Another Year, Same Essay: Thoughts on the New Year for 2014

This year’s Thoughts on the New Year essay is very long and personal. The tl;dr is that the last couple of years have been rough financially and professionally but this year will be better. Also I got engaged this year and have a great little family with my fiancee and my cat and that pretty much makes 2013 a success.

There is a moment every morning — usually when I’m elbow deep in our fryer cleaning it out with a hose and heavy-duty degreaser, or maybe when I’m getting the three-sink system setup for that day’s service — that I start to question most every decision I’ve ever made. From high school through the present day, I can see a pattern of decision-making that has led me farther and farther away from my passions and talents, simultaneously taking me deeper and deeper in debt. I’ve gone from passionate about life and writing and music and sports, independent financially and flourishing mentally, to having to rely heavily on my and my fiancee’s families’ social and financial capital in a way that I never ever wanted to have to.

I have no idea how to get out of the hole that I’m in, but I do know that cleaning the fryer isn’t paying the bills and any prospect I have right now will take me even farther away from that professional mountain I’m trying to climb. All of this and more goes through my head every day before 11 a.m.

At the end of 2011, I wrote the first of my now-annual New Year’s essays, which I doubt anyone reads but which feel are a little more honest or accountable than if I just wrote them privately. I don’t make resolutions but I try to establish themes for the coming year, which I started before these essays: 2010 was the Year of the Alex, 2011 was the Year of Good Decisions (ha!), 2012 was the Year of Good Work, and this past year, as stressors really started wearing on me, was the Year of Getting Right.

Did I Get Right this past year? Oh hell no. but maybe it’s the coffee, maybe it’s the good music, maybe it’s knowing that no matter what I’ve got a support system that will keep me off the streets — whatever it is, for some reason I feel oddly hopeful about 2014. This is going to be a Year of Good Returns.

First, a little more about this past year: 2013 wasn’t all bad. I got engaged, and that’s more awesome than I could ever say. As things got really bad for us in New York and it became clear we needed a change (and also needed to move in with one or the other set of parents), we moved across the country. That was an extraordinary drive and a great American experience. As sad as I am to have left New Orleans, and as homesick as I get these days for my childhood/youth/early adulthood in Baltimore, Northern California is spectacular, and we’re lucky to be here. Through fall I worked an incredible harvest job — best job I’ve ever had, only it was so short — where I just drove around to different parts of wine country and worked hard, and I’ve never felt so good. And I love my fiancee’s family, so it’s nice being close to them, even if sometimes I really miss having my own space.

After harvest has been difficult, but it wasn’t all bad. There’s plenty to build on for this coming year.

So, what do I mean by the Year of Good Returns? One sense is the more obvious one: By putting good work in (hello 2012!) I expect to get good returns out. In this sense it’s a way of building on this past year’s attempt at recalibration, but with more of a focus on working hard to get there, and expecting good things to come out of it.

But in another sense, this is a way of calling for a return to the parts of my past that I’m so proud of. Writing, music, sports: my life used to revolve around these things, and I was on the verge of becoming really good at all of the above before getting completely lost.

These New Year’s essays always feature music in one way or another. In 2012 it was the Muppets’ Rainbow Connection, last year it was the Spanish version of You’ve Got a Friend in Me from Toy Story 3. Notably, this year as I write this I can’t stop listening to Alexi Murdoch’s Orange Sky, a song that I intimately associate with senior year of high school, but which also features prominently in that great Maya Rudolph movie Away We Go. (“Are we fuckups,” Rudolph’s character asks her boyfriend John Krasinski. “We’re not fuck-ups,” he responds. “I think we’re fuck-ups,” she decides. I think about this movie all the time.)

I want to return to the things I used to be so good at, and stop being a whole lot of unfulfilled raw potential and started doing something. Unlike most years, I’m making some tangible, measurable goals to achieve this:

  • Run two half-marathons and one full marathon
  • Practice guitar regularly, and perform live at least once by the end of the year
  • Brush up on my Chicago Manual of Style and APA citation, and begin freelance copy-editing academic papers
  • Launch my Northern California culture blog, “Monarch y Mariano,” by March
  • Begin work on super-secret creative endeavor

I will do these things, and I will feel better about myself, and I will love myself and be better able to show my love for those around me. And even if I’m still working in a restaurant, these will be all the good returns I need.

Happy 2013 to all.

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