The burden of self-imposed deadlines is not the energy I am taking into the new year.
I was good at being a student. You could say that this was because I chose to study literature, so being a student meant reading and writing about books, which is my favorite thing to do. I was good at most other subjects too, though. More to the point, I was good at meeting deadlines and getting my homework done on time. I got a sense of satisfaction from being given an assignment and completing it, satisfaction that grown-up work has never quite matched.
My job provides plenty of assignments and deadlines, but it’s not quite the same and not just because my job is not about reading and writing about books. Obviously, the pressures of adulthood make life different from how it is for a school girl with all the comforts and privileges I was lucky to have when I was younger. But I still chase the high of the completed task as if any 40-ish mother’s to-do list is ever going to end.
At the end of the day, that’s the conundrum: When you are merely a student of life, “homework” doesn’t end.
Every semester, every school year had a start and a finish. That feeling of weary excitement after you handed in that end-of-term paper or completed that last exam was rooted in the very fact of their finality. A final is just that—final. On the other hand, whether it’s related to a job or what you have to do around the house to keep the ants, mice and grass at bay, the homework of adulthood is one long, numbing loop.
The kitchen is clean! Until the next meal.
The grass is mowed! For the next week until it looks overgrown again.
That 18-month project is done! Here comes the next one.
I apologize if this reads a little depressing, but throughout 2021, in pushing myself through another year of living in a world that is frustrated, tired and emotional, I discovered that “challenges” and self-imposed deadlines and lists of goals or projects that I assigned myself this year were not encouraging. Instead, I began carrying them like burdens. They took joy out of the things I was trying to motivate myself to do, whether it was eat healthier, exercise or read or even write regularly for this blog.
When I restarted Words, Searched in January, I told myself I’d write twice a month, which I did until that became too much. So I scaled back to the start of every month. This last post of 2021 arrives as December comes to a close, instead. Each time I failed to meet the schedule I’d set, I had to remind myself it wasn’t an actual failure. There was no teacher tsk-tsk’ing me, red pen in hand, ready to scrawl a big F on the grade book. Life, stress, work, etc. all got in the way at different points over the last twelve months. When it happened, I adapted my pace and kept moving forward. That’s the energy I want to take into 2022:
No trying reach arbitrary goal posts. No checklist to mark off. Only moving forward. Only adding.
I had “assigned” myself 30 books for the 2021 Goodreads reading challenge and reading 10,000 pages on The Storygraph. Instead, I read 29 books and 9,388 pages. Who needs round numbers anyway?
This trip around the sun, I’m doing a different kind of challenge. Rather than a number, I’m going to add the joy of reading the following in no particular order:
a book about Denver or Colorado
a book I have read before
a classic written before 1950 I never got around to
a modern classic written after 1950 I never got around to
a book that has been on my shelves so long, I don’t remember buying it
science-fiction by someone other than Philip Dick
a poetry book
a book about social justice
a book about climate change
a book by an author with a disability
a book in Spanish
a book about a subject I don’t know anything about
This is no to-do list. It’s a suggestion list. I may get to all of them. I may not. We’ll see. Happy New Year and happy reading.
My year in books
Below, I’ve listed everything I finished (minus those my six-year-old chose for me to read to her), in order of the worst (comparatively so, there are no truly bad books here) to the best (or, more accurately, the ones I liked the most).
I mean . . . it’s fine
My Year Abroad by Chang-rae Lee
Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
The Secret Women by Sheila Williams, Sheila
Unfinished by Priyanka Chopra Jonas
The Removed by Brandon Hobson
I liked it. Maybe you will love it.
Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson
Recommended with reservations
Something Wild by Hanna Halperin
I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness by Claire Vaye Watkins
Love Is an Ex-Country Randa Jarrar
Good Books for readers of any age
Sisters by Raina Telgemeier
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks
The Year I Flew Away by Marie Arnold
Smile by Raina Telgemeier
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Great Books that surprised me
Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia
Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar
My favorite books of 2022
Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet
After Francesco by Brian Malloy
What's Mine and Yours by Naima Coster
Just as I Am by Cicely Tyson
Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen