Once upon a time, I lived in Japan. It was a hard experience to sum up, but “bittersweet” is a good start. Some of it was incredibly beautiful and soul-filling, some of it was heartbreaking and hard.
I made some of the best friends I ever had there, then watched them leave. I became a mom for the first time, 7,000 miles away from my family. I watched cherry blossoms drift to the ground and listened to sweet potato vendors calling out in a city where an elderly woman would literally give you the shoes off her feet or the umbrella over her head if she thought you didn’t have your own.
This past year has been a lot like my time in Japan.
Beautiful and breathtaking. Heartbreaking and hard.
The son who was born in Japan entered the workforce, and is preparing to leave the nest. I have waffled daily between awe that he’s suddenly a grown man, and irrational outrage that he’s not already super successful at it. I suspect he’s become a fan of Friends on Netflix because it encourages him that you will eventually get a job that’s not a joke, at some point you aren’t broke, and your love life will not always be D.O.A.
I started working for the world’s largest anti-slavery organization, where I get to use my skills to change the world; but it requires facing the worst that human beings can do to each other daily. Fridays usually end with me curating the atrocities of the week, trying to raise human suffering above the noise of celebrity gossip. Still want my “cushy social media job”?
I celebrated twenty-five years of marriage to my best friend with a trip to another island nation, Ireland, and it was amazing. But not before I had to struggle to explain to a starry-eyed newlywed that having a “fairy tale relationship” doesn’t mean what you think it means. Have you read Grimm Brothers, sweetie? To quote my retelling of Sleeping Beauty:
“the path to a happy ending often leads through nightmare territory.”
We have (mostly) finished a huge remodeling project. It started in late September, with boxing things up and moving furniture around. Last night, the kitchen plumbing finally got installed. Experiencing the entire holiday season with your kitchen and floors torn up? Working from home, when your home is in total chaos? Not ideal.
We hosted Halloween with bare subfloors covered in cardboard “walkways.” We brought bagged salad to Thanksgiving, because we didn’t know if we’d have a stove or fridge. I washed dishes in a plastic tub in the bathtub for three months. We ate so many microwave and restaurant meals, my kids acted like a grilled cheese at home was manna from God. I worked from coffee shops so much, people thought I became a barista.
BUT – this morning, I made coffee in a brand-new kitchen, with new hickory cabinets, granite counters and stainless-steel appliances. I pulled clean dishes out of a dishwasher, which is something I haven’t had since we left Japan in 1999. CRAZY.
It will probably take me a few more weeks before I start remembering where the hell everything is. We have some aesthetic stuff to wrap up (a new “stacked stone” back splash, and replacing the grody light fixtures and electric outlets from 1972.) But everything works. When I sweep and mop the floors, they’re visibly cleaner. Pans don’t slowly drift off the cock-eyed burners on the stove. The burners all function.
The fridge makes ice all by itself, y’all.
I can’t decide if I woke up in a near-future sci-fi movie, or somebody’s damn “Modern Rustic” Pinterest board. I hope it’s the latter, because the former usually involves homicidal robots or the discovery that your life is actually a computer simulation. That’d suck.
I started finishing some fiction projects, and let’s be honest, making time to write, after a long dry spell. I resigned as partner at Per Bastet Publications, which was hard but absolutely necessary. I finished the long-awaited third Belle Starr book. I’m on track to finish a novella this month. I submitted a few short stories. I got a few rejections. The rejections hurt – lets not lie, they always do – but they also mean I’m putting work out there. I’m facing my fears and opening myself up to criticism. It’s hard, but necessary if I’m going to be a better writer.
Aside from the political and pop cultural upheaval, 2016 has been about clearing the decks and laying foundations.
It’s been a lot of bittersweet endings, and a lot of rough new starts. My hope for 2017 is that it’s about hitting a comfortable stride. Settling into a sustainable routine. Looking for that place where “my burden is easy, my yoke is light.” Which might sound a little boring, but I think after this insane year, maybe boring is just another word for uncomplicated. Simple. Back to basics.
I don’t do uncomplicated. I’d rather be interesting than successful, and for much of my life, it never occurred to me that I could be both. My biggest challenge in 2017 just might end up being controlling my impulse to add unnecessary complications. I do have a tendency to blow things up just to keep things interesting.
What about you?