I spent the last NYE in my nightgown, watching Woody Allen films while tying strips of white fabric to a huge plastic grid.
My ostensible reason for spending the alleged OMG BIG PARTY NIGHT OF THE YEAR holed up in my apartment was an art installation/happening that I was putting together with my good friend/creative partner. The clock was ticking and we only had a few days left to prepare. My friends reluctantly accepted this excuse. Yet my phone buzzed into the wee hours with declarations of “I WISH YOU WERE HERE” and “IT’S NOT TOO LATE TO PUT ON A DRESS AND COME OUT.”
I did not wish I was there. And it was far too late in every sense for me to put on a dress and the requisite coordinating happy face. I had spent the holidays adorning myself in sequins and fake smiles. My grandmother had always told me “Smile until it’s real.” I adopted this approach for the numerous Christmas parties and wild drunken nights out that social law forced me to attend. But despite my aching facial muscles, the smile never became true. I woke up every morning wishing that it were time to go back to bed for the night. I fell asleep every night wishing that they next day would never come.
I was sad. I had spent the last two months holed up in my bedroom, vaguely enjoying dinners of gin and painkillers. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep without chemical intervention. Work made me want to die. And I had abruptly developed a case of agoraphobia that prevented me from even going out for a cup of coffee. I didn’t want my friends and family to know just how pitiful I was–I’m nicknamed “McPartypants” for a reason–and so I spent time rehearsing enthusiastic responses to innocent questions like “How are you doing?”
I just couldn’t get the accent right, so I switched to a vaguer (but theoretically still positive) “I’m SO busy.”
I woke up on New Year’s Day at the crack of dawn. I decided that it was a safe time to walk to the grocery store, because surely everyone was still in bed, hours and hours away from a trip to Fred Meyer for soy creamer and bacon. I meandered through the frost covered streets with a cup of coffee in my hand, marveling at the beautiful silent morning. Maybe it was the rare appearance of the sun, but I was struck with a feeling I hadn’t experienced in a long time: hope.
“I think this year can actually be good, ” I said to a crow squawking above me.
But where would I begin? As I roamed the product section at the grocery store, I began a mental list of everything that made me unhappy, even in the slightest bit:
MY JOB. The stupid fact that while I loved cooking, I never cooked. The expensiveness of books. The limitations of not owning a car. PMS. Drinking too much. The chronic fear that my dependence on a litany of personal care products would somehow lead to a raging cancer battle. My family. The realization that I had no one to take care of me when I was sick. My face. My hair. The unfortunate realization that I wasted too much time. And on and on and on.
This was a list that could never be tackled by a few blanket New Year’s resolutions. I needed a better strategy.
And that was how THE YEAR OF AMAZING CHANGE was born. Each month, I had to make two changes to my daily life that would enhance my quality of life. I started off slowly by getting a library card and a weekly subscription to an organic vegetable produce box. The next month I signed up for a car sharing service and I stopped using shampoo (not as gross as it sounds). I focused my attention on the people that mattered most of my life, gradually shedding everyone that took more than they gave.
Somewhere along the line–before I began the complex vitamin/herb routine for PMS, and after I got snazzy new haircut–I began to actually feel happy again. People noticed.
“You seem different.”
“You look great.”
By summer, I was pleased with my progress. I had chipped away at all of the smaller problems, but I was still facing a huge obstacle on my path toward a healthy and productive life: my job. Note that it was in all-caps on my list. Three years before, I had walked away from a decent job (and moderate career success) in Philadelphia because I really wanted to move back to Portland. I had no regrets about that, but wow, my next job was pretty terrible. I was in a constant state of uncontrollable anxiety and exhaustion (I worked from 5 or 6 am until question mark every day). I worked with a lot of immature and negative people. The expectations and time lines were absolutely not achievable with the amount of time and manpower I received. And so, I never felt a sense of completion. My bosses were incapable of any positive feedback/encouragement. I struggled with young people that were mad at me just because I asked them to do their job. I was exposed to mold and toxic chemicals on a regular basis. And so, I literally had a headache every day.
I needed a new job. I could see that all of the negative emotions that I felt at work had been seeping into my personal life for years. I had arrived in Portland filled with the brightest light. Within months, that optimism and excitement became a pool of brackish blackness. I drank and drank and drank. I accomplished none of my big creative plans. I barely explored the city. Even worse, I found myself becoming intimate with others that were filled with a similar poison. And that only seemed to make me sicker and sadder. A library card and some organic kale weren’t going to stop the cycle of despair. I had to do something bigger. I had to quit my job.
I was afraid. Finding a good job in Portland remains nearly impossible. And after years of feeling so beaten down, I couldn’t imagine that anyone would actually want to hire me. Fortunately fate forced my cowardly hand. My bosses bullied me into handing in my resignation, despite a solid work record over ten years with the same company. I gave three months of notice, and I proceeded to spend the next 2.5 sleepless months secretly wringing my hands. Would I would actually get a job OR just find myself moving back in with my parents? “Prepare for the worst but silently hope for the best,” I told myself. I began to shed possessions in preparation for possibly being homeless. I consulted a lawyer about suing my employer. And then…I got an amazing job and I moved to Los Angeles. It happened that fast.
Now this year, THE YEAR OF AMAZING CHANGE, is winding down. And almost nothing about my life is the same as it was when it began. I’m writing this on the tail end of a long trip to Portland. It might seem to be a betrayal of my friends and this city that has after years and years become my true “home,” but I’m glad that I left. I would have never had career success here. I certainly wasn’t finding romantic success. And my productivity was almost nil. Now I have an amazing job. The romantic success in LA has been non-existent, but that was because I needed to close an important chapter back in Portland (and I did). The sun wakes me up every day in Highland Park and reminds me of the virtually limitless potential that awaits me outside my house.
I’m not going to lie: moving is really fucking hard. Saying good bye to routine and comfort is terrifying. Being new in town is lonely. I get lost on a regular basis. I miss my friends that have become my family over the years. The grocery stores in LA are really weird and I have a really hard time procuring hippie soap and flannel shirts. But do not be confused: I’m excited about this next year, which I am tentatively coining THE YEAR OF GO YOUR OWN WAY. Possible projects include exploring my new city, making new friends, making tons of cool shit, making out with cute people, and traveling anywhere I want to go.