Hi, loves. 🌿
Watching (other people's) new year unfold
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Well, we did it. We survived the worst week of the year on social media.
Do you hate me? I’m sorry. Perhaps it’s my fault — it is my fault — that I cannot, for the life of me, look away. I should just look away! Someone take this phone out of my cold-blooded hands! They get to me every year, the between-Christmas-and-NYE posts, but this year in particular — perhaps because we did a whole lot of nothing — the stream of families in matching things tromping around the world and cozying up under the tree got my undivided, judgement-filled attention. I did not understand it, it did not make me feel good, and yet I had to look. I had to stare and wonder why everyone needed to be wearing a matching bow.
Let me be clear! I did not want to go anywhere! And I am so happy for people who did! Truly! I did miss my family and surely that was part of what was going on — that I was longing for the big holiday celebrations of yore when my sister’s kids were small and my uncles and aunts drove up and we’d all pile into our old house in Montreal where we all fit snuggly under one roof and ate loads and loads of cookies. I started to worry that I’ve failed to give my own kid that kind of Big Family Energy. But! But. I was also so very happy to be home doing exactly what we did: TV, movies, slime, walks, dinner parties, bookstore visits, ice cream with my sister and niece, ice skating, the beach, a truly outrageous amount of baking. This year has been a lot of travel for our family (well, for me; everyone else seems fine with it), and I thought some calm was just what we/I needed. But it did not stop me from looking at everyone else’s Instagram feeds and asking myself the question I always ask: how much of this is, like, real? Are these families actually this…copacetic?
I am a middle-aged mother who has raised her child in the age of social media. I know, of course, that a solid 90% of it is not real. But the best thread of my entire break — the most vindicating, in perhaps a sick way — was one with six other middle-aged moms, who’d been posting all sorts of beautiful things online: photos of children in far-flung places, happy families under the Christmas tree, kids onstage in school plays, etc. etc. And the thread literally read: I have Covid! I have to change my trip. We all got the stomach flu. I want to murder my spouse. My kid has an 103-degree fever. Not a single text aligned with the photos. Not a one!
None of this is shocking but it makes me more acutely aware of how performative we all are, and how dull it all is. (Talk about an unreliable narrator.) I’m not saying I want to see the family puking over the toilet, but I, as always, wonder endlessly about our need to project family happiness. Family cohesion. Money? Wealth? What is it we are doing on there? Why can’t I look away? What am I searching for? What am I trying to project? What will I never ever find there? How ruined is my brain that I am still on the hunt? Is it possible to find glimpses of true joy? Even if I don’t know the people I’m staring at?
I am as guilty of this kind of show as anyone. Our travels in Europe were documented (with nods to, ah, difficulty) for God knows what reason. So perhaps it was stepping away just a little, or perhaps more accurately, having absolutely nothing to share, that made me — for the millionth time — question what this is all for. How vacant watching it all unfold really made me feel.
This year, my feed — like most of yours, I assume — was especially crushing since most holiday posts were interspersed with daily calls for a ceasefire, for the return of the remaining hostages, for the end to the utter despair in Gaza — all that supposed family happiness replaced, with the swipe of a finger, with unimaginable and seemingly unceasing horror. What a schizophrenic experience to have on a teeny tiny device you grip in the palm of your hand, a million miles away from it all. How at odds with being in the actual room with your actual family. Happy holidays.
And then I stumbled on this conversation between Esther Perel and Dan Harris. Like so many of you, I am not a new year’s resolution person (remember, I am anti-goal!), but I am a sucker for opportunities to reflect. I used to make all sorts of lists of things at year’s end (I do not remember of what — what I’d done? loved? tried?) and now I don’t do that (the book list being the exception), but I do like the opportunity to mark time. I do like to say, that was then, this is now. Is anything different? Am I thinking differently? Do I need and want new things? Mostly I like the idea of slowing down and not just lunging for the next deadline/meal/fight/plan/purchase. I like the pause. “La Pause,” as Pamela Druckerman famously urged an entire generation of parents to take in Bringing Up Bébé.
The conversation they had was about the non-negotiables in their lives. Talk about a lightbulb moment: What an absolutely wonderful way to think about what we want and need! It is squarely against self-improvement or self-flagellation. It is about being real and intentional and connected and dealing in brass tacks. It is about living a life that actually revolves around what you care about most deeply. How obvious! Let me tell you that “looking at other people’s family trips on Instagram” is not one of my values.
I’ve been joking since we got back from England that I’m in my Year of No. I want to stick to this — I think it might be the thing that keeps my back from going into total spasm — but I prefer the idea that we can just have certain actions we want to be accountable for, that make us happy and sane and whole and human, and the rest can maybe just fall away?
8-9 hours of sleep. Naps when I want/need them. Eating a big breakfast full of protein that fuels me for the day. Pilates most days with . Phone calls! Fewer texts and more phone calls with friends. More hosting, candles and roast chicken and a cake and whipped cream and wine and hours around the dinner table laughing and crying. Downtime during the day, for my body and brain and eyes and nervous system. Writing just for me. More letters written to friends, preferably thank you notes. Weekly drinks with girlfriends. Walks to school with my girl. Regular phone calls with my uncle. Monthly date nights. Learning to lift heavier things. Baking and sharing it with neighbors. Weekly weekend hangs with friends. Walks, too. Volunteering. Reading time at night. Baths, nightly.
I could go on. The point is not these small things. The key, for me — and it seemed to Esther Perel and Dan Harris, and to most of us — was connection, community, friendship. Time to think, move, rest, connect. Repeat. I want more of it in 2024. More in person. More on the phone. More tendrils reaching out. More voices. More of what’s real. More of what cannot be captured in a frame that flits across my tired eyes. More of something I can hold and feel, more of what moves me, more of what presses on my heart.
What are yours?
✨ Last few reads of 2023 and my first of 2024: I *literally* laughed out loud at a line about Ryan Air in Caroline O’Donoghue’s The Rachel Incident (was laughing only because it was so fucking dark and good). I adored (my own uncle!) Zachary Sklar’s memoir-in-essays, The Work, which chronicles a life devoted to doing good in a complex, often painful world. In spite of my fear, I was persuaded (years late!) to read fellow Columbia grad Jessamine Chan’s The School for Good Mothers and it truly truly is something else. Tell me what else you’re reading!
✨ WRITING CLASSES! Next week I will send out links for my winter writing classes! I have just a couple of slots left on Thursday night and ONE on Tuesday morning, so let me know if you’re interested so you can get first dips. Can’t wait to write together.
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