Last year I made a clear choice about how I wanted to approach 2022. I wanted to live. Live without overthinking, live without feeling scared, live without taking a (reasonable) risk. And so I traveled, I celebrated turning forty, I made some big decisions about what I wanted out of my life going forward. I had some unexpected experiences that forced me to adapt, change, and approach relationships and the status quo in a different way. I wrote 50,000 words for a novel I continue to dream about. And while I wasn’t always successful I realized that it was all right to take the unexpected path to reach my destination.
However, within all that self-reflection and acceptance, there was one thing missing. When I started working with a coach in January 2022 we talked about what I wanted next for my life. Some of it was talking about what I didnot want, while other goals were more specific.
But what was a clear through line on the other side of the equation was a desire to be of service to others. And while I know that as a volunteer board member for the National Council on Public History I serve our members and the field, that work is still, in essence, tied to the way I have shaped my life around my profession.
Over the last ten years I have shared—on or around January 1st—a vision for my future. These have never been ordinary resolutions. Instead I wrote mantras, hopes, and wishes for what I want my life to stand for, what I want it to mean. More often than not I talked about taking risks and leaps, harnessing optimism, searching for kindness, and in some of our tougher years, encouraged myself to dig deep for a well of defiance.
Earlier this week, as I continued to think about how to approach this piece, I saw a suggestion (by an old high school friend) to not look to resolutions, but rather to make a list of things you were proud of in 2021. So here’s my list:
We all know it wasn’t an easy year, but unlike 2020 it had moments of brightness made possible by the COVID-19 vaccine. I know taking a vaccine is an odd thing to list as an accomplishment, but when belief in our ability as humans to take care of each other feels like a challenge, taking the three shots in 2021 felt like something I could do not only for myself, but for others. More selfishly, taking the vaccine allowed me to hug family, and friends, and to fly across the country to meet my new nephew just days after he was born.
Over the course of ten months, from March to December 2020, I walked almost 152 miles listening to podcasts, audio dramas, and 15 books about a female detective named Maisie Dobbs. This series, about a former nurse turned psychologist and investigator who solves crime, is set against the backdrop of post-War (and eventually the start of World War II) England. Through her cases, we learn about repercussions from World War I, the 1918 flu epidemic, social unrest, anti-refugee sentiment, and as Dobbs becomes more involved with British Secret Service, the growing threat of the Nazi regime.
As I walked at sunrise, sunset, lunchtime breaks, and post work wind-downs I couldn’t help feel, as time slowly slipped by, the looming disaster to come. I knew it wasn’t only of the fictional (yet historical) world created by Jacqueline Winspear, but also the constant hum of chaos that was 2020.
There are no real positive things to say about this past year. In a lot of ways our fault lines and the cracks in our civic society have been laid bare for all to see. There was so much death and pain, that I often struggled to find a silver lining.
Every January I take a moment to consider the year we left behind with the hopes of taking any lessons and thoughts forward into a clear-eyed vision for how I want to live.
But 2019 was a year of contradiction.
On one hand, I built a track focusing on Celebrating Women’s History at my annual conference, something that included a session that ended up on CSPAN, not to mention a keynote at the glorious Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado (see below). I bought a home. I capped off an almost twenty-three year love of a little space opera by attending Star Wars Celebration in Chicago. I spent time with my amazing, wonderful, caring family with nieces and a nephew that I watch grow with awe.
But it was also a difficult year. Not just because of the state of affairs beyond our control (you know, the world), but also because I was forced to address the balance between realities and my glass-half-full perspective on my daily life. I had to confront my own understanding of what makes me happy and to push myself in a way that was, and continues to be, hard.
This was a year where I saw the endless sky above Montana, smelled the ravages of fire in California, and stood at the edge of the fantastic, sensing and savoring the sublime magnificence of edges along the Grand Canyon.
I wish I had a great excuse. A reason why this post (that no one is really looking for but me) is only going up today.
There are a lot of good reasons to put the blame on. On being too busy. On the state of the world. On the unexpected. On letting fear of change effect the way I feel, think, act. On a surprising lack of will power. On procrastination. On having nothing to say.
I am afraid. Folded in by the weight of postcards and calls links and 140 characters. Always thinking about the invisible scales of equality between the unborn, the refugee, the immigrant, and those not living in privilege.
I am certain that I have fingers toes, a heart with blood pumping slowly through my veins — as do you, and them, and us, but those that lead find different ways to say You Don’t Belong.
I question my ability my strength for this test. Yet I know that one cannot expect miracles And God cannot do all the work
And so —
Although I am afraid, I am certain. Although I question, I am ready. I can be brave. I must be brave. I will be brave.
Whenever I begin writing my annual New Year’s post I take a look at what I wrote the year before. Here is what I said in January 2016:
As we closeout this second day of the new year I have to say that 2015 sped by. There were marriages and babies. Trips and a lot of theatre, and perhaps more importantly, I spent the year doing exactly what I had resolved: In 2015 I took control.
At the start I decided to let my choices and needs dictate how I spent my time-challenging myself to say yes (and at times no). We can say, for the most part, that I was successful.
But what about 2016? Well from a pop-culture standpoint I can’t wait to watch Downton Abbey’s last season (in the UK this is so 2015 already), the X-Files reboot, Hamilton the musical in August and yes, more Star Wars.
“We are such stuff as dreams are made on…”
At the end of each year I get hit with a double dose of nostalgia and romanticism. I feel regret at the time I wasted from the year before but believe in the opportunity of the many days left ahead. So this year when I sent out my holiday/new year cards I asked my friends, co-workers, and loved ones for their dreams for the coming year.
But what are dreams? They are wishes and hopes. They are goals and tasks for a better life. For others it is a broadening of skills and minds.
Dreams are a search for something more, something different. They are an acknowledgement of change. Often though dreams cannot be bound by a single year, and need to be broken up into pieces.
Sometimes dreams are for others. They are a hope for strength, for well-being, and a wish for them to have peace of mind.
My dreams aren’t simple. In my first post of the year I laid out some resolutions: to become more focused, take control, and to define success for myself. My dreams are linked to these resolutions. I hope to control the uncontrollable while also letting fate take its course.
In clearer terms. I want to know I’ll always be happy. Satisfied. Able to withstand change, loss, and uncertainty. I want to be able to accept love or disaster when they arrive at my doorstep. I want to know how the story ends. I want to be brave. So really, I want a TARDIS of my very own.
At the start of 2014. I sought to be more productive, to experiment more, and resolved for a year of joy.
So how successful was I? It’s hard to say. In terms of productivity I’ve been living in a year of distraction. I took a trip to India in the summer which was followed by a few days with my sister in Portugal. I went to Cabo for a bachelorette and then to Monterey (CA) and Savannah (GA) for conferences. September brought with it my sister’s wedding which, after a year of planning, was filled with a relative amount of stress, laughter, and a new family member. I tried to write, but got hit with writer’s block for months, but at the same time made progress on some other long term projects I hope to share at a later time.