I started the draft of this post awhile ago, and I began it with How different this year is from the last. Then I had to erase that. Many things are indeed different, but in these Omicron times it remains difficult to envision the future and make plans for it. I celebrated the end of the year the same way I celebrated the end of 2020: by going on long masked walks and playing online games with friends via video call.
At the end of December 2020, I had been isolated for many months and scrabbling for comfort and connection; there was talk of a vaccine but I did not know when or if it would be accessible to me. So I scheduled Zoom game nights and watch parties and dramatic readings of favorite movies with friends. I tuned into webinars about climate change and institutional racism, setting my laptop on my kitchen island while I sliced vegetables for dinner. I went on dates–albeit virtual ones, or else appointments to stroll touchlessly around neighborhood parks, hands in pockets. And despite all this effort, all the labor of staying afloat and in touch, I slid right into a sluggish, marshy depression. I drank too much. I was creatively blocked and despairing of my ability to write anything anyone would want to read.
Even so, I assigned myself a hopeful intention for the new year: cultivate. That’s what New Year traditions are for: naming the future you’d like to live in.
So I cultivated in 2021. I tended my little patio garden and planted trees in my neighborhood. I volunteered often in my favorite park: picking trash, setting up outdoor events, helping visitors find their way around. I learned how to identify fast-growing vines and pull them out of trees, how to saw off dead branches before they tear and leave a scar, and how to snip opportunistic mugwort so that it doesn’t flower or seed. I made grassy tea from mugwort leaves and tart, tannic syrup from chokeberries. I told myself that to cultivate is to lay the groundwork without hope or expectation, and sometimes all you can do is prepare the ground and wait. To that end, I took writing classes and rediscovered writing for the pleasure of it. I submitted some of my work for publication. I received dozens of rejections. I also published six short prose pieces. I poured energy into tending to my friendships and other social relationships for about three-quarters of the year. When I needed to step way back from that in the fall, I had to trust that those relationships would continue to tend themselves. The word cultivate served me well in 2021.
Despite the precarity of everything, I have specific concrete goals I want to work toward in 2022. The word I kept landing on is focus. I dismissed it at first; focus is a pretty common word, and I like for my intentions to feel at least a little original. Focus is a word you hear a lot in the parts of my life I have tried to leave behind: the labor of love culture, the grind culture, the worst habits of academia and nonprofit cultures. The scattered, sweeping nature of my attention has always been a two-sided coin: I pick up information, ideas, and skills the way crows pick up shiny objects, and I struggle to concentrate on longer-term projects and ambitions. But I kept coming back to the word: Focus is also what you do to a camera lens when you want an image to appear more crisp and clear, and what you do to a beam of light to make it stronger and less diffuse. Focus is what you must do to be present in a given moment; after a year of brain fog, when my conversations and experiences seem to slip away from memory in minutes, I yearn for clarity and concentration.
In 2022, I want to focus my creative energy on longform projects. I plan to focus my material resources toward a pressing financial goal. I intend to focus my time and attention, so that I’m doing fewer things with greater care rather than saying yes to everything. I hope, with the help of tools such as the morning pages and mindfulness exercises, to focus on being present in the experiences, commitments, and connections I choose.
I hope that, when the winds of change inevitably blow in 2022, my intention to focus will help me find my way. I hope that your intentions for the new year help guide you toward your best self. Please feel free to share them.