Discover more from Shangrilogs
The word of your year - #68
Something I love and loathe.
I am an obsessive introspector, which is why it should come as no surprise that the end of every year is canonized by writing about said year and the experience of living it. As I write this, it’s a spectacularly beautiful day where I would like to be skiing, but I have a horrible headache and cramps so I’m curled into a ball in a sunless corner of the house so that I might see whatever essay shows up in my own gloom. And what should I receive in my inbox? Why, it’s Susannah Conway’s inimitable Unravel Your Year!
No journaling exercise feels more fruitful (or more time consuming) than Unravel Your Year. Every year, I get mad about how long it takes to complete this exercise, and every year I finish it feeling better prepared for the year ahead.
One of the true highlights of UYY is the exercise of finding your “word” for the entire year ahead. Not a resolution, but a vibe. My word for 2021 was Bloom: I wanted to see what I was capable of when I took intentional care of myself, when I stopped looking for validation and instead started looking for nourishment. It was the year I moved to Colorado to buy this home, the year I started this newsletter, the year I picked up mountain biking, the year I somehow willed a free hot tub into my life. Bloom was the right word.
My word for 2022 was Seek. I wanted a word that empowered me to forgo sleep for adventure, that encapsulated courage and the hunt for a rich life. I wanted a word that made me live more and scroll less. And in many ways, it worked. I had three jobs this year. I went to LA, San Francisco, Santa Fe, Boston, Sedona, Moab, Idaho, and Dominica, not to mention a writer’s retreat in Nicaragua, a women’s MTB clinic in Snowmass, and a hut-to-hut trip in Escalante. I went to rodeos, horse auctions, and antique stores, I also went uselessly viral. I learned how to breathe through my nose and how to skin up a mountain, though not at the same time. I knocked my teeth out, did not meet my goals for the newsletter, and I lost my grandmother. I got a new tattoo, renovated a bathroom, and started a podcast with a friend of mine. I got my dream job and I got my first byline in Cosmo. I saved an owl. I wrote this newsletter every week. Seek was the right word. It encouraged me, provoked me, and pushed me.
Seeking helped me become more me.
So this year, I wanted to start the process of doing Unravel Your Year with you. Maybe this will be terrible! It’s certainly not what this newsletter is usually doing (is it usually doing anything?), but I hope it will inspire you to try a personal deep dive. A little excavation feels good if you’ve got the tools.
Conway’s first prompt is simple, and that’s where we’ll begin:
What do I need more of? What do I need less of?
It’s easy for me to look at these questions and think, “well, obviously I need more money and less distraction.” A predictable (if capitalist) framing, essentially asking “how can I become an ATM?” But the primary component of this exercise is not actually these questions. These two questions get lofted into your mind before the real query: what does your ideal day look like? Conway’s careful to warn this does not mean your Fantasy Day. This isn’t “I just accidentally mountain biked through a movie set, and they asked me if I could stunt double for the actress who hates bikes, and then she was so grateful that I showed up that she tweeted my newsletter out to her millions of followers telling them to subscribe.” That’s not a day, that’s a daydream.
Thinking about your ideal day (with the backdrop of needing more or less) is a way to see how your current life aligns with your happiness. I have all the tools at my disposal to create my ideal day ad nauseam, but most days I just don’t. Most days — the winter months specifically — look like this:
Set alarm for 6:30
Do not get out of bed til nearing 7:45 because it’s cold and dark and the bed is so cozy and all the pets are still asleep except Snoots who, hearing the alarm at 6:30, has been screaming ever since
Turn the hot water on to make pour overs
While the water is boiling, do Wordle, Quordle, and DuoLingo, then scroll aimlessly while you feed the cats and the dog their special “morning treats” which jesus, they really conned their way into that one
Sit on the couch with Ben reading (rarely a book, often articles, usually Twitter) while we drink coffee
It’s already 9:30? What the fuck (put on real clothes, go upstairs to the loft, open my laptop, put a cardigan over my lap because I’m cold, Finn sees the cardigan being positioned and immediately settles in for a long nap where both my legs fall asleep)
Stare at laptop, do work, answer some emails, do more work, try to remember what work I need to be doing, grab some crackers and cheese, Instagram, rabbit hole, second coffee, think about writing newsletter early, don’t, play with dog, work, scroll, stare
It’s 4pm? What the fuck (the sun is already behind the mountains, Cooper is bored, I have talked to 0 people, I change into kit and head into the basement to ride the trainer)
Somehow it takes 45 minutes to get on the trainer (suspicious), so I ride for an hour, and then it’s magically 6pm
Ask Ben what’s for dinner
Eat what’s for dinner
Get high and watch a TV show
Get ready for bed, but absolutely forget one component of this routine rotating between vitamins, brushing teeth, retainers, washing my face, moisturizing hands, feeding cats “midnight food” so they don’t wake me up because they want six pieces of kibble, peeing
Watch Taskmaster in bed while I play Solitaire and fall asleep around 10:30pm
That is an autopilot day, and while it’s nice to know autopilot exists, it’s not exactly why you become a pilot. It’s certainly not a bad day, but what part of that day speaks to the grandeur of the mountains outside? What part of that day is nourishing me? What part of it sounds fun or inspiring or reverent? What part of that sounds like seeking or blooming? Not every day needs to be spent climbing a mountain, but surely each day can accommodate more than cheese and crackers for lunch?
Autopilot days are easy for me in the winter. The dark, the cold, the waiting for better snow, so it’s important for me this time of year to look closely at how I’m spending my time. December ends with my birthday and that last thing I need to be feeling when another year swings around is like I wasted the last month of my previous age.
My ideal day isn’t complicated. It looks like this:
Set alarm for 6am, spend 30 minutes enjoying being cozy, then get up at 6:30
Head up to the loft for 30 minutes of dance in clothes I set out the night before because I am kind to future me. I spend the rest of the day more energized and in my body because I took this time. Cooper also loves dance time, and he always joins so I’ll throw a toy or squat him.
Ben brews the coffee because Ben likes a slow morning
Let’s say it’s 7:15 then, and I give myself two hours to write. Maybe it’s the novel, maybe it’s this newsletter, maybe it’s journaling. Doesn’t matter. It’s my writing time.
Around 9:15, when the sun emerges over the ridgeline, I take Cooper for a short walk because he hates being cold but sunlight in the morning is good for your brain. I say hi to some neighbors.
I settle into work at 9:45 because on Monday when the week started, I outlined what I wanted to tackle this week. Instead of tabbing around, I just start with the day's work. I use the Pomodoro Technique, and I keep a book nearby to enjoy during my breaks.
Around 1pm, I eat some of the salad we made in bulk earlier in the week to make lunch easy.
At 1:30, I lift some weights to fight off the post lunch sleepies.
At 2pm, I settle back in to finish what I can for the day.
Around 4:30, I go for a longer solo walk to clear out whatever I’ve been building up.
From 5:30 to 7pm, I do some light choring, maybe enjoy a podcast or a half-mast attention show, maybe we have a happy hour glass of wine with a neighbor
7pm we sit down for dinner at the table
It’s a reading night, no TV, just records and books
Bedtime routine is initiated at 9pm to be in bed by 9:45pm, asleep by 10:30pm. We still watch Taskmaster in bed.
That’s not a very complicated day or even a very special one. My ideal day bar is very low. All it requires is a schedule! I’ve lived this day a few times, and I go to bed so happy because I walked, I danced, I wrote, I went outside, I ate well, and I didn’t spend time aimlessly unsure of what I should be doing.
So when I ponder the questions about what I need more and less of, it feels pretty obvious. What I need more of is structure. What I need less of is mindlessness. But structure is hard to come by when you work remotely, alone, with the internet at your fingertips. Or is that why mindlessness is easy to come by?
That ideal day, while broken down hour by hour, is building toward other things: a joyfulness in my body, an appreciation for my environment, and an investment in my writing. What I’m saying is: I need less staring into the abyss that is my phone and more laying my clothes out the night before. And perhaps that starts tonight. Conway’s PDF on finding your word is broken into five days of different exercises. There is this inherent eagerness to pick your word out of a list like a word search puzzle, and I felt it, scanning all the exercises while “relentless” kept campaigning in my mind. The scanning is the part of me that hates this exercise, but ignoring the word “relentless” is the part of me that loves it.
I really love living in this little town. The only thing to do on Friday night, really, was to go to the rec league hockey game. The town manager emailed to say someone was organizing a sledding party and who could volunteer as the shuttle truck? The post office is so small that in December, it’s requested residents stop by daily to clear out packages lest the postman be limited to a 3x2 foot space. All this smallness, this limiting of options and commanding of schedules, it means it’s easy to make a plan. There aren’t countless restaurants or bars. Your friends are all friends with each other, and if you can’t make it that night, you’ll see them walking their dog the next day anyway. A smaller life, a slower one, means you have time.
This next year, I’d just like to make a little more concerted use of it.
That Cosmo byline I mentioned earlier happened this week, by the way. It was a deep dive into how Ben and I distribute labor in our marriage. You can read it here: “He Makes Dinner. I Make Money. Here's How We Figure Out the Rest.” What stood out to me while mining the history of our chores list for that piece was Ben’s singular dedication to pursuing his dream. I’ve never had that. I never had a dream that stuck, until this novel crept into my actual dreams. When I think about my word for 2023, I want it to basically boil down into this: write that goddamned book.
What do you need more of in 2023? What do you need less of? Does having a word of the year speak to you? And will you join in on the soul excavation that is Unravel Your Year?
If you’re craving more of Conway’s work, you can find her on Substack as well.