New Year’s Eve Permission Slip

Story time.

TL;DR: Do what will make you happy on New Year’s Eve, and don’t feel beholden to mythical expectations.

Ten years ago, I was so desperate for an exciting New Year’s Eve, that I called up a crush of mine who lived four hours away and somehow casually asked what his holiday plans were. He said he’d been thinking of heading to Kansas City to visit a friend, and suggested I meet them there.

And because I was so desperate, I agreed, and headed three hours south.

I looked here on my blog to see if I wrote about it, and I did, briefly, and all I said was “I had a nice time.”

I didn’t.

I mean, it wasn’t terrible, but it was full of terribly awkward moments. I’ll just share one here: we ended up at a church dance for about 45 minutes, and while my crush and I danced, he said, “I HAVE to get married this year, because looking around this dance, this is bleak. This cannot be my future.”

I am certain that in my head I screamed, “HI! JULIE HERE. MAYBE DATE ME?” I am equally certain that out loud I said, “Ha, yeah, for real…”

You’ll be happy to know, dear reader, that said crush did get married, and therefore has avoided the bleak existence of having to, you know, make friends with people or figure out how to manage a holiday rife with unrealistic expectations every year.

I don’t let myself think about that New Year’s Eve too often, because I just feel shame. Shame that I thought spending time with a crush and two strangers was a better alternative than anything I could’ve cobbled together in my own city. Shame that I thought I could will a crush into seeing me as an actual dating prospect. Shame that I bought into the idea that having an exciting New Year’s Eve was some yearly rite of passage that signaled to the world “I am an adult and I do adult things.”

And so, like with Christmas, I have since created my own New Year’s Eve tradition. I make a giant skilletful of Chicken Korma, watch movies, and I work.

This is your permission slip, should you need it, that New Year’s Eve can be whatever you want it to be. If you want to be with real friends, be with real friends. If you want to get caught up in revelry, go out and revel.. If you are over expectations, though on the PJs and tap out before the ball drops.

What you do *not* have permission to do is feel obligated to celebrate. You do not have permission to think you aren’t a magical human being just because you might not have people to hang out with that night.

And you definitely do not have permission to wedge yourself into New Year’s Eve activities with people you don’t know you or don’t know how magical you are.

2021.

It was the year that I finally decided I wanted to live in a place that wasn’t a placeholder “until I get married.”

The year I hired an interior decorator and bought all new furniture—and when I say all, I mean every single piece of furniture except for my Nana’s kitchen table and my piano.

The year I decided I was worth replacing my broken wooden spoons, the year I decided I was worth having a garage. 

The year I realized there is only so much I can do in a day; it is okay to move items on the to-do list to a later date, it is okay to say no.

The year I didn’t write nearly enough or read as many books as I’d have liked to or even see as many movies as I wanted or bake as often as previous years.

The year I started painting my nails.

The year I questioned whether I should keep writing, keep teaching, keep active social media accounts.

The year my dad broke his neck and a month later I sprained my ankle.

The year I bought a new car.

The year I got rid of all my aspirational clothing.

The year I put up a Christmas tree but then didn’t decorate it, the year I contemplated having a Christmas party at my new place but then didn’t, because of the sprained ankle.

The year I almost deleted my entire blog, the year I didn’t delete my blog, the year I still can’t decide what to do with my blog or figure out why I still have one. 

The year I finally qualified for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

The year I got to see my brother and sister way more than I usually do.

The year I got marginally better at accepting help when people offered to help.


We might read a variety of end-of-year retrospectives that will make us feel a variety of feels, or receive letters from friends and family with details of travels and accomplishments. It’s often easy to get lost in comparison or rumination that the year just didn’t measure up to expectations—even in a pandemic when those expectations may have been modified.

If you find yourself sinking into a vortex of comparison, take a minute or two and think about your year. Maybe a couple of positive memories bloom from seeds of grief, doubt, or disappointment. At the very least, you made it to December. And that alone is a triumph. 

To Those For Whom Birthdays Are Hard

If you are the type of person who celebrates your birthday with meals and parties or even declares repeatedly for weeks, “It’s my birthday month!” This post is not for you.

This post is for anyone for whom birthdays are fraught with sadness, anxiety, or resentment.

Or all three.

I’ve been thinking all month about why I’ve often felt so much angst about my birthday, and I wonder if other people with summer birthdays struggle with this. I was never in school on my birthday, so there was no built-in pool to hand out party invites. Several times in my life, my birthday was spent at family reunions, on the road to family reunions, on the road to weddings, or even on the road to a brand new state because my dad had orders to a new military base, or living in a new state where the only people I knew were my family members because school hadn’t started yet.

My family was always great about making sure I had gifts or my choice of places to eat, but parties were rare.

I grew up watching my parents plan birthday parties for each other, where dozens of people crammed into our home for hours.

So when I turned 30 I wanted to have a birthday party. 5 people came. When I turned 40, I tried again. 2 people came.

Not quite the bashes that I saw my parents throw.

Add this to the usual angst associated with aging in general, and my birthday has rarely felt like something to celebrate. And it doesn’t help that J. Lo’s birthday is the same day, and she’s only 4 years older than me and looks like, well, J. Lo.

So this year, I decided to do something different.

I wanted an ordinary day. It would be my first non-Facebook birthday in 15 years, so I figured only a handful of people I know would remember. I wouldn’t have to field text messages or deal with the anxiety of wondering if I should like or love every wish on my wall, or just do a blanket thank you the next day, or respond individually…

(Is Facebook stressful for everyone on birthdays, or just Enneagram 4s?)

Anyway. I no longer want the pressure to celebrate my birthday, and I have to say, it worked out well this year.

With no social media reminding people to tell me happy birthday, I fielded very few texts. I planned an evening that included an online workshop about Supreme Court cases, watching Paula Poundstone live at the Lied Center in Lincoln (I won tickets for web access! Support your local PBS station!), followed by Tig Notaro’s latest HBO special, and I saved the season 2 premiere of Ted Lasso for last. I watched Olympic coverage all day, did some cleaning, did some packing.

It was a very ordinary day, and I just want anyone out there who struggles to celebrate another year of life to know this: you can make your birthday an ordinary day. You can release the expectations, you can tell people “I’d rather not do anything for my birthday this year.” No meals out, no party, no cake, no gifts. Sure, some might find ways around it—like “housewarming gifts” or “moving survival kit.” (Both much appreciated, by the way, Deanne and Amy.) But you can actually control the expectations and execution of how you spend your birthday.

A birthday GIFt from my friend AE Stueve.

Holidays are hard for many. So are birthdays. And perhaps I can sum it up best this way: don’t set yourself up for Ann Perkins expectations when you know, deep down, you’re a Ron Swanson.

How’s Your Summer Been?

I have been living a mostly pandemic-driven summer, but on the occasion that I venture out and run into people I know, one of the first questions they ask is “how’s your summer been?”

And I don’t know how to answer that, really, because first of all, it’s small talk, but second, I can’t tell if they are expecting me to regale them with tales of adventures and plans for the ten weeks that I’m not beholden to the high school.

I’m not sure they want to hear about how I’m procrastinating the curriculum fine-tuning that I wanted done by June 30 (it’s not done), or the schedule I’ve set up to pack all my things in preparation for a move the first week of August, or how I’ve been in physical therapy since just before school got out for “significant vestibular weakness” that I’ve probably had for at least a decade but was only diagnosed after a gnarly case of bi-positional paroxysmal vertigo.

They might want to hear about how I got rid of every piece of furniture I own except for my piano and my nana’s dining table (got rid of the chairs that went with the table, though—those things were torturous to sit on), and built a TV stand, a bookshelf, a desk, an office chair, an end table and a lamp. All. By. Myself. I bought a couch and a pouf, and I no longer despise my environs.

But that’s a long story to tell, really, so when people have asked me, “how’s your summer been?” or “any big plans for the summer?” in that small talk way, I really might just start replying, “Do you want to see a pic that sums it all up?” And show them this:

A screenshot of my bandwidth usage this month—the highest it’s been in 11 years.

Feels good to have accomplished something concrete.

Thinking: A Dangerous Habit.

I saw the tweet and it woke up the central cynic system of my brain: “Find three good things to look forward to this year.”

Don’t get me wrong–I am usually a fan of the Action for Happiness group. The work they do is important and helpful. I have their app and every afternoon my watch buzzes with a reminder to be gentler with myself, with others, to look for good instead of dwelling on the awful.

But the call to action on January 1, 2021 was too much. And yet, I stewed over it all morning.

“Three good things,” I muttered to myself. “I’m not a fortune teller. I have no trips planned. I have no life planned. And so little changes in my life from year to year anyway. Look forward to…what the hell.”

Last year? I had tons to look forward to. Trips, musicals, dinners, time with friends all over the country. It still hurts to think about the lost trips sometimes–there was about a 70% chance I was going to ride along in an RV with my sister and niece from Alaska to the lower 48. I actually mustered up the radical self-care to use two personal days and planned a trip to New York to see friends and museums. Two months into 2020, another friend snagged tickets for “Hamilton” at the Kennedy Center, and I started planning a summer DC/New York trip.

Three things I looked forward to in 2020. Three things that never happened.

So I hope it’s understandable that my initial reaction to AFH’s initial 2021 task sent me into a bit of cynical rage. Why look forward to things that probably won’t even happen? Isn’t that a recipe for disappointment and depression? But the longer I stewed, something changed.

(As Stueve says, thinking is a dangerous habit.)

What if the three things I look forward to in 2021 aren’t exactly…things? Or events? What if the things to look forward to are more ethereal, more abstract?

Can I look forward to a deeper practice of grace–not only toward other people, but also toward myself?

Can I look forward to a continued minimizing and organizing of my life–possessions, apps–toward a maximizing of spending my time and resources purposefully?

Can I look forward to my to-read pile of books, my to-see list of films, my to-listen-to Friday Morning Soundtracks?

For many, January 1, 2021 is fraught for a variety of reasons. The panic from facing a blank slate of the coming year. The collective trauma from what we, humanity, have witnessed the past year. The pressure to change and mold ourselves into someone that–let’s be real–might only serve the people profiting off what we purchase to make those changes.

If you are feeling any of that, I understand and am holding space for you to feel and process as you need. And if and when you are ready to consider finding even one thing to look forward to this year, maybe move from the concrete to the abstract and see if that helps.

It’s worth a try. You are worth the try.

Happy New Year.