Nearly a year ago, I said I was going to Lapland and asked if anyone wanted to come along. Much to my excited surprise, a handful of brave, adventurous women said yes. The retreat was one of my wild hairs; an experiment of sorts -- would anyone want to come along? What would happen to me, the hot-blooded Texan, if I took myself and others into frigid temperatures where the sun barely reached above the horizon? What would happen if we called in the day before us with the same fervent, utmost attention as we called in the year ahead of us?
My question / experiment was something to do with anticipation. What might happen if we set sacred intentions for our creative selves and treated our work -- our writings and our callings -- with less hardcore hustle and engaged with that part of our lives with more gentleness and grace? What if I anticipated my fears, writing and otherwise, of darkness and cold, of freezing and isolation? What might it look like if I went towards them, meeting them in the still vastness of the coldest place on the planet, could something change? Both inside me and outside of me? Could I shift the nature of how the year might unfold, or more probably, could I change the way I responded to the year's imminent, unfolding uncertainties?
If I promised I would in the deep, dark blue-black days of winter, would I hold steadfast and tight to my work, no matter what? And if so, what kind of creativity might come from a steep lean like that?
I thought I might go into the soft, frosty woods and find out. And I did. There, in the Arctic womb of winter, under ever-shifting pink and purple cotton-candy skies we sat, wrote, meditated and conjured together. We practiced yoga, made snow angels, froze our fingers off on reindeer sleigh rides and felt the exhilarating rush of riding on a sled pulled by a pack of energetic, passionate huskies. We learned about the pain of frozen toes, and greatly admired the Finnish wisdom of the sauna. We fed the reindeer and some of us even ate reindeer. It was, needless to say, an unforgettable, glorious week of icy, fairy-land wonders where we all experienced the whispers of the magical, surreal beauty of Lapland. But even at the end of the week, as I turned in the rental van and ran through the Helsinki airport to catch my connecting flight, I had a hunch I hadn't quite seen the full picture yet.
Now it's December 31st and the entire year is behind me. It's 4:30pm where I am in Brighton and as the last light of the decade fades, I find myself typing furiously -- I feel late! -- as suddenly there are ten years of urgency being funnelled into these dwindling hours and I can't get my thoughts down fast enough.
I pause. Inhale, exhale, I remember to stay here. To be here. Even when the moment is fleeting. Especially because the moment feels fleeting.
I don't think it's possible for any of us to really get the full picture but from here, from the vantage point that a decade provides, we might stop and look around a moment. Take it all in. Maybe even admire the view, or at least be proud of the distance traversed, both figuratively and literally, to get to 2020.
I stand here, pausing at the top of this decade I'm not sure what the name of us -- the end of our teens? -- catching my breath. For me, the last ten years have meant total and entire transformation. I live an entirely different life, in a different country and even speak a different language than I did ten years ago. I can't remember what I did New Year's Eve 2009 but what I can tell you is I was twenty-nine, living in Perugia, Italy, married to an Italian and questioning everything about my life. I was in grad school, earning my MFA, committing for the first time to my writing and my creative self. That commitment marked the true beginning of when things began to shift for me.
They haven't stopped since.
In the last ten years, I left my marriage and Italy, moved countless times in six different countries, worked a slew of different jobs (and sometimes didn't), had many a partner (and sometimes didn't), experienced an immense amount of loss (much of which was my own making) to land where I am here now, in Brighton, England in an old, creaky, quirky Victorian house my husband Ben and I just moved into.
If you come to my house, you might notice the poem that hangs above our kitchen sink. It's one I wrote to Ben almost three years ago, a month after we met.
"Bow to the past for it has led us here to the sacred-fullness of the ever-blossoming now. May it always be so."
In this here and now, this decade's end, this New Year's Eve, I bow to the past more than ever. I also marvel. At the questions and to the icy what ifs, at the power of sowing the seeds of uncertainty, of welcoming and inviting in that which life has so generously offered.
This next year is certain to bring something totally new come June: the treacherous, precarious, life-altering adventure of motherhood. It will be, by far, my most challenging and daunting chapter yet, and, I suspect, also stands to bring the most joy.
So, what does come of a steep lean into uncertainty? In my case, a well-rounded fullness of the belly -- life's belly and my own actual belly -- and all the wonders and bliss that come with a creative life of one's own making.
Here's to 2020, and all that ever-blossoming, sacred fullness. May it always be so.
(Photo credits: Grace DeRidder)