not done with it. 

It doesn’t hurt, either, that I’ve been allowed a few perks along the way. I’ve never really been able to monetize this space, which is fine… but I’ve had a (very) few opportunities to write in exchange for freebies or compensation. Those are nice because in addition to the free stuff (I have finally arrived!), it gives me some direction. It’s always fun to take a specific subject and give it my own spin, my own twist… especially when there are others writing about the same thing. It’s an exercise in creativity, in a way, and it’s fun for me to do, even if it might not be particularly interesting to everyone who reads it. It’s a means of sharpening my skill, which is something that is sorely needed.

Content is a fickle thing, anyway. I’m not after traffic. I never have been. This blog was always a space to purge the thoughts that I am so very incapable of articulating like a regular person, in conversation to other regular people. It was a way to connect. It was a way to express. And I’m glad I’ve always sort of had that line in the sand drawn from the beginning, despite a few minor detours where I fantasized about becoming a famous, income-generating blogger (haven’t we all?) – the amount of effort and work required to achieve such a thing was something I never had the capacity to give. I work too much at my day job, I spend too much time wandering the Internet researching my current obsessions, reading, so much reading, otherwise I’m doing my best not to turn into a hermit and to take care of the relationships in my life. Again, not something I’m great at, because as an introvert, my default mode is solitude. It doesn’t even occur to me to be social sometimes; I can spend days without talking to anyone outside of work and not think anything of it. It’s just the way I’m wired and it probably makes me a terrible friend. I do get jealous of all the close friendships I see around me… but I feel like I’ve been socially impaired for so long that I don’t know how to achieve or maintain that level of closeness anyway. It’s something I need to work on. At least I’m aware of it.

Back to the subject of content, though. I’ve noticed, have been noticing, the not-so-subtle shift of online content into complete and utter trash. Content simply for the sake of traffic and advertising revenue. I’ve seen multiple people comment that the golden era of blogging is over, and perhaps it is, and perhaps it needs to be. It’s fine. Like I said, it’s always been a futile ambition for me to chase traffic, so I am resigned to writing for myself – which is what I prefer. But I was writing to an audience of two or three (if that) before the explosion of blogging and I will (ideally) continue to write after the inevitable decline of the medium. One of my biggest peeves of the year is the viral content phenomenon. Sure, I like Internet memes as much as the next person (probably more than the next person) but I don’t like how they instruct me how to feel or what to think. For that matter, I am so over and done with lists that dictate how I should be at a stage in my life. I came across an article entitled “29 Things You're Too Old For As Of Your 29th Birthday” about a week before my 29th birthday, and by the time I was a few bullets in, I was done. Perhaps it’s because I’ve matured and am (probably) ready for 30 now, the decade of Real Adulthood or Being Taken Seriously, but my only personal bullet for Things To Stop Doing was “Stop taking life advice from bullshit internet lists.”

My other big peeve is generating content or news simply to be first, without fact-checking or verifying information. This is more a complaint directed at the news media than anyone else, but I know there are blogs and sites that have fallen victim to false information and many a hoax. Neither here nor there, but it drives me crazy.

But I digress. (Some things never change.)

I have not been writing. I have been doing copious amounts of mental plotting. I have about two and a half semi-solid starting points for novels floating around in my brain. I spent my drives up to my hometown for the holidays listening to Christmas music and occasionally singing along to the radio. I spent my drives home inventing characters and trying to hammer the plots into scenarios that might make sense. In my head, I compose the novels I will probably never write. It’s a depressing thought, especially when I got home on Christmas night and was too tired to open my laptop to record any of my breakthroughs from the last hour and a half. It’s ridiculous, this writing thing. The thing I have wanted to do since I was ten, writing stories on folded and stapled sheets of lined notebook paper during recess. The thing I wanted to do so badly that I was too terrified to legitimately pursue it in higher education. I didn’t take a single writing class in college. I had plenty of electives that needed filled; I ran the other way. It would have meant making it real, admitting that it was something I wanted, opening myself up to the possibility of failure, ridicule, or criticism. I learned the importance of developing a thick skin during the critique process of my graphic design training; I understand and acknowledge that importance while still struggling with the implementation. It’s not personal, they say. It’s never personal. Oh, but it is. Any time you create something, any time you pour a little of yourself into it… it becomes personal. It’s your soul, on the page, for people to rip apart and mock and raise an eyebrow toward. I’m probably too sensitive for my own good and that’s probably why I should abandon the whole thing. People are ruthless. Especially nowadays, when they can hide behind their screens (the very way I am doing now – only a bit more, you know, nefariously).

I feel like I’ve hit a critical point, now, where I either need to do something about it or shut up about it for good. The difference between writers and people who want to be writers, is that the former group actually does it. You don’t create a story without putting words on paper (or pixels on a screen, tomato, tomahto.) Hemming and hawing and being scared or tired or uninspired is a solid brand of failure. So I’m resolving, in 2014, to try. Put words down. Even if they’re awful. Put the words down, more and more, until they become a thing, until they take a life of their own and become a story. Finish something. Because if I don’t, if I don’t try now, then I will continue like this for the rest of my life, wanting but not doing, pondering but failing. “I always wanted to be a writer,” I will be saying, forever, to anyone who asked, but it will mean nothing. Maybe I always thought I wanted to be a glamorous movie star, too - or a sharp-tongued, quick-witted business lady, or a legit softball player, or the President of the United States, or anything I could dream up, but all those are just figments of imagination and wishful thinking. If I don’t make an effort, “writer” is going on that same heap of things. The heap of things that never was. The heap of ambitious but unlikely childhood career goals: doctor, lawyer, astronaut, ballerina, firefighter, policeman, princess, novelist.

My point is: do or do not, but stop talking about it and decide. Because all the wistful longing in the world means precisely shit when what I am actually doing with my life is sitting at a desk doing a 9-5 office job and coming home to a shoebox apartment in the center of the Midwest. The Midwest, where practicality is more important than dreaming, and I should know better by now. Dreaming your life away is not a valid career option. Not for anyone, anywhere. Maybe I’m being hard on myself… that’s nothing new. I'm just tired of always hitting my own dead-ends. 

This post is long and has become pointless, but I’m not sure what to cut and I fear that if I try to break it into multiple, smaller posts, none of it will get said at all. So, TL;DR: here are some words to mark the close of the year, since I’ve been negligent at providing them up until now. I have no great insights into what I hope to accomplish in 2014. The world seems large and overwhelming right now, there are changes I want to make (there always are) and there are things I want to do, but tomorrow's date means nothing. The calendar will change but it is another day, much like the one before it, and the one before that. It doesn’t feel significant anymore. It doesn’t feel like there’s any exceptional promise or possibility simply because a digit changed. That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Which is apparently from the Bible since I have just taken the time to Google the entire phrase and credit it accordingly. Huh. Who knew? At any rate… life, it goes on, same as it always has. Perhaps when we reach this point next year, my head will be in a better place.