A Look Back at 2018
The end of the year felt vastly different from the start. Here are the four main areas where I wanted to turn my focus to in January of 2018.
- Zero-Waste Lifestyle
- Yoga/Pilates/Hamstring Stretching
- Art Journal Regularly
- Create One Bigger Thing Quarterly
Before I summarize progress in each of those four realms, here’s a gloss-over of the 365 days that 2018 gave us.
I began the year dying my hair blue, something that had been in the back of my mind for six months or so. Then I returned to Arizona for the final three months of my ACE term.
In January I applied for and was accepted into a farm corps program which would take place in Oregon that spring/summer/fall. When I was only given one day to decide between two offers on very different farms, however, I noticed my excitement had turned to anxiety and now neither of the two felt right. I listened to this intuition and turned down both offers instead of rushing the decision. Back to square one, but I could exhale.
While in Texas for the month of February, a friend told me she was going to do RMYC that summer (another conservation corps and also an AmeriCorps service term). I applied on off days, and in March accepted a position to assistant crew lead at RMYC.
I was diligent in working on my IBS e-book on off-days in Flagstaff that first quarter of the year, such that by the end of March I had published it. When I returned to Wisconsin in April, I got right to work on my second quarterly creation—a collection of moments in which I used my Personal Compass. I had so much fun writing it, and finished by the end of the month.
In May I flew to Denver and took a bus to Steamboat Springs, for what feels like a year of living in an RMYC world. For real, when I looked back at 2018 I was astonished that my ACE time in Arizona had been in the same calendar year as RMYC. How did it fit? Was RMYC really only half of my year? What did it feel like back in ACE? Who was I before?
I highlighted five goals I wanted to highlight during my time ACLing:
I only drew twice in my little sketchbook, but kept chugging along at my portraits project and am surprised at how much progress I made there, given that we rarely had tables, I was too tired to paint on workdays, we were never “off” from our crew leading jobs, etc.
(Is that why RMYC feels like its own year, because my mind always had details and logistics to think about—and was always “on”? Or is it because of how secluded we were? Or that even though we were out in the wilderness, I was almost always surrounded by other people?)
Regardless of its perplexing size within the year, it’s a chapter where the me who never loses anything lost things, where me the good driver had an Accident and an incident, where the me who no longer had London Loves in my life saw them in flesh and blood, where the me who didn’t know how he would react dug up a pocket of courage and spoke my truth anyway—week after week. Where I was turned upside down while I simultaneously dug my roots deeper into the earth. Then one hectic and emotional derig later and it was all over. We scattered.
I kept in motion and took three buses to Washington for a month-long road trip down the west coast. I learned Washington is wet, Oregon is home to forest fairies, Redwoods and Sequoias have endless wisdom and grand presence, deserts in November have the temperatures I most enjoy, and there’s a huge amount of growing I can do in terms of patience and mindfulness. Did my lack of meditation this year make me more susceptible to all that frustration, or was it the palpable energy in the car?
When I returned to my parents’ home in December, I did a deep clean of my bedroom, trying to make my outer space more accurately reflect my inner space. I took refuge in my desk, which offered a beautiful flat surface to write snail mail, create my holiday letter, make envelopes, decorate envelopes, and fold paper things. And I got frustrated once again being surrounded by the same old energy.
So, how do these experiences look when sifted into four focuses?
Zero-Waste Lifestyle: I did most of my informational consuming/input during the first four months of the year, watching informational videos/documentaries and reading sustainability books. The rest of the year involved putting ideas into action and noticing the amount of waste I produce. That’s now an automatic for me—to see the waste—without any sort of visual reminder or built-in review, and I’m happy with that progress.
Yoga/Pilates/Hamstring Stretching: I could have done more here, but I’m proud of the times when I’d think to sneak in even a minute or two during a moment at camp. Having my computer back in December has made it more accessible for me to do routines along with the videos. I’ve bought three new courses since then: Happy Hams, Healthy Hips, and 6-Weeks to Glutes, and have been doing them almost daily here in France.
Art Journal Regularly: This was a fantastic focus, because I love working in my day-marker art journal so much. I had a small homemade one for my time in RMYC, and picked up a spiral notebook when I got home in December, which I’m happily filling up. It’s nice to have something for my eyes only—something not meant for the eyes even, meant for the process. Plus there’s something about documenting my time, capturing these moments that will never return, that feels good.
Create One Bigger Thing Quarterly: I only did this for the two quarters (squeezed into the first four months, to boot), and that’s great. I’m proud of what I made, not to mention the smaller things I made continuously throughout the rest of the year.
Screen Time and Social Media Usage in 2018
My hours of screen time this year are probably a ten-year low, but my social media usage can be summed up in one word: Instagram. Here’s a closer look at both of these areas.
Screen Time in 2018
In ACE I would walk 30 minutes to the local library to work on my writing project, since Wi-Fi was so unreliable in our apartment. This was a blessing in disguise; I would get right to it and only work on the writing project during my timed session.
From March through the start of December I did not have my laptop with me. Over nine full months. No Netflix. And also no mindless internet browsing.
During RMYC I’d keep a running list in my tiny notebook next to a Wi-Fi symbol of things I needed to do the next time we had Wi-Fi. In towns I would stop at the local library and get a 30-minute guest pass. And once I finished what I needed to, I didn’t want to sit there at the computer browsing around. I had limited free time; I’d rather check out the town or go paint a portrait at a picnic table or make a phone call.
What I learned was this: I do not miss all that computer time I didn’t have. While I only wrote one blog post during those months, I know my mind was composting and I journaled a bit in pen. And when I did write that post in the fall, I was excited about the idea and willingly spent my town time in a library, asking again and again for another pass to extend my computer time.
Thus when I was reunited with my computer in December, I had a few nights where I let the next episode of “Gilmore Girls” auto-play, and then checked the news, looked at job postings, and now it’s past midnight and I felt like shit the next day. After doing that for a week, it was easy to say no. I wanted to feel how I felt before, when I read before bed. So I left the computer on the desk and put my phone in airplane mode and kept books by my bedside. It was the previous nine months of computerlessness that informed this decision. I knew I liked it. My body liked it. My mind liked it. I’m writing on a computer right now, obviously, but I’m in TextEdit full screen—no browser today.
Social Media in 2018
I had wanted to use social media intentionally, with regular check-ins during the year. While I never took the time to develop a formal check-in system, I did take notice of usage. Back in ACE I could easily go on an 8-day hitch in Airplane mode. In RMYC my phone had to be available for communication when I had service, since I was a leader. So I kept it charged and usually off of Airplane mode. When we were around Wi-Fi anywhere, I felt the need to check my Instagram.
In the fall, my phone had LTE service near one of our project sites, so I would check Instagram multiple times per day. (I used to never use data for email/Instagram; I’d only check them when I had Wi-Fi.) I was aware of my change in usage, but that’s as far as I went at that point. In the back of my mind I knew I wanted to sit and evaluate / develop a plan for better Instagram usage. Sometime.
When I got home in December, with Wi-Fi available 24/7, I thought again about what this constant checking was doing to my mind. Yes, I gained inspiration and had carefully chosen who to follow (rarely real friends; often snail mail/artwork feeds), but it still wasn’t real. And yes, there were ads which I despised, but that’s not the biggest pitfall I saw. What I couldn’t get off my mind was the curiosity of what I might create if I were free from this single force, this influence on my attention.
This was illuminated as I reflected on the year in a junk journal I’d made, which led me to post that I wouldn’t be back until the new year, log off, and delete the app. Then I counted and saw there were ten days until January.
At some point during December, I also realized it had been over a year since I’d logged out of Twitter for an experimental hiatus. I was now okay with completely deleting both Twitter accounts, so I did.
My 10-day Instagram break was a breath of fresh air, especially over the holidays. I was excited to log back on in January, but quickly felt those same old feelings—that this wasn’t meaningful in the longterm, and worry of how daily scrolling was molding my mind. Without overthinking, I knew I had to take action. I was never going to get around to designing a system (just log in once per week? once per month for Moment Sketchers? etc.), so I just left.
It was a quick decision, but I spent time making a mini-notecard creation to announce the leave:
If there’s one thing I know about me, I’m incredibly adaptable to new surroundings. I think we all are. So if my phone no longer had Instagram, and it was no longer a part of my day, I would adjust. Just like when I left Facebook in 2014. And there’s always the option to reevaluate and choose a different course of action.
We’re nearing the end of January, and so far so good. What I hadn’t foreseen is that my reasons for leaving Instagram have evolved into a theme I’d now like to focus on in 2019.
Obnoxiously Encouraging Thoughts + Non-Comparison
I think it was easier to take action and leave Instagram because I’ve been taking inventory of my thoughts lately. While I’m undoubtedly an optimistic person and generally have kind, supportive self-talk, thoughts will still appear which highlight what I haven’t done, how I’m letting fear keep me still—again, or the ways in which I will never accomplish like so-and-so has. Well you know what? I don’t want them anymore.
When these thoughts arise, I identify and stop them, and tell myself the real story. But I wonder what it would feel like if they never popped up in the first place. Who would I become if my thoughts were to tip the scale obnoxiously to the positive, cheering myself along for every tiny thing?
Furthermore, what if I had a year with no expectations, no comparisons, no self-judgement.
You chose to watch three hours of Netflix? Hooray! I truly hope you enjoyed it.
You went outside today? Great job!
Today you scribbled something in your poetry journal? Praise Mother Earth!
I know that I’m capable of more, which is perhaps the heaviest mental block of all. I know I have what it takes to start a movement or to make change in my community. When my thoughts turn to this fact, I feel guilty for “unused potential.” But you know what sounds really great? Removing that weight from my shoulders.
For one year, I don’t want those thoughts to visit me. For one year, whatever I choose to do in the moment is enough. Even if when I’m being lazy or holding back. I will listen to my body and my intuition and get immersed deeply in whatever I’m doing. And not using Instagram will greatly aid in this endeavor.
(More stream-of-conscious curiosity: If I learn to turn off these non-supportive thoughts, can I also learn to turn off the thoughts that are hugely tuned into what’s going on around me, which wonder if I’ve hit the mark? Is this the year I’ll finally be in one place long enough to start therapy? Or the year I’ll stop telling myself the story that I don’t live anywhere long enough to start therapy?)
This whole focus area emerged organically over the past few weeks, but I’ve identified three action items I can work on in February:
- Write a self manifesto of sorts, with encouraging reminders I can read to myself each morning. (This has been on my ‘cool things to make’ list for a year or two now. It’s about time I start!)
- Read “Mindfulness in Plain English.” (Hat tip to Luke for the reading recommendation.)
- Do Daily Calm while staying at Damien’s, since I have WiFi here and I’m still paying for a premium Calm account. (I barely touched it in 2018, mostly due to the fact that I was rarely in Wi-Fi zones.)
Filling a Poetry Notebook
The second big focus is writing poetry. I made a dab of an effort last year—there was resistance every time I picked up the notebook or thought about writing in the notebook. As I learned last year, instead of trying to write poems, I will aim to fill a notebook with shitty metaphors and thoughts! Just fill the notebook.
I have three books which are driving this endeavor at the moment:
- “Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words” by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge
- “In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop” by Steve Kowit
- “Find Your Voice: A Guided Poetry Journal for Your Heart and Your Art” by Noor Unnahar
So, my action item for February is to spend at least 10 minutes per day in one of these books and/or with my notebook. (I picked up a cheap A5 spiral notepad with really thin, scrappy paper here—it’s perfect in terms of approachability.)
And those are the two themes that have surfaced since the turn of the calendar year. I will check back in at the end of February, but then come March I’m headed to the AZT for 6 or 8 weeks of thru-hiking.
What are you focused on these days? Where would you like your focus to turn to throughout the new year?