‘Tis a new year —a time of hope, an era of beginnings, fresh starts, healthy diets, exercise regimes, flapping doves, laughing babies, flying swine, unicorns— the possibility of change in the face of almost certain backsliding.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the concept of the New Year. I’m triple Cardinal, which means in astrological terms that I love to start things. To me, there’s nothing better than reviewing a calendar for the year ahead, knowing that each month holds adventures yet untaken and unknown. (Drudging through complications and set-backs? That’s another matter. For cheerful staying power, consult a Taurus.)
Inhibiting to some, I find the purity of blank slates beautiful. A New Year means dreaming and goal-setting, list-making and planning; under the banner of the New Year rests the promise that —this time— we’ll get it right. Or, at least, we can begin that way.
Thursday night, I went to bed with the beginnings of what will be my third cold this season, but I didn’t go down easily. On the flight home from Auckland a few weeks ago, I surrendered to a Peter-Jacksonesque virus that lasted three times as long as it should have; every time it seemed to end, a new symptom flared up. After that marathon, I thought I was done for a spell—this is a season of new beginnings, right?
When my nose tingled last month, I gave in; I needed a rest. This time, I was having none of it. After more than a month without exercise, I had just started back at the gym. After a four-month hiatus from yoga due to (you guessed it) illness and travel, I was about to resume my practice. With a weekend full of plans, including walkies with Sean, who is undergoing treatment for cancer, I felt my quality friend time get squashed, since he can’t be near sickies like me due to a suppressed immune system.
I sat up in bed and barked, “I refuse to give in!” at the darkness. A sneeze and cough escaped before I could deny their expression, but they ended in a snarl. “Aaaaaaargh! I’m not getting sick!” I insisted, like my words could keep the virus at bay.
The late-night clerks at Bartell’s have likely seen worse, but I was no pretty sight when I showed up in my fuzzy boots at the check stand with a bottle of Zicam.
As the chalky orange-flavored tablet dissolved on my tongue, I wondered if it was possible for my will to halt the cold. I pictured my cells swelling with virus, their walls thinning to the point of nearly bursting, then pausing mid-stretch at the hoarse sound of my voice echoing inside my car like Gandalf on the bridge with the Balrog:
I refuse to give in! Go back to the shadow! You shall not pass!
I envisioned a green orb of healthful energy surrounding and penetrating my body, calming the tumescent viral colonies until everything inside —my lungs, my throat, my nasal passages— returned to their normal, healthy pink. Not bad for a parking lot vigil.
Once back in bed, I passed out until 7 am, snoozing through what would have been my workout. Throughout the workday on Friday, I placed an orange tablet on my tongue every three hours. My sniffles subsided, my cough lessened. As a prophylactic, I begrudgingly canceled dinner with Bonnie, instead convalescing on my couch with a pile of clean laundry. I thought I had it licked.
Flares of coughing fits and a stuffy nose kept me awake most of the night. Apparently, even a strong will plied with mega-draghts of zinc is no match for a cold. (If I had only bought that wizard’s staff…) Defeated, I surrendered my yoga booking on Saturday morning and slept for three more hours. There wasn’t much else to do but reflect on the resolutions that I somehow never wrote down, such as an improved wellness regime (sigh), writing and reading goals, and plans for reconnecting with old friends. Standard turn-of-the-year fare.
Between the line items of rebirth and renewal, my list also contained echoes of the past — patterns I was ready to leave behind and the invisible armatures upon which my resolutions hung. I didn’t write them down, perhaps because they are already so deeply entrenched, a palimpsest of flip-sides and alter-egos, like cursive indentations of a sentence that has been erased.
The first is a temporary resignation of travel, or rather, the realization that travel is no longer the sole route to finding myself. Like an ailment, my desire to be elsewhere has run its course after years of globe trotting. (That is, until I can afford a trip to Germany.)
The second is a devout oath to wear a surgical mask on future transcontinental flights. I might look like a SARS case, but I giveth not a fuck. Perhaps my cousin Alix will BeDazzle one for me.
Within the past four years of finding-myself-travel also came four years of dating hijinks, the kind that inspire Reese Witherspoon-helmed movies. Through capers unmentionable here, I’ve learned to differentiate between those who are and are not worthy of my attention, as well as the measure of my own self-worth.
Related to that, my shadow-resolutions include a prohibition to never, ever, EVER consider dating men from Flahrida again — or anyone who owns a stuffed koala bear. (In my defense, I wasn’t aware of said plush pet until a month in.) On another list is to write a chapbook of these dating stories if only to appease my friends who have leant their supportive ears through it all. Don’t feel too sorry for them, though; my foibles have kept them rolling in the aisles.
During the past year of airing dirty laundry as a matter of course of writing Hidden City Diaries, I’m full of backwards gazing for a while. Like many, my childhood was rocky and damaging; my young adult years fraught with self-mortification, angst and ill-advised life choices, each one starting with the word “apparently.” After wringing every insight I could from this archaeology expedition, I’m feeling clear for the first time in forever. It’s like suffering from chronic pain —or a cold— and suddenly being able to walk and breathe without effort. It’s an exceedingly bearable lightness of being that I plan to stick with for as long as it lasts.
I’d worry that this unfettered state might kill my future as a writer, but life always seems to serve up something that I can whine-and-opine about. (Props to fellow blogger Molly Wizenberg for suggesting in her latest post that we writers don’t have to be miserable to produce material. Fingers crossed for both of us, girl.)
My un-resolutions also include quietly appreciating the traditions that I’ve cultivated in the post-divorce years: ritual get-togethers with the Outlaws that have spanned states and countries, Christmas Challah-days with the Lomas clan (especially Xmas Eve at Old Tony’s), monthly dinners with my besties and serendipitous meet-ups with familiars I’ve made at my favorite bars, coffee shops, restaurants and even Twitter. For someone who has very few blood relations left, I’ve managed to create a nurturing family, including those who have moved away (Jess and SB, this is you.)
I might complain about the one I was born into, but I vow not to forget how important this homemade network is. With that, I also promise to let these folks into my life a little more. I get it now: I don’t have to do everything on my own.
What remains is a larger shadow resolution, one of kindness to others and myself. The greatest force running through last year’s travels was the degree to which I encountered generosity. There were many simple moments, some in which I participated, others I merely observed: returning dropped mittens or transit passes to their owners, fellow passengers imploring the bus driver to wait for someone running along the sidewalk or a stranger holding the door open for a frazzled mother with a double-stroller.
In other moments, people generously offered their time: like Will, Jesse, Masumi, and Joe in Boston, each of whom toured me through different parts of the city and shared their thoughts and memories so openly. They did this as a favor to our mutual friends, who made these connections out of friendship to me. Watching this network of goodwill come alive made the world seem more wondrous. My affection for Boston will ever be tied to the joy I felt in spending time with them and seeing the city through their eyes, and for the connection I made with Maya, my host.
Other kindnesses came from old friends: Taica and Bettye, who took me into their home and family in Chicago; John, Enrica and William, who revived my Italian spirit and language skills when I visited them in Boston; and Michael, who helped me unearth so very much when we reconnected in Santa Cruz. Our conversations made me realize that, though my mother was a terrific person, she failed me in certain ways. Now, instead of revering her as a near-saint, I’ve learned to recognize her shortcomings while still loving her. The affection I have for her today is much more real, and in the sense of acceptance, more kind.
The final undercurrent resides with those who have become part of my writerly life, which has here-to-fore consisted only of me. Knowing other writers is an elusive quest, as we are often loners; it made me realize how important it is to spend time with people who do what I do. My fellow Jack Straw Writers and curator leant much encouragement and camaraderie last year; I was continually inspired by their talent and achievement as much as their support. I plan to build on this bond, beginning with an upcoming foray with fellow Straw Writer, Nick Wong, at Bumblebee Boxing Club.
Likewise, I owe a great debt to my instructor, Peter Mountford, and my peers in his memoir class at Hugo House this fall. Observing them encouraged me to form those aforementioned writing goals, which include finding a publisher, applying for the Artist Trust EDGE program and sending my work out to magazines for publication.
2012 is officially over, and with it many stale thoughts and habits. In its place, a tabula rasa with plenty of room for us to mark it up together.
Now that this Zicam is finally kicking in, I say we get to it.