Inspired by Susannah Conway, I’ve started to assign a word — yes, a single word — to the upcoming year, as a kind of landmark. Something to focus on as I go through the seasons, so I don’t lose track of what’s important to me. Your word is, in essence, your theme for the year, a snapshot of everything that you want for yourself and those closest to you.
My word for 2020 was “vitality.” The textbook definition — “lively and animated character” — is, in my humble opinion, boring as all get-out. My preferred definition is not only vague but completely made up, a mish-mash of everything that I learned in graduate school.
To me, vitality is a state of aliveness. A vibrancy that withstands the ups and downs of life. A commitment to an ideal, even if that ideal is difficult or impossible to achieve.
Needless to say, 2020 was not a year of vitality. If anything, 2020 was the antonym of aliveness. 2020 was isolation and grief and waiting. But there were moments of vitality among the idleness: graduating with my master’s degree, seeing my friends for the first time in months, massaging my novel into something readable.
Looking back, I can say that, in actuality, 2020 was a year of clarity. There wasn’t a lot of vibrance (thanks, COVID-19). But there was a heck of a lot of dreaming: Looking to the future, post-pandemic, and envisioning the ideal life for myself. Lockdown forced me to sit with the occasionally ugly truths of my life. Some things I liked; some things I wanted to change.
2020 was a hellish year. But it was also an opportunity to reflect on what was and was not working. And now it’s nearly 2021. There’s a vaccine. We’re not out of the woods, but I think that as a collective, we’re starting to let ourselves dream again. I know I am.
Which brings me to my word for 2021.
I don’t know if this year will look any different. But I do know what I want my life to look like, even if COVID-19 is still a thing by the end of 2021. I have a vision of the future, and I want the vitality necessary to make that vision — even if it’s wild and extravagant and rooted in naive optimism — a reality.
I don’t know if this year will look any different. But I know that my priorities hinge not on the external but on the internal.
I want to find a better work-life balance. I want to cultivate containers of rest.
I want to find and invest in a community of like-minded creatives. My relationship with social media is embarrassingly dysfunctional. I want to stick to my personal boundaries and embrace an abundance mindset.
I want to create. To play in made-up worlds. To believe so deeply in my work that I find fulfillment in the process of creating, as opposed to external recognition of the final product.
I want to be kinder to my crip cyborg bodymind. SMA and I have been butting heads for years, between fatigue and headaches and the general suckiness of chronic illness. I want to forgive myself for all the things I cannot do, and co-create with other marginalized folks to envision a world where the sick and disabled are seen as marvelously whole.
Then there are the concrete goals, like signing on with a literary agent — the first step toward publishing my book — and getting another tattoo. But everything I want for 2021, all the things that do not fit into the neat box of a New Year’s resolution, requires one thing.
So that’s my word for 2021. Brave. To brave the uncertain, the vulnerability of putting my work into the world. To brave the chaos of much-needed change. To stay open to possibility, whatever that might look like in 2021.
Here’s to the bravery of a new beginning.
“There is something big coming / bigger than love, bigger than aloneness. / She’s staying up all night for it.” – Sharon Olds
Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.
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