With the finale of 2015 now behind us and the promise and potential of a shiny new year just commencing, the winter air is heavy with the scent of hope and optimism and the universal premises that anything we can dream and profess is possible and that our unaltered, unbroken purpose still awaits fulfillment.
While 2014 was, for me, a culmination of personal and academic achievement and “lasts,” 2015 was a strange year of stunted beginnings and false starts. Liberated from the rigors of graduate school on top of a full-time career after six years of arduous, albeit exhilarating, study, I ran at full speed toward a multitude of other ventures and goals that had been put on hold for so long, giddy with freedom and plans. But soon after, I would falter from uncertainty about the overall objectives or simply drop from the sheer exhaustion of ceaseless dream-chasing. Finally, somewhere around summer, I conceded to slowing down, recalibrating, and becoming acquainted with Downton Abbey.
Alas, I discovered the pleasures of a cushy sofa. So this is where I imagined the sane basked while I was wittingly cloistered in freezing classrooms until all hours of weeknights, eating stale bagels and drinking scorched coffee from a wax cup and making thematic comparisons between Ralph Ellison and Dostoyevsky and trying to make sense of Bakhtin’s abstruse theories and reading with envy about Gertrude Stein’s Paris salon on Rue de Fleurus until my over-stimulated brain and heart felt as if they would implode from heady longing. Ah, yes…this sofa is actually quite nice, I thought. Quite. Nice.
A few months later when the fog lifted (nonsense—I yanked the afghan from my legs and waved it wildly to clear out the haze and regain consciousness), I climbed the stairs to my office and surveyed the piles of mostly New Projects on the floor. The GRE study guides, flash cards, and practice exams; how-to manuals on establishing a freelance writing career; grammar and curriculum materials for a writing class I proposed to create; maps of Europe and travel books on England, Germany, and Russia; Mount Whitney climbing guides; and my crate of marked-up manuscript pages and notes for my developing novel—the lone lingering project—all looked up at me with expectation and hope. I felt dizzy and sank to the carpet amid the heaps. I hadn’t a clue how or where to start. I had been so focused on finishing in-progress endeavors and on endings, I had forgotten how to begin anything new, regardless of its magnetism.
In “Little Gidding” (the fourth and final poem in Four Quartets), T. S. Eliot writes of endings as beginnings and of routes that start from the place to which you just came. It conveys exactly how I felt, surveying those piles and recalling that I had embarked on previous journeys from much the same cluttered and overwhelming point.
If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from,
If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
It would be the same at the end of the journey,
If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
It would be the same…
Before beginning any endeavor, there is a dream, desire, or calling. Then there is the evaluation stage; this is when feasibility and cost-benefit correlations are assessed. (Many of my aspirations are dashed at this point, once I realize the impracticality of, say, climbing Mount Everest or buying a castle in Edinburgh.) Lastly, at least for me, there is a critical alignment phase, during which I have to decide if the pursuit is consistent with my core values and believed purpose and is, beyond a good, long, sometimes painful stretch, still within reach. Because, at the end of the day, nothing turns a dream into a nightmare faster than inner conflict, an incongruous or unintended outcome, or impossibility.
When you leave the rough road
And turn behind the pigsty to the dull façade
And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfillment.
So here I am, facing another January. It is my month once again. This year, too, I begin a new decade, having reached a birthday milestone. All that has come before has brought me here, but I’ll need to forge new paths and follow unexpected detours to arrive at new destinations. There is more to the story ahead, much more, and it begs to be written.
For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And so a new narrative begins. Welcome, 2016!