2013/14

The year has wound out in its usual fashion and we all remarked on the speed with which it passed, despite the fact that time dripped on at the pace it always has. It’s us that have sped up. We’ve upgraded from the laconic endless days of childhood when a day was as long as we needed it to be, and we didn’t waste time thinking about its ending. When we didn’t have to parcel the hours to ensure the to-do list was completed before the sun finished its arc. Time moved differently because every moment was then-and-there and this-is-happening, and not what-next or yet-to-be-done. Now we are frantic in our awareness of time passing and we fill it with everything so we don’t miss out on anything. The blatant irony is the what-next attitude stops us savouring the everything we have packed into our day. Maybe if we did a little less and embraced the this-is-happening frame of mind we’d feel like we accomplished more.

I feel like I’m in a very different place here at the end of the year than I was at the start.  For me, 2013 was made up of periods of frenetic action with time jumping forward in rapid jolts, and stretches of lonely inaction, bubbles where time was sluggish and sloth-like. This best summarises my experience of being newly single.

The biggest change 2013 brought was the ending of my five-year relationship. It altered everything. On reflection, I’m proud with how something that was so hard and tender and painful played out. Neither I nor my girlfriend felt the need to sink to the numb-mind state of hurling insults and lashing out. We didn’t hate each other, you see, we loved each other. But we didn’t fit together. And because of that we conducted our break-up with the same love with which we had conducted our relationship.

Facing the realisation of it was horrible. We both stared down our lives to a future where the other person no longer played a vital part. Where odd thoughts and in-jokes could no longer be shared, and where unquestioned support we had come to rely on was suddenly pulled away. We hated that reality and so ignored the stalled one we were living in for as long as we could. But eventually we agreed that an uncertain future was less of a risk than a present we were no longer enjoying. And so in April of 2013 we broke up.

The last time I was single I was twenty-one. I was an adolescent university student. Nursing was a course I had just begun, and not a life-changing career I had immersed myself in. I lived in Gippsland with my parents. I thought in simpler patterns and had a very different set of priorities.

The silver side of the thunderhead that is a breakup is the inescapable self-reflection that follows. After my break-up I had time where I was alone. Time where my to-do list got done and I was left sitting in my house thinking all the thoughts I usually pushed to the edge of my brain. I thought about who I was, and more importantly, who I felt I should be. Inescapably, I looked at myself without the identifier of boyfriend, but just me, with just myself to keep happy. And I had to learn how to do that. I had to learn what made me happy, and what I wanted to do with all the time that had suddenly opened up before me. If I wanted to be selfish with that time, or spread it around to the people in my life. Without planning for it, I had choice.

I think every break-up, like every change, is the opportunity for metamorphosis. So I changed in ways I had always wanted to, but no longer had a good excuse to delay. I exercised. I read. I wrote. I created. I saw friends. I relaxed with family. And I did it all while learning how to be alone, and deal with the air pockets between these activities when I just missed having someone around who loved me.

So change happened to me in 2013, and I changed. But it wasn’t just me. In my immediate family alone, every one of them changed. My twin brother took the courageous step of tackling an entirely new profession and industry because it meant he would be doing something he was passionate about. He quit full-time work and the comfort of full-time income, and set himself up with part-time employment and the challenge of entering a new field. He has already been successful in this due to his diligence, determination, and the intelligent and hard-working way with which he approached his self-appointed task.

My parents continued their growth into the post-children world and made more of their year than I thought possible. Without question, their social calendar outstripped mine to the point where planning two weeks ahead was the safest way to ensure I saw them. They have embraced this period of their life, and, far from slowing down, have sped up.

My sister, in a similar vein to my brother, has excelled in her new profession of being a yoga teacher. She followed her passion and worked harder and with more dedication than I thought possible of one person, and has gone from strength the strength. I’ve had the pleasure of being her student and the professionalism and breadth of knowledge she displayed was inspiring.

And finally, my older brother became a father. I can’t even describe how incredible it is to write that sentence. I know in my bones that he will be an amazing dad, and can’t wait to watch as that relationship develops. It is a life-changing, family-changing event, and a joy to be a part of.

We all changed in the past twelve months, and if I wanted to I could continue to look at my extended family and friends, and find that change has affected them all. In the same way we remark on the increasing speed of a year despite its continued metronomic pace, we remark on what a big year 2013 has been despite the fact that they’re all big years. Every year contains change, but the beauty of book-ending these periods of time is in the nature of stopping, of sitting with the this-is-happening frame of mind, and appreciating all that was accomplished. Of letting go of the what-next attitude and marvelling at how we have evolved and are evolving.

So here’s to 2014, to change, and to less of the what-next and more of the this-is-happening.

TWENTY-TWELVE

The ending of a year and the commencement of a new one always struck me as a strange event. A non-event. Humans determined how long it takes the earth to fully circle the sun, gave this orbit a starting point, then decided to celebrate the anniversary of this fictitious starting point. And for a long time I couldn’t figure out why we gave such an obviously invented holiday any weight.

I remember as a kid sitting on the beach and feeling an electricity as the count down began. The tension increased until the final digit fell away and everyone along the sand exploded with a tremendous “HAPPY NEW YEAR!” Bracing hugs were shared, kisses given, and fireworks would launch into the air. But as those coloured lights faded quickly from the night sky and normal conversation resumed among the adults, I remember thinking, Is that it? I don’t feel any different. Why is everyone making such a big deal? And by all outward appearances nothing had changed. The new year looked and felt suspiciously like the last year.

The anti-climax of new years turned me off the event. It seemed to me a desperate excuse to party, to drink, and generally do stuff you wouldn’t normally do. Creating an excuse to celebrate is no bad thing, but new years always came away as shallow because so much hung on it. We were closing the door to the problems of last year. We were resolving to be different and better people come the new year. But those pesky problems always seemed to find their way into the new year regardless of the closed door, and the new people we were meant to be had a lot of the flaws of the old.

There was too much pressure on this invented holiday that it ultimately failed to live up to the hype.

But as I’ve moved into adulthood and garnered adult pressures and responsibilities, the value of new years has started to emerge.

The first value: An excuse to party.

This didn’t carry much weight for a child who came home and read books and watched television, and whose major concern was a three-hour shift behind a supermarket register. The excuse to party was every weekend, and the chance to unwind wasn’t essential. I was pretty unwound to begin with.

But as an adult the chance to gather with friends, to turn off the train of thoughts linked to job, career, and finances, is like an oasis in a storm. And in that oasis you feel like resolutions are a good thing, and are accomplishable. Which leads us to…

The second value: Resolve.

New years is traditionally a time to make resolutions. An opportunity to improve. As a child I found this pointless; why wait for a made up date on a made up calendar? If you want to change, change. And why there is some truth to this, there’s also truth to the fact that after working a stressful eight and a half hour shift without a lunch break, the resolution of not eating junk and exercising is almost laughable. High fat foods and doing nothing when you get home are compulsory.

New years gives you an opportunity to reflect away from the exhaustion of work on what it is you really want to be achieving. Because while financial stability is an accomplishment, it’s not always satisfying. It’s not all you want to be doing. The fugue of endless work days makes this hard to remember, but new years is a marked point in time to stop, think, and resolve yourself to the person you really want to be. It doesn’t matter if you don’t stick to the goals word for word, only that you remember what you’re doing and why, and bit by bit, work towards them. This action is usually accompanied by reflection. Which leads us to…

The third value: Reflect.

The idea that the problems of last year will magically evaporate in the face of a new year is still a stupid one. Young me got that one right. But what new years does offer is the opportunity to reflect on those problems, to weigh them against the successes of a year, and realise that you may have done better than you thought you did. It’s a moment to summarise what’s not working, to appreciate what you accomplished, and to take those wins and losses and decide what you’ll do with them from that point onwards. And there is definitely value in this.

For me, 2012 was a big one. A year may only be a fictitious span of man-made time, but mine was an eventful fictitious span of man-made time. 2012 saw my first published work, my first purchased home, my first published illustrations, my first promotion, and my first hospitalisation. Phew. And I only really appreciated this list when I stopped to reflect, calculate, and appreciate what I had accomplished in a year.

Here’s hoping it only gets better.

Happy new year everyone, and all the best for 2013.