Learning To Live

For the last few years, I’ve tried to resist the temptation of making New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve pointed out that they’re a lot of pressure to put on an arbitrary date; that change can come at any time; that I’m the kind of overly-ambitious perfectionist who makes unrealistic goals and only sets myself up to fail.

And hey, all of that’s probably true. But we, as humans, like markers, don’t we? We like stories and names and ways of dividing up the world into pieces that feel a little bit more manageable to process. And sometimes we just need an excuse to prompt us to reset the clock and start over again.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want from 2021. I was lucky: though 2020 had its struggles, it wasn’t an especially bad year for me. Personally speaking, I’ve had far worse years, and on some levels, 2020 marked more progress for me than I’ve had in years, a chance to finally break through of the holding pattern I’ve felt trapped in. That’s made it a little weird marking the end of the year, which has been so hard for so many people. Like I’m afraid to admit I didn’t hate it, in case it seems like I’m bragging.

There are some things that have been on my lists of New Year’s goals/resolutions/wishes for years that don’t have to be any more. “This year, I’ll finally query properly” was one I’ve been telling myself for a while. “This year, I want to find an agent.” Don’t need that one on the list anymore. Not sure where I stand with figuring out progress or direction or next steps: I returned to academia, but my MA’s only a year-long programme, so at some point I’m going to have to figure out what I’m doing next, again. But not yet.

There are things I want from this year that aren’t within my power. A vaccine. A book deal. Top surgery. Better health. In some cases, there are steps I can take towards them, and in others, I only have to wait. So I’m trying not to make those sorts of things my resolutions, because they’re not goals or plans, just wishes.

The question, then, is: what do I want from this year, that I can actually control?

I want to get better at Irish, which means nothing so much as putting the time in, day after day and week after week. I’ve made progress, but I’ve got a long way still to go, and always I look for shortcuts and different methods and some kind of magic trick that will just make it happen.

I want to spend less time looking at screens, and especially less time on Twitter, and more time learning what I’m like when I don’t have an audience. It’s hard, when all socialising these days is online, but I’m increasingly convinced that social media doesn’t bring out the best in me, and I want to learn to put it down for once.

I want to play the violin more often. I want to start dancing regularly again, even if I have to change it up a bit to fit in my tiny living room. I want to try and do calligraphy again. I want to remember hobbies that are physical, not digital. I want to let them stay hobbies, and stop trying to feel the need to be the best at everything.

I want to get better at letting go of negative emotions. I want to get better at keeping a check on the ways that I spiral – to stop going to bed at 3am, to start eating real meals on a semi-regular basis, to stop using sugar to convince my brain to function (because it’s wrecking my teeth and my gut).

I want to polish my Bisclavret retelling, finish my Lancelot/Galehaut retelling, maybe write something completely different and new. Maybe come back to another waiting draft or build more of words I’ve already created. I want to keep writing poems, learn to write short stories, and maybe, possibly, remember to blog more regularly.

And with blogging – I don’t want to do it because I feel like I “have” to. But to build a community again, a proper one, not based on outrage and sharp retorts and one-liners the way so much of our internet communities are these days. A chance to go back to building my own online space, instead of being trapped in the currents of big social media.

I want to see more of Cork, as the weather grows warmer and the days grow longer. I want to make the most of the time I have in Ireland, because I don’t know what will happen when I finish my MA. And when we’re allowed: I want to go to the Gaeltacht; I want to visit the places I’ve never visited that are now just a bus-ride away; I want to learn more about this country where I live.

I want to make more videos about medieval Irish lit, not because creating “content” might earn me subscribers and Ko-Fi tips or whatever, but because I want to share the stories I love with people who would never encounter them otherwise.

I want to read books in the same unselfconscious way I did as a kid, where I would reread the same book half a dozen times, where I wasn’t counting how many books I read or trying to keep to a goal or worrying what anybody else thought about my opinions. I plan to keep track of them in a document on my computer, for my own sake (my memory sucks), instead of feeling the need to track every little thing on the internet.

In the end, most of these boil down to the same kind of idea: I want to stop performing my own life, and start living it. (So of course I started by writing a blog post about it…) A challenge, when I’ve lived so much of my life on the internet, and when there are so few other ways to interact with people at the moment. But sometimes I feel like I’m holding my own emotions at arms’ length because I’m so busy worrying about what I’m ‘supposed’ to be feeling, and I want to break free of that.

2020 didn’t completely suck for me. There was loss, and there were a few months of being too depressed to function, and all in all it had some moments I wouldn’t care to relive. But the last couple of years… it’s felt like whatever else happens, I’m still growing into myself. After a few years where I felt like I was only ever falling apart and crumbling and losing pieces of myself, a year where I come out the other end feeling like me is a good year.

And on that level – 2020 was progress. 2020 was taking steps I’d been hovering on the edge of for a long time. 2020 was writing more and finding an agent and moving to Ireland and starting an MA and presenting at a conference and learning how to press ‘Send’ instead of always hesitating at the final barrier. 2020 was healing (even though chronic pain is never entirely gone). Sometimes 2020 was lonely, but mostly it was just about shining a light on all the ways I haven’t yet learned to live with the inside of my own head, making me aware of my insecurities and my doubts.

So that’s one for 2021: I want to learn how to live in my brain and in my skin, instead of always looking for distractions, and though I doubt I’ll be able to rid myself of my insecurities in a year or longer, I want to learn to live with them.

And I want to come out the other end feeling even more like me.

3 comments

  1. Love this–and can totally relate with the desire to stop performing and start living. Growing up as a ballet dancer, I know what it means to be so used to having eyes on you, you think that’s all you’re worth–or that that’s all there is to the self. Sounds like you’ve done a lot of “me” work to figure out that isn’t so. Happy New Year!

    • Finn Longman says:

      Happy new year to you too!

      It’s strange, I grew up doing performing arts (music, ballet), but I suspect where I learned to “perform” was online, with my writing. I was never particularly bothered about “fitting in” at school, but sometimes in online communities I catch myself modifying how I talk, the opinions I express etc, to fit in — even when it doesn’t really interest me. I don’t know if it’s a neurodivergence thing where environments like YA Twitter just don’t mesh with my communication styles, or whether it’s just me, but I’m trying to take a step back and not worry about not being into the same things as others and not expressing my feelings in the same way, etc.

  2. Lucazeau says:

    Oh, I definitely get the taking a step back to be who you are instead of performing who you are. I’m always a little sad when a blogger I like decides to create a little more distance between themselves and social media, but I remind myself that whenever I start spending more time online, I starting framing my own thoughts differently and that’s part of why I’m not online very much. So the impact would probably be even more noticeable and positive in bloggers who decide to do this! And just because I can’t “see” them leading their lives and doing cool things anymore, that doesn’t mean they’re not doing them! If I want more of whatever they provided in my life, it’s up to me experience it personally instead of vicariously, ahah.
    (I also get the feeling a little weird about saying positive personal things about 2020 … on a personal level it wasn’t my worst year, and it even had a couple of nice developments, but globally I understand that it was pretty terrible.)
    I wish you the best of courage and success in your endeavors this year!

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