The truth of the matter is, as Bono sang it, nothing changes on New Year’s Day. However, humans are motivated and driven by milestones and traditions. Within them, there is a comfort in the familiar. A shared, communal experience that allows us to reflect on our lives. Whether that be reconciling with the past or being optimistic about the future, holidays like New Year’s Day have some symbolic importance even if there may not be any cause-and-effect between the holiday and our personal lives.
A bit of a downer statement to start off a blog about a time when the whole world is celebrating, but I am fine with that. I recall something the singer Patti Smith said when I saw her speak on a recent book tour this year. She said she was not afraid to be the downer at the party. And I really liked that. There is so much pressure by society to be always happy and optimistic even if you do not feel that way. The idea being that if you’re acting like a buzzkill, it brings everyone else down and is, therefore, a negative reflection of you.
I don’t mean to be a downer about New Year’s this year, but that is just how I am feeling about it this year. That is not to say that I am not happy, or I did not have a great year. I had a good year. I went on some amazing adventures, met some wonderful people, and did some cool things. This year was also significant for me because I started to get comfortable with who I am and the progress I have made in my life over the last few years. From a time a few years ago when I was pretty low to now when I am finally reaping the rewards of the investments I have made in my own personal and social progress. I am feeling like I am finally breaking the chains of people from the past who told me I was just not good enough. I am not completely at that point, but I am very pleased with progress I have made.
I have a couple of thoughts of why one would be kind of down around New Year’s, especially after all that has happened in 2019. On a personal level, I had a lot of challenges. A lame job, a close friend passing away, general anxiety, personal and professional rejections, and a few other things all stood in my way this year from getting what I want. And not just standing in my way, but sometimes doing their damndest to knock me back a few steps. I weathered some of them, and am still weathering others, so there is something to be said about how I am still able to fight on, but it just gets so damn tiring sometimes.
Around the world, so much has been happening. I get depressed, angry, or scared every time I turn on the news. I don’t like feeling that way, but I feel some sort of obligation to know what is happening. To not be blind to the injustices, even if I may feel powerless to help. From racially profiled violence, migrant children in cages, the destruction of federal institutions, and the rise of fascist ideology at home and abroad, it can be challenging to be stay positive. I still am positive, even optimistic, that things will get better. Mainly because I know deep down that things will get better because of my fundamental belief in the principles of the Enlightenment and the nature of human beings to be empathetic. But it does get hard.
With all of this, I am trying very hard to put into practice a new belief of living in the moment. As a big planner, that can be hard. And I don’t mean planning with regards to figuring out a vacation itinerary. I also mean planning for the worse or other hypothetical eventualities that only serve to fuck my shit up.
However, I am trying to put more mental energy into the idea that there are things I cannot control. I have always believed that you cannot help how you feel, but you can help how you react to it. But, thinking about it more lately, isn’t how you feel also a reaction? I used to think that mantra meant that reaction was a physical action. Now I am learning it can be a mental one as well. That me dwelling in a negative headspace, replaying the same thing over and over in my mind, is just as damaging, maybe even more, than a physical act.
So, part of this new practice is to just accept my feelings and actually feel them. Sometimes I am sad for no reason. It is not a depression, that I know. But sometimes I am just not as happy or optimistic as I think I should be. Things will seem a little less bright and I will feel a little less motivated. This used to frighten me, and I would get such anxiety thinking something was wrong and I would scramble around to find a distraction to make me feel better, but actively trying to stop the negative feeling would only make it worse. I would breathe life into something until it became a monster.
Now, instead of making it a monster, I treat these feelings like a bad roommate. I allow myself to be aware of their presence but just go about my day trying not to acknowledge it. Eventually, this shitty roommate will leave the apartment to go fuck off somewhere. Just engaging with it would mean I would deal with more bad roommate nonsense. That big pile of dirty dishes they left behind would just get even bigger, and I have better things to do than clean up after bad roommates.
I did not have a specific song in mind for this week’s blog, so I had to do some research. I was surprised to find some so many songs about New Year’s that were actually quite pessimistic. None of those really captured the mood of how I was feeling but I did come across one that did.
Great Lake Swimmers is a Canadian folk band that I am only passively familiar with. I had heard some songs in college that I enjoyed, but I never really ventured out to listen to them further. “Gonna Make It Through This Year,” released in 2008, is a song about feeling stuck, but still fighting on. In the song, Anthony Dekker sings about feeling stuck under six feet of snow with his feet clamped, almost helpless and with nowhere to go. But he keeps repeating his mantra that he is gonna make it through this year. And when he says that, he becomes aware that things will improve, though he is not sure how and where he will end up. Though, despite being down on his luck, he has a lot to be thankful for this year.
New Year’s Day is certainly a time to celebrate, but you don’t always have to. I get the pressure to be on during the holidays, but it is just fine not to be as well. No year is completely amazing. Every year ebbs and flows, has its ups and down, the good and the bad. The only thing is that you just cannot make it worse and living in the moment helps with that. And living with the moment isn’t all about savoring the sweetest things in life, it is also accepting that sometimes you’ll bite into something bitter.