Life runs differently for those who have nothing, who expect nothing. It is impossible, for instance, to compare yearly notes with those who started the year narrowly escaping death. For while yours could be full of achievements and still make you think of how much of a bad year it was because of the things you could have done, theirs could be empty yet they’ll go around beaming like they’ve won life’s biggest lottery.
The year was as much of a sail along the rapids for me as it was for everyone else: bumpy and emotionally draining. But I started the year with nothing, expected nothing, so everything added to it was a bonus. At the start of the year, it looked like this was gong to be a fallow year in both reading and writing. I could barely write a sentence and I abandoned every book I started. But there’s a part of our humanity that makes us want to compensate for loss by doing extra, performing at a level higher than our usual threshold. This probably explains why, in this year that started with the feeling that I wouldn’t get anything done, I eventually strove to write even more.
Of course I overdid this. I did not heed physical signals until my system was too weak to function. There were too many instances of burn out, both physical and emotional that required me shutting down and restarting, but each time this happened, I was lucky enough to find people and places ready to give me a chance at a refresh. Perhaps if I knew the end of the year wouldn’t be as bad as its start, I would have taken things slowly, focused a lot more on rehabilitation so I can return to work with renewed vigour. But I didn’t. And while I sometimes feel sorry for the bridges that went up in flames during in my burn outs, I know to have done things differently would be to finish differently, and who knows if I would be as grateful for 2016 as I am at the moment.
I’m now learning how to walk slowly, to be a lot kinder with myself, to break up my routines and try not to control outcomes to the point of stifling the process. I’ve become very sloppy too, but sloppy is that is what I’ve had to become to get anything done. I started more essays than I could finish, incubated ideas and abandoned them. Some of these were handled so badly that I should have beaten myself up, but remember, this was me that was supposed to have a fallow year. I started a journey away from cynicism, inched closer to joy, and in the process did more than I could have ever envisioned when 2016 started.
My first published piece in the year was written in 2015, but Timi chose to republish it as part of a series on her blog. She edited it, and that process turned it to perhaps my most important writing of the year. It got me into a workshop, made me friends in good places, and returns to me every time as a reminder that I’m capable of good writing.
By accepting and publishing Do You Think I’m an Animal like You (my first published short story, excluding flash-fiction), Afreada reinforced a lesson that I’ve had to remind myself again and again. I’ve always been sure of the humor of the story, but it had gotten rejected so many times that I was beginning to question its goodness. In the business of writing, rejection doesn’t imply a lack of quality, and an acceptance of that is needed for the darkest days. I was amazed by the story’s reception, and while I like to say I don’t depend on external validation to write, it sure feels good to see strangers tell me how much they enjoy and relate to the piece.
With encouragement from Tolu Oloruntoba, I wrote about illness, partly from old scribbles in my journal when I was ill, and others as the healing evolved. I wouldn’t have gotten a word of this out without his help, and I’m grateful for Tolu. Not just because he helped me through this process, but because he’s one of the first people whose approval of what I was trying to do creatively became fuel to do even more.
My application for aKoma’s Amplify fellowship was done at the last minute, half-heartedly, believing that there were people definitely more qualified than I was who would be interested in something like this. But I was selected, and working with the folks at aKoma, and the other fellows has been a delight in so many ways. What has become my most-shared piece for aKoma started off as commentary in my journal on an essay I read. I have also enjoyed writing about people and things that I enjoy, like Justin’s Obaranda, which is a complete delight.
(I wrote a lot more than this and will soon, once I get past my present bout of fatigue/laziness, will include them here.)
I had to pick up my long-forgotten glasses this week. There’s no use to clinging to 20/20 vision if you can’t stare at a screen for five minutes without water coming out of your eyes, or move under the sun without developing a blinding headache. Of course I would never wear the glasses in public, but now I know that the quicker I acknowledge a flaw, the faster the route to healing.
Writing wasn’t just a creative process, it also made me more friends and family. I still want to spend more time in my room, locked with my laptop, novels and notebooks, but moving around has become a lot easier, even something to look forward to because I now have people I can call friends in this crazy city. Many who used to exist as avatars on the screen and voices over static have now become flesh.
I’ve never been into resolutions, but 2017 is definitely a year to look forward to. Perhaps I’ll finally write that novel, finish the essays, move around more to do research, travel a little more, eat a little more and hopefully gain some weight, even begin to work out and revive my atrophying muscles. I’ll throw in singing and dancing again in public while I’m here dreaming. Or perhaps these things won’t happen. But I’m more open to pursuing joy, to music, to hope, to making plans and looking forward to their completion, to reaching out to friends even when I’m not feeling cheerful, to letting essays run past their supposed logical end, to watering seeds sown in a fallow year.
Featured image via Flickr by Robb North