Unfolding the Map
At the close of 2012, I will use this post to reflect on the past year. William Least Heat-Moon (LHM), toward the end of his trip and as he traveled through Stanardsville, reflected on what his trip had accomplished. Usually we accomplish quite a lot that we don't give ourselves credit for, and overemphasize our failures and shortcomings. Not this time, Littourati. Not this time. To the right is the Virginia State Seal, found on Wikimedia Commons. To see where Stanardsville awaits the New Year, go to the map.
"I went up U.S. 33 until the rumple of hills became a long, bluish wall across the western sky. On the other side of Stanardsville in the the Blue Ridge Mountains, I stopped in a glen and hiked along Swift Run, a fine rill of whirligigs and shiners, until I found a cool place for lunch. Summer was a few days away, but the heat wasn't....
"....In a season on the blue roads, what had I accomplished? I hadn't sailed the Atlantic in a washtub, or crossed the Gobi by goat cart, or bicycled to Cape Horn. In my own country, I had gone out, had met, had shared. I had stood as witness."
Blue Highways: Part 10, Chapter 2
As I write this post, it is New Year's Eve 2012. The time of year often entails a look forward at the coming year, and even resolutions for what one hopes to accomplish. However, on New Year's Eve media often spends time looking back at the year's accomplishments, failures, events, and the people that have passed on. We can see from the quote above that as LHM is the end of his own journey, he also takes a look behind him to tally up his own accomplishments on his travels.
It is curious that he begins with a list of those things that he didn't accomplish, and one could read this as his admission that his trip wasn't important. After all, instead of crossing "the Gobi by goat cart," he went out. Instead of bicycling "to Cape Horn," he met. Rather than sailing "the Atlantic in a washtub," he shared. Above all, he had "stood as witness." To what? To his country certainly, but also to himself.
As I look back at my own journey in this past year, not necessarily through space but definitely through time in the form of days that make up a year, I can ask myself the same questions. What did I do? And my list isn't that exciting. I worked. I made a trip or two. I hung out with friends sometimes, and I spent a lot of time alone. The three major accomplishments that I can list are the following: With a colleague, I got a paper published in a major political science journal; I wrote roughly 118 posts in Littourati for a word count of around 120,000 words; I made great strides in my own personal development through a combination of therapy and self-reflection. I watched all the episodes of the old Star Trek.
I am currently reading a memoir of Istanbul by the great Turkish writer and Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk. He identifies a melancholy, which he labels with the Turkish word huzun, that Turks collectively have when they consider Istanbul. All around them are the reminders of the glories of the Ottoman Empire, in particular the crumbling houses and palaces of Ottoman princes. Turks, after the last political remnants of the Ottoman Empire had been swept away under the Westernizing zeal of Ataturk, could not simply forget that they had once been a great civilization. The reminders were there to see. Sure, they could look forward to the accomplishments of a modern, Western and dynamic society. Indeed, Turkey has positioned itself as an economic and political player in the 21st century. But Pamuk points out that the melancholy weight of the past still hangs on the coattails of Turkish society.
As I look back on my last year, I could look at it with the same melancholic air, and in keeping with Pamuk's concept of huzun, I'm most likely not the only person who does this. There were so many things I could have done. What about those things that I might have accomplished. I wanted, for example, to take up some sort of hobby, to learn how to bead necklaces and earrings for example, as a reflective and creative enterprise. That didn't happen. I had hoped to begin running again and didn't even begin. I wished to even do some mundane activity, but very necessary, like organizing and cleaning our house. I couldn't get a handle on it, and didn't even know where to begin. I wanted to write more in my field of political science. The list could go on and on if I let it. And like Pamuk's Turkey, the weight of my past accomplishments as well as the expectations I had for myself weigh down my thoughts and create a thin veil that blurs the good that I did accomplish this past year.
It's very easy to get caught up in the "would haves," "should haves," and "could haves." Doing so tempers the thoughts about the new year. I have ceased making New Year's resolutions because I find that I just disappoint myself if I do so because I never complete them or give up on them.
As I close 2012, and get very close to finishing Blue Highways, it's easy to reflect back on the year and see the things that I didn't do that I wished I had. It's easy to look back on my life and regret some things I've done, other things that I didn't do, and certainly all of those things that I could have done better. At the same time, we often give short shrift to that which we accomplished, and those things we accomplished well. I suppose that's human nature. We often regret choices and actions taken, and pile up the dead weight of past glories and should-have-beens behind us.
It's true that I didn't achieve a lot of the goals that I set for myself. But it's also true that I achieved other goals. As I look back upon my 2012 journey, I realize that the most important thing is that I participated in the process of living. I lived, not in the sense that I stayed alive but in the sense that I actively participated in life. That participated included both the joys and the disappointments, the achievements and the failures. Given the alternatives, I think my year went pretty well.
On this New Year's Eve, 2012, my wish for you, dear Littourati readers, is that you also truly lived in 2012, and will continue to do so in 2013 and beyond. A very happy New Year to all of you!
Even though it's from 1988, and references that year, this song by Abba, Happy New Year, has lyrics that fit the post. Enjoy!
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