Sunday, December 21, 2014

Reflection: looking back on an 'open' year (and announcing my annual blog break)

It's December. Christmas is almost here and the year is coming to an end. I know it's a cliché, but really...where does the time go? I swear Christmas was just last month, but somehow twelve months have passed when I wasn't paying attention, except....I was paying attention and still it breezed on by!

It's also the time of year for looking back and reflecting on the year gone by and preparing for the year to come. That's what this post is all about. It may become one of those longwinded ones, so be prepared. You might want to get a cup of tea or something. Go on, I'll wait... ;-)

As has been my custom for the last few years, instead of having a ton of new year's resolutions (which usually leads to nothing) I pick a word to serve as a sort of red thread or general theme for the entire year. I have been mostly inspired to do this by Quinn McDonald, who writes extensively about it on her blog, but there's plenty of other people out there who do the same.

The first time I did this in 2012 it really didn't work well, because I chose something that was not really matching my life or my nature: 'flamboyance'. It was more a the-grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side type of word. Something I would love to be, but just am not. The end. Oh well, a good lesson to learn I suppose...

In 2013 I chose a very good word indeed: 'artist'. It just did not lead to what I expected, which was very interesting by the way and in no way diminishes to value of the word itself. You can read all about that in my end of the year post of 2013, that you can find here. I just want to stress that sometimes a word you choose can take a different turn than you wanted it to take. This is a good thing, but not always a happy thing.

For this year, 2014, I picked the word 'open'. You can read all about the reasons for that word here so I won't get into that, but let me tell you that I am slowly getting better at picking my words! It seems my words work better if they represent a type of behaviour I want to practice more than if they represent a very specific purpose. A general theme is better for me than a concise goal, if that makes any sense.

Anyway, so I chose 'open' and it has been quite a ride! I already knew open would be a very multifaceted word and that's what I liked about it. Also 'open' moves in two directions. I mean that on the one hand I can be more open to things outside of me coming in, but I can also be more open from the inside out. Both ways have been happening this year and then some! Mostly I wanted to use the word as an antidote to my control freakyness, my need to plan every detail and be in charge of everything, my need to know exactly what outcome will come from every action I take. In short: I really needed to loosen up a little!

Let's look back on 2014 and see what this word has given me:

First of all just a lot of fun things happened. The simplest version of 'open' is simply to be open to new things. For the first time I visited places on my island I had never been before just to see what they looked like. I took the bus to the west side more often and found out how much I am missing by doing that so rarely. I went hiking off my personal beaten path, I simply went exploring more instead of going to familiar places. It was wonderful and gave me a whole new appreciation of this place I call home, and it's not like I ever take this place for granted.

I went on a couple of vacations and trips to new places. An island I had never been before, Ameland, which stunned me with its beauty. I went on a city vacation to Amsterdam in the fall, where I never go. I even found out that we have a pretty good public transport connection to Amsterdam, so I can just go back and forth in a day if I want to and be there for an afternoon. Who knew?
I also took a short city trip with two other ladies and I never travel with other people! By the way, it proved to me why I don't do that, haha. It was fun, but more a social event than an opportunity to really explore a place the way I like to.
I visited new to me museums, saw new to me artists. Not a lot (that's just not feasible for me), but still...a good thing to do.

Even the week house sitting for my sister in the spring was a different experience than usual. That was born out of necessity. I hurt my foot so I couldn't walk long distances, so I had to bike my way around and that opened up a whole new way of seeing the area she lives (which is also the area I originally come from). I have never biked so much in my life in such a short time! I'm talking rides of 30 to 60 kilometers!

When it comes to my art 'open' has also served me well. I stepped away from plans and to do lists and artsy goals and simply tried to do what I felt like doing without strings attached. When I say 'simply' I of course don't mean it was easy in any way, oh no!  If there's one thing I excel at it is putting high demands on myself and expecting way more from me than is humanly possible. But we don't have to listen as hard to our own expectations as we think we do. It really is possible to ignore yourself if yourself is being obnoxious, even if it makes you very uncomfortable. And yes, there have been several times in the past year when it was really hard for me to believe in my own need for letting these expectations go. What helped me a little was taking up art forms that take patience. Things like big doodle drawings that fill an entire page, things like hand stitched journal covers, things like more meticulous drawings of nature. When you do things like that productivity takes on a whole new meaning and becomes more about quality than quantity, which is exactly what I needed (and still need).

My journaling has been a complete pleasure for me this year. After struggling with the White Book last year this year was a journey of try outs, freedom and fun. I think I filled four or five journals, all of them in a very loose way. I came up with the notebook journal, to get the pressure off, a simple cheap lined (!) notebook with low expectations where I let go of the need to make everything visually attractive. My journals became much more a hold all of all kinds of things I felt like doing and putting in. It made for less pretty journals, but also for a much better journaling experience.

My coolest journal experience this year was of course joining International Fake Journal Month in April. Boy, was that fun! I learned so much from that. Pretending to be somebody else and then filling a journal as her was very freeing indeed. It was also a great way to implement my word of the year, because I had been wanting to do this for years and never did, but now in the year of 'open' I felt I could no longer let it pass by without joining. I had to open myself up to the experience. A good choice.

When it comes to the blog I have also tried to be a bit more open. I don't know if this always came through, but I have tried to include more daily stuff by blogging from my phone sometimes. Unfortunately the blogger app had an update a few months ago and now it no longer works the way I want it to (I can't add pictures, help!), so I had to give that up. I hope they fix that soon. I have also tried to be a bit more loose in a blogging sense and no longer feel like I have to write my posts the moment I want to publish them. I do a lot more preplanned posts and have found a comfortable rhythm by trying to publish something every three days. I usually write my posts once a week now.

I have shared a bit more about my experiences in working less and trying to let go of some online sites that were eating up too much of my time. I chucked things like pinterest, instagram and yahoo and it has been freeing indeed. I have given myself permission not to keep up religiously with every blog I love. I just can't, as much as I would like to, because all of you are so fantastically talented. I do drop by from time to time, so it's not like I've forgotten you. I may not comment much, but I am there, promise.

Of course this 'open' year came with plenty of challenges as well. When you choose a word for  a year you can pretty much count on the challenges that accompany it.

Not having very specific plans and time tables and such is very very hard for me. From time to time I still have the need to pick up a time management sheet and plan away. But I have found that the best way to get over that is to just give in to it. Sounds paradoxal? It is! See, the minute I start to plan things out, put everything in it's neat place in time, all my planning allergies come up, I feel trapped by my own need for control and I want to have a ritual burning or something. But of course that fact in itself makes me feel guilty shouldn't I have a plan and a specific goal or something and a neat time schedule? Isn't that what the in control and in charge people do?  It's so complicated in my head, you have no idea! ;-)

But...when I think about what makes me more relaxed it is the idea of just going with the flow, not the idea of having everything neatly planned out in fifteen minute increments and to do lists! So I will keep practicing my need for 'open' time.

Another thing that is challenging for me is to open myself up with/to other people, especially in person (online I find it super easy). So one of the things I've done a bit more of is go to social events and get togethers. Not a lot, you cannot turn an introvert into a socialite, nor do I wish to be, but I don't want to say no anymore all the time, just because I like being at home so much and crowds wear me out. ;-)
One of the latest things I have decided to do is join a pop choir. I have no idea yet how that will turn out, but it seems both fun and a little intimidating. At least I know I can sing, haha.

Much more intimidating is being vulnerable and needing help. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has a hard time asking for help with things. I had been postponing it forever, but just this week I finally asked for help with something huge I cannot do on my own. I talked to a neighbour and was very nervous about it, pretty much imagining them saying something like 'no way!' and what would I do then? It wasn't like I was asking for a cup of sugar or a small favour. I'm talking about a huge project around the house (technically two projects). To my surprise before I knew it, said neighbour got three other people involved and it looks like things will get done somewhere in the coming year! I'm still a bit overwhelmed and honestly quite stunned by this. Of course I know in my head how silly this all is, but there's nothing rational about these fears. Anyway, it was a whole other way of practicing 'open' for me that was quite humbling. 

And then there's the things that are both fun and wonderful and scary and challenging. Things like the fact that a group of local people want to make a children's book and have asked me to illustrate it!  I can't even begin to tell you how mixed my feelings are about this. I want to do it (I have said yes and have already done some sketches and research and stuff), but I also want to hide from it (I won't, but I want to). But I guess 'open' also means being brave and taking an opportunity when it comes knocking even if it's a small local one.

I'm sure I could give many more examples of how this 'open' year has been filling my life and how it has been challenging and scary and just downright wonderful. But I think you get the idea.

It has been a good year folks!

I am now in the process of contemplating another word for the coming year, even though a word like 'open' is capable to last a lifetime. I also think I know which word I will choose, but I will tell you more about that later, because I want to think on it a bit more. And what better time to think than during my annual Christmas vacation?

That's right, I'll be taking my time off again. About two and half weeks of free time! Going as much offline as I can muster and just roam the island, read, write, think and maybe even do some art. I will not be blogging and I will not be facebooking. I will be reachable by mail and I will probably check for comments every now and then and I'll be back on the blog probably around January 9 (no promises).

I hope your year has been as interesting as mine and if you picked a word I'd love to hear how it worked for you. Please leave a comment about it if you want, so others can share your experiences. And if you are picking a word for next year I'd love to read about that too.

For now I'm wishing you wonderful december holiday celebrations (whatever your beliefs or preferences may be)! Thank you for all your support in the past year. You make me very happy!