How are you, friend?
Are you sailing brightly forward with the gust of new year’s intentions in your sails?
Or have the winds already blown your plans (and your hair) every which way?
Me too, love!
Do you long to just curl up and sleep for three weeks?
How wise; that is what most mammals do this time of year.
Are you feeling heartsore, bruised, broken, grieving, helpless, anguished?
Oh, fellow human, how could you feel anything else?
And yet…do glimmers of strange hope, joy, and even a flapping determination keep flickering up in spite of everything?
However you’re feeling, dearheart, take a moment and just acknowledge it. Don’t judge it or change it or try to improve it– just be present for a moment with whatever is already actually present in you.
Oh hello, uncertainty– greetings.
Hi there, momentum– I see you.
Welcome, grief, there is room for you here.
Hi hi hi sweet inspiration– I’m so glad you’re here too.
Isn’t it wild how we can hold all these things inside us, all at once– sometimes all of them within a few seconds?
Each year, I choose a theme for myself. Some of my past themes have been “epic fucking badass,” “trust the unfolding,” and “I will never let you stop writing.” Last year, my theme was “You’re safe with me.”
These always begin as a bit of a mystery and tend to unfold in sometimes hilarious ways, but they always feel like I’m shooting an arrow into the future, declaring a sort of trajectory for myself. Sometimes they feel like a flashlight beam lighting the way forward, or a mantra to give me courage as I trudge ahead even when I’m afraid. What I am trying to say is that they have always had a sense of forward momentum. Of me standing on the shore and squinting off, pointing in the distance– there, that way.
This year, my theme is different.
It arrived like a whisper, like a heartbeat, like a poem. It trickled down like roots.
I was looking for something rather grand, to be honest. Something romantic. But instead, these are the words that climbed into my chest and announced themselves:
To love the life I already have.
Now what I expected.
I was a little dismayed, frankly, like when your preteen comes downstairs in their “very best” outfit and your eyes widen and you immediately try to figure out how to tactfully change– well– everything.
Perhaps I could tweak the wording a bit– to live a life full of love? To love the life I’m living?
Maybe I could add a drop of aspiration– to love the life I’m creating?
To love the life I already have felt to me a little like admitting defeat. Like saying, “I guess it’s not going to get any better than this.”
Surely the whole point of a theme to carry me through the year is to give me some momentum? A little forward direction? A through line? This one felt like just sitting down and refusing to get up.
But as I contemplated it, I also felt myself softening toward it. Gosh, there was something like…relief in it.
What if I didn’t have to do any better this year? What if I didn’t have to push forward? What if I didn’t have to achieve?!?!
Absurd, shocking, scandalous notion.
But something about it felt so comforting, so like an old shabby quilt, like a Brambly Hedge painting, that I just wanted to nestle into it and rest.
Almost immediately the panic set in: But who will I be if I’m not striving? Who would I be if I didn’t try to be a more successful writer, or at least a more productive one? If I didn’t try to make more money? If I didn’t try to eat better, save more, drink less wine, grow my audience…
Well, I’d be exactly who I am right now.
In fact, I’d be exactly who I have been at the end of every year, no matter how lofty the goals I set– still just me.
Year after year, I have told myself that this was the year I’d finally figure out how to go big on social media, get the world to care about my books, get out of the scrabbly entrepreneur grind and make grownup money, get strong and healthy, buy a bigger house, make it “big” somehow and figure out how to pay for university for all these kids, blah blah blah.
And most years, I did not do those things, not in the big dramatic way I’d hoped for.
And then I would feel bad about it.
So maybe this humble little theme– to love the life I already have– is a better way forward.
Truth is, I don’t actually care about most of those goals; I only set them again and again because I think I’m supposed to, or because I’m hoping that they will keep me safe in some way.
I don’t care how big my social media following is except that I hope that a bigger one will equal more people reading my books and more people reading my books will mean more of a longterm sustainable career as a writer and that will mean that I can write more, sink into it, write as a writer and not someone who is stealing writing time from her real job.
(Except I have actually been — well– writing, all along. Quietly and steadily. See my notes on change, below.)
And I only really care about getting strong and healthy because I’m vainly dismayed at what’s happening to my chin, not because I actually want to be stronger– I actually feel so joyful in my body, so happy and at home in it, even as it droops and puffs gently out in places it never used to.
And I only want to stop having a tiny little lifestyle business and go “big” because I want to stop worrying about money, to feel safe–
(But what is safe? We live in these soft porous skins on this violent planet spinning around a ball of flame– what is safe???)
And I only want a bigger house because we are so cram-jammed into this one and we can’t have anyone over for dinner and we’re three bedrooms short…
(Okay, it turns out that I do, actually, really want a bigger house, but I currently don’t see any responsible way to make that happen, so it’s not even a real goal, just a wish.)
S0– maybe it would be okay to let go of having a theme that pushes me forward.
Maybe I could settle into this life I’m already living and see its beauty instead of trying to improve it all the time. Perhaps, much like my preteen, maybe life finds my “helpful suggestions” to be critical and rude. Maybe they hurt life’s feelings.
Maybe I could just focus my attention on this life right now instead of trying to propel it forward into the future. Maybe I could enjoy it more, be more present, savor it. Maybe I could work to honor what I have and do right by it.
Oddly enough, this absolutely dovetails with everything I know about how to go about creating a life full of joy and meaning and satisfaction. True deep longterm change rarely comes from a hectically flung intention– it’s a deep underneath tending, caring, and repatterning that create true and lasting change. (I have more to say about this idea of change, and I’ll write you about it next week. Because loving my life doesn’t mean giving up on it, it means loving what it actually is and honoring its current needs instead of wanting it to be something else.)
Before we can change something in a helpful way, rather than just criticize it, we have to be with it. Really with it. We have to look at it with clear and compassionate eyes, even the cringey scary embarrassing bits.
So this is my intention: to be with my life this coming year. To love on it with utter adoration and tenderness. To step up to care for it with fierce muscles, like the adult it deserves. To celebrate it and dress it up and dance with it and sing songs to it.
I don’t know what that looks like, though I do have some ideas and I can’t wait to tell you about them.
For right now, mostly what it seems to mean is getting dressed in ways that make me grin– I’m very big on this James Herriott 1930s-English-veterinarian look right now, tweed jacket with a collared shirt and a sweater. (It is SO warm, plus pockets.)
But sometimes I dress like a ballerina, or my idea of a poet. (I’m sharing these looks on my Instagram stories.) It’s very silly and brings me much joy and it harms no one. What more could I ask for?
To love the life I already have.
It’s bringing my attention back inward, instead of out.
I don’t know what that will mean yet.
But I promise to keep you posted.
And in the meantime, if you have a theme for the year, come tell me about it on Instagram…