Something tricky about January 1st is that it feels arbitrary—it doesn’t deliberately coincide with anything else in my life. Fall, for instance, when school starts up and changes everything makes much more sense as the start of a year. (Of course that will likely change post-graduation, but right now that seems an eternity away.) Especially at a time in my life when I find myself questioning almost all special occasions (I felt unbelievably distant from Christmas, Hanukkah this year. Every step I took to celebrate with family was like walking through a swamp.) celebrating the new year feels completely disconnected. As when celebrating a birthday every year, I still wake up the next morning with the uncomfortable feeling that nothing is different.
Rereading this, it strikes me how those yearly milestones of my past no longer exist. I only have the seasons and arbitrary markers of time to indicate the passing of years.
Ten years ago, I wrote:
I tend to make resolutions at times in my life when I’m feeling stagnant, dissatisfied, and in need of change. So, in that respect, I’m happy to say that I haven’t felt any desire to make resolutions this year. I’m in a dynamic period of my life. Things are changing for me, resolutions or no.
New Years 2014 was a dynamic time. I had just left my home of seven years, completed six months of travel across the country and around the world, and moved to DC with a vague plan of starting a company and not much else. There was a lot to look forward to. There wasn’t much need to shake myself out of my familiar patterns because there were none. “The roads I see ahead of me are unpaved,” I wrote.
Ten years later things are pretty different. After four years in DC, I moved to Somerville MA where I’ve been for six years. The major milestones of life people tend to observe are in the past as I find myself deep in the long chapter of adulthood with its routines and gradual changes. I’ve put down some roots – though not always the traditional ones – and I’m slowly learning how to invest in a community for the long term.
In the cycle of life satisfaction/dissatisfaction, I think I’ve hit this new year at an odd moment, feeling neither in particular. I’ve got a lot going for me: a community of friends I see regularly, romantic partners whom I adore, an active hobby life, a job that I enjoy and believe in, and financial security. But I’ve also been thinking a lot lately about Life, writ large. I’ve been thinking about the trappings of young adulthood that I’ve left behind me, about how I should conceive of building a life that I’m happy with, now and in the future, whether I’ve been focusing my time on the right things, and about what my life’s work should be – if I even want to have such a thing.
Ideas about declining neuroplasticity notwithstanding, I’m not content to be the same person indefinitely. I want to think about what I can and should change – and then I want to do it.
2023 was the year that I really got into watching YouTube videos. I feel late to the party² but for a long time I resisted internet videos, thinking I wanted to be able to consume media at my reading speed (nevermind the copious amounts of television I watched). I came around and this was the year I got into TikTok, YouTube, the whole deal.
CGP Grey makes research-heavy but lighthearted animated deep dives. He’s fairly popular. In 2013 he went viral for his video about the “no-touching zone” between Canada and the United States. A couple other of my favorites of his are “The Simple Secret of Runway Digits” and “Hexagons are the Bestagons.”
He also designed a physical journal that he’s been marketing on his channel. It’s designed around his notion of personal “themes.”
His video on the subject is the best explanation but in brief: he suggests that instead of New Years resolutions, one should set a flexible, broad theme for a period of time – something like Year of Reading or Season of Health – and let the general concept guide how you make decisions during that period of time and even allowing what it means to you to be flexible as time progresses. He says:
You started out wanting to read more books, but maybe as you went on you realized academic papers are where it’s at, or that reading reading just doesn’t work for you and listening reading is the way to go. You’re still on theme. The theme will change because so will you. Having a theme, you will notice paths you didn’t before. This gets you to think about your thinking and thinking about your thinking changes your thinking, which changes who you are.
It’s possible my newness to the medium has made me an easy mark for sales, or that working on developing Q1 2024 OKRs in my professional life when I saw this video made me extra susceptible to the idea of grand goal setting, but I was sold. I wanted a theme and I bought his notebook.
It took me a couple weeks to figure out what my theme should be. Initially I was thinking about it in a goal oriented way. I had some ideas for things I wanted to accomplish in the new year – organize my bedroom/office, get my budget back in order, exercise regularly, get my drivers’ license, finally – and I tried to build a theme around that. The Season of Getting Your Shit Together? The Season of Loose Ends? The Season of Order?³
But I started thinking about something else Grey says in his video:
Words are tuning forks for the brain. When picking a theme, you’re looking for a word or words that cause your brain to vibrate in resonance.
None of the themes I had so far did that. They were all attempts to shoehorn a predetermined set of goals into a broad category. But one day the theme “tidiness” occurred to me and it stuck in my brain in a way that I couldn’t get it out. It’s broad, it’s meaningful, and it represents a quality I’d like to internalize – something I’d like to change in myself.
So this is the Season of Tidiness. I’m going to clean and organize my room. I’m going to keep up with my chores. But I’m also going to aspire to a sort of existential tidiness. I’m going to do my budget. I’m going to keep up with personal communications. I’m going to keep up with my todo list or deliberately remove the items I don’t want to complete. I’m going to be a person who, at a glance, really seems to have their life together. I’m going to be a person who, even at a second, deeper look, seems to have their life together. Maybe after a third look not so much – I’m not convinced that’s possible and it doesn’t seem interesting to be a person who is too tidy either.
I’m looking forward to seeing how this theme changes for me and how it changes me. Let’s get to it.
A few ideas of possible themes for the future that I didn’t feel ready to approach yet, but have nevertheless lodged in my brain not unlike tidiness did, though mostly not as deeply yet:
- The Season of Creating
- The Season of Reading
- The Season of The Future (or The Season of Planning)
We’ll see if I keep it up long enough to do these – or if these are even the themes I want to do when I get there.
I’ll leave off with a haiku that’s been a favorite new years poem of mine for over ten years:
New Year’s Day—
everything is in blossom!
I feel about average.
— Kobayashi Issa, trans. Robert Hass
Happy new year. Let’s make it a good one.
I still miss the LiveJournal era in a sepia-toned nostalgic sort of way. I know people are still living the LiveJournal life over at Dreamwidth (using a descendant of the venerable LiveJournal codebase even) but it wouldn’t be the same for me. LJ was a piece that fit into a very particular person who I was in those days that wouldn’t fit nearly as well with the person I am now. Still, nostalgia is a hell of a thing. ↩︎
Or maybe I was too early to the party. In 2006 I was obsessed with “the show with ze frank,” quite possibly the world’s earliest popular vlogger. And then, somehow, for the following 15 years after “the show” ended I ignored vlogging altogether as a medium. ↩︎
I knew from the outset I didn’t have the commitment for a full twelve months – and Grey actually encourages seasonal themes in his video anyway. ↩︎