I recently heard the saying, Hold on tightly, let go lightly, for the first time. It’s true and it rhymes, which, in the world of aphorisms, is like being both valedictorian and prom queen.
I have never had a problem with holding on. I can grab things and pull them toward me by sheer force of will. It’s the letting go part that’s hard.
My two major accomplishments of 2011 came neatly twinned in December: a wedding and a PhD. My endings and beginnings were all muddled together until I couldn’t tell which was which.
“You’re almost done,” people had been telling me for years, “Don’t give up now.” Also, “Hang in there.” I did. “Hold on.” I did. “Someday this part of your life will be over.” It is.
In 2011 I held on tightly. In 2012 I had to relax my grip and let go.
I’m still working on the lightly part.
* * * * *
In 2012 I re-entered the world. That is in itself no small accomplishment.
At this time last year I had just climbed out of a hole and was still blinking my eyes in the Austin sunshine. I had no idea what was happening in contemporary fiction. I did not read or even know about literary blogs like The Rumpus and The Millions. I had no sense of Austin’s literary scene, a small pond, but one that is positively teeming with flora and fauna. I had just started reading for pleasure again, after a long period of time when just going into a bookstore caused my stomach to flip over in anxiety. I began with The Portrait of a Lady.
Hold on tightly, let go lightly.
In 2012, I let go of academia. It was hard letting go. It felt like letting go of more than just the life I had imagined at 26–teaching in a vibrant, bustling university, reading and discussing theory with my peers, writing sophisticated books on Henry James, or whatever I thought I was going to write on. The sign that I have let go is that I don’t remember how much more it meant to me than just that. I don’t remember why I thought that was the thing I needed. When I picture myself happy in academia, I picture certain moments in grad school: winning awards or grant money, delivering papers that people complimented me on, a handful of incandescent moments when I actually seemed to be helping a student learn something. Or the moment I got into the PhD program, which felt at the time like being proposed to on bended knee by a guy you’ve been in love with forever as fireworks explode overhead and a skywriter spells out your name.
My husband and I just fell in love and decided to get married. There were no bended knees involved.
* * * * *
In 2012 I picked things up and I let them go. I took improv classes, experimented with selling homemade cards and wedding cakes. I applied for jobs in publishing, marketing, and teaching. I proposed a women’s comedy night at a local theater. I started writing two novels and a nonfiction book. None of these things panned out, exactly.
But just because I have let them go doesn’t mean they’re gone.
I may not have a women’s comedy night, but I have a women’s comedy troupe. I don’t have a book of essays on female writers, but I have interviewed six of them (and one very nice dude as well). I don’t decorate wedding cakes for a living, but I did decorate one for a friend, and she loved it beyond all reason. I didn’t expand Dance Dance Party Party’s numbers greatly, but I did spend almost every single Sunday evening in 2012 dancing. I don’t mean to boast, but I have developed a few pretty sweet moves in that time, most of which are not appropriate for weddings.
I published 24 articles in CultureMap this year, and although the professional relationship ended on a sour note, I am still proud of my accomplishments there and grateful to them for giving me a place to learn. I published one cover article on Austin’s literary scene for the Austin Chronicle, and The Rumpus, a cool-kid literary blog out of San Francisco, linked to it. It showed up in my RSS feed.
I was going to write 24 posts on my blog this year.
This is number 23.
Hold on tightly, let go lightly. Happy New Year.