Part I: Personal Reflection
2019 came with so many changes in my life it makes me dizzy just to think about them. Most of these changes aren’t really things I want to talk about with the internet, since they pertain to my personal and private life, and not all of the stories are only mine to tell. One of the most obvious and tumultuous changes is that, for the first time in my remembered life, I am not a full-time student.
After seventeen years of school, I graduated in May 2019 with a master of arts in comparative humanities, and while I am proud of my accomplishment, it’s a bittersweet feeling because it is a definitive end to a chapter of my life. When I first applied to Brandeis, over six years ago now, I ended my college essay by saying that I could write a seven book saga about my life, and I wanted the next volume to be titled Return to Brandeis. And I did return to Brandeis, but now that I have left, I cannot help but wonder what is next for me, and what the next decade will bring.
Another major life event in 2019 was that I spent the summer in New York. At the beginning of June I packed my bags, kissed my fiancée goodbye, and got on a train to the Big Apple. I was confused as all hell when I got to Penn Station, and far too overwhelmed to figure out the MTA while carrying a huge suitcase and heavy backpack, so I called a Lyft. Once the driver taking me to Columbia found out I was from Boston he started to lecture me on how it was the most racist city he had ever encountered, and started to wax poetic about how the streets in New York made much more sense. “You’ll love it here.” He said. “New York is the best place to be.” New York, however, was far and away from everything and everyone I knew and loved.
I greatly enjoyed my time at Columbia, and I met lots of wonderful people, but I never felt entirely comfortable in New York. Something about the city lit a fire and electricity underneath my skin, which was exhilarating at first, but after a while I simply started to yearn for home, for meals cooked with love rather than in the dining hall or at a restaurant, for cuddles with family, friends, and dogs, for days at my favorite beach, for sitting under my favorite tree in Boston common, for playing board games or sitting on the couch and watching Doctor Who. New York was fun — I went to a street festival, I went to restaurants, book stores, museums, explored Central Park, met up with college friends — but it wasn’t home.
At the beginning of 2019, I made 19 resolutions. I completed debatably seven of them. That’s a success rate of about 37%, which isn’t really that great, all things considered. But also, when I made that list, I had no idea what the year in front of me was going to look like. None. Because life throws so many curveballs. (And no, I don’t understand baseball, and can’t fully explain what a curveball is outside of the metaphoric context.) At the beginning of 2019, I didn’t know what I was going to do after graduation. I had decided against applying to PhD programs, and that decision terrified me, because what was I to do if not be a student? I was amazed when in March I was accepted into the Columbia Publishing Course and I realized that I was going to be able to spend the summer in New York. But what was to come after that? Full-time work? Adulthood?
Adulting outside of school is definitely different, now that I’ve had time to experience working full-time, absent of classes, rather than part-time with classes. But one thing I have realized is that I haven’t really changed all that much. Sure, my routine has changed, but for so long I was categorizing myself as a student, like that was a core part of my identity, and I thought that if I lost that I would lose an integral part of myself. But I haven’t. If anything, I’ve found myself.
So much of this year has been about finding myself. It’s been about exploring aspects of my belief system, of my gender, my sexuality, about critically examining my place in this world and the impact I have on my community and the people and places around me. In my 2018 reflections, I talked about how my personal bubble “had been popped years ago.” But the truth is, that in many ways it hadn’t. And in many ways it still hasn’t. We can’t escape our personal bubbles, no matter how many times they get punctured. I said before that New York wasn’t comfortable. And it wasn’t. I was thrust far out of my comfort zone, outside and detached from my support network, forced to make my own path without anything tethering me. Floating. Frightened. Free. It was there that I was forced into a lot of self-reflection and introspection. Laid bare, there were a lot of things I could no longer lie to myself about, because the only place I was truly comfortable was in my own head, and there could be no secrets there.
Part II: External Reflection
2019 really has been a culmination of so many things. This is the end of a decade, the end of an era. So many endings. So much talk of what has happened in the past. I’ve been thinking about how we so often focus on and fetishize the past. We idolize it and focus on how things were better or how things were worse. I think it is so, so important to know our history. To know the roots of where we came from. But it’s also really important to move forward and find innovative new ways to grow, and find out how to make things better, rather than just making the same mistakes in slightly different shades again and again. There’s an idea floating around that positive change is inevitable, which I think is naive. But I also don’t think negative change is inevitable, or that we are forever doomed to stagnation. I think we evolve in different directions as the choices made by society ebb and flow along the river of time. And I think more people are waking up to the fact that we need action if we want to see that river go in the direction of positive change.
The 2010s has been nothing if not a decade of change. And yet there is still so much to be done. This is a question of the safety and security of marginalized communities in the physiological sense, but also in the psychological and emotional sense when considering the arts and representation. As a recent example, I was on twitter and someone pointed out that there have been eight adaptations of Little Women.
Now, I’m not hating on the book, or the new movie. I actually really liked the book, and though I haven’t seen any adaptations, I’ve heard good things. But I crave new stories, and one of my biggest hopes for the coming years is that we will get new stories. That new voices will be heard, and that we can move forward without simply reinventing the past.
I know that this sounds like an odd stance to take from someone who studied classics and writes fanfiction and majored in European cultural studies. But I don’t think it’s at all mutually exclusive to say that while the stories that have been told are good, they’ve been told. I want to hear some new ones.
Sometimes people say things like “it may not be fixed in my lifetime, but perhaps in the lifetime of my grandchildren,” or something like that. Well, I think I’m young enough to say that hell yes I want things to get the best they can be in my lifetime. I refuse to settle. Just because I’m not in the best position now doesn’t mean I’ll always be where I am today, as long as I keep moving forward. Positive change isn’t inevitable, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make it myself. The one resolution from the beginning of 2019 that I absolutely stuck to (and that you can bet you’ll be seeing on 2020’s list) is “remain open to possibilities that I don’t currently know to expect.”
2019, it was nice knowing you.