January 27, 2022

Self : Turtling into the New Year

In most recent years I’ve been weary of the end of the year and really embraced the new year. It may be an artificial thing, in some ways, the turning of a calendar page. But it is marked by a physical change in the universe, which I feel significant in no other way other than intuitive. (As I’m not hip, smart or woo-woo enough to know much about our connections to the physics or astrology of how the stars might align us). I also like the communality and parallel play of it - everyone experiencing a newness together, contemplating ways forward together. Anyway, all this to say that I love the openness a new year brings, and I love using that time to consider the next year ahead and make resolutions.

That isn’t to say that I have ever been into NYE celebrations. In fact I’ve had many terrible New Year Eves, most notably during my residency when I was generally working. Maybe my favorite worst NYE was when I was sick with adult hand-foot-mouth, contracted from not being able to resist cuddling my niece and nephews who had it. I’ve never had such a bad sore throat that even eating ice cream was too painful. Then the sores sequentially sprouted on my hands and feet, and they burned as badly as they were ugly. The few times I tried going out on NYE, it felt anticlimactic and boring compared to my internal image of NYE celebrations (formed by external images from TV and social media). Also, as anyone who knows me knows, I cannot stay up until midnight. In spending the last few NYEs with G, I have realized what I actually want and love about a good NYE: quiet time with cheese and someone that I’ve spent the last year with and will spend the next year with. And who also makes it a late night by going to bed by 10:30.

We do have a mobile tradition of getting fancy cheese and fancy food items, treating ourselves to a charcuterie board of items we wouldn’t normally buy. I enjoy this because it means that we don’t have to go out, and because we can do it mostly wherever we are. The first year, we were in a fairly dingy airbnb in Sonora where we spent the holiday climbing. The second year was COVID and we were quarantining at my brother’s home. The third year, this past year, we were in a somewhat run-down and very much quirky town called Truth or Consequences in New Mexico. It was actually very hard to find any “fancy” food items at the local grocery store, but we made do. We looked at all our photos from the year, and then we went to see the Turtle Ascension - this small town’s version of dropping the ball in Times Square. 

In this version, the new year happens at 10 PM because the town runs on my kind of time (they say they want to accommodate “old folks” and “young children” and I without shame align myself with the former). The turtle refers to Turtleback Mountain, which overlooks the town. I imagined a lighted turtle being pulled high up a tower, to be marveled at by us below. As we walked up, G heard the countdown happening and started running. I ran without much urgency because I figured it would take awhile for the turtle to slowly ascend. In fact, when we arrived three seconds later, the turtle had already reached its destination: above the head of some man who simply held the turtle in his hands and raised it from his waist level to the length of his arms above him.  

We thought this was HILARIOUS, and I also find it very fitting for my life, and maybe most of our lives. I think this miniature turtle journey is what a new year really is for most ordinary people: a small, slow path. It doesn’t have to be big and flashy relative to everyone else, but it fills the space of each person for themselves. 

After the whirlwind of the holidays, I have been lucky to have a lot of time to myself to consider that space, as I’m in between jobs and spending a couple weeks in Mexico taking Spanish classes that are just a few hours a day and leave me with a lot of free and solo time. 

Last year brought a lot of change for me - a move to a new state after almost a decade in my home state (and leaving my entire community of family and friends), a new job after being at my first job post-residency for five years (and leaving the best possible work community I can imagine), getting engaged and buying our first home. I’ve really loved the purposefulness of it all, being deliberate with our decisions and making choices based on our needs rather than circumstances. It’s also consumed a lot of my time and mental space, so my main goal for 2022 is to re-develop and sharpen routines (you all also know that for better or worse I’m a very structured person). I find it easiest to feel free, and open to newness, when I have a routine for fitting in my basic needs. So I have a daily routine that includes exercise, meditation, and practicing Spanish; a weekly routine that includes a check-in with G, writing, and responding to emails; and a monthly routine that includes playing a piano song, organizing my photos, and checking my finances. Change at the pace of turtle ascension variety, with all its glamour (none). 

Then there are less one-time bigger goals, one of which was to clear my email inbox. My brother once said, why delete email when gmail has so much space that it’s like unlimited? It took me years to question the benefit of this practice for myself. As a result, I accumulated about 15000 emails since 2005-ish when I first got gmail (back when I told someone “I think this ad came up on gmail because we emailed about this” and they were shocked). I didn’t want thousands of emails anymore - I find myself unnecessarily scrolling and I’m definitely a person where external clutter creates internal chaos. So I got at deleting.

The first few swathes of deletions were extremely satisfying, dumping advertisements and list-serve emails. I filtered by email addresses from administrative people in college, med school and residency. Then I filtered by all emails from certain people (exes) which gave me interesting pause but ultimately felt very right. I also cleared all my draft emails, which for awhile served as a journal of sorts (generally during arguments with exes). This made for a fast clearance. 

Then I was left with thousands of both substantive and non-substantive emails from all my friends and family over the years. I again filtered by person, remembering all the lovely people with whom I’m corresponded to varying degrees of frequency - the yearly as significant as the daily. It was like re-living our relationships, and those very different periods of my life.  It was at times hard to choose what to delete and what to keep, and I probably made some decisions that I would’ve made differently at another time in the day, and I imagine I kept a lot for now that I may feel ready to delete later. I kept emails where there was a deep sharing of a person’s state of being (or mine) and deleted emails that were more concrete updates of what we were doing. I kept emails where there was a sharing of formative experiences (particularly frequent in med school), reflections on transitions, and funny exchanges that encapsulated a person’s character or our dynamic. Sometimes I kept something small and silly because it captured a unique feeling pertinent to that time in my life, like when I wrote about how a friend “drove me around pretty Connecticut and we had an amazing almond croissant and talked to some farmers and I fell asleep in the car outside the waterfall, feeling less worried about babies.” (I had been having nightmares about babies dying, and also found several emails detailing quite vividly these dreams to another friend…I deleted those).

Because I almost always have the resolution to write more (usually unsuccessfully, but will keep trying), I also kept emails where I wrote about something I’d like to return to in the future, or other people’s writings where they shared their travels or impressions of something where I’d like to learn from their styles of expression and from seeing what other people absorb and observe in their environments. 

That sounds like a lot, but in actuality I cleared the majority of emails. The empty space in my inbox, which I have never seen, also inspired me to change the background. I have kept the same background of stones since gmail first introduced themes (I had an email where a friend and I shared our respective choices), and never thought to change it to an image more specific to me. Given how much email I have, the background barely registers to me. But now, I have this:

At first I looked at landscapes and labored for a few minutes over what would be most fitting, but then I thought less about finding something representative, and just something recent and present. So I looked at the photos I’ve taken in Mexico, and the bright simplicity of this image resonated with me, as well as how images like this always prompt me to take a picture. Serendipitously, I can only see the pots if my emails are kept at a low level so it’s a nice reminder to keep things in focus. 

I also have folders to sort emails as to-do and to-respond, so that they aren’t right in front of me every time I open my email, and I can go to the folder when my weekly routine calls for it. As someone who tends to respond to every email right away, and am constantly thinking about what I could be doing, this decluttering resolution has been a great foundation for everything else in my routine.

Nothing in my routine or my plans for 2022 can ever be fully certain, but I always appreciate the transition for the time to consider intentions and how to remain in them regardless of what actually happens. The most wonderfully heavy part of clearing my email was the presence of people - a fluctuation in who I engage with and to what degree, but steady regardless of how unsteady our lives and concrete interactions may have been. I love being turtles alongside one another, slowly ascending in small spaces everywhere.

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