Toronto Zoo, New Year’s Eve 2016
Any way you look at it, 2017 was a year of incredible change. Some of it was positive, and a lot of it was negative. The climate is getting worse, our neighbour the United States is ideologically tearing itself apart, powerful men are getting called out on their sexual privilege, people are withdrawing more and more into technology, and everyone everywhere is bemoaning the state of the world.
For me personally it has also been a watershed year. Not only did I make a brave and life-altering decision to move back to my hometown, I also turned 35 and in many ways said goodbye to my youth. For me this has been a year of confusion, uncertainty and instability. It feels like the foundations on which I once built my life are crumbling.
When I was growing up in the 1990s, in an era before the Internet changed everyone’s lives, there were certain things I understood to be universally true based on the model set by the Baby Boomer parents raising me and my peers. You grew up, went to university, and found a 9-5, Monday-to-Friday office job. You married and had kids by the time you were 30. Weekends revolved around housework, shopping, and going to the occasional party or movie. You spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with your extended family. In the summer you would travel, take picnics, go camping. In the winter you might skate or go sledding for recreation (I live in Canada). Travel to exotic places took a lot of saving and planning. That was the way things were, and always would be.
Fast-forward to 2017, and nothing I took for granted has remained. I am at a strange age. On the one hand, I live in the shadow of the Baby Boomers who were my role models growing up, the narcissistic, environment-destroying, racist, “you can skip work when you’re dying,” folks who have largely left the workplace in order to be incredibly self-indulgent and unproductive. On the other side of me are the Millennials, the people who were screwed over by the thoughtlessness of the older generation, and now have decided the best way to cope with their situation is to work from home, bury themselves in their smartphones, and not acknowledge the fact that their lives are giving them serious mental health issues.
So where does that leave the people my age, the people in between these two generational juggernauts? For the most part, I feel like the rug has been pulled out from under my feet. I was raised to believe that life was going to be a certain way when I was 35, and now that I’m here, I’m being told, “sorry, everything you trained for is wrong, the world is shit, you got nothing.”
And I’m not saying it’s all bad. The suburbs, the nuclear family, the 9-5 job, the racists, the sexists, and the xenophobes can all suck it as far as I’m concerned. Breaking down those expectations is great. But I’m feeling like I don’t know where I stand on anything right now. I feel like I’m living in a constant flood of information telling me all kinds of contradictory things, confusing me. Everything I do is fraught with worry over whether I’m even allowed to be enjoying it or not. Is Christmas still okay? Is this movie problematic? Is this book perpetuating stereotypes? Am I living my best life?
At the best of times, I am overwhelmed by change. But this year has felt like a personal tsunami. It’s so much, so fast, and as a sensitive person I am completely and entirely overwhelmed by it all. It’s like being dropped down a well and not knowing if I can even remember how to swim.
How to cope
So here is my plan for how to cope with it all.
First of all, I am going to listen to my inner voice. I have to let go of my fear of missing out and just follow the path that I think is right for me. I don’t give a shit about what’s popular on Netflix, or the latest food fad, or jumping on the new Twitter bandwagon, or whether I’m “just like everyone else.” The world has enough “everyone else’s.” It only has one me.
I am going to make a conscious effort to unplug more. Study after study has shown that people are happier the less time they spend online, and it’s true. Humans are meant to be connected in person, they’re meant to be moving, they’re meant to be living in the physical world and creating things.
I’m going to read more, because reading makes me see the world in a better light, and relaxes me, and it just makes me happy, damnit!
And last but not least, I am going to create. So often I feel like I have no voice in this world. Creating gives me the opportunity to speak through what I write and paint and draw. And that’s a beautiful thing.