Right now, maintaining is more important than a fresh start.
January 1 is a good time to start new things and to restart old ones. It’s a time to revise expectations, reset goals, revisit dreams. It’s a time to get everything together, to recollect and re-collect, to forge forward.
This year, 2020, is the start of a new decade (well, probably), and an even better time to take stock of the past and look to an improved future.
And I’m not going to do it.
There are huge reasons we as a society want to want to put 2019 and the entire 2010s behind us — I imagine you’re sick of impeachment, Brexit, climate change, detentions, drone strikes, floods, fires, wars and rumors of wars. I know I’m sick of them.
I also have individual reasons I’d love to put this last decade behind me — I’ve been more disappointed in myself than not, these last years, and 2020 would be a great time to start living up to my own expectations. I’ve lost people I care about to death or moving or just drifting apart. I’ve been hurt and frightened and sick, and seen other hurt, frightened, sick people.
I’ve been disappointed. I’ve been robbed and betrayed. I spent a lot of time crying and giving up on things. I’ve lived up to the expectations of a lot of people who will never live up to mine.
It would feel pretty good to put all that behind me. But I won’t be doing that this year. I can’t.
What’s going on in my life, in my friend group, in my country, and on my planet is all too important for me to try to draw a bright line, say “I’m starting over” and turn my attention to other things.
Don’t get me wrong: I love starting over. I feel an excited rush when I imagine moving, switching jobs, forming a new band, breaking up with my partner, or just walking away from my life entirely. I enjoy the part of planning that happens before contact with the enemy, and also the way it feels to jump with no plan at all. I am, at heart, an escapist.
And that makes me a liar.
When I’m job hunting, if interviewers ask me one of the questions designed to determine my level of commitment, like ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ or ‘What are your long-term career goals?’ I lie. I tell them whatever I need to tell them to get the job, because I like the dopamine hit of being hired. Not to mention the usual pay increase, and the delightful feeling of walking away from whatever problems have been building up at the last job.
I love walking away.
When I join a study, a therapy group, a fitness class, or a band, I love the first few sessions. I’m excited about learning about people, finding new connections, and figuring out what we’ll be doing. I love planning and setup. I am thrilled learning a new song or exercise, and pushing through to make that new task perfect. I love beginnings.
I’m not so good at followthrough: once I’ve learned a little bit about the thing, I will often, again, walk away.
Middles are hard.
I will sometimes rush the ending to get out of the middle. It happened with my college career, most of my 30+ lifetime jobs, and several relationships. It’s not usually to my benefit.
I have mostly kept my Medium account out of US national politics, but I admit: I wish I could rush the ending of what’s going on today.
As I write this, there is speculation that drone assassinations of the Iranian military commander Qassim Suleimani and four other people at the Baghdad International Airport are going to touch off war with Iran. There’s some speculation, partially based on past presidential tweets, that this is a ploy to distract from impeachment and increase the chance of reelection. I don’t know whether that’s true.
I do know that this is a terrible time for a war, especially if war with Iran touches off war with Russia or China. We can’t currently know if that will happen.
I’m worried we might know soon.
Midlife is hard.
When I remember bygone days
I think how evening follows morn;
So many I loved were not yet dead,
So many I love were not yet born.
I first read this in his Selected Poems of Ogden Nash, published 1972, but I assume it was written before that, as he was dead at the time.
I had no idea, when I was small, how much this poem would resonate today.
It‘s more apt every year. 2019 is the year I lost my father, and within the last four years I’ve gained three nieces. Five years ago next Saturday my grandmother died; 32 years ago this January my mother didn’t. My son is in college now; if his life goes the way he hopes it does, he will never live with me full-time again.
Does it take everyone four decades to realize time keeps going, and that sometimes you don’t have a chance to start over?
Or is that just me?
So I’m not starting over this January. Don’t get me wrong: I have made a couple of new year’s resolutions. I’m going to walk the dog more, and eat less sugar, procrastinate less and work out more consistently. My family will reexamine our budget as we do every January. I’ll cook more spinach and do more stairs.
But I’m not reinventing myself this winter, not trying to emerge from the dark cocoon of the shortest days with new spring wings. Not this year.
The world and my life feel too fragile for that. I want to preserve my balance, and I’m not sure how many more times I can start over.
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