“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.” ~Neil Gaiman
Oh, the years. They are beautiful babies and cruel mistresses and tongued puppies and the last slice of cake in the corner of the pan. They are your heart on a balloon string already taken by the sky and a glimpse of tomorrow through a toy-store kaleidoscope. The years are birds that wake you before dawn and that cry nevermore as you fall asleep. They are cinnamon earrings in a bowl, the taste of rare beef on the tongue, that time you inhaled, the scent of skin warmed by sun and want.
My years have been all of these things and more. I guess that’s what happens when you are lucky enough to continue to gather them in your bucket, to layer them like starfish and snails and shells and grains of sand. Some years have broken my heart with a hammer. A really big hammer. Other years have defied gravity, put me in a spaceship, let me touch the very surface of the mars of my childhood.
I often use this writing analogy when I am talking to students. Writing, I explain, is like a mountain range. You bust your ass climbing this huge mountain — learning some aspect of writing — and feel amazing when you get to the top, and you think, “Fuck yes! I’ve done it!” Then you look around you and realize there are hundreds of mountains, and you know that you have to climb each one, learn each thing, and that if you want to be a writer, you’ll be climbing this mountain range for the rest of your life.
I think life is like that too. Sometimes I run to the top of the mountain, and I look around I think: Holy crap, look at all those mountains I’ve climbed, how much I’ve learned, how much I’ve done. Look at all those mountains I still get to climb!
And other times I barely make it to the top — and the view from there is nothing but dark valley: Look at all the times you’ve fallen down, look at all the mistakes you’ve made, look at those people you hurt along the way, the times you made a fool of yourself, look at how insecure you were, how scared, how naive.
I was a late bloomer. I mean, really late. Here’s me when I was a teenager (inset). I have red glasses, a horrible haircut. Braces. Some kind of odd baggy pant ensemble (this was one of my better outfits at the time). The only cool thing about me is that I’m holding a turtle (I loved our turtles!).
At least until my first or second year of college, I was insecure, shy to the pain of physical pain. I knew that I was ugly, that I didn’t fit in with the cool kids, that I didn’t understand so many things: how to dress, how to walk, how to be around other people. I was a serious geek, but geekdom wasn’t cool then. I was smart, but being smart wasn’t cool either. I had a few good friends (thank god) but I was sure that I was always in danger of losing them to people who were more awesome than I was. I didn’t know how anyone would ever love me or want me, and when they did, I convinced myself that it wasn’t real. I had an eating disorder. I lied to protect myself. I left people before they left me. I desperately wanted to be a writer, but didn’t know how to make that dream come true, and was pretty sure I didn’t have the skills to do so anyway.
Mountain range. You climb to the pinnacle of this mountain. There: You’ve learned something about yourself. How to love or be loved. How to let go. How to hold on. How to dress. A little confidence. How to hold your heart in your hand and give it to someone else. How to ask for help.
Down the other side. Broken. You forget what you’ve learned. You sit in the shade of the valley for a long time. Wet, cold, hungry and pissed off. You’re trying damnit. Why doesn’t the world make it easier? Fuck this.
Eventually your ass is wet and you get up again. Start up the other mountain. Those things you learned join you like torpedos, like jet packs, like best friends, like the perfect tools. You learn, you discover, you ask with the echo of your voice through the sky and sometimes you get answers.
What is this life for? I don’t know. Love. Joy. Laughter. And the sadness too. The heart, the balloon, the string that tugs. Those falls down the slope, where everything is on the verge of breaking. Those rocky cliffs that reach to an impossible sky, a sky that, if we’re lucky, we get to touch once or twice. The view from here, where everything is exhausting and exciting and all your future and all your past lies before you, in an expanse of rocks and promise. It’s time to rise.
Kiss kiss bang bang, s.