Tuesday, December 31, 2013

diving in: 13 things about 2013.

I'm not quite sure what to make of 2013. In many ways, it was wonderful; in some ways, it was the complete opposite. It was a year of gains and losses, of rising progress and crashing hopes.

I've never been one for lengthy lists of resolutions, but if I resolve to do at least one thing in the new year, it's this:
"To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves--there lies the great, singular power of self-respect." -Joan Didion
I've always been so adamant in telling others to own their narratives. "Don't let someone control your life," I said once to a friend. "Tell your own story."

Perhaps now is the time I take that advice as well.

Writing has always been difficult for me, though I'm convinced it's the only real form of expression I'm somewhat decent at achieving.

When I think back through 2013, the things that stand out the most are the lessons, realizations, and thoughts that I'm taking onward to the next year. So, in no particular order...

1. Traveling alone can be quite nice.
I spent the better part of the first half of the year traveling anywhere that felt reasonable to justify. I became all too familiar with Amtrak stations and airports, and every time felt more and more at home. A large part of the reason I traveled so often was an attempt to brighten up the darkest parts of my life, and while I (mostly) loved everywhere I went, I still very much hold the belief that a person doesn't "find herself" by running away.


But, all in all, there's something lovely about about roaming about on your own. I could read and pause and observe the strangers across the aisle, and it didn't feel lonely at all. I suppose in my second year of living in New York, I've grown absolutely weary of all of the crowds, and a few days to myself were always a welcome interruption. 

2. I'm terrible at finishing things. I'm great at starting things, but awful at following through. (Note to employers: this doesn't apply to work! Read on...) At the start of 2013, I got a mason jar and filled it every day with positive notes about the little things that happened during the day that made me smile. The intent was to fill it every day and not re-read any of them until December 31, 2013.

And then I went to China, and when I came back I started a new job, and, well...you know. Life.

This also applies for blog projects, some books, binge-watching TV shows, my quest to eat a salad a day, all of that yarn in my closet that should be hats and scarves by now...

3. I miss having long hair. (Kind of.)
Ok, I don't know if this is entirely true. I think I think I miss having long hair for the versatility, but in reality, I'm perfectly fine with my decision to chuck that style out the window. Short hair is perfect and practical, and I can just imagine my annoyance if I were to go back to long strands again.

4. "Friendships don't magically last 40 years. You have to invest in them."
I over-invest in people, I already know that--most of the time, I over-invest in the wrong people because I think that maybe he or she will find me as worthy as I hope to one day find myself. But the obvious truth is that you should never depend your self-worth on what somebody else sees (or doesn't see) in you.

The problem with trusting people with so much of who you are is that there's a possibility they could walk out of your life the very next day and you'll feel robbed, as if they stole a part of who you are. I think I've realized now though that I chose to share those parts of me, and there's no blame to place on somebody if he or she eventually leaves. Friendships fall apart, relationships end--things happen.

That having been said, as sad as it is to let somebody walk away with a small piece of your deepest secrets and fears, sometimes it's necessary.

5. Related to the above: social-media self-control is easier than expected once you remember you enjoy not feeling miserable.
Even if you try to cut someone out of your life, social media is there to remind you it isn't quite that simple.

Of course, the obvious solution is to remove that person from all of your social networks and end any semblance of stalking ASAP--but that's always easier said than done. I've found myself many times in the past with the mouse hovering over an ex-boyfriend's name to see what he's up to, but none of those times I've ever clicked through have ended well.

The key? Ask yourself: "Would looking at x-person's [insert social network here] make me feel any better today?" I guarantee you the answer is pretty much always NO.

6. I could use some O.C. sand in my shoes.


I don't even love the beach, personally. But I would take a west coast beach, and the friends I've walked along those shores with, over an east coast beach in a heartbeat.

7. Long-distance friendships are hard.
All the Gchats, texts, and Facebook messages in the world cannot replace coffee dates, nighttime snack runs, laughing until you cry, and driving down PCH with the windows down and the music up too loud.

8. Loyalty never goes out of style.
Before he passed away, my grandfather's final job was as a Las Vegas chef. But he stopped working as the culinary strike of the '90s began to take shape. One of the final choices he was presented with in his life was from his hotel bosses, who offered him a lot of money to work through the strike.

This was the American dream, wasn't it? Especially for a man who, as a boy, was orphaned by war halfway around the world; a man who was once an educated engineer and teacher, but had to give it all up to flee the Communists; a man who labored his way from Brazil to Southern California in order to create a life for his wife and children who waited in Hong Kong while he ensured stability for them when they immigrated; a man who began working as a dishwasher and busboy, and learned only to cook through careful observation of people whose language he didn't quite speak.

People loved my grandfather because he was a hard worker who didn't get involved in the politics of work--mainly because his English wasn't very good in the first place. But also because he was good at what he did. There were restaurants he worked in where patrons would come to the door and ask, "Is Jack working?" If he was, they would stay; if he wasn't, they would come back some other time.

The money the Vegas bosses offered was tempting. The prestige that would come with running a kitchen on his own would be great. He could retire as an executive chef, and be a symbol for that elusive American dream.

But he looked across the picket line and saw more than just his colleagues; he saw a group of people who created an environment where he learned to be great. He saw people who loved him, and people he loved too. If he crossed the line, he would turn his back on his friends, and the money he would give to his family would be tainted with a loss of integrity--a value he worked hard to instill on his children.

In the end, he retired early. Money comes and goes. Jobs come and go. At the end of the day, you have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and know that what you did to get where you are had nothing to do with climbing on others to reach the top.

9. This:

10. It's weird to have people in real life (family, friends, strangers in coffee shops) peek in on your actual life.
Who I am in my every day existence is so different from the snapshots I present to some in real life. Nowhere is this more apparent than when my family members read my blog posts or tweets or scroll through my Facebook or Instagram feeds. But I choose to make all of that public, and I really don't mind it--but it shocks me when they seem shocked that I'm quite different than the 13-year-old they still have in their minds.

Here's some truths about me: I swear way too much. I probably drink more than you think. I don't save as much money as I should. I still have no idea how to properly fill out those forms they give new hires at companies. I cry during some reality show singing competition auditions.

11. Jesus would probably have bought a smoke machine.
Think about it: he turned water into wine. Clearly, the man enjoyed a good party. Or at least a good show (walking on water, hello).

The point is: don't take everything in life so seriously.

12. "You don't have to do anything in life but die."
This infamous Cheever saying has stayed with me since Philosophy II in high school. And as morbid and odd as it sounds, it's really the truth: life is a series of choices, and we continue down certain roads because we fear the consequences that may be attached to not doing something: You don't have to study, but you might fail that test. You don't have to go to work, but you might get fired.

Although this lesson has lived in my brain for nearly a decade, I still find myself feeling forced and pulled in several directions. But then I had a friend recently say to me, when I told her about how I didn't have a choice in an upcoming matter, "Don't feel like you have to do anything. You always have options."

That's true. I'm an idiot for always trying to find some reason to be tortured and mopey. If there was any time to live with purpose, I'd say now's a great time to begin.

13. I still don't own an iron.
So I guess some things really don't change.

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