I almost didn’t write this essay this year. Looking back on the ones I’ve written before, it seems like I write the same exact essay every single year. When was the last time I finished a year genuinely satisfied with how it went, and excited about what the next one would bring? Well, at the end of 2015, the year I got married, probably. But other than that? Never.
Last year I even wrote this essay twice. I had to re-write it because the first one was so self-indulgent and mopey. As excited as I had been to enter 2016, I felt like the year crushed me. I finished last year hating myself and my surroundings — basically hating everything except my wife and my cat. (Not always in that order.) It was the lowest I’d felt since the spring of our year in New York.
This time last year, I set several goals for myself: to be at least a fraction as good a person as my wife; to run regularly and start racing again; to go to therapy and get myself right in the head; to write more regularly and more productively; and to follow current events but not so closely it threatened my mental health. To sum it all up, I wanted to take better care of myself. I wanted to get myself healthy.
I didn’t achieve a single one of these things! Even the therapy one — which really should have been the foundation upon which the rest of the getting-myself-right would be built — was a failure. It took me a month and a half to find a therapist (because insurance is bad!), and then she wanted me to come in more often than I could afford to. Yes, my biggest stressor is financial, and she wanted me to come in once a week even though I could barely afford to go in once a pay period.
When I re-read both of last year’s essays, I was shocked to realize how much those words mirror how I have felt this fall and early winter. Finishing out 2017, I felt exactly the same as at the end of 2016.
Just after Christmas, my wife and I were talking about our general dissatisfaction with this past year. I compared it to the year we lived in New York. The difference, we agreed, is that when things were really bad in New York, we made a change. In 2016, we did nothing to help ourselves.
(Ironically, just a few years ago this would have been a good thing! After we got ourselves right after our New York disaster, I craved stability more than anything, and in 2015 I got it! Just two years later, and it’s gone from benefit to detriment. Funny how important context is to what we value.)
In 2018, something has to change. What, I’m not sure — but I don’t think it has to be a big thing. At least not to start. The foundation upon which further change can be built lies within me. Over the last two years, I’ve allowed myself to wallow too much. I’ve allowed myself to be brought down by the way I live in a terribly boring place, or by my growing failure to create any art, or by the way I can barely pay my bills* despite making the best money I’ve ever made, because the cost of living in the Bay Area is so outrageous.
These things drive resentment inside me. In the — bear with me — Nitzschean sense. Ressentiment, allowing my internal state to be a reaction to external factors rather than maintaining control of what I feel within me.
I want so badly to be a happy, loving, positive person, the kind of person who empowers and uplifts those around him. But I become so worn down by the things bothering me that I can’t see or appreciate the good. More often than not, I’m just a big, blue crab.
I call this the moody blues. My use of that term started in New York, I think, when I would get suddenly and overwhelmingly sad that the weekend was about to send. It’s my term for That Sunday Feeling, though it fits for any sort of darkness so strong no light can penetrate.
Perhaps it’s a little too on-the-nose — but it’s also not a total surprise — that this winter I started listening to the actual Moody Blues, the British psychedelic rock band best known for Nights in White Satin:
This song is doubly remarkable, though incredibly unsubtle in its symbolism for my feeling as I enter 2018. Tired of wallowing in my own moody blues, I’m attracted to this song that is really not so happy but that turns on an anthemic chorus of, “I love you, yes, I love you, oh, how I love you.” Because that’s what I want to do this year: really concentrate on the things and people I love.
In the style of years past, I guess that makes 2018 the Year of Positive Focus. I want to remember and pay attention to and focus on those things I love. When I catch myself failing to do that, maybe I’ll just listen to Nights in White Satin and get fired up by love. I’ve done that a couple of times this winter, and honestly, it worked.
What do I want to be focusing on, then? What are the things I love?
In terms of activities, I’m happiest at two times: When I’m running, and when my cat is snuggling me. (Seriously.) Every year I berate myself for not achieving my running goals, so I won’t do that this year. I need to appreciate the runs I do go on rather than beating myself up for the ones I miss. But achieving some kind of routine in it — for the first time in years — will help me improve, and one of my favorite things about running is being able to see and track my improvement.
As far as the cat is concerned, honestly, I think I pay enough attention to him. But my love for him — and for animals more generally — is an opportunity for me. I’ve been joking for the last week about doing a cat-focused podcast. But I’ve also been talking seriously since last spring about volunteering for my county’s cat adoptions. Maybe this year I stop finding reasons to postpone that and actually start doing it.
This would be an active step towards helping improve the world. In the face of all the evil and hate in the world, I want to work for good. At this moment in early January, I don’t know what that means, but I’ve used not knowing what to do as an excuse for inaction throughout the entire Trump administration so far. Inaction is inexcusable.
Creatively, too, I want to do more. I want to consume more art, watch more movies, write more, and see that writing published. Depending on what happens with our living situation, I want to audition for plays, or commercials, or something. I miss performing, even though I haven’t done it since I was 17 or 18. I want to work at these things and stop feeling pulled away from my passions by various “obligations,” which aren’t obligations at all but get treated as such.
(I’m not talking here about bowling, of course. I hope to keep bowling forever. This past year I’ve almost become kind of good at it!)
And above all, I want to focus on my family, both immediate and more dispersed. I allow my multifarious resentments to turn into resentment towards my wife; we haven’t had the best year together. I want to remember, each day, how and why she’s so great.
My more distant family needs more from me, too, and I want to focus on my love for them as well. By “distant” family, I mean the physically distant, which is my entire family (including parents and siblings) because I’m the one who moved so far away. We see my in-laws all the time, but I never see my family more than once a year. I haven’t done a major holiday with anyone in my family since Thanksgiving 2012. That’s not going to change this year, but I can call and email them more. I should, but just as importantly, I want to.
Will this a good year? I have no idea. But I sure as hell better try to make it one.