Sunday, September 22, 2013

Another year older, another year happier

If you're reading this, then you probably already know that I just spent a year doing (at least) one thing a day that was in pursuit of my own, selfish joy. This year followed a year in which I didn't do anything special, which followed a year in which I did one thing a day that I had never done before, and then I blogged about it in a way that connected the my never done activities to my mussar (Jewish ethics) practice. I did my Never Done year, because as I approached 50 (I was 47-48 during that year) that I wanted my life to feel expansive, and not diminished, the way society (really truly) pressures people 50+ to feel. I say (really truly) because I thought, as a life-long feminist and iconoclast, I would feel exempt from societal pressures around aging, but shit, was I ever wrong. If you're already 50 or near it, you know what I'm talking about, and if you're a lot younger, I sincerely hope it's eased up by the time you get here. So I spent a year doing something every day that I had never done before (and you can read all about it on this very blog by going to the very beginning) and by the end of the year, I was happier, fuller, more excited about life, in a new job, having completed an Olympic-length triathlon, having done, in fact, 365 things I'd never done before, much more connected to people I hadn't been in touch with in years, less frightened of aging, and .... tired. Tired not so much from the activities, but from the writing, which often took me a good couple of hours a day. I loved the writing, but I was very happy to be done with the daily writing. I also had really really hoped I could figure out how to parlay the daily blog into a book deal, but I never got the blog traffic I had needed to get  interest. So I took the next year off from this kind of project, dove head-first into my new job, and slowly got more and more depressed. Now, I don't use the word depressed clinically, but rather, colloquially. Let's put it this way: over the course of the year, I felt the life force get sucked out of me, and by the time the next yom kipper rolled around (oh, I forgot to mention that these practices follow the Jewish calendar) I was 49 years old, spending too much of my time fixing other people's lives and supporting other people's dreams, and not particularly engaged with my own life or dreams. I actually believe in helping people with their lives and dreams, and wouldn't want to stop doing that, but it was getting pretty out of balance.

I was also face to face with a big decision I've struggled with since moving to NYC, namely, should I stay in NYC? Everybody who knows me knows that it it might be a hell of a town, but it's a real retrofit for someone like me, who likes to be in bed by 10 PM, wake up at 6 AM, go outside barefoot, garden in the early morning, swim outdoors in clean rivers and lakes, and, I don't know, breathe freely. But also, I like to go to the theater, and easily hang out with my friends, and I had this job as a Jewish performing arts presenter, which is a great thing to do in NYC, and even though I have large, vibrant communities in New England and Portland, OR, I didn't (and still don't) have work lined up in any of those places. So I spent all day on yom kipper 5753/2012 reading and working through a self help book called, Too Good To Leave, Too Bad To Stay. It's written for relationships between people, but I worked through my relationship with NYC, and not surprisingly, what I learned is that yeah, I probably should leave NYC, but it wasn't a clear cut and dry direction, but that the real issue? The real issue is that I was pretty bad at setting bottom lines, and I was pretty bad at putting myself first, and not just my needs, but more importantly, my wants.

You still with me? It's September 2012, and I was feeling pretty crappy, and reading a self-help book on yom kipper. On the beach. In the rain. While Josh napped in the car, because he was still in post-op recovery. Oh right, I didn't mention that Josh had just had aortic valve replacement surgery, and it felt kind of selfish of me to walk around saying I felt pretty crappy, because we were all pretty relieved that his surgery had gone so well, but let's be honest, it took a LOT of care giving and attention, and instead of taking a big wonderful exciting vacation, we had a big scary medical staycation, and those pretty much suck.

So in the face of all of this, I figured out (and by "I figured out" I mean that my BFF told me what I needed to do and I listened) that my new practice was going to be to do one thing every day that was in pursuit of my own pure, selfish joy. And I was going to blog about it again, because that helps me stay accountable, and because I do like sharing these practices, but I told everyone, on this blog, right from the start, that I wasn't going to worry about if the posts were long or well-written. I wasn't going to worry if I was letting anyone else down. I was going to be OK with it if the posts read more like jotted-down journal entries than tidy little essays.

And that's how this past year's practice started.

So maybe you're wondering how I'm feeling now, in September 2013?

Pretty damn good. BFF was onto something. I learned that even more important than actually experiencing joy (because with me, that is hit or miss) is actually seeking joy. Setting the intention, thinking of something I think I will likely adore, pursuing it, potentially excluding people who would take away the "pure" or the "selfish" part of the joy.

I learned that as important as it is to do new things regularly, it's also perfectly excellent to spend time doing things that reliably make me happy. Gardening, cooking, swimming in aforementioned lakes and rivers, walking, running, watching great movies, hanging out with certain friends (sorry, other friends), reading great novels, doing almost anything in Maine or Portland, OR, eating grilled haddock, watching the moon rise over water or a field, getting a great night's sleep, getting a great week's sleep, watching a Red Sox game, walking some more especially if it's someplace that smells good, making food sculptures ... wow, it turns out this list can go on and on, and I don't know that a year ago I would have known that all these things, if done with intention, could reliably bring me joy.

I'm much more balanced. I'm much much MUCH happier to do things for other people, which I truly do love doing. I'm better at saying what I want. I'm better at knowing what I want, for that matter. I'm better at saying no. I'm better at noticing that if I am in some kind of a downward spiral, I should probably take a walk or go for a swim.

I turned 50. I had a great party during which lots of friends and I performed for each other and then I served everyone lobster rolls, following a beautiful overnight (seafood included) and hike on Shelter Island. Turning 50 did not diminish my life. In fact, turning 50, combined with my daily practice has chilled me the fuck out. I moved to the best apartment I've ever had in NYC. And by apartment, I mean, the top two floors of a Victorian house, with access to the basement, driveway, and yard. I finally became a parent. I lost my job (and got much happier as a result.) I picked up plenty of freelance work (so far) mostly from old friends and colleagues, whom I love reconnecting with.  I didn't go to Hawaii, even though I promised myself I would. I am still trying to get there this year, or maybe early next year. I (along with friends) continued Soup Swap for the third straight year. I wore sunscreen every time I went outside and I did not get sunburned once, but I still got all brown and freckly. I got a bunch of iron infusions that I really hated, but they sure did make me feel better. (I'm not sure we actually addressed the cause of the problem, but as part of my chill the fuck out approach to life, I decided that feeling better was pretty damn good enough.) I co-wrote a movie that got made. (It hasn't posted publicly yet, but I promise I will link to it as soon as it does.)  I lay outside in Maine and stargazed. I bought a beautiful gigantic bed. I hung out with my family fairly often, for people who don't live very close to each other. I started writing for Jewniverse. (I've fallen off in the past weeks, and am about to start writing more for them.) I started a Modern Love column about the time the person I was together with got a head injury, but then someone published one about the person they were together with getting a head injury, and I got discouraged. So I started writing one about becoming a parent to someone who has spent a lot of their life in foster care, but then someone published one about becoming a parent to someone who has spent a lot of their life in foster care, and I got discouraged. I have more stories like this. I realized that I take too long with my good ideas.

As soon as this year came to an end, I relished the idea of not writing my daily blog post. I fear that it gets in the way of my longer form writing. (Even my shorter longer form writing.) I have a few projects that are just crying out to be completed. I am excellent at completing things for work, completing things for other people, completing things on deadline. But I am not as excellent at completing things that are completely self-generated. (I'm also not terrible at it; I'd just like to be better.) I have luxuriated in the days since I last posted, feeling free from the stress of getting my post out. At the same time, I know that a daily practice is good for me, and that the daily blogging holds me accountable and keeps me connected with a bunch of people. I have been trying to think of a daily practice that might use the blog form to advance my longer form writing. Maybe the blog is an excerpt of what else I'm writing, be it screenplay, essay, or song? Maybe I take a page from my own book and notice that this past year went well, and maybe I should just continue it? Maybe I home in on happiness, and spend a year following the advice of happiness researchers? (If I do that one, I will get the chance to address a life-long question, which is what does spirituality look like for me? I will also get to learn how to do something I know would be good for me to learn, which is to lose track of time.) I'm just not sure yet. Maybe it actually takes a chunk of time in between practices to figure out what I really need. Maybe it takes time in between practices to figure out what I actually learned from the past year.

So watch this space, and ... oh wait! I just remembered something I learned this year. I discovered that taking a little bit of time to myself every day is wonderful, but that I do even better if I take a longer bit of time each week. (Shabes, anyone?) And an even longer bit of time once a month. And that it would be truly great if I could go on that vacation to Hawaii. It also turns out to be critical that I take at least a full day away from the computer. So when I do strike up the daily blog again, I will be taking a day off each week. And if I make it to Hawaii, maybe I'll take a whole week off. In the meantime, thank you for reading.


  1. Thank you for these insights, Jenny. I am going to read this several times because there are multiple things on multiple levels that I need to absorb and apply to myself. I need to write more, blog more, and do more joy-seeking. I wonder how.

  2. Interesting and captivating writing Jenny.

  3. Hi Jenny - I wanted to tell you that I've been reading your blog on and off the past couple of years and I have found it incredibly insightful and inspiring. I hope you will do something long form with all this material, all these thoughts and images.
    Thank you for sharing so bravely!

  4. I know you probably won't see this as it was written 10 months ago, but I wanted to say your blog is inspiring. Good for you. I hope you're busy living your dream.