Happy New Year!
I live in NYC where you’re often measured in terms of your accomplishments: books published; awards won; promotions earned; marathons ran, etc. That’s how we often think of personal growth–in terms of the externals. Or maybe that’s how it seems to me because that’s how I was raised and so that’s how I valued myself until recently. The problem with this outlook is that, while it can be tremendously rewarding, sometimes all the work you do does not necessarily garner public recognition. And then what? In this day and age, with Facebook and Twitter, I get the sense that if you don’t talk about what you’re doing, writing, training for, then people get the sense that you’re not doing anything at all. I feel a loss of respect and regard from some quarters and my little ego can get very bruised if I get on that train. I acknowledge that the problem to overcome here is my own proverbial Latin bourgeois fear of “el qué dirán”, what people will think.
What’s hidden from view, what is developed outside of the public sphere that can’t be quantified through awards or prizes, the modest work of putting your nose to the grind even if it isn’t rewarded — well, I don’t know if that kind of stuff is even valued or admired anymore, (if it ever was). In that sense, though, I have to say that 2015 has been a great year for me. It was the year of developing inner character. There is no way of writing that without coming off as old-fashioned or cheesy, but I have gotten a great sense of satisfaction in trying to be strong when I would rather be weak, in being brave when I’d rather take the easy way out, and in being kind when I’m feeling downright cranky and bitchy. It is still a struggle not to let others’ opinion of me control me. On the other hand, now I can see how that very fear held me back and led me to make terrible choices from which there may not be any second chances. The latter has been a very rough realization, one that I’ve had to confront and deal with during these last weeks of 2015. In real life there are no Hollywood endings, however this is not the same as saying that life sucks just because you didn’t get what you wanted.
Character means developing a nuanced perspective of things and, most of all, in standing strong in your values even if you lose. Wishful thinking leaves you open to manipulation, while cynicism sinks you into despair and misanthropy. We’ve all met a cranky old person who gets a kick out of being mean to others and shitting on their dreams. No matter what happens, whether my boobs fall or my waist expands, I don’t want to be that person. The older I get, the more I see how challenging it can be to not be like that! Okay, I know you don’t have to be old to be an asshole, but I do think it’s something to watch out for as choices narrow down. But I have two little nieces whom I love dearly and who I know are watching me. I may be their only model for an independent, artsy-fartsy single lady. And sometimes I see them looking at me and I can see in their eyes that they’re not gauging me by my successes or lack thereof. The best way I can describe what I see in their eyes is with with a story.
I went to spend Thanksgiving with my family. I would’ve spent the whole weekend with them, but I had a moth infestation so I needed to hurry back to tackle that. I’d already had to throw out several items of clothing and two rugs. Anyway, my 10 y.o. niece wanted me to spend “five whole days with her” and when I told her I had to go back to work, she asked for me to stay through the weekend, and when I told her why I couldn’t do that either, she asked if she could come to the city and stay with me instead.
“Babe, I gotta warn you, if you come, I’m gonna put you to work. You’ll spend the whole weekend cleaning out my closets.”
“Yeah, but we can make it fun!” she said. And I thought, that’s my girl! That’s who I am to her. Someone she can have fun with even when taking care of the boring, trivial things. Because you know what? That’s what most of life entails.
May 2016 bring you fun and rewards even when no one’s looking!