Why I Didn’t Write This Year
My only real regret of the year is that I didn’t write anything of note. It’s not that I didn’t string words together, I certainly did quite a bit of that. We put out a podcast at Yes Theory, I sent a metric ton of emails, and even wrote a little bit of poetry.
I’ve even got seeds of article, book, and video ideas all over my iPhone notes, and multiple journals filled. I sat down to write essays like this one probably 50 times, and now have the equivalent amount of unfinished essays on my hard drive. This is to say nothing of the stack of unfinished books on my night stand and floor, and the projects that were never completed.
It all reminds me of something my grandfather used to tell me as a little girl — “a messy room is a messy mind.” This time the room digital, not physical. But I took a note from Marie Kondo anyways, and just deleted all of the drafts, outlines, and ideas that were on here (and bring me absolutely no joy). Starting fresh feels right.
Because this year just felt like spinning tires. It felt like I poured a lot of love and energy into relationships and projects, only to find myself back where I started. I was fighting for my own will against a world that was imposing a much stronger one.
I know I‘m not the only one.
But in my case, I know it was my fault. This has always been my problem. 2020 just brought it further into focus.
When I was 8 years old, I found a crappy plastic shelf at a yard sale and carried it home. I put it in my room and used it as what I can only really call a “collection corner.” I put all my “stuff” on display. I’m talking sticks, rocks, fake poop, little plastic alligators, Lego structures, marbles, Beanie Babies, fortune tellers, pennies, anything you can think of. According to my mom, most of it was trash that I’d repurposed as treasure.
Naturally I hated when she would make me clean my room because what she really meant by “clean” was throw out most of my “stuff”, and put all the rest where she couldn’t see it. I’d follow her orders, only to later take it all out of the trash again and put it all back on display. It was a fun little dance we did.
As an adult, I‘ve given up on collecting trinkets and mementos. After my family’s house burned down in 2015, it seemed pointless to collect things. They’re all transient anyways.
I have only one exception — my sacred book collection. And if I don’t say so myself (*brushes shoulder off*), I’ve got a pretty impressive one that absolutely overpowers the size of my current apartment.
But yesterday, as I was thinking through this essay and reflecting on the year, it clicked and I finally bought a Kindle. I swore I’d never buy one because I like underlining and writing things in the margins. But the truth is, I wouldn’t buy one because my ego likes having a massive collection of books.
It’s not for other people so much as I like the feeling that I’m holding onto the knowledge, and can pull it off the shelf whenever I need it.
But I rarely do that, and when I do, it’s rarely helpful. Because the first read is always the best read, and plus, I’m a pretty meticulous note-taker. So, if I really loved the book, and it was actually helpful, all the insights are housed somewhere for me to access.
So I can really only gather that my book collection is a mix of an intellectual flex, self-hatred in the form of a giant anti-library, and a subconscious preparation for Armageddon or my next existential crisis.
I write letters back and forth with my grandfather (the same one who used to troll me for the “mess”) from time to time. He’s the most widely-read person I know. Also, the smartest and most interesting (by a long shot). But his personal library is about 1/100th of the size of mine. So a few years ago, in one of these letters, I asked him why he reads so much, how he chooses his books, and what he gets from them, but also why he takes them out of the library.
He wrote me a super short answer back — “Katie, I don’t read for what I’m getting out of it. I read for the enjoyment of it.”
Now, this guy isn’t checking out trashy beach novels. He’s reading Cicero and Plato and Jane Austen. He reads 100+ books a year, and has for decades. He keeps a handwritten list of the books he’s read, and writes down some ideas and quotes when they really strike him. The whole system is analog because he doesn’t own a computer or a smartphone.
He might sound like a Luddite. But if the world were to really fall apart, I’d probably go bunker with him. He’s an OG minimalist — owns two pairs of the same jeans, and seven of the same Hanes under shirts. He rocks a gray hoodie, some old school New Balances, and whatever baseball cap we last gave him. And he can fix nearly anything (without any guidance from YouTube).
And the worst part about him is that— he doesn’t read to fill some void in his mind or heart like I do. F*ck. He doesn’t hoard books like knowledge is going out of style like I do. F*ck. Or like someone’s going to ban books all together (F51 anyone?). What am I f*cking doing?
My collection of books say the same thing as the incomplete essays on my hard drive. The same thing my displayed trinkets did from the early years.
I’m terrified of letting go.
If I could go back to my past self in early-March and give her one piece of advice, it wouldn’t be to invest in Tesla. It’d be this — “just let go (with some grace). Stop trying to hold things together with Elmer’s glue and duct tape. Stop waiting for ‘normal.’ Let your life break, so that something more beautiful can emerge. Be here now and trust yourself.”
Because this year I could have used to let go — of experiences, stories, apartments, expectations, memories, resentment, and future plans — a lot quicker. I kept on trying to force the version of reality I had in my mind and cling on to the way things were or how I’d dreamed they might be.
The best moments of the year were when I let go fully, and accepted life as it is. A cinematic rainstorm appeared. The right songs played at the right times. Our own personal firework show on the beach that one night. The $2 Patron margaritas we stumbled upon. The best sandwich I’ve ever had. Tears of joy. The perfect timing for the perfect sunset. Moments of deep beauty experienced while listening to Dermot Kennedy’s music and or doing Wim Hof’s breathwork.
I wish I had the faith to sink into more of those moments, and I’ll forever regret not writing about them.
But the lesson in all of it is obvious — not a single one of my favorite memories in 2020 happened according to my plans, and all those moments were better than I could have ever dreamed.
That’s the irony of life, isn’t it? That obsessively planning (see: productively worrying), anxiety, and fear ruins everything.
And letting go is what creates the opportunities for magic.
Translation for you book worms: ya gotta let go of that old book smell so you can crack open a new one. Ya dig?
There was really no point to this essay. It was just a bunch of threads that are loosely tied together. I’m trying to be okay with that because my editor’s mind is a little rusty this afternoon. I’m out of practice.
But also because that’s actually the whole point of this exercise — to just get myself to press publish on something that’s wildly imperfect, that leads to no specific conclusion.
My essays from 2 or 3 years ago reveal that I’m just as addicted to certainty and clinging in my writing as I have been in my life. I’ve rarely written an essay without attempting to offer up some bold, half-baked conclusion to an incredibly complex problem. It’s both hilarious and ridiculous.
But that false perception — that I had to offer up some perfect universal truth to have my ideas be worthy at all— is what made it impossible to do anything this year, especially write.
My favorite writers and artists are those who honor the grayness of the human experience, instead of trying to parse out the black and white strands. And that’s my only intention in any writing I do this upcoming year— to let go of the need to prove something, to say something, to have an answer.
This year showed me that I have no answers. Absolutely zilch. But that a pretty good compass is just letting go, over and over again. And trying to get under the surface of what I’m so afraid of. So maybe I’ll write about that.
Regardless, in 2021, I’m going to do my best to welcome the spontaneous combustion of all my most articulate plans. Because love, truth, flow, art, and serendipity are always unplanned. And because I’m no longer confident that I’m a better planner than the universe is a teacher.
I can’t be certain that the future will be better than the past any more than I can be certain that I will never need that 3rd copy of The Untethered Soul.
But I guess I just want to make space in my life — for more unexpected magic.
With that said, anyone need any books?