This is always the longest post I write all year, so put on your cozy pants and grab a cat. You're going to be here a while.
1. What was the single best thing that happened this past year?
The single best thing that happened was not one thing, but establishing a once-a-month-ish regular date with Addie. She's getting older and it's really nice to know that she and I share a stronger connection this year as she starts to head into some turbulent times. We started our little activity dates in the fall and were pretty successful at continuing them through the holidays. I'm glad, too, because I started to feel her pulling away from me. I don't feel that anymore. She's happy to go anywhere with me and I'm happy to give her focused attention. I think that's going to come in handy in the next decade or so.
2. What was the single most challenging thing that happened?
The single most challenging thing was probably maintaining our marriage. No one thing was wrong, but being married is hard. Especially for us, it seems, even when there isn't a person to blame or a cause to bemoan. This year was just a challenge of living in the same house, sharing the same space, and speaking to each other with kindness. That sounds like it should be easy, right? But we're both complicated and we both have our individual challenges. We spent more time in therapy this year (together and alone) than we have in some time. And though neither one of us is consistent about making that a priority, or making it a priority to manage our own issues, we tried more than we have ever tried. We're at a happy spot as we bring this year to a close. I think maybe some years are just working years, more so than others. And I also think the fact that we are willing to work makes this marriage seem like it's earned. And I have a sense of accomplishment about my part in that. Hard or not, we want to be married. Worth the challenge.
3. What was an unexpected joy this past year?
I had an unexpected joy at my most recent residency; I'm finding that there are other possible career avenues for me in writing, and it feels as though doors are opening. I know I need to do a lot of hard work in the near future, but for the first time at residency I knew what to ask and I didn't feel like I was intruding on the time of the "real" writers. I had a strong sense of myself as a writer by this December, and that's huge. I had the knowledge that I was progressing, just as I should be, and that I'm on the right path. There's so much joy in that.
4. What was an unexpected obstacle?
I kind of expected it, actually, but it is a way bigger obstacle than I thought it would be. Teaching three AP English Literature classes this year of approximately 36 kids each (in addition to two freshman English classes of similar size) is straight up kicking my ass. One person cannot remain healthy, rested, and sane if she is teaching Advanced English class to one hundred seniors at a time. It's just not possible. I'm doing everything I would normally do because I still want to be the best AP teacher I can, because I want to give those students the same experience I was able to when I had one or two classes of 25, and I am dying. D-Y-I-N-G. I am burning (or burnt?) out. I am working way beyond my capacity and I see no end in sight until the end of the school year. I can't sacrifice rigor or expectations for a minute because I'm too much of a good girl, so I'm just wearing myself out. So even though my MFA school load is completely wonderful and manageable and fulfilling, I'm exhausted all of the time, and I hate it. I didn't expect to feel so overwhelmed this far into the year.
5. Pick three words to describe 2012.
confidence, growth, mothering
6. Pick three words your spouse would use to describe your 2012 (don’t ask them; guess based on how you think your spouse sees you).
party, travel, excitement
7. Pick three words your spouse would use to describe their 2012 (again, without asking).
charming, responsible, father
8. What were the best books you read this year?
I'm not done reading for the year (I think I'll finish at least one more: Gone Girl), and I've read 35 books so far in 2012. THIRTY FIVE, my friends! Geeeeez. Who does that? And the thing is, now I can't stop. Last year I was scrambling to read all of the required reading for school, and feeling like I couldn't catch up. This year I'm a quarter ahead and if I don't have a book on my Kindle (or in my hand) and also one on the iPod as an audio book, I start to feel like something's missing. I've crossed over and become one of those crazy people who read things voraciously. And I love it. I always wanted to be one of those crazy people.
Here are the favorites that I read in 2012. :
Short story collections
Interesting and unusual: A Visit From The Goon Squad
Beautiful and weird: Birds of a Lesser Paradise
Amazing. Read in one sitting even though it's huge: Columbine
Glad I read it when I was camping:
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
Dense, satisfying read: Empire Falls
Best pair of books I read together, and subsequently nerded out over the connections:
The Hours & Mrs. Dalloway
Stayed with me: The Book of Jonas
Could not stop myself from laughing out loud:
The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal
Sprawling, beautiful, stirring, engaging classic: East of Eden
Favorite new book I read this year: Beautiful Ruins
9. With whom were your most valuable relationships?
I would say, probably, that my answer hasn't changed much in the four years since I've been answering this question. My most important relationships were E, the kids, K. My circle is small--teeny tiny--and I like it that way. I had other relationships that were important, but none that I relied on so heavily as those. I find great comfort in the parts of my life that are dependable and secure.
10. What was your biggest personal change from January to December of this past year?
Two changes. First, I had to get better at saying no to things. I feel like around 2008 or 2009 because E and I were separated (and then back together, trying to heal a broken marriage), I had to start saying no for the first time in my life, and stop trying to please everyone and make everyone happy. The side effect, back then, was that I suddenly became really happy and really focused on the things that actually mattered to me. But over the next few years I started to have a hard time saying no again, and I started committing myself to things that were wonderful, but that took me farther away from what was really most important and most satisfying in my life. So I'd say the biggest personal change in 2012 was in getting better (or trying to get better) at saying no again. I think I accomplished it. I think just having an awareness of it represents some kind of change. It's an ongoing goal.
The other big personal change is in my writing. There aren't things I could quantify here (or that I think anyone would want to read about), but I know that I'm a better (and different) writer than I was last December. Just being in an MFA program gave me a giant kick in the butt, but then I decided to take class from the one person who scared me most, and it paid off. And honestly, I'm in a fun place with my writing now. I want to try things. I like the new release I feel in my stories. I'm not (as you know by now) a throw-caution-to-the-wind kind of person, but in my writing I'm doing things that scare me every day. I love it. Very freeing.
11. In what way(s) did you grow emotionally?
Being in grad school was good for making me crawl out of the cave my introverted spirit wants to live in. But this year I feel like I struck a better balance of knowing where I am in terms of wanting to be social, and also knowing when I need to just say "hey, I'm going to stay in tonight because I'm exhausted." Oh, and I decided I didn't want to ever drink so much that I barf, again. So there you go. 33 years old and I have all the emotional growth of a college student.
12. In what way(s) did you grow spiritually?
I just read this in my post from last year, and I still kind of like it:
I've really come to appreciate how important it is to take time to both create and be still. I've stopped sweating the small stuff altogether. I am convinced that God really doesn't care and that 99.9% of the time I've spent on guilt was wasted. I've pursued happiness in the moment rather than happiness once all the hard stuff is over. I've enjoyed the blessings that are right in my simple little life. I grew vegetables, too.Honestly, that's the sweet spot for me, aiming for all of that. I don't think I'm there, but I think it's a good goal, a good target for my life. Creation. Stillness. Letting go of guilt. Happiness in the moment. The blessing of a simple life. Veggies. Amen.
13. In what way(s) did you grow physically?
I gained about ten pounds. I thought--no, hoped--I had a thyroid problem so I could just take a pill and move on with my life, but it turns out I'm a perfectly healthy fat person. I GAINED MASS.
14. In what way(s) did you grow in your relationships with others?
I made a commitment this year to enjoy my opportunities to spend time with the people I love. I find myself making conscious choices to see them or to have conversations about things that are important. I don't know if other people are like this, but often in conversation I'll want to know something and I won't ask--I feel like I might intrude, so I let the thought pass. I've tried this year to ask those questions, and I've been happy with what people in my life have wanted to share. I've tried to be a better listener, to ask more often about how others are doing or feeling. I certainly could do a lot better, but I'm trying hard to be consistently curious and interested. Because I certainly am, and I don't want to appear otherwise.
15. What was the most enjoyable area of managing your home?
Can I tell you a secret, Internet? The most enjoyable area of managing my home this year was NOT managing my home. Well, at least not deep cleaning it. We hired a housekeeper this year and that one single decision has had more of a profound impact on the happiness of our home life than anything we have ever done previous. A housekeeper is a wonderful gift for me--a gift of time, which is short--and I just sleep better at night knowing that the deep cleaning stuff is getting done. That my family is not living in filth while I pursue my MFA. Plus, we have to pick up our stuff every two weeks before she comes. That alone is priceless.
16. What was your most challenging area of home management?
Since we got the housekeeper, things have really changed. And in terms of daily chores, we've sort of separated duties. I used to loathe the laundry. Now E handles it almost exclusively. I don't love doing dishes, but it makes sense given the fact that I mostly cook our meals. So... this is so small and I am lucky to have such a small thing be my gripe (or my challenge). I hate the cat box. And I wish I was better at dealing with it daily. That's my challenge.
17. What was your single biggest time waster in your life this past year?
18. What was the best way you used your time this past year?
Same answer as last year: reading and writing. But I got better at estimating how long things would take me this year and I have a whole system with my calendar. On any given week I can tell you how many hours I need to read and to write to get things done. I've also become a "get it done first so I can relax later" kind of person, and I never thought that would happen. Ever. But I've come to love my guilt-free laziness, which means I need to take care of business first.
19. What was the biggest thing you learned this past year?
I learned that I'm a different person than I was a few years ago. The world is more open to me than I thought. I think this year I started to trust that I can do these things I'm working toward.
20. Create a phrase or statement that describes 2012 for you.
It's okay to want something different than you wanted before. Assess where you are now, make choices, move forward.