So it seems that New Years is the time to take stock, to look forward by looking back. New Years Eve is an arbitrary demarcation that nonetheless makes most of us review where we've been and make ourselves promises about where we want to go.
If we're honest with ourselves, every year has its share of good and bad. I was surprised at how many posts I read on Facebook from people who were happy to say goodbye to a terrible year. It says something about our perception of events. Don't get me wrong... If you had personal tragedy in your life then the decision to try to move beyond it is a good one. I know lots of people who lost loved ones this year, or went through a divorce or a breakup, or lost a job, and if you are one of them, I am sorry. But these things happen every year. They will happen in 2012 as well. Maybe not to you, but to someone you love. Cycle of life and all that... The secret of looking back and taking stock is to come to terms with what the previous year has taught you about dealing with the issues life inevitably throws at us every year. Simply saying goodbye to what has gone before without making the changes we need to make only guarantees we will suffer many of the same misfortunes in the future.
I personally had a pretty good 2011 (and if you've been reading this blog regularly you might want to skip this part... it's a recap). Not that everything was perfect or that there weren't events I wish I could do differently.
The year started with my opportunity to teach at Chatham University You can read my blog about the experience HERE). Being a college professor, on some level at least, has been a long-time goal, and to finally realize that was a dream come true. But, it wasn't a dream that just fell into my lap. Part of this success of mine in 2011 was due to events I set in motion and work I had done in 2010 (and lots of the years of my life prior to that as well). It was a wonderful experience. One that I hope to get the chance to repeat, at Chatham or elsewhere. I'm not teaching this year, due more to budget constraints than any dissatisfaction with my performance. I'm disappointed because I did truly love the experience. But, if I want it badly enough, and do the work necessary, I will have the opportunity again. My association with Chatham continues, though. One of my students asked me to be on her advisory board for her senior thesis paper, and Chatham agreed to it. It's not a full class like last year, but I am still involved in comics academia, helping out a student I have a tremendous amount of belief in.
Two weeks into the semester the most difficult part of my year began. My mother went into the hospital, which led to an incredibly stressful and difficult month. My parents are both elderly. Dad turned 92 this year and Mom turned 89. Given their ages they are in amazing health, and I am aware, every day, of how lucky and blessed I am to have these amazing people in my life. Without going into a lot of detail, Mom went into the hospital to have a stint installed in a heart valve. That procedure went well, but while she was there she reacted very badly to some of the meds she was on. Her age and some other health considerations led to complications. She was in the hospital for a couple of weeks and then transferred to a personal care home for around three weeks. Eventually she went home and resumed her normal routine, and at the moment is in pretty good health. Much better than we would have guessed last spring, anyway.
But while it was going on, in the middle of my first month of teaching, it felt touch and go, and I have rarely been more frightened and sad.
The good and the bad, living side by side, day to day. Just like every year.
I turned 50 this year. It's still hard for me to believe this. I don't feel 50, at least not what people think 50 should feel like when they're younger. Maybe everyone feels that way. I know for some, this kind of milestone is cause for a mid-life crisis, but I felt good about the whole thing. We had a birthday party, mostly organized by my friend and roommate Marcel. It was amazing and humbling and a reminder of how blessed with friends I am. We don't have a specific head count, but somewhere around 80 people showed up, from many different phases of my life. Old friends from high school and my youth, as well as some fairly new friends. I felt embraced by love and camaraderie. It was a little overwhelming, and happy simply isn't an adequate word to describe my feelings that night.
But there was some melancholy as well. As many people as did show up, there were significant absences as well. A few of the most significant people in my life simply couldn't be there, for reasons I completely understand. I'm not upset with any of them for not making it. But their absence at the party reminded me of their absence in my day-to-day life. Once again, this is not meant as a complaint against any of them. Life has taken us to different places, and in most cases it is distance and life responsibilities that kept them away. We are still friends, and the core of our friendships remain. But there are still holes in my life where these people used to be. My feelings there simply boil down to “I miss you.”
I made new friends this year. I met people I really like and enjoy, some of whom may be significant people from this point on. New friends and new relationships have been a part of every year for me. I hope that continues every year. New friends don't fill the holes left by old friends, but they do expand my life and make it more full.
In August I went to Chicago for the first time (and spent time with one of those new friends). It was a great trip and reminded me I need to make the effort to travel at least a little more often than I usually do.
When I got back from the trip I was asked to host an event at the Toonseum, where I had the opprotunity to interview Jerry Robinson, creator of both the Joker and Robin, and one of the legendary pioneers of the comics industry (my blog on that experience is HERE). As it turns out, this may have been Jerry's last interview. I'm sad to report that Jerry died on December 7. Joe Simon, creator of Captain America, died a couple of weeks later. Tough year for comics legends.
The year has been creatively fulfilling for me. I wrote (and got paid for!) a couple of entries for an encyclopedia of comics. If you've been following my blog at all you know I jumped into the world of epublishing. In August I published three complete novels as ebooks, in formats compatible with Kindle, Nook and a variety of other ereaders (take a look at the sidebar for links to each of them, or you can read my blog post about it HERE). It has been a slow build, in terms of promotion, but I'm starting to get reviews (and a couple of small checks from Amazon). Obviously, I believe I write at a professional level, but it's nice to see that reflected in a couple of 5-star reviews.
That said, I spent so much time figuring out the ins and outs of the epublishing business that I didn't actually write as much as I had hoped. I came back to the manuscript for the second book in my Arthurian trilogy, and started a new project about comics that is part history, part academia, and part autobiographical commentary on the topic. Neither went as far as I had hoped. Somewhere around mid-October I hit a creative low-point and haven't really come out of it. It's frustrating, but I also recognize it as part of my life-long pattern of creativity, at least the production end of it. I hit the dead zone, and then spend some time beating myself up for it, which only makes things worse and leads to some depression. Eventually I remember that this is part of the process and just allow myself to lie fallow for awhile. The muse (and my discipline), will return. I just need to time to recharge. The upside of the creative low is that I've got a shit-ton of reading done, so that's always good.
At a holiday party this past Friday there was a little ritual where we were asked to write on a piece of paper the things we wished to say goodbye to in our lives: bad habits, attitudes, beliefs, whatever. We then burned the slip of paper. It's a nice physical manifestation of an interior wish (an act of magic). I had a really tough time coming up with something to write, and I don't know if I'm happy with what I chose. I've thought about it since, and have come up with a few better options. I want to let go of taking the impersonal whims of the universe personally. It's a Buddhist, “letting go of ego” thing. Not the ego that allows me to feel good about myself or my accomplishments, but the ego that makes me crazy about things and events that really have nothing to do with me.
But there are things I don't want to lose, even if they are difficult at times. I wrestle with my creativity, and that can frustrate the hell out of me. But the wrestling is part of the process that leads to good results. There are times I wish I could let go of some of the melancholy that wends its way through my heart, but melancholy, at least for me, is the minor chord of life that gives resonance and depth to everything else. I value my ability to feel, and that needs to embrace all feelings.
More important than what needs to be left behind is what I want to lie before me. I've never been much for New Year's resolutions. Most of them seem to be easily broken and, as a result, not taken seriously. It's not so much about what I want to accomplish in my life in 2012 as about what I hope to manifest for the rest of my life.
Let me nurture and value the family, friends and relationships I have while being open to cultivating new one.
Let me continue to wrestle with my muse and progress in my art, my writing, and my ability to live in a creative and fulfilling way, to be a laureate in the art of living.
Let me be a positive influence, mentor and role model to those around me who see me in that fashion.
Let me balance all that comes my way in the future, the good stuff and the bad, because life guarantees both of those things no matter what I do.
Let me be centered and act in ways that are consistent and rewarding to my innermost self, and let that authenticity in my life bring good things into the world around me and to those I love.
Happy 2012 to everyone. May it be a year that brings better understanding to us all.