Friday, December 30, 2016

Chasing Shadows

I've been back in Omaha, Nebraska for nearly three weeks now, and it's been terrific and strange at the same time.

Omaha is an unsuspecting Great Plains city. It's unpretentious and pleasant. To East and West Coasters, it's in the heart of flyover territory and perhaps difficult to locate on a map. Omaha's not pretending to be anything it's not, and that's why I like it so much. Omaha is the girl next door. The city is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get type of place. It's Nebraska nice.
The last time I lived in Omaha, I had just graduated high school, still wide-eyed and optimistic about this crazy planet, and anxious to experience life outside of the Cornhusker state. But Omaha has changed so much in the decade since I graduated from Duchesne, I hardly recognize parts of it. Waves of gentrification have lapped and crashed against neighborhoods I used to know, changing them for better or worse.

Some things remain the same, and I'm hit with a nostalgia so strong it's almost as though I can see the shadows of my memories: the coffeeshop where I crammed for exams and outside of which I had my first kiss, the hospital where I was treated when I broke my arm when I was seven, the old concert hall where I used to see angsty bands perform shows, the long-unused tree house in my parents' backyard, the park where I'd go for a run and see the annual 4th of July show each year, the church my family dubbed "the basilica of South Omaha" that I grew up in and where my parents were married, the worn brick roads of the Old Market, the concrete steps to my junior high where I waited for classes to start as an awkward preteen, and the beautiful old buildings of my high school that I walked through in my red Fairmont plaid uniform for four years.

One of the strangest things besides the changing architecture is the feeling that the city has moved on without me. Most of my friends no longer live in Omaha, and as I sit in the cafes and drive the streets I once called home, I realize that I hardly know anyone. It's said that we're six degrees of separation away from anyone on the planet, but in Nebraska (population 1.8 million), it's usually one or two degrees and it's almost surprising not to run into a familiar face at your local haunts. I've realized how much it's not just the buildings that make a place, but the people as well. The tide came in and washed away my footprints in the sand. It's not necessarily a sad feeling, but it's strange and nostalgic and at times overpowering.

I keep recalling a passage from one of my favorite books, Catcher in the Rye. The protagonist, Holden Caulfield, visits the Museum of Natural History and is hit with a wave of nostalgia upon finding the dioramas in the museum are as unchanged as when he went to the museum as a child. Faced with the dioramas as a constant in his life, he's forced to realize that it's he who has changed.

Like Holden in the museum, I too have been forced to admit how much I've changed in the past ten years, punched with a dose of nostalgia at the city I once knew but will always love, confined by buildings that are familiar but surrounded by faces I no longer recognize.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Confessions of a New Years Naysayer (Or Why New Years is Awful and No One Admits It)

2016 is quickly ending, and the holiday I dread is quickly approaching: New Years. I'm generally a holiday lover, but New Years' is one that has never won me over. In fact, it ranks dead last on my list of holidays (Valentine's Day only slightly edged it out because of the prospect of copious amounts of chocolate).

Why pick on New Years, you say? Isn't it a time to celebrate with friends the joyful end of one year and the welcoming of a brand new year, full of hope and possibilities? No, it's not. Allow me to explain why New Years sucks and no one will admit it.

The principle reason New Years sucks is that it never lives up to expectations, no matter what you do. I've been graced with an incredibly low amount of FOMO in my life (for my non-millennial readers, that's "Fear of Missing Out.") and I generally try to keep my expectations low. Even though I like (okay, love) to make plans, I'm generally just as happy meeting up with friends, going out, or attending an event as I am staying at home, taking a bubble bath, reading a book, and being soundly asleep by 9 pm, regardless of what anyone else is doing. But each year, when New Years' rolls around, I feel a ridiculous pressure to have some sort of exciting plan for New Years. It's somehow impossible to not have high expectations of doing something awesome on New Years, and then inevitably being disappointed.

No matter what you do for New Years', you're screwed. If you stay home and take a bubble bath and go to bed at 9 pm, you feel lame for not going out and doing something, even if you never feel that way on literally any other night of the entire year. If you do go out for dinner, you have to make reservations way too far in advance, and then you'll pay five times as much for it as you normally would just because it's December 31 and they give you a glass of cheap champagne (see also: Why Valentine's Day sucks). If you go out to a club, you end up paying some insane cover fee to finally dance with strangers after freezing your appendages off standing in line outside (well, if you live in the Midwest, at least). Then you get to feel alone in a crowd full of strangers (which, by the way, is one of the worst feelings in human existence), and wish you were at home taking a bubble bath.

Another reason New Years is awful and no one admits it is the forced self-flagellation of making meaningless resolutions that rolls around at the end of every December. Don't get me wrong, I think the process of careful self-reflection and making purposeful resolutions regularly is a really good thing, and I usually try to do it once a year or so. But as I pushed my grocery cart towards the checkout lane today, I realized that all of the "resolutions" that are pushed by American media are all about one thing, and one thing only: physical appearance, or more specifically, weight loss.

As my eyes perused the magazine covers in the checkout aisle, their titles screamed things like "Get ripped in 2017!" "Get the abs you've always dreamed of!" "30 ways to lose the holiday pounds." Not one said something like "Be less of an asshole this year!" "Try a little kindness in 2017!""Love yourself the way you are!" It bothers me that our society focuses so much effort on the physical, and so little on the spiritual and emotional. It troubles me that nearly all of the magazines in that supermarket aisle were specifically targeting women, their covers telling us that we're not skinny enough, that we are not whole and complete and valuable as we are. I am all for being healthy, and I'm all for making resolutions, but to me putting so much effort on outward appearances compared to little or none for what really matters underneath makes me feel sick.

Resolutions that matter seem all the more urgent this December 2016. The world feels a little less welcoming, a little less kind, and a lot less reasonable. Though I usually make resolutions around my birthday, I'm trying to keep these in mind for 2017:

  1. Kindness is never a mistake. One of my former yoga teachers used to say this, and I think I could be a lot more conscious of how I'm coming across to other people in 2017. The world needs a little more kindness. 
  2. An empty cup cannot pour anything out. I tend to burn myself out and not take enough time for self-reflection and solid introvert time with no distractions; I sometimes focus on what needs to get done rather than where I need to go. Taking quiet, alone time seems all the more urgent now that I'm a working Mom, and didn't exactly do a great job finding time for myself the past few months. When I don't take time for self-renewal, I don't have as much energy to give. 
  3. Prioritize relationships. In 2016, I wasn't great at prioritizing my relationships, and took a lot of them for granted. Part of this was feeling overwhelmed trying to find a work/life balance with a new son, but I too easily forget that relationships are like house plants, and need regular watering and attention. I need to make more time to talk to, see, and spend time with the people I really care about, and tell them how much they mean to me in 2017. 
So if you're feeling alone in a crowd this New Years, know that I'm probably feeling the exact same way (and deep down, every wishes they were taking a bubble bath and going to bed early). Take some time to make some resolutions that matter, and maybe it will help a little bit.

I'll see you on the flip side. May 2017 be a little easier on all of us than 2016.