seven things I am aware of as the year comes to an end

1. If a tree falls in the forest and no one was there to document it, it still made a sound. 

Quitting Instagram turned out to be a surprisingly educational experience for me. When I took away that push-button validation, it got weirdly...quiet. And in that quiet I had plenty of time and space to consider why and how I document my life. What my motives are, what if anything I'm trying to show - to prove - to myself and to others. I got honest with myself about some of my longstanding insecurities, particular those surrounding friendships and what has, pathetically, persisted as a never-ending need to prove I have them.

I went through some shit growing up, with friends. And not-friends. And frenemies. Some awful, awful shit that launched me into adulthood frantic to fix that part of my life. And I do feel miles away from where I was, as recently as my twenties. But I certainly don't need to fuck with the precious, mysterious thing that is friendship by making it any more of a spectacle than it already is here on overshariquent.

Not being able to announce, immediately, HEY GUESS WHAT I HAD DRINKS WITH MY FRIEND KERRY, WHO LIKES ME, BECAUSE SHE IS MY FRIEND, BECAUSE I HAVE FRIENDS is really good for me. It took some getting used to, because I was so warped by the Insta-machine that not documenting my good times made them feel, at first, somehow less real. But eventually I was able to just chill and let go of the need to SHOW and TELL, and I know I became a better friend for it. More present and relaxed and engaged. Less distracted by the need to Make Sure and Get a 'Gram Out of It! Nowadays I don't even blog about every "bloggable" thing I do. I'm just doing things and enjoying them, like a normal fucking person. Imagine that.

Whether or not I blog it or Instagram it or Twitter it - the good moment happened. That's the thing to remember.

2. Reading fiction makes me a better person. 

My reading habits aren't what they used to be, but I'm fighting to earn back my bookworm badge. It isn't always easy to find time, and distractions abound. But when I do make the effort to plunge into a novel, to persevere until I feel its hooks sink gloriously into me, I marvel at myself. Psst, dummy! How can you forget how good this feels? How can you not want to do this ALL THE TIME? 

A good book occupies my thoughts and distracts me from the annoyances of daily life, making me less irritable. Even when I put it down, the back burner of my brain has something more satisfying to chew on than whether or not I should reorganize the spice cabinet. Fictional characters feel like temporary friends, and the (often epic) challenges they face smack some perspective into me.

I feel more open-minded and cheerful when I'm reading fiction, and I suspect I'm more pleasant to be around. It leaves me feeling peaceful and thoughtful, which probably primes me for more loving and engaging interaction with the people I care about. Compared to how I often feel after an hour or two on the internet (depleted, agitated), that's a very welcome change.

3. Being precious with things wastes them. 

For as long as I can remember, I've had the notion that "good" things need to be reserved for special occasions. It's only now starting to dawn on me how crazy this, because I'm looking back at the last few decades of my life and realizing how little I've utilized some of those good things. The expensive, the rare, the treasured and beloved. The "good" china. My "nice" sweaters. For a while after I bought it, I even avoided sitting on my own sofa, because I didn't want the cushions to wear out.

It's all fine and good to value your belongings, but what's the real value of something that you don't even use? When you think about it, disuse is about the saddest fate you can assign to some material thing. I mean, if you were a thing, wouldn't you want to be used and loved and appreciated to your fullest extent? Would you want to sit collecting dust in a cabinet, or in a jewelry box, or on a closet shelf? Wouldn't you revel in being taken out and given a chance to shine?

Losing my parents unexpectedly in quick(ish) succession has absolutely driven into me that life. is. short. Embrace what you've got here and now because you never know when it'll be gone.

4. Crowding out the bad is easier than cutting it out.

I first came across this concept in Hungry For Change, a food documentary espousing an approach to diet and exercise from a place of health and self-love, vs. one of deprivation and self-recrimination. And it was sort of revelatory for me, because it absolutely did work. When I stopped focusing on restricting bad foods and concentrated instead on slowly integrating in better ones, my life changed. And yeah that's dramatic, but it's true. I have never felt so consistently healthy as I have the past year, and that, I believe, is due to what I've added to my diet (which in turn has crowded out some of the worse stuff). It's easier not to fixate on avoiding unhealthy choices (thoughts which veritably consumed my food-disordered twenties) when they've been upstaged by healthy ones.

This idea has worked in other areas of my life, too. I'm as addicted to my phone as the next person, and much as I try to cut back on screen time, it's difficult. So rather than continuing to just rebuke myself for making poor choices (tap tap on Safari, oh look here I am surfing TimeWastersAnonymous AGAIN...tap tap on some shopping app, oh look here I am being a materialistic asshole AGAIN), I've added in some good choices. Duolingo. An awesome, super simple flashcard app for (NERD ALERT!) learning new words I've picked up while reading. I also only recently realized that I can save web pages, such as to news sites (or my blahg), to my home screen. But - and this is where the crowding out comes in - in order to do so, some other apps had to give up their prime real estate. Result: when I reflexively grab my phone in a free moment, it's that much easier to choose curiosity or creativity over mindlessness.

5. Curiosity and creativity are muscles that have to be worked. 

Sometimes I criticize myself for not being more up on current events, for not reading more articles, for not being better in touch with popular culture or knowing more quirky, interesting things about the natural world. The thing is, curiosity comes naturally to children, I think, partly because they have so little else on their plates. And since learning is so empowering, it becomes addictive. But the older we get and the more we have demanding our time and attention, the harder it is to keep this habit of learning up. It takes more effort to read the whole Times piece, for instance, and not just glance at the tweeted summary. But I think that just like any other habit, it can be strengthened. So rather than beat myself up for not knowing ALL THE THINGS, I accept that I can only know some - and even knowing those will take work. But educating myself about one issue is such a confidence booster that it feels less daunting to move on to another, and so forth.

Same thing with creativity. I believe writer's block exists, but I also know that forcing myself to sit down and create content sometimes produces the best stuff. No fairies are going to flutter down to my fingertips and take over. There's plenty of inspiration to be found in the world, but no magical muses. And the more I flex my creative muscles, the stronger they are and the braver I am about breaking out my guns. Even for silly stuff the point of which begins and ends with my own amusement. 

6. Good enough is a great stopping point for me.

A few months ago, Terence and I were checking out at the grocery store when a magazine caught my eye: Domino (a home decor magazine that was wildly popular but inexplicably retired in its prime). I was obsessed with Domino back in the day. I subscribed and saved every issue, only giving them up with great difficulty when I got married and wanted to pare down.

Anyway, when I saw the glossy cover on the rack, I audibly gasped. "What?" Terence asked.

I pointed. "My favorite magazine ever. Well, after Jane. I had no idea it was back!"

Terence grabbed a copy off the shelf and tossed it on top of our items, assuming from my reaction that I'd want one.

"No!" I exclaimed, shaking my head vehemently. "I can't." He didn't understand. "I'll want to redecorate our entire place," I explained. It's too much."

"Too much" is a place I can go to, too easily, and be too dissatisfied...and too spendy. Too much is Apartment Therapy and Pinterest and Domino. Where my home is concerned, I've learned that comfortable, organized, and welcoming to friends are good enough. I could make myself insane (and broke) trying to make it the most OMGstylish and amazing space ever, but that way madness lies.

Accepting its imperfection frees me up to better enjoy the home I've already got vs. obsessing over some future-perfect version of it that may never exist.

7. I want to be a fisherman.

A few weeks ago I told Terence about an interesting website I'd stumbled across. The Center for a New American Dream's tagline is "More of What Matters" and it sponsors initiatives having to do with things like community collaborations (sharing resources, strengthening regional food systems) and post-consumerist culture (better work/life balance, protecting kids from the marketing machine - even an alternative giving registry where experiences take the place of material goods).

But most exciting to me is their "Redefining the Dream" program, which is about what you'd imagine, and has a number of thought-provoking resource pages exploring the capital B Big questions (how much is enough? what really matters in this life? how fulfilling can an earn-and-spend existence be?) that, the older I get, the more I ponder.

Anyway, when I told Terence about it, he told me the story of the rich man and the fisherman, which I'd never heard. There are several versions of it floating around, but I like this one best. And if you're too pooped to click over, in a nutshell it's a story about a businessman who's too blind to see that the best things in life are free. (I'm not doing it justice though, because it's a powerful little tale and you really should read it because wow is it some food for thought.)

I've known a lot of rich men in my life and a handful of fishermen, and I've seen what it means to be each. I'm pretty sure which I'd rather be.