Reflecting on 2019 and the Decade
"It was the end of a decade, but the start of an age"- "Long Live"
I can't believe it's finally here. We're all getting ready to step into 2020 tomorrow. It always seemed so far away. We've all been talking about it so long that it's managed to creep up on me. I guess we're all getting a little extra sentimental because we're ending a decade (in terms of the popular view of decades). We're moving into the 20s. Seeing everyone's decade later comparisons has been weird because the 2010s were the first full decade I've ever lived. I started the decade as a six year old in first grade, so, even though I feel like I've accomplished far less than some people on Twitter, I have, in fact, managed to graduate elementary, middle, and high school and get into college in the last 10 years. I've also become a person.
Most of what's shaped me has happened in the last ten years. I've learned an incredible amount about myself, but I've also spent a great deal of time, in recent years, trying to reconnect with who I was at the start. I've been searching to figure out who I really am when I'm not being jaded or scared or anxious or bruised by past experiences. I've also had to grapple a lot with the question of what I want. This was the decade I found my sense of self, and this was the year that I deconstructed an re-analyzed it. It almost feels like I started the year as a different person. I'd spent the last few years only looking forward, focused on getting through the next assignment, the next book, the next post, the next workout. Most of it with an eye on getting into college. I basically existed with a list of a few personality traits that I held true and didn't think about the possibility of much else. It was a coping mechanism and it was what I needed to do to heal. In a way, though, not giving myself the option to question things or re-evaluate made it easier. I started writing and blogging and reading as a labor of love, as a solace, as a world that I could control and create in. But, in later years, it was always tinged with the idea that it would get me into college. There was always the faint pressure of finding (and winning) the next content, growing and growing the blog because it felt like the only thing I had going for me. I want to talk more on the blog about the reality of the college admissions process, how it shapes high school experiences, and it's impacts on mental health and self-esteem in later posts, but it's had a huge impact on me and everyone going through it around me. Above all, there's the pervasive idea that you can never, ever, ever do or be enough. In hindsight, I get why I made the choices I did and basically blocked out the world. Last spring, I barely had time to think. I worked seven days a week on school and put in 40+ hours a week into the blog. If I wasn't doing school work, I was reading or working on posts. I completed two full years of AP English in a year, I took three AP social sciences, I took Latin for fun. In a lot of ways, I think I was doing it on purpose. I work well in the center of a hurricane. I get things done fast and efficiently, and I don't stop till it's done. As long as there's a next thing, I keep moving. I also think I was trying to numb my fears that I wouldn't be enough to meet my goals. In my applications, I thought that would be my strength. I'm not an Olympic swimmer, and I didn't start a charity, but I've taken tons of classes and have built on my love of books and writing. I made it my identity. I got a job in a bookstore. I had a clean narrative. Why complicate it by questioning if I still wanted that four years later?
Then, by May, I'd graduated, finishing finals and SATs in a blurry haze. Then there was just me, myself, and I, alone in a hazy silence. Attending online school in a new town hadn't built me a community, but I've always been good at entertaining myself. I figured I'd ramp up the blog, build on the interview series I found I loved, and keep working at my job. And then ten years worth of burn out slapped me in the face. Suddenly, I didn't want to do anything. I could barely hold the seams of my life together as I finally just sat and let the world wash over me. That was scary. I'd filled my life with noise and fixation so long that I barely knew what to do. As I fell into reading slumps, it led me to question what else I liked. I kept writing the whole time, but I knew I didn't want to study that in college. It was paralyzing to think that I'd have to apply to specific majors and specific programs. It felt like everyone knew what they were doing but me because I'd spent forever building the idea of what I wanted. I filled out applications in so many directions from film school to liberal arts to production and media studies. In my head, there was just this endless loop of you can't get it wrong.
But that was the lie and one of the best things I've learned this year. I can get it wrong over and over and over again as long as I don't define myself by one thing again. I spent the summer trying out all kinds of creative pursuits. Cause that was the only thing I knew I wanted. I want a job where I can make things, bring people joy, and see the world in a different way. I want to tap into storytelling and what I love about being a writer, but I need a day job. I tried photography and realized I love colors, but, the fun part for me, is the spontaneous moments. I don't have the patience to learn the knobs and buttons and rules right now. I went to a film camp and realized that wasn't actually my thing. I tried to teach myself to draw off YouTube, but anyone could've told you that was entirely hopeless.
I spent a lot of this year feeling really lost, really nervous, and really unhappy with myself. And then, in the fall, when all the applications were in and it was finally out of my hands, I sat down and questioned what it was that I actually loved. That I've always loved.
Playing piano felt like one of the few activities that brought me any genuine joy. Writing has always made me happy when I bothered to sit down and do it. I started a podcast about pop culture that turned into a podcast about music in a pop culture context, and I fell in love with the entire process of producing it, even if it felt like I was talking into the void. I started a blog about music, and even when nobody reads the posts, that's not the point. I love writing them. I've bought books on songwriting and I bought myself a guitar, and I've been teaching myself. It's strange, for the first time in what feels like forever, to just purely be doing something because I love it and it's important to me. Not to get into college. Not to jump to the next thing. Just for the here and the now. It didn't have to be brilliant, and I didn't have to be the best- it just had to make me happy. I got accepted into almost everywhere I applied, some with scholarships, and, I have to admit, it felt really validating. I want that sense of accomplishment to be more internally dictated in the future, though. I'm starting to reach the point where it can be.
Going into 2020, I want to start believing in myself again. I want to stop limiting my idea of what I can and can't do based on something that happened when I was 8 or 12. I have tangible goals and things to look forward to and work towards again, which is the biggest key for me in fighting my depression, which I dealt with this year more intensely than I've faced in a while. I'm going into 2020 with an open mind and an acceptance that I don't know everything, and I can't know everything. I'm a little terrified that, come August, I'll have to figure out how to be an adult, but in a good way. I've redefined my relationship to reading and accepted that I just really want to read nonfiction right now. I have some exciting posts planned for the blog coming up, and I feel like I'm finally in a headspace where I can keep up with it again. I'm never going to read 4 books a week and have as many posts ever again. I don't even know how I did that, and it was magical, but I promise I'll be here for quality over quantity. I do want to talk about the books I'm excited for, even if it's not YA. Sometimes change is good, and I've been learning that this year as well.
To circle all the way back to the beginning (I know I've been rambling for a while), I've learned a lot this year, and I've been through a lot in the last 10 years. If I was to ask my 6 year-old self where she thought I'd be, I'm not sure what she would have said. But, in a way, I think she'd be really proud of me. She'd be thrilled I'm moving to New York City and fulfilling that long time dream. I don't think she'd be surprised, though. I thought I could do anything back then. She'd be proud that I kept writing and have finished writing three whole books and tons of poetry and short stories. I've come a long way from writing metaphorical poetry likening myself to raspberry sorbet and writing "I like" poems about my cat and high heels (some things never change) with lines like "high heels are superb/Misty is superb".
What I'm most proud of, though, is that I've come back to the things I love that I wasn't encouraged about. People always humored my writing. With music, on the other hand, I was my only cheerleader. At six, though, I was quite the vocal cheerleader, and not getting parts didn't stop me from trying. And now, all these years later, the kid who lied about being able to play "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" on instrument day because she wanted to touch the piano so bad can actually kinda play. I would've never imagined the possibility of playing two different instruments back then. It took me a long time to realize that, maybe- even if it wasn't quantifiably getting me anywhere- that if I loved something that long, it might be worth giving a fair shot.
So I'm not sure what all of you got out of reading that super long, personal post, but I wanted to write something about this year and this decade because I feel like I needed every bit of it to be ready to take on 2020. I've seen so many comparison Twitter posts and lists of accomplishments, and I never figured out how to boil it into 280 characters, so I put it here. Maybe this'll make you think about this last decade and what past you would think about where you've gotten. I guarantee there'll be some things they'd be so excited about. Also, I realized, sometimes it takes 10 years to come back around to ideas you knew in your core all along.