I am the Ebeneezer Scrooge of New Years. I hate the shiny, numbered glasses and the prop facial hair. I hate TV countdowns, midnight, resolutions, and champagne toasts. We get together every year, drink a little, shout a little, and pretend like we won’t wake up the next morning plagued by the same thoughts we fell asleep with. Every year we celebrate the fact that we can count with more pomp and circumstance than we afford most scientific discoveries. New Years was invented by the western hemisphere to dominate alternative cultural timelines across the globe…and to sell cards.
I do hate New Years, but I will admit it’s a good time to learn a few last-minute things before the final exam.
I entered 2015 alone in bed with my BFF Netflix. When the clock struck midnight, I was watching an episode of the Twilight Zone with the covers pulled up to my chin. The episode, called “Where is Everybody?”, was about a man who stumbles upon an abandoned town and finds he cannot remember who he is or why he is there. He spends 20 minutes going into different buildings that, in every practical sense, appear to the occupied. The lights are on; the coffee is hot; the film is rollling; the car is running; but no one is there. He shouts and shouts, but the closest thing he finds to another human is a room full of mannequins. Eventually, the loneliness breaks his bright spirit. He collapses in the end, screaming for help. No one comes.
As the camera moves away from his face, the viewer sees that the town was a figment of the man’s imagination. There are wires attached to his head, and military personnel rush to his side and put him on a stretcher. As they take him away, a pair of officials discuss the failure of their experiment, and the closing narrative cuts in over the dialogue: “Up there, up there in the vastness of space, in the void that is sky…is an enemy known as isolation. It sits there in the stars waiting, waiting with the patience of eons, forever waiting… in the Twilight Zone.”
The Twilight Zone may be science fiction, but the familiarity of that situation is perhaps what unsettled me most. Forget the stars and questionable military experiments on the limits of humanity, the isolation we experience here on Earth has the same effect. We see signs of life every day–pictures on our newsfeeds, tweets, and status updates–but how often to we get to reach out and touch it anymore? We spend too much time alone, sitting in front of screens. It can drive us crazy, make us forget who we are, who and what we love, and all that we’ve accomplished…
I hate New Years, but I guess it’s a good a time as any to reflect on things that have happened and make plans for our futures. I don’t want to be like that guy on TV. So, without further ado, I present three lists: (I) Things To Take With Me, (II) Things To Leave Behind, (III) Things For The Future…
I. Things To Take With Me
In 2014, I…spent months immersed in a subject that brought me so much nerdy feminist joy. The result was an hour-long public presentation and a 1.5-hour walking tour on local women’s history. Highlights included: the number of friends who showed up to support me, the number of people who told me they wished they’d learned this stuff in college, the amount of conversations I had in bars about women, seeing one of those women honored with an Ohio Historic Marker, and making the front page of The Morning Journal.
…made my first public post about my struggle with disordered eating and celebrated my body for what it is. It had been a long time since I’d seen pictures of me senior year, and seeing them was an emotional moment. I was proud of myself for finding more productive ways to feel in control of my life and so grateful to have met such patient people. Since then, I have decided to go without a full-length mirror and scale in my house. I began art modeling and was surprised to see all the different types of beauty people can see in me when sometimes all I can see are negative thoughts.
…saw a bald eagle on three separate occasions.
…went to the Cleveland International Film Festival.
…won an Irish history essay contest. Despite the fact that writing it was like pulling teeth, it was pretty cool to learn something new and to be able to share that information with other people. It was also pretty nice to hear strangers tell me I’m smart. Ain’t nothing like institutional validation.
…moved to a new city and started a new job, but blah blah blah you’ve heard enough about that already, haven’t you?
…helped a beloved mentor win an award. Carol Lasser has supported me in every weird decision I’ve made since asking her to be my advisor. Words cannot express how indebted I am to her, but I guess I tried to make them, and I guess what words I could find did the trick.
…visited a new state. Despite the fact that I didn’t leave Ohio for more than a 12 hours, I proved I could leave by taking a day trip to Pittsburgh with my brother. We saw Fallingwater, then went for a hike in Ohiopyle State Park. It was a great day, and I was so happy to have spent it with my little-oh-crap-he’s-an-adult-now brother before he gets too old.
…joined protests downtown. I opened my mind and my heart to the experiences of others, and I learned a lot about how I can use my privilege to help others and the movement for justice. I cried for the children and families that have been harmed, and continue to be harmed, by ignorance and aggression. I held hands with strangers, and we cried and marched together.
…experimented with my hair. Early in the year, I successfully dyed it with henna. Later in the year, I unsuccessfully cut it with kitchen scissors. Both situations gave birth to hilarious stories I’ll be sure to tell the grandkids.
…got engaged–JUST KIDDING. It wasn’t real. But my close friend did get engaged, and I might have cried after she called to tell me because I love her so much.
II. Things To Leave Behind
As I head into the New Year, I want to leave behind feelings of rejection, abandonment, and inadequacy. I want to stop ruining long showers with questions like: “Why can’t I just be pretty?” or (my favorite) “What makes you think anyone would like you?” It would also be nice to quit randomly telling myself with surety: “I used to be smart.” The sharp, unexpected pang of recurring embarrassing memories can go too, as far as I’m concerned. No need for that. I want to forget this spiritual slump in 2014 like I forgot my cell phone charger at my old job, except I never want to get it back. But most importantly, the thing I want to leave in 2014 is telling my friends that “I don’t really have any friends.” I mean, how profoundly stupid is that? Dear friend, please be a friend and listen to your friend whine about how she doesn’t have any friends. Thanks a lot. You’re a real pal. Your friendless friend, Jen. Duh! Stop it. Just…stop it.
III. Things for the Future
In 2015, I will get my wisdom teeth taken out, watch the final episode of Parks and Recreation, and celebrate my 25th birthday. I will also, hopefully:
3) Say yes more and have more adventures.