My friend Fiona and I are sitting at the very back table at my favourite Perth coffee shop, Satchmo, on this last day of 2018, preparing to set our goals and intentions for the new year. She’s written out a long, thoughtful list of prompts in her journal; I’ve suddenly decided I need to spend more time reflecting on the year we’re now ending before I can set my sights on 2019. What happened this year? What did I learn, what do I want to take from this year into next and what do I want to leave behind?
The year in a few words
Hard and huge. Like most people’s, I suspect, my 2018 felt forty-five years long and I can barely believe that just twelve months ago I was here in Perth, probably at Satchmo, still an AVID volunteer with a crumbling assignment and a fledgling relationship and a dusky green house and a self-sabotaging tendency to just catch up with tired friends and former flames here. Since then, I’ve started three jobs and finished two; pitched sixty-odd articles and had several published; bottomed-out with work and self-criticism and self-loathing and had a miserable few months which ultimately revealed a new core truth, to be less capable; grown herbs in the garden and made sourdough bread; started threading my eyebrows and trying to remember the details people tell me of their lives so I don’t have to stupidly ask what Solange’s husband’s name is fifteen times; stewed in jealousy and tried to surrender; cooked domplines and pierogie and pasta and pho.
“It has been a month where I have felt small and sullen and selfish,” I wrote in July. “One foot in front of the other, doing what I can to get through. (Does that sound dramatic?) I vividly remember at the very end of June my effervescent housemate returned from diving, surprised at the lethargy that naturally comes with your post-dive nitrogen build-up, saying, “I usually feel so energised, this is so unusual,” and burning silently with envy because I haven’t felt anything other than tired all year.”
I was tired, often, and I tried to do a lot.
The year in a few things
Here are some of the things I tried to do.
- Moved house (to live with Felix!)
- Met Felix’s family for the first proper time
- Decided to quit a lucrative, well-paid, good-looking job that was causing me a lot of grief and stress
- Remembered living in Timor-Leste is meant to be fun
- Hosted and hung out with wonderful visitors and guests: Annie, Amy, Clare, Bonnie, Mum, Abe, Lucy, Sophie, Jack, Abi
- Went to Bali for a work conference
- Drank two cups of coffee almost every day
- Made a sourdough starter and two semi-successful loaves
- Vomited from drinking at a camping festival and had to drink an emergency rehydration coconut
- Read 48 books
- Grew out my armpit hair
- Hiked along an irrigation channel with stunning rice paddy views
- Coordinated English conversation classes (and gave several embarrassing speeches at ECC events)
- Listened to a lot of Missy Higgins
- Practised taking photos on my camera’s manual mode
- Returned to Tetun school
- Went to a beautiful engagement party and two gorgeous weddings
- Escaped home to Perth for a week
- Travelled through Timor-Leste: Aileu, Ainaro, Maubisse, Railaco, Gleno, Same, Laclubar, Baucau, Manatuto, Oecusse, Atauro, Tapo, Maubara, Liquica
- Pitched and wrote a lot of articles and website stories
- Grew a large gross stress-blister scab thing on my forehead
- Paddles canoes at Cristo Rei beach
- Started moisturising my arms and legs before bed
- Survived a bed bug scare
- Watched The Castle at sunset in the sand
The year in a few things I don’t want to admit
Part of what made this year difficult was that I spent a lot of time and energy resisting what was happening and paddling frantically against the current. And I spent so much time and energy caught up in myself I let fall a lot of important balls I’m embarrassed and ashamed to look too hard at.
My dearest friend here, Laura, got incredibly sick in the middle of the year and I wasn’t there for her when she was ill. When she recovered she told me busy is selfish because you don’t have time for the people who care about you, which cut clean through my fuss and hubris and opaque fluster. I wasn’t out-of-my-hands too busy; I’d decided to prioritise work above her.
My mum’s health hasn’t been the best this year and I didn’t make the effort I should have to keep in touch, to see how she’s going, to remember the important doctor’s dates and medical deadlines, to know when school was on holiday and when the business was more and less busy. And the same with my sisters, my dad, my friends back home in Perth and Melbourne. I chose this year, I chose, to dedicate my time and energy to work, to stress, to anxiety, to Timor, instead of to my relationships. I think I’ve learned a lot in the process of squeezing myself but it’s come at a cost — there are things I did this year that I’ll be grateful to leave behind.
What stays in 2019?
- The (new) knowledge that I can’t do everything and I won’t do it well if I try
- An appetite for being a beginner
- A commitment to ongoing language-learning
- The knowledge that I’m separate from my achievements or activities
- An understanding that to be over-committed is to be selfish
- A commitment to freelance writing — work I find equally meaningful and scary
What will I try to leave behind in 2018?
- All-consuming anxiety
- Obsessively low self-esteem and poor self-image
- Over-committing with work
- Forgetfulness with the small details of friends’ lives
- Doubting myself, doubting my gut
- Needing to know what happens next
What do I want to introduce in 2019?
- A greater sense of self-knowledge and self-acceptance
- Greater comfort (equanimity?) with discomfort and uncertainty
- Acceptance of the stage of my life I am in
- More listening to my gut, to my instincts, to doing things because I want to
- Rediscovering, through pausing, the things that bring me joy
This is not the end of the reflection; this is the very beginning — these are not goals but a small, gentle and growing awareness of the things I’d like my goals, actions and activities next year to reflect and enable.
Another cup of batch brew and time to turn to Fiona’s list; questions for 2019. Here’s where I’ve been and where will I go next.