Tuesday, 1 January 2019

on new years


Every year I feel pretty disillusioned with the liminal stretch between Christmas and New year. I enjoy the festivities and revel in days spent sprawled in new pyjamas on sofas, surrounded by chocolate wrappers and disorganised messes of presents and paper. After a few days of this, I'm overcome by an urge to just get on with life again. I yearn for routine amidst days of enforced relaxation where meals are replaced by ceaseless nibbling of leftovers, and time off work is filled with spontaneous trips to a town that is busy with people to-ing and fro-ing aimlessly around the sales, desperate to have something to do when they've had enough of sitting in front of Father Ted re-runs for hours on end. Everyone seems to be waiting for New Year, taking the 1st of January as their cue to start afresh.

Maybe it's because of this urge of mine to return to a routine after days of laziness, but I've always found New Years celebrations so depressing. I've never enjoyed them. Even as a child when my Dutch mother would cart us off to The Netherlands to see the huge fireworks displays the Dutch do so well I never saw much joy in it all. Everything about it felt so arbitrary: a forced celebration. As I got older I began to recognise that this cue to start afresh that I craved from Boxing Day onwards simply so we could return to normality en masse, was always followed by performance - social media filled with vacuous new year's resolutions ('drink more water', 'take up yoga') which seemed to be just hot air. They were said for the sake of it, for the performance-value of seeming like a good/healthy/productive/kind/inspiring person and inciting guilt in others who set eyes on them, inducing a cycle of new year's resolutions said for the sake of clutching at a sense of becoming a better person. Seeing all this unfold on Instagram just makes me sad. I want to start advocating New Year's celebrations where we remember and look fondly on what we have achieved, rather than looking forward, burdened with a guilt that we need to become something other than what we already are. Goals should be set for ourselves, rather than said online only for the sake of the image of what such a fictional person might be like, though they represent nothing of our reality. 

With this in mind, a poem penned by Pandora Sykes which cut through the glut of all the 'new year, new me' style posts when it appeared as I refreshed Instagram, made me very much stop in my tracks of mindless scrolling.

I am apt to scroll past Instagram poetry without giving it a second glance. It never seems to catch me. But here was Pandora's idea of stopping, considering your lot and thinking 'of all you can do' representing a mantra I wanted to take up and carry with me. It represented a new way of treating New Years. Seeing the new year as one of opportunity, of reflection, and yes, perhaps goal setting, but not a cue to inflict guilt on yourself. New Years is, after all, a rather arbitrary occasion. The 1st of a new year doesn't really represent anything, though it might be a little cynical to characterise it as such, but it is, after all, a mere day that follows another day. 

But the new year does bring with it the idea of a new cycle being embarked upon, so, whilst the urge to set goals for ourselves remains, I'm going to take a little of what Pandora recognises with me; reminding myself that resolutions are not about creating a fictionalised narrative of a person you know you'll never really become (because it isn't really you), but about understanding yourself; looking forward not with pressure to become something, but with direction and motivation in a continued process of becoming. Like Rachel proudly toasting a crappy new year in 'Friends', looking forward is about recognising what you have, who you're surrounded by, and appreciating all that makes you happy in life currently - understanding that even if, in this case 2019, is crappy, you are still you.

In that spirit, here is an appropriately messy list for how I am going to head into 2019: 

- continue developing the habit of not being so hard on myself. Remember that all you can do is learn to become comfortable with who you are and how many people love you for it. 

- instead of putting pressure on myself to consume culture and media, remember that it is quality not quantity. Try and develop the habit of reading more again, but only because of how in love you are with it, not so as to fulfil the demanding reminders of the Goodreads reading challenge. Engage with things because you want to, not because of how they might make you look or because you feel a certain sense of pressure to say you've read or watched something of value. 

- try and unlearn some of the guilt of looking after yourself and simply living your life during periods of academic pressure. 15 minutes spent washing up does not need to be sacrificed so that you can work work work. A so-called unproductive day because of time spent doing laundry, cooking meals, cleaning or tidying should not necessarily make you feel as if you have wasted time. 

- continue learning and understanding that university is not a narrative written for you but something you decide for yourself. See your family when you want to, go home if you want to, meet friends if you want. Don't compare your experience to what everyone else is supposedly doing - do what makes you happy. 

- write about what you love. Write about what you want. Use writing as a way of loving every weird and wonderful thing that makes you you.  

- continue seeing mental health as a journey. However much you might feel cured, understand that it is a process that takes time. Setbacks aren't necessarily setbacks, they are expected and sometimes inevitable hurdles on this journey. 

- discover things. Do things. Learn to feel less shame. 

- make a little more effort with the little things. Don't hold back from sending sweet postcards, affectionate text messages, buying small spontaneous gifts, treating yourself a little. Meet up with friends even when it feels as if academia is about to swallow you up. 

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Maira Gall