Many things can happen in a year. Things move whether we want them to or not; whether we’re ready for them or not. Babies are born, children grow, adults age, and all ages die. The most human clubs of all are birth and death; the two clubs we’re guaranteed to join which bookend life. In between them lies our common struggle, though the specifics differ greatly.
I’ve learned it’s just as hard to keep up with reading a blog a day (unless you’re my husband editor or loyal little sister) as it is to write one. I’ve also witnessed people react strangely when caught in not reading. Guiltily they say they haven’t had the time or they haven’t had a chance to go online. They like to binge read, they assure me. At the beginning of the year (OK, maybe it was towards the middle of the year) I was angry my parents weren’t reading. So I started writing about them because: passive-aggressive writer.
Throughout the course of the year, I’ve grown to care less. I find this result most ironic because my project was about human inclusion; my daily mantra: “writing about the human condition using examples from my life.” My goal was to illustrate how we can all relate on one level or another. We can find something in common with anyone if we take the time to figure it out. A year of telling stories of my life in essays; tales where others may say, “Hell yes, me too; totally happened to me!” My goal in writing every single day was to reinforce and validate for myself, once and for all: I am a writer. I needed to do this every single day, especially the days I wanted to do anything but write.
Over the course of writing over 250,000 words, I learned words beget more words, like sex begets more sex, and crying begets more crying. I’m not going to run out of words any sooner than I’ll run out of tears and I will never be ambiguous about whether I earn the title of writer again. I’ve concluded it’s not for anyone else to declare or accept. This project was about me and for me. It was about developing a habit. It was about strengthening a muscle. It was about figuring out what kind of writer I want to be (not internet). It was about me comprehending how to channel my mental health challenges into my words. It was about me freeing up the brain space cluttered with my life stories.
I discovered marketing my work was as much of a full-time job as writing. Talk about using the multifaceted tentacles of my brain. Not only did I flex my writing muscle, I stretched my social media muscle, inadvertently boosting my “Klout score” (it’s a real thing). What I discovered, in not only writing daily, but in publishing every day on my blog (and other online sites), was the quality of the writing, which I dutifully tried to improve upon, often felt secondary – or even irrelevant. Internet writing is not novel writing; it is not even “feature magazine writing” akin to the classes I took as a journalism major at NYU 20 years ago. Successful articles go viral because of likes and shares and cool gifs. The audience wants short, easily digested tidbits of gossip rather than an 800-word essay. Followers are worth their weight in gold, but are they reading?
It took me a professional degree in my field, two decades, five corporate jobs, and the world’s most supportive husband to help me convince myself to be brave enough to have faith in myself. When I worked in the advertising and marketing world, I loved interviews and presentations but I came (even more) alive off the page. I thought the hardest part of getting a job was securing an interview; once I was in the door, the job was in the bag. I was that confident in my potential for working for anyone else, yet I’ve spent a lifetime with the challenge of selling myself to me.
Throughout the 366 days, I swung wildly in both directions: either thinking this was genius or discrediting it had any value at all. I kept a journal as a secondary project to the Life Clubs essays and upon re-reading it, I found the one constant was a perpetual haze of doubt which coated every word I wrote. I was conflicted because I judged the work, not on merit, but on a financial scale. No one was paying me a salary to do the most productive writing I’ve ever done and yet it felt like the hardest job I ever had. I stepped into the lifelong artist struggle: creating the work without the monetary carrot dangling at its conclusion.
Halfway through the year I began to drown in my multiple novels worth of words. I had to search my own blog to make sure each piece was unique before committing to the page. I wrote “I Miss My Sister Club” way early on IN MY HEAD and didn’t realize until October 24th I never ACTUALLY wrote it. Beyond the sheer volume of words, my stories became interlinked, one explaining or justifying another. As the year progressed, I noticed I was able to link to more and more stories as I revealed more about my life. The stories which occurred organically served as the conflict disrupting the narrative, and the anecdotes of my past merged with the drama of the year to paint me, the writer, the artist, the mother, the confused woman trying to make her dreams come true.
Going through this year showed me a new kind of strength and resilience.
The world didn’t stop for my 365-project. In fact, it seemed the world intensified. Life heard I was documenting 2016 and the earth reverberated with material. You gave me two weeks in Hawaii, but also took my aunt and my husband’s aunt four months apart and flooded our apartment, sending us into a 4-month unexpected, life-halting renovation. In one year, I went to the Emergency Room with every member of my immediate family. I used every day to cope with life, with words (publicly). When I struggled with liberating the long-dormant tales of my adolescent angst, I found myself writing about what was pressing today rather than delve into an uncomfortable past. It’s easier to write about the now, harder to live in it. (Feel free to quote me, I’m an official opinionator.)
I’ve written about poignant things and silly things and sad things. I’ve learned to write anywhere, everywhere, whenever I have the free minutes – often when I “didn’t feel like it.” Making this kind of commitment didn’t come with the luxury of “feeling like it.” I wrote on any surface with any implement – on my laptop, in the Notes app on my phone, on my skin, on gum wrappers and paper chopstick wrappers, inside my daughter’s composition notebook, and on scraps of paper in a rainbow of colors. I even mastered the art of talk-to-text. I’ve transcribed everything that’s happened to me this year. What did all this create?
250,702 published words. More than I could have imagined I would write. Yet, I still minimized my work, telling myself it was no big deal. Anyone could write every day for a year. I was hard on myself after each piece I wrote. I wasn’t even doing anything physically strenuous. I didn’t think any one of the essays was good enough. Every night of 2016, often late into the evening, I would pass my husband the piece of the day to edit and preempt it with, “This sucks, sorry.” This torturous nightly passing-off of my imperfect piece was an exercise to help me loosen my perfection paralysis. I would hear Saturday Night Live’s Lorne Michaels in my head: “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready, it goes on because it’s 11:30pm.”
I tried to remind myself how the project has to be looked upon as a whole. It is not any one essay; it is a slow-motion, deconstructed narrative of my life in 365 essays. There are many donut shop stories left untold and I barely grazed the Melrose Place-wannabe years in the advertising agencies and certainly there are more divorce story dramas and comical antics to divulge when your husband is a professional clown. Though the official project has come to end, clearly I have more work to do, more discovery to unfold and life to embrace. This project taught me tremendous amounts, but looking back at life through my stories has highlighted some important truths which will guide me to even greater success. Life is not about how to avoid the struggles but how you deal with them; taking ownership over them and joining the club.
At the beginning of the year, I surrounded myself with inspirational quotes from famous writers and wrote them over and over again in my notebooks, on watercolor paper, on post-its I hung on my wall. Yet, as I look back on 2016, my favorite quote comes from Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot: “Embrace the suck and move the fuck forward. What other choice do we have?”