These are little gold cardboard stars that I bought for a birthday or something. I don't remember what. But a couple of years ago I thought they would be fun as Christmas decorations, and I hung them in a doorway with pieces of ribbon, so that to enter the dining room you passed under and through a curtain of stars. I thought it was lovely, but someone taller found it less than lovely and even somewhat annoying.
So last year, determined to keep the stars around, I realized there were exactly enough to go on every other pane of the living room window, giving us the look and feel of their golden starry presence without hitting anyone in the nose or messing up hair. So there they went again this year.
I love looking out and up at the blue sky, with giant trees in the background and stars in the foreground. There's just something joyful and of course meaningful about having them in that in-between position, so that stars become part of what you are looking through.
I'm writing this on New Year's Eve, not sure if I'll finish it tonight or tomorrow, but thinking back on 2017 and what has transpired. It kind of blows my mind that I've written only eight blog posts this year, which I see is second only to 2015, with only six posts. I thought that once I finished that degree, I would write more.
Obviously, that's not what happened. As I wrote a couple of posts ago, finding a new rhythm has been hard.
A few weeks ago I ran into writer friend Corey Latta at the bookstore. When he asked how I was doing, for whatever reason I skipped "fine" and said, "Honestly, I'm having a harder time than I thought I would since finishing that thesis and graduating. I thought I would have a lot of energy and be doing new things, but I'm having a hard time getting anything going." To my great relief he responded, "Oh, that is so normal. When did you graduate?" "Over six months ago! Not sure that's normal!" "Yes, that's normal. For so long you had that one thing that took all your time and focus, and it just takes a while to regain your energy and be able to focus on new things. It's normal for everyone post-doc."
I felt as if it had been a divine appointment, that running into him that day!
Anyway, in doing my David Allen-inspired retrospective this evening, I thought a lot about what word best sums up my 2017 experience. "Relinquishment" soon came to mind, and it hasn't yet been replaced by anything else, so for now I'm sticking with it.
It may seem like an odd word. Graduating is what most people would call an accomplishment, not a relinquishment. And of course I have a sense of great joy and satisfaction about finishing and defending that thesis and graduating. But it came only because of learning to relinquish the writing. To stop wanting to do more, or to perfect what was there. To come to a place of saying, "It's enough, and it's good enough, and I will let it go."
And then on our summer trip to Europe our bags were stolen, including my laptop, which meant I lost 4-5 years of photos, among other things. I'll probably write again about that, but for now I'll just say that I've had to surrender that, let it go. There's nothing I can do about it. Of course I didn't voluntarily give those photos up, but I've had to do the inner work of letting go of that.
And here at the end of the year, while of course I can't hold on to the year any more than anyone can, I'm doing the inner work of relinquishing the expectations I'd had for what I'd accomplish in the time since graduating. For months I had a sign up that said, "Write as you can, not as you can't." That advice first came to me in the form of "pray as you can, not as you can't." Now I've put a little sticky note over the first word, so I look up from time to time and see, "Live as you can, not as you can't."
Yesterday I heard an interview between Ken Myers and Michael Hanby. In discussing philosophical issues related to problems of technology, they made their way to a conversation found in C.S. Lewis's The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where the children have encountered an Old Man who, they learn, is actually a retired star.
Of course they are astounded, this seems so strange.
"In our world," said Eustace, "a star is a huge ball of flaming gas."
Ramandu, the star, responds, "Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of."
And a bit later, "Aren't you a star any longer?" asked Lucy.
"I am a star at rest, my daughter," answered Ramandu. "When I set for the last time, decrepit and old beyond all that you can reckon, I was carried to this island. I am not so old now as I was then. Every morning a bird brings me a fire-berry from the valleys in the Sun, and each fire-berry takes away a little of my age. And when I have become as young as the child that was born yesterday, then I shall take my rising again (for we are at earth's eastern rim) and once more tread the great dance."
I'm no star, but this reading was so encouraging to me. I've had a full five months of rest since graduating and returning from a trip to Europe. I've had fire-berries brought to me in the form of visits with friends, long walks, more musical performances than I'd been able to take in over the past few years, even singing again with the Memphis Chamber Choir. My energy is being renewed. I trust my focus will return.
And also, when we think about the year we've just lived and all the things we're aware of having done, that is not what a year is, but only what it is made of. I have a feeling that in the bigger picture, it will turn out to have been much more than we can possibly realize.
Here's to 2018. Happy New Year!