I didn't do a lot of writing here in 2011. So I'm going to indulge in a little year-end retrospective to try to put down some of the things I would or could or should have written about, as much as anything else to remind myself of where I was and where I want to be in the future. Fair warning: it's a bit of a doozy.
This summer, instead of futzing over still-lifes and photoshop and spoons canted just so, I spent at least one day nearly every week taking my son swimming. We started on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. He was so excited, with his goggles and floatie things. Until he got to the edge of the water. And the wailing and recoiling commenced. But slowly, slowly, I coaxed him into the water. He dug holes in my arms, grabbing on for dear life, but we just kept at it. On Sunday, he was just a little less timid. By Monday, he was jumping into my arms and had left the floatie things on the side of the pool. We carried on like that all summer, mostly just the two of us. By the end of the summer he was swimming across the deep end. He has an unshakable bond with his dad, but now this is our thing. We swim. And so at the end of the summer, I didn't look up from my computer (as I did last year) only to realize that the last day of swimming had come and gone. Instead, I slogged into the house, dripping wet, and remembered I had a blog. I can live with that trade-off.
Around the time I ran the Bridge Run last spring, I learned an exciting piece of news, but one the importance of which I did not immediately grasp. I was named to the Liberty Fellowship, which is a part of the Aspen Institute's Global Leadership Network. The Fellowship is intended to foster creative leadership within South Carolina (my home) and throughout the world. As honored as I was to be chosen, the announcement came at a time when I was really having a crisis of confidence about who I was—as a lawyer, as a mother, and as a creative person. I felt incredible pressure to be worthy of the recognition. And I shut completely down. I had a pair of truly hideous weeks at work in which I questioned every choice I had ever made that got me to that point. I fantasized about running away to join the circus (really!—and I hate clowns!). If I tried to think about writing here, I came up completely empty. I spent much of the summer in a funk.
But my crisis was, as existential crises generally are, unecessary. The Fellowship really isn't about being honored for where you've been or what you have done so far. It is about being invested with the opportunity to make a difference in the future. In September, I went to the first of four Aspen seminars with the other members of my Fellowship class. Before the five day retreat, I had only ever met one other member of the class. We had been asked to read a variety of texts and come prepared to discuss them. On Wednesday evening, I greeted a roomful of strangers unsure what to expect, certain that I could not hold my own among a crowd that included elected officials, executives of huge corporations and nonprofits, university faculty, military veterans, gifted physicians, and on and on. Over the next few days, we dug deep into texts that ran the gamut from ancient Greek to science fiction to Martin Luther King. We were asked difficult questions by our moderators and by each other. We were forced to question our assumptions and to really listen to people with very different ideas. We spent nearly every waking minute with one another. On Sunday afternoon, exhausted but enriched, I walked out of a roomful of new friends with a new sense of purpose and the outlines of a clearer vision of who it is I am striving to be.
In the next year-and-a-half, I will rejoin these friends twice more and travel with a smaller group to South Africa to meet fellows from around the world. I'm sorry. What? Seriously. This is beyond spectacular.
But as the saying goes, to whom much is given, much is expected. It's not all sitting around dissecting esoteric texts and traveling to the other side of the world. As a Fellow, I am expected to develop and launch a project that will, in some way, benefit the state of South Carolina. My proposal is due in a couple of weeks, and while I'm well on my way to fleshing out the idea, turning my project into a reality is going to be a huge undertaking. Because it actually ties into the same animating principle that underlies this site, you can expect to be hearing a lot about it in the future.
In the Fall of 2010, I was terribly excited to begin teaching part-time at my law school alma mater. I knew it would be tiring and demanding, but I was up for the challenge. I taught a small section of legal writing for a full year. And I returned again this fall to teach the same course. But this year. Ugh. It's a boring, complicated story beset with mommy-guilt, academic politics, and the uncomfortable recognition of truths I'd been warned about. Suffice it to say, I decided not to return for the Spring semester this year, and I feel as if a great weight has been lifted. I agonized about the decision, but once I committed to it, I realized it was the right choice for my family and for me. I'm glad to have had the experience, and I want to teach again in the future, but on my terms. Till then, I'm going to enjoy Tuesday and Thursday nights at home with my family rather than scarfing down junk food while grading papers in my car between my office and my classroom.
Yesterday, I did my last run of the year. I really wasn't feeling like a run, but I convinced myself that I'd regret not taking my last opportunity of 2011 to get outside and pound some pavement. I reminded myself that this time last year, I probably couldn't have run a mile without passing out or throwing up. So I laced up my shoes and committed to just one mile. As I got outside, I realized it might be fun to see just how fast I could run a mile. But, of course, I can't just walk outside on cold legs and start running fast. So I committed myself to a half-mile warm up. And then a mile. And a half-mile cool down, of course. I set off on the warm up at a slow clop. My legs felt like paperweights. But I just slogged along until I hit a half mile. Then I stopped. And kind of looked around, wondering if I could do this. And took off. It was like I was doing a completely different activity from what I'd been doing in the minutes just before. I finished my timed mile in just under 8:30. Which, while not fast for an athlete, is like greased lightning for this former sloth who famously failed the mile at age 14 (and at 5 inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter than I am today) by running it in 12:01. That's right. What a difference 22 years makes! And now I have a benchmark. Proof that I can do things I previously thought impossible. (Though I still cannot leap over tall buildings in a single bound—perhaps 2012 is my year?)
My son was about 8 months old for his first Christmas five years ago. We had moved into a new house right after he was born. I was still in law school, and money was extremely tight. So I made the obvious choice: host 12 people for Christmas dinner. While the food was good, my mental state was an unmitigated disaster. My son was still not sleeping through the night and had gotten completely out of whack when Daylight Savings Time had ended. I was running on no sleep and excessive quantities of caffeine and anxiety. I had a picture in my mind of what my perfect Christmas dinner would be, but I forgot that my guests were much more interested in each other than in the color coordination of my table setting. I was miserable throughout dinner and had a near nervous breakdown when my child became inconsolable at bed time. There are only so many times you can sing "The Water is Wide" over the baleful wailing of your baby before you start to lose it. After that, for several years, my family tried with limited success in ways subtle and not-so-subtle to keep my holiday hostessing to a minimum.
This year, we had family coming in from New York, Rhode Island, Los Angeles, and Boston. There were so many moving parts, most notably my new little niece, who was born in October. My cousin took over as master of ceremonies. At first I was skeptical, but I finally gave in and let go. And, apparently, when I let go, I really let go. I didn't cook a single thing for any of our holiday gatherings (unless you count assembling a salad). I didn't craft the first centerpiece or iron a single napkin. And, you know what? It was fantastic. I actually sat down and talked to my relatives. I played with my little boy and his eleventy billion new Legos. I bounced my little niece to sleep in my arms more than once. If my five-years-ago self knew what I learned this Christmas, I could have saved myself a lot of heartache.
The last year of my life was complicated, sprawly, and frustrating. But it was also eye-opening, heart-expanding, and inspiring. Who knows what the next will bring. But I feel ready. Welcome to the world, 2012!