51 Things I Learned in 2016

Historically, my aspirations of keeping up with writing on this blog have led to countless posts beginning with “It has been too long.” Once again, history proves that it repeats itself as I dust off my laptop’s keys and pause briefly trying to remember what my password for this account is.

History is also repeating itself because, as per my annual tradition (going on eight years now), I am going to look back and share several memories and things I learned over the course of 2016. If you are intrigued, please read on. If I have already successfully bored you, here’s a photograph of a cute baby animal before clicking away merrily to a more fascinating website:

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Ahem. And now, 51 Things I Learned in 2016:

1) You wake up with hesitation about 2016 on January 1st. You’ve been having doubts about everything it seems lately, and you are genuinely unsure of where this year is headed. You have just moved out from your parents’ house, and you are still re-adjusting to living on your own.

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2) These doubts and fears don’t go away when you find out that your new landlords tell you they are selling the house you are currently renting on January 2nd, and you have until April 1st to find a new place to live. Again.
3) To fight these feelings brought on by the large blank canvas that looms before you, you start  making spontaneous plans, like entering a writing competition, pitching a story to a magazine, applying for a fellowship and planning a two-week trip abroad with your boyfriend the two of you have dreamed about for years. You tell yourself half-heartedly that if you are meant to be a writer, at least one of the writing things will pan out.

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4) You get rejected by the magazine, but are encouraged to keep pitching.

5) You become a savvy apartment hunter, and within two weeks of learning you have to be out of your current residence you and your roommate locate an adorable two-bedroom that will be ready by March 1st – and you can paint the walls.

6) You have driven a U-Haul. Never forget that.

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7) You sigh relief, thinking you don’t have to move again for a long while – until your place of employment informs you they are moving their offices in August.

8) It’s during the spring where the year suddenly takes off for you, and in turn throws several surprises your way: Your co-worker and fellow work space neighbor informs you she is leaving for another job in another city. You make it into the fellowship. Another co-worker and dear friend informs you she is leaving her part-time job where you work for a full-time gig elsewhere, but she gets to visit you at your fellowship. You receive a voicemail from a number you don’t recognize only to learn that the writing competition you entered has selected your piece out of 270 submissions to be one of the 12 performed in September.

9) May and June are very conflicting months for you.

10) But you start to feel like this whole writing thing might actually be your calling after all.

11) The night at Hotel Foster and Ian’s Pizza in celebration of a friend’s graduation will live on as a story you tell your kids when you reminisce about your twenties before they came along.

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12) You learn that you will never ever ride the Lake Michigan Ferry again. EVER.

13) Because apparently, you get motion sick. Or so you think.

14) Remember, you have driven across half the country completely alone, after getting sick – twice, through states you’ve never been to, with a phone at 10%, a dead GPS, no maps, and with less than half a tank of gas. Remember that you did that.

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15) But next time, remember you should fly.

16) You would find the one lady in Rochester, New York who runs an AirBnB that looks like a fairy-tale cottage and is a freelance scenic designer for some of the community theaters in town.

17) After a 2.5 hour ferry ride, and over ten hours on the road lending to hundreds of miles driven and several toll booths fed, you will find yourself in one of the most comfortable beds of your life. It will easily make the Top 5 List.

18) The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center is a magical and inspiring place.

19) You meet some of the best theater critics and arts journalists currently working in the country, and you instantly feel insignificant. All confidence you just gained regarding your writing is gone.

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20) Marisa Tomei is a fantastic actress. Period.

21) When you think you suck, remember you made Chris Jones laugh with your writing. Laugh because he found it funny, not because it was awful. You hope.

22) You realize your next car should be newer, so the chance of your muffler falling off completely after a cross-country road trip is less likely.

23) Food poisoning isn’t fun. Especially when you are 1,000 miles from home.

24) You spend your second week at your fellowship feeling like your disappointing everyone because you keep getting sick, off and on. You wonder what the hell is going on. You’re quite certain several people are speculating you are pregnant.

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25) But you’re not pregnant. You (finally, and officially) get diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Suddenly, so many moments of your life make sense.

26) Thank God for your dear friend who was able to help you drive back home. You learn the two of you are even more alike; she is after all the reason you learned about the fellowship, told you to get checked out, and helped you get anxiety medicine.

27) It’s also because of her that you have seen Times Square and your first Broadway show, Something Rotten! at the St. James Theatre in New York City.

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28) In August, you spend two-weeks on a whirlwind adventure abroad with you boyfriend of six years. You thank your doctor for giving you another batch of anxiety medication to help you cope.

29) You don’t remember planes being a problem before, considering you have gone on a plane every year since 2012 and aside from freaking out from occasional turbulence, you have been fine.

30) Despite the rain in Iceland, you enjoy its natural springs and waterfalls and black sand beaches. You adore the colorful houses of Reykjavik. You eat at Bobbie Fischer’s favorite pho place. You sit on a basalt column outside of Vik, in the mist, never wanting to sit anywhere else. You stand in front of a Skogafoss, and the brisk droplets from the waterfall make you feel truly alive and happy. Months later, you will want to go back.

31) London is as wonderful as every single British romantic comedy has ever made it out to be. You feel welcomed. You become a skilled Tube rider. You spend the day touring the Tower of London and see the Crown Jewels. You learn sometimes you just need to go off and discover, and you will happen upon a local pub (just around the corner from 221B) and it will have the best fish and chips you have ever tasted. You walk the whole length of Hyde Park in hopes of finding the Peter Pan statue. Months later, you will want to go back.

32) The London Tube and The Paris Metro both have a tendency to attract accordion players.

33) Paris is exactly how you picture it. You find joy in sitting outside of Notre Dame, eating your leftover airplane breakfast as lunch, listening to the bells beside the love of your life. At that moment, you can’t imagine anything more romantic.

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34) Bike signals save lives in Amsterdam. So does the fact you and your boyfriend both have your phones on you, allowing you to find each other when you separated.

35) You get cursed at in Dutch. You deserved it.

36) You also learn that stairs are incredibly steep in Amsterdam townhouses. But from all the walking you are doing in their beautiful parks and around their museums, your calves are up to the challenge. Good thing, since Scotland also has an obsession with stairs.

37) Edinburgh is the city for artists and writers, and feeds your passion. You attend the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and see circus acts and a wonderful tale about the true writers behind the Grimm tales. You visit the coffee shop where J.K. Rowling worked on Harry Potter, which reminds you to write more…and that you need to finish reading the books.

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38) It is amazing how close a room full of strangers can become over a magical evening featuring whisky tastings, dinner, and an illusionist’s show.

39) The Scottish Highlands are beautiful. You decide you need to return someday to see everything you missed. Speaking of which, you miss Scotland a lot.

40) Your boyfriend can drive on the left side of the car in Ireland. You find this new ability of his extremely attractive.

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41) The Irish countryside makes you think of home.

42) You make it to the Cliffs of Insanity. You can neither confirm nor deny that you took a piece of them with you.

43) Your new work desk is a mini condo with a window. But still, you hope for no more moving.

44) You are called a playwright when the monologue you wrote for a writing competition is performed before an almost full-house at a professional theater. The artistic director hugs you, and she and her artistic associate, along with your piece’s director and actress all commend you on your writing style. For the first time in a long time, you feel like you have found a place where you belong, among these fantastic artists.

45) In regards to a certain election, you didn’t see that coming. You also can’t help but feel as if you are living in an alternative timeline, what with the election results, the surplus of celebrity deaths, and the Cubs winning the World Series.

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46) Apparently, if your boyfriend’s parents host your entire family for Thanksgiving, your grandparents will take this to mean you and your boyfriend are actually engaged.

47) Between the holidays and end-of-the-year-work-related-stress, your anxiety flares up again in time for all end-0f-the-year festivities. You decide you won’t let it get in the way.

48) La La Land helps you find magic in a month where you have been feeling anything but. On that note, Rogue One makes you wistful for Iceland and Carrie Fisher and Arrival helps you make peace with the concept of making decisions for your future self.

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49) Your roommate makes you a Star Wars blanket, a friend gifts you Nessy socks, your landlord and downstairs neighbor continue to be the best landlord and neighbor ever when they surprise you with gifts, your mom gives you a book followed up with the words “you can write better than this,” and your boyfriend invests in your health by getting you a Fit Bit – which, surprisingly, helps you manage your anxiety. Bottom line: on your worst days, no matter the distance, remember people love you just as you are.

50)Speaking of love, you realize how grateful you are to have Z in your life. From remembering the little things (such as the fact you like peanut M&Ms in your movie popcorn) to being there when you need it most (such as having a panic attack), he is absolutely one of the best elements of your life. He has seen you at your worst (mentally, emotionally, physically – yes, including illness) and he still holds your hand and helps you get through to the next moment. Remember his kindness and patience and love as you head into your seventh year together. Men like him (heck people like him) don’t just appear at your doorstep everyday.

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And, finally…

51)You realize you need to keep working on being happy yourself. You skew bitter and resentful too often, which is sad because if there is anything you have learned this year is how much you actually have going for you.

So, in the famous words of Shia, “JUST DO IT!” is the theme for 2017. Eat the healthy salad instead of the pizza you will regret. Clean up the mess instead of letting the mess control you. Turn off Facebook instead of scowling at the stories friends share. Read a book or work on your own, instead of wondering why nothing ever happens to you. Book a flight and go on a trip and don’t let your anxiety win. Love your family, your friends, and Z to the best of your ability, and remember they are human too. Don’t be afraid to be selfish from time to time, and don’t be afraid to stick up for yourself. Don’t judge your life by the friend that got engaged, the brother that bought a house, or the acquaintance that got a new job – hold yourself to your standards, not some other human’s.

Remember that.

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Cheers to 2017,

-The Shoe
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