Attempting to squeeze a year into a single post is a preposterous idea. In fact, it’s a rather dastardly affair, as sensationalist as asking you to describe yourself in three words or promising that you can learn Korean in an afternoon. You set yourself up to fail, then lament over your inability to cram the essence of 8,760 hours into 876 words (more and the audience won’t read till the end, less and Google’s spiders won’t want to crawl all over it).
It’s a minefield of preset disappointment where only bloggers or madwo/men would tread. Naturally, this is why I subject myself to it. As such, I’ve put myself on the writer’s rack and haunted the caverns of memory to hunt down the essence of how my Word of the Year, Listen, showed up for me in 2021.
Since this year was all keeping an ear to the ground (or angled like satellites at the heavenly bodies), I’d be remiss to not structure this navel-gazing reminiscence with a little help from my (mostly dead) friends leading in with paragraph prequel quotes of wisdom.
Hearing a Pin Drop
In the night of death, hope sees a star, and listening love can hear the rustle of a wing.
– Robert Ingersoll
In the annals of history, 2020 will go down as the year that topsy turvy’d society and brought things to a complete standstill. In the annals of me, it was a year to learn how to breathe. Globally, 2021 was an emergence out of a cocoon, slowly waking up to a world unfamiliar in its new normal-ness. For me, 2021 was the new 2020. Where I currently live, Covid didn’t start raging till this year. In 2020, we had a one-month preventative lockdown. Albeit greatly reduced, Alexander and I still travelled internationally and domestically on numerous occasions. In 2021, a constant onslaught of lockdowns and locked away behind police barricades from other areas of the city, I spent the majority of the year at home, stark four-walled friends a constant companion. (Lesson #1: Buy more art.)
“Listen”, like all my other annual letter-friends, wasn’t the hero I wanted, but let’s be real – when has that ever been how things worked? (And why would we want to get what we want when what we want is typically so shockingly shortsighted?)
So I listened because my Word of the Year told me so (if you’re going to let imaginary authority figures tell you what to do, might as well choose linguistics as your deity of choice). And because silence speaks (who knew?), I kept on listening and grew to like it quite a bit.
Shut up and Listen
Opportunity is often missed because we are broadcasting when we should be tuning in.
– Orison Swett Marden
A primary theme that didn’t actually bother to announce itself was an old frenemy. Over the years, I’ve said yes to things that should’ve been no, and no to what ought to have been yes, because I’d elected the PPP Party – short for Purpose & Passion Patrol – before I was (truly) eligible to vote.
The words “should” and “ought” are misnomers. I did what I did/n’t because it was the road to here. What was, is.
But this year marked a fork in the road. Previously, I would’ve interpreted it as a crossroads. A binary choice recognised by its allegiance to – or defiance of – a search for meaning, for lifting a leg to mark the territory of my place in this world. In 2021, perhaps because things get stale fast if your only expression of life purpose is through whatever’s Zoom-friendly, I went for a walk through the proverbial Purpose Woods. Risk getting lost, chased up a tree by wriggly scaries, or down one by terrors out for the hunt.
I listened not to the marching orders of the Purpose and Passion Patrol, but to the spaces between their boots, the margins that held their decrees.
Me, heroine of the Purpose cause, became a traitor to my kind. Like a moth to a flame not grasping the fate of its attraction, I turned my back on the idea that 42 must be sought at all costs. Instead, I deserted my post and set out through the thicket.
To my utmost amazement, I discovered alien life.
I came upon a clearing inhabited by a tribe of terribly strange, awfully exotic, Choices. Here was a people, having torn down the very fabric the rules of the PPP Party was written on, living unapologetically according to the forbidden (and outlawed) principles of Wu Wei.
Central to this woodland clan’s illicit ideology is the idea that Purpose and Passion, once forced, turns on its seeker.
I think I’ve lived with them for so many months now that I’ve forfeited my erstwhile citizenship in the Kingdom of Meaning™.
Or Just Shut Up
The inspiration you see is already within you. Be silent and listen.
2021 was the year in which I (had no choice but to) isolate. I’ve never been home as much, my travelogues were non-existent, and what I lacked in outward distractions I (reluctantly) made up for in…quietening, tuning in to what is instead of what I want it to be. It was hard. Painful. But transformative.
There’s a narrative actively being written by us as its authors, and an overarching storyline that we can choose to become aware of and have the willingness to listen to knowing it’s being written by the hands of nature, the moon goddess, or the alien kid on whose shelf we await our science experiment fate. Alternatively, we can, of course, ignore it, which doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s there yet removes us from a knowingness that requires acceptance of things outside of our control.
(Endless) lockdown stilled a lot of the outside noise that had previously done a great job of drowning out – by “livening up” plots that didn’t tie in with the ones I was writing for myself.
Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.
– Karl Menninger
I reflected briefly in my weekly newsletter on how deep, authentic connection anchored me throughout the year. So often our relationships are about the latest and greatest (or lowest and bluest) updates, which only feed into the cyclical stories we tell ourselves.
All year long I connected with small groups of people who, scattered across the globe as we are, came together once or even several times a week to tune into whatever topical connection we care about. Some were workshops, some book clubs, other writing clubs, or programmes we were doing together.
It was the most invigorating, restorative way to spend this crazy year: not locked into the story, but connecting in order to co-create genuine meaning-making in our lives.
And with that, dearest 2021, I bid you adieu! A storm in a teacup you were, but you led me to the eye of it all ❤