New Year’s Eve always brings with it the ghosts of the past, the might-have-beens and should-have-dones and if-onlys. Sometimes they’re tempered with hope—it’s a new year coming, a new slate, a chance for something better! Sometimes they aren’t. Either way, I tend to try not to look back, lest I get lost in those if onlys. I’m feeling this even more in 2019, another rough year, and the end, if we count by zeroes, of another decade. (I don’t generally count by zeroes, though I suppose an exception can be made in this case.)
Emotionally, I think, this decade that is ending (or will end) started for me when I graduated college, or perhaps on the strike of midnight 2011. My undergraduate education ended, with a perfect 4.0 that was borne of blood and anguish and no social life and the thrumming memory of being called retarded, and with it any ghosts of childhood, and I set aside childish things and became a woman. My ’10s were the years of grad school, which brought despair and panic but also allowed me to grow up and to grow better; to realize that, in the face of years of insinuations to the contrary, I had—have—worth, as a person and as a professional.
Grad school was hard, and there’s a lot I would change, had I the chance to do it over again. It was often isolating, and I often found myself on the outside looking in. I would certainly not have made it without my union, and the support structure I built within it. I would not make it now without the friends I made in that union, either. But as hard as grad school was, I left Urbana four years after I’d arrived, with a master’s in Spanish (emphasis on colonial and Siglo de Oro literatures) and a Master’s of Science in Library Science. I have far more thoughts and feelings about both than I care to go into, here, but I have certainly gained from them both—and have grown as a person, and as a writer.
In 2018, I attended my first writing conference, at Northwestern. I’m glad I went, and I probably won’t attend it again (a purely financial decision, to be blunt: I’m a millennial, and am generally lacking in funds). But this year, I attended StoryStudio Chicago Fest 2019 (hashtagged as #SSCFest2019, and oh yes I live-tweeted). Then I went to one of StoryStudio’s online classes, since I, a South Sider, am not making my way up to Ravenswood after work. This coming year (that is, early in January), I’ll be attending two more—both of them online, because South Sider here. And I’ve been working on collecting those one hundred rejections, building a collection of beads to go along with them—and, to my surprise, some of them have been personal. I could say that a decade ago I’d never have believed that a rejection could be hopeful, but I wouldn’t have believed it a year ago, either. How the times do change, I guess.
I’ve read, a lot. I wrote a whole post about books I read in 2018; I could write pages and pages now. In fact, I’ll probably write a not-exactly-review of Get A Life, Chloe Brown, some time in early January. (I’ve already written a Goodreads review, but I don’t think it’s enough.) I’m enjoying the sight of my Goodreads Year In Books graphic, because it’s pretty (all the pictures!), and because what an interesting mix of books I read this year! I also blasted right through my Goodreads challenge (100 books, said I, on December 31, 2018). The thirty-one books of poetry I read for the Sealey Challenge definitely helped there—and brought with them a wealth of words and feelings and images. There hasn’t been much good in 2019, but the books I read were, almost universally, marvelous. And I’m grateful for those books, and their companionship.
These past few years have been bad ones, for my country, for my world. They’ve been rough more often than not for me and mine as well. Coming home to a massive gas leak—and carbon monoxide so high I assume only faulty windows kept my family alive—was a particular low point, this December, but it wasn’t alone. (In case you’ve ever wondered: Wagnerian sopranos do not hold the market on screaming.) My family’s home has a new furnace; I still feel cold. I’ve come to realize, as I deal with frustrations large and small, that I am still sorted into the right House, and that I am more ambitious than I have perhaps admitted to myself, in the past. Ambition is probably right up there with perfectionism, among those gifts that can also be curses.
New Year’s Eve is always strange, and this (possible) shift of decades makes it even stranger—not least because the twenties are nigh once more, and the last time the twenties were here, my family did a grand old business. It was an excellent time, I gather, to own a tavern in Wisconsin. I saw live theatre, in the past year, and went to the Folk Festival; I’ve just seen the incandescent The Light in the Piazza, and I have more concerts to come in 2020—including four Beethoven symphonies in the spring and early summer. I’m not an optimistic person, but I have an optimistic fortune from my last fortune cookie sitting to hand, and I just saw The Light in the Piazza, which is rather optimistic, and, hell, when last we had the twenties, my family sure did a booming business. Here’s to a decade that will, I hope, be better than the tens.