Every 365* days when that calendar page flips ahead one big number, we’re inundated with year-end-in-review/here’s-to-the-new-year posts. I usually read a few. Top 10 Lists used to be a favorite, but now they’re just annoying. And I didn’t intend to write such a post, which is why this is a week into the new year instead of hitting the web as the ball dropped in Times Square (or the walleye in Put-in-Bay, etc. – your choice).
But I’ve realized those reflective posts can serve the same purpose as the essays I assign my students at the end of each semester: What did you learn? What did you expect to learn that we didn’t cover – and was that a good thing? What activities surprised you in their usefulness, and which would you just as soon have skipped? Because I take those essays and adjust my syllabus for the next time that class comes around. If I don’t look back to see what worked and what didn’t, and make the appropriate changes, I stagnate. I can’t improve.
And if I do nothing else, I want to keep learning and improving. So here goes, my reflections on 2018, based on the questions that I ask my students and focusing on What did I learn?:
I learned that my expectations of myself and of those around me are often sadly misaligned with reality.
I expected to be organized enough to finish Jadz #3 (working title: Unwelcome Ties), and I’m not much further along now than I was this time last year. There’s a good reason for that, but that leads to my next answer.
I expected my ill-fated campaign for political office to introduce me to effective means of governing and improving (there’s that word again) the community I call home. I expected the local political party to have their sh*& together and shepherd me through a process I was recruited for and that was entirely foreign to me. And I expected voters to care enough to elect experienced, qualified candidates rather than voting a straight-party ticket with no critical thought engaged whatsoever. Boy, was I wrong! (For more on that disappointing venture, read my campaign wrap-up on Medium.)
My comfort zone was stretched to its breaking point and beyond more times than I can count thanks to the campaign. But as much as I dreaded every speaking engagement, every phone call, and every (pointless? repetitive?) meeting, I learned a great deal about public speaking, about audience engagement, about the vital importance of having a plan/agenda and sticking to it.
Most surprising for me, I also learned to be flexible enough so that when life (and poorly organized events) didn’t happen as planned, I could throw out the script and still give an effective presentation (most of the time!). I learned how to stand up to a screaming bully. And I learned (okay, “am learning”) to accept that negative reactions aren’t necessarily about me, but about a specific topic.
All of those lessons will serve me well as I move forward in my writing life, and I hope future blog posts will continue my abandoned exploration of the similarities between the publishing world and politics.
Skipping any number of those meetings would have been nice. I clocked over 3,500 miles from February through November, and most weekends faced multiple events back to back. The sudden paucity of activities on my calendar starting November 7th was jarring.
This is where I’m supposed to be positive and upbeat for 2019, right? Instead, I’m reeling, still seeking a new center, an ability to return to my novel (or any writing) – and I’m floundering. The despair and discouragement weigh heavily, and the barrage of media negativity that I’d hoped to leave behind after I no longer had to be immersed in it simply won’t go away.
So where does that leave me? Seeking, as always, and still learning. Fumbling with my writing, but (as a wise friend reminded me just last week) showing up and waiting for the words with my hands on the keyboard. I guess that’s as good a direction as any to take forward into a new year.
*or 366, I know, but that’s Leap Year, and that means a presidential election. I cringe at the prospect of living through another endless campaign season (from the outside, thank you very much!) that’s already begun ☹