I started to make a bulleted list of everything that happened this year and realized that was way too much information. What was important wasn’t the events, it was what happened because of them and where they took me. I feel like a lot has happened to me this year and it may actually be a while before I realize how it has all impacted me, but for now, here are the ways I’m different today than I was 365 days ago.
1. This year I learned some of the most powerful words in the English language: that’s not my problem. I was still a bit of a doormat last year. Certainly far less of one than I had been in previous years: it’s been a long, slow process that has actually taken about three or four years, I think. This year, I’m very much NOT a doormat. I blame, if that’s the right word, karate. I’ve been taking karate for just over a year now and I directly attribute what I’ve learned there, both for my body as well as my mind, to my increased inner strength. I just don’t take shit from people anymore, no matter who they are. I try to reject other people’s shit as politely as possible, and whenever possible try to find a way to work through that shit, but if that’s not possible, oh well.
2. I learned another powerful word this year, which is somewhat related to the ones in #1. NO. Really, it’s okay to say no. Do so as nicely as possible, but don’t be afraid to do it. If it helps, say it like HAL in 2001: “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.” This words for a whole lot of situations and people. This year I said “no” to the media. It was making me really, really angry to be exposed on a daily basis to the rampant asshattery that goes on every day, not to mention the outright shortsightedness and ignorance of the vast majority of our culture. It’s hard enough to deal with people’s dumbness just driving from my house to the dojo, I don’t need to add more by reading things that piss me off and I can’t do anything about.
It’s also what enabled me to walk away from henna and housecleaning. I lost a relatively decent source of extra cash when I ditched the cleaning, but I was happier. The extra money wasn’t worth feeling resentful and bad about myself because I was cleaning houses instead of doing research like I thought I would be when I was 19. I realized that at the end of the day, and certainly the end of my life, I would be answerable to absolutely NO ONE but myself. That set off a mental chain reaction that is still yielding good things for me.
3. Like not caring quite so much what other people may or may not think of me. I believe it was William Burroughs who basically said that it’s none of your damn business what other people think of you. And since I don’t think much of people who like to pass that kind of judgment on others anyway, why should I care what those kinds of people think of me? Again, the inner strength imparted to me by my karate teachings helped a great deal in this endeavor. The only important question was, “What do YOU think?”
4. Which made me realize, “I think I suck, and that’s a problem.” I began addressing my life-long self-esteem issues this year. Issues I didn’t really realize I had until I started examining my behaviors through the lens of love and compassion. I found myself asking questions like, “Would you treat another person this way? Why do you treat others better than you treat yourself? Why do you think so little of yourself?” I still do not have all of the answers to those questions, but at the very least, I was cultivating awareness of the fact that on many days, I feel like a complete piece of shit. I know that’s not true, which tells me I have a severe disconnect between my rational self and my emotional self. Reconciling those two aspects of myself is going to be crucial if I really want to continue to grow as a person and accomplish some of the goals that I have.
5. One of those goals is making sense of my family’s past. I received what I call the Box of History this year: a box full of more than sixty years of letters between my late grandmother and her best friend. With very few gaps, I have a nearly complete history of my grandmother’s life from 1940 until her death in 2008. Which means I have at least some of the answers to very long-standing questions about what happened between various family members and why there was so much estrangement. I also wrote down my memoirs up until about 2003, when my daughter was born. It was an amazing thing to plow through my memories the way that I did. I was in the midst of NaNoWriMo, and after some encouragement from a friend, I started at the beginning, and I did not stop for three days. At the end of that marathon, I had nearly 72,000 words chronicling a good 90-95% of my life from 1971 to 2003. I was forced to finally admit to myself, “Yes, it really was all that horrible,” after years of my brain’s efforts to play down some of the events of my life and in some sick and twisted way make it all a flaw of my own perceptions. See #4.
Another family-related catalyizing event was the death of my Wicked Stepfather. Technically he was my adoptive father, but I refused to acknowledge that intimate of a connection given that he was a drunk, a wife-beater, and a pedophile. His death, despite our having not talked in some 14-odd years, released a flood of strange and conflicting feelings, as did the fact that he left me a small amount of money, which blew me away. Only enough to take care of a few things, but enough to make me question the nature of wickedness in people. I began to think a great deal about the nature of compassion and understanding, and it is during this time that I consider myself to become a “real” Buddhist. That is, the first time that I really begin to apply its concepts to my life in a practical and useful way, not just in an ethereal, more meditative way.
6. In that course of various family realizations, I began writing again. Really, really writing. Writing has been a constant in my life since I learned how to type at the age of 10. I’ve done so seriously from time to time but never to any kind of fruition or completion. I’ve kept everything I wrote, though, and all of that combined with what I wrote this year finally comes together into something cohesive and understandable. All of that writing is ripe and fecund and just waiting to be turned into something else that I have a deep feeling will not only benefit myself but also others. Hence the birth of this blog.
Many doors closed this year, and just as many opened. I found myself questioning many things in my life and why they were there, and much in the way that an ancient Greek god could be controlled by merely acknowledging it and uttering its true name, I found many demons dissolving into mist just by being called out by me. “You there lurking in the shadows, let me see you.” One by one they stepped forward, and either disappeared or transformed into something positive. Which is not to say my corners are completely lit and my secret closets empty, but they are much lighter and less crowded than they were.
I’m still processing a lot of what happened this year, and I will be writing about and sharing the Box of History as well as the fruits of NaNoWriMo in bits and pieces, but I feel as though, finally, things are coming together. I have enough to complete a puzzle I have been working on for many, many years. Or if not complete it, at least form a picture complete enough to read the story.