Dear 2022, We Have Trust Issues
How to embrace the new year in all its madness. (Plus some weekly delights.)
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Oh, hello 2022! We were wondering if you’d ever get here. Forgive me if I don’t feel comfortable making plans with you quite yet. The first two years of the 2020s were capricious at best, so it’s going to be a minute before I stop putting an asterisk next to any activity involving more than five people or an airport.
Actually, everything should have an asterisk. I took a home COVID test, but I gather that they’re not terribly accurate on Tuesday and Thursdays if you were born before 1980 and have red hair. Or something like that. I’ve lost track. But hey, I can say I’m COVID negative.*
At least we made it to January. Or at least I think we did. It was 56 degrees in Brooklyn today, and last week it was 67 degrees in Kodiak, Alaska. So maybe winter is now something new for the northern states; perhaps it’s now “winter.” This is as disorienting as figuring out whether (and where) your kids will be in school this week.
No wonder it’s difficult to step boldly into this new year; some of us can barely tell what season it is. We are half in pandemic mode, half back at work, half grateful, half resentful, and definitely, half-crazed.
Of course, we’re all craving a sliver of certainty, an uncancelable engagement in a safer future. But while we’re fretting about next fall, entire weeks slide through our fingers like sugar. Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön would probably tell us this is the moment to run toward uncertainty with our arms spread wide.
“We spend all our energy and waste our lives trying to re-create these zones of safety, which are always falling apart,” she writes in Comfortable With Uncertainty.
These unruly, complicated, precious days are a neon reminder that we have only ever had this moment, this one scruffy, unique existence. Our optimized-post-New-Year-resolution selves were always a mirage.
The challenge before us is to sit with the frustrating in-betweenness of progress and terrifying setbacks in the face of upheaval on almost every front, personal and global. Lately, I’ve been trying, desperately to spend less time distracting myself or looking for an escape hatch. Because this is it. We are already home.
Chödrön sees periods of profound disruption like this as an opportunity, a chance to carve new habits, to stand fearlessly in the day’s chaos with our hearts and minds open.
“As we practice moving into the present moment this way, we become more familiar with groundlessness, a fresh state of being that is available to us on an ongoing basis,” she writes. “This moving away from comfort and security, this stepping out into what is unknown, uncharted, and shaky—that’s called liberation.”
It doesn’t take a pandemic to upend our lives. We do it all the time. We fall in love without warning and move to another hemisphere without blinking. We get sick. We get pregnant. We realize we were never meant to wear skirts. We say goodbye too often, or not enough. We fall out of favor. We fall into disrepair. Our kids turn 14, and we get humbled. We crumble for a while, only to surprise ourselves by standing back up again. We find friends in the most unlikely situations and lose others in the dust we kick up on the way to whatever we thought was next. Every age is its own unpredictable ride.
The pandemic isolation and all that loss interspersed with flares of joy over the ordinary things we smuggled out between virus waves and canceled flights… it’s all an invitation to pay closer attention. Can we remember the feeling of someone’s head on our shoulder after a long absence, a gesture for which there are no words? Can we hold onto the first sighting of pandemic babies who were born behind closed doors and emerged in full bloom last summer like wonders of the world? It’s hard unless you write it down, or grab someone by the lapels and tell them.
But maybe we can pause and look around at these first days of the fresh new year before we clatter on to the next battle. We won’t pass this way again.
Here in my city, it is so humid today, it feels like we’re on the cusp of spring, not entering the bleakest part of winter. And even on New Year’s Eve, so few people were out, the public wastebaskets were almost empty.
Some families have already hauled their 2021 Christmas trees to the curb, while others still have their Halloween pumpkins in the tree pits where they’re turning to mush. There are fallen N-95 masks on the ground looking like so many baby doll bonnets, and someone has defiantly put big pots of summer impatiens on their stoop where they are thriving. For now.
We are all seasons at once, falling apart and rising up depending on the hour. And it sure is something to behold.
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• Listen to Patti Smith read a short passage from her book M Train in this new audio from her newsletter, “The Hour of Noon.” She begins: “My father was born in the shadows of the Bethlehem steel mill as the noon whistle blew…”
• Why not resolve to be free of the pressure to reinvent ourselves? “I find many New Year’s resolutions are bred by external pressures we internalize, hyper-focusing on our shortcomings under the veil of self-care,” writes J. Elle at The Root.
• Over the holiday, my sister and I decided to curb the self-deprecating traditions of our people. Now I complain that I’m lousy at something, then reprimand myself by muttering: “self-talk!” It’s like a one-person game of Marco Polo. But it’s a start, and this piece explains why self-criticism backfires.
• I wrote this essay for the Washington Post about our longing for magic and cosmic insights and why making New Year’s wishes might be better than resolutions.
• I was taken with Patricia Lockwood’s memoir Priestdaddy this fall. It came out in 2018, but here’s a gorgeous passage that seems right for this January. (And if you get to Lockwood’s acclaimed new novel No One Is Talking About This before I do, send me your thoughts.)
“To write about home is to write about how you dropped from space, dragging ellipses behind you like a comet, and how you entered your country and state and city, and finally your four-cornered house, and finally your mother's body and finally your own. From the galaxy to the grain and back again. From the fingerprint to the grand design. Despite all the conspiracies of the universe, we are here; every moment we are here, we arrive.”
― Patricia Lockwood, Priestdaddy
• “Teletubbyland is a deeply disturbing place, and my weirdo babies can’t get enough,” writes The Atlantic’s Sophie Gilbert in this hilarious look at the enduring “acid trip” of the Teletubbies TV show in which she’s been immersed since she “idiotically had two babies at once.”
Photos of the week that was.
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Thank you for reading, for your kind notes, and for your support of this wild endeavor. Yours, Susanna
It’s Not Just You by Susanna Schrobsdorff is essays, recommendations, advice, weekly delights, and, most importantly, a community of thousands of readers around the world. So please consider supporting it with a paid subscription.
Another touching post. Thanks.
If you like Pema, you might also like Tara Brach. For the times we're in - really, any time - her approach to acceptance is spot on. If you're interested, I'll share with you a talk she gave that sums up a very useful strategy.
And of course, self-love is always in season. I have some good stuff from Kristin Neff if you're interested.
Your lovely piece fits neatly into my Sunday in DC, where temperatures were in the 60s today and we're expecting between "1 and 78 inches of snow, possibly maybe" as a local restaurant tweeted :)