I have decided that I am going to take the time to recenter, refocus, and clarify my life. I am taking the steps I need to focus on the things that are most important for me and my mental health going forward. The first step I decided on was that I lowered my reading goal for this year from 120 books to 100 books. I think that setting a goal of 120 was overly ambitious and ultimately detrimental to my overall reading because I was so focused on the number of books that I “had” to read that I did not focus on the quality of the books that I was reading.
Secondly, I am shifting the focus of this blog to include more original poetry and fiction rather than only book reviews, because I think that writing reviews of every book I read has also been somewhat detrimental to my reading practice. I’ve found over the course of this year that some of the books I have enjoyed the most are the ones that I have read without the expectation that I would be reviewing them later.
As I approach my quarter century mark I’m realizing more and more how important it is to take time for myself and experiment with my own personal growth and development as I seek out what is most important to me going forward. I do not think I am ever going to stop writing — if anything this year has taught me that writing is more important now than ever, and ironically enough what taught me that was losing NaNoWriMo this year.
Yep, that is right, I did not even break 40k, coming out at 38,553 words once the month was all said and done. But all the same, even though I “lost” NaNoWriMo I think that in the long run I’ve won, because what the journey through November taught me was the value of getting into a true daily writing practice, even if the only thing I wrote that day was “I don’t want to write today.” (Looking at you, November 14th.) The thing about growth is that it cannot happen if I am constantly being pulled in multiple different directions, and so what I need to do more than anything is find a direction for myself. That is a confusing, messy, and tumultuous process, and getting there is going to be hard, because “getting there” does not mean reaching and endpoint, it means continuing along an ever-present journey throughout this thing called life.
Maybe that sounds cliche and trite, but the truth is that accepting life as a journey is something that I might have objectively known for a long time, but not something that I have been able to internally process. Part of why this has been so difficult is because of my constant craving for stability. My constant need to define myself, to live up to the aesthetic that I have created and portrayed to the world. And yet when I look back on who I thought I was going to be at twenty-five I realize that there was only half an expectation I would ever get this far. I never truly imagined myself this deep into my future. I could never have predicted twenty-twenty because I never expected I would ever experience it.
And yet, I am sure I must have, back when I used to write as a teenager. Back when creating worlds in my head was as easy as breathing. Nowadays it has been so long since I have had to come up with an original idea I almost wonder if I can anymore. Sometimes I feel as though aging has stagnated my imagination. There is something about the potentiality of childhood that makes one think they can go out there and do anything, and then the next thing one knows, they are an adult and stuck on a track that makes them wonder: how did I get here? Since when did this become my life? What ever happened to my dreams? Is this what I wanted?
When I was younger, I was a reader and a writer. That is how I always defined myself. I was a reader and a writer and a poet. And then one day I woke up and realized that I did not remember the last time I had cracked open a book. I did not remember the last time I had written a poem. The things that I wrote in high school were not particularly brilliant, but at least I was writing. The things that I read were not the pinnacle of literature (and what does that even mean anyway?) but at least I was reading. It’s just, it’s quite something to be twenty-one and realize that you feel washed up and like you don’t know what you’re doing with your life because the idealized version of yourself has been shattered.
I thought of myself as a linguist and a scholar, but I could barely manage that. I thought I was fluent in Spanish, but then I realized that my understanding of the language was paltry at best. I considered myself a charlatan and a fool because everything I had built myself up to be was founded on a castle of sand. I constructed for myself a crystalline cage that appeared to be made of fine diamond, but really it was congealed sugar.
There was a point in my life where I felt like nothing mattered. In fact, there have been many points at my life when I have felt like nothing mattered. Nevertheless, I have been buoyed at these points not by optimism, but by a twisted obligation born out of my internalization of Pascal’s Wager, though perhaps not in the way it was originally intended.
[A quick and dirty summary of Pascal’s Wager: Blaise Pascal was a French philosopher and theologian who lived in the seventeenth century. Pascal’s Wager is an argument for the existence of God that relies on the idea that whether or not there is a God, one should act in life as though He exists because that is what is in our best interests. If you do not act according to God’s will and there is not a God then nothing will happen to you, but if He does exist then you will suffer eternal damnation. If you do act according to His will and He does not exist then still nothing happens to you, but if He does exist, then you get eternal happiness in Heaven. So, one might as well act according to God’s will, because the risk of eternal damnation is too high.]
Laying aside the whole God question, the way I have internalized the wager is that even when I feel at my lowest, and I have run out of spoons, forks, and most of my knives, I’m able to scrape out of myself the bare minimum of effort using the pitiful remains of my executive functioning to complete the bare minimum of tasks needed to not screw over my future self. Some people call this “dedication” and compliment my ability to always pull through and see the light at the end of the tunnel. But the truth is that it is not quite imagining a better future for myself, but rather acting in the desperate hope that someday the world will not be this terrible. That someday there will be a version of myself that can benefit from the plans I have laid in place.
Today is one of those somedays. I am not always a happy person. I cannot be, I have my highs and my lows, as does anyone. But as I try to hold my fragile life together, I am thankful for my internal logic, flawed though it may be, which has carried me to this point.
I do not always like myself. But I do know myself. I have learned how to manage when things go from bad to worse. And as I try to navigate this journey, knowing that my capacity for happiness, joy, and excitement is limited, knowing that the world can be a cold and cruel place, I think about where to concentrate my efforts and my resources. Where can I make an impact? Where can I matter? And where can I rest? Where can I breathe easy? Where is home?