Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda

Here we are again, sliding inexorably through time into another year! I suppose it’s human nature, this need to quantify existence, counting days into weeks, months into years, enumerating accomplishments and reflecting on all that we did. But I must say, writing the year-end post has gotten more bizarre since 2020, when time lost all meaning. Oddly, the “end” of the pandemic did not fix this for me. The world may have gone back to normal, but if my interactions are any indication, most of us still aren’t sure what day of the week it is. The present is muzzy and liminal.

Not that it’s any easier to think about the future. Is there one? As the year winds down, I’m reading Naomi Alderman’s The Future and watching Murder at the End of the World, with Leave the World Behind still fresh in my memory. Apocalypse is in the air, the billionaires are stocking their bunkers, and for the rest of us, it’s starting to feel a little like injury time. This is what recent art would lead us to believe, anyway, and the news contributes more than a little supporting evidence.

Weird present, cloudy future, but theoretically year-in-review posts are about the past; so, what of the year we’re leaving behind? The title of this post will give you a hint. For me, it was a year of feeling like I could be doing something better, or should be doing something else, or would be doing something more effectively, if only…something? A year of feeling one step removed from getting anywhere. At work and in writing, I made plans and the universe laughed. Still, I suppose the effort matters even when the reward doesn’t come.

By the numbers, 2023 yielded roughly 36,000 words of new fiction—not a great year, but not at all bad under the circumstances. I completed a novel draft in January, a novelette in March, and started or extended several other projects, all of which I’m still hoping to share with the world. Meanwhile, I wrote over 63,000 words of reviews, essays, and newsletter content, including 152 blog posts. The newsletter (sign-up from in the header, if you’re interested) was particularly fun, a creative step toward gearing up for self-publishing. On that front, I engaged a copy editor to prepare the first release, and I hope to have the finished book in print by mid-2024. Strategizing is ongoing.

Elsewhere, work was full of frustrating ups and downs, but was mostly stable and good, and life here in Portland has finally crept back to a new kind of normal—one involving more in-person interactions, movie theaters and restaurants, even some travel. Trips to Lake Quinault, Fredonia, Houston, and Seattle increasingly helped me feel more like a person in the world after so many years of lockdown. Much as I love staying home in my comfort zone, I’m definitely hoping for more such adventures next year.

Yes, I could have solved more problems, finalized more projects, and improved more processes in my day job. I should have written a new novel, launched the self-publishing venture, sent out more queries, submitted more stories. I would have felt more accomplished had I done all of that. But you know, it didn’t come together, and I’m okay with it. It’s possible a lifetime of aspiring and planning for the future has finally led to that future, and I’m starting to see the folly of endlessly paving a road toward some imaginary elsewhen. Feathering the nest of the future feels less important than focusing on the muzzy, liminal now—or, on rougher days, just getting through it.

If that sounds grim, well first of all, have you just met me? 😀 But second, I’m taking this attitude shift as a positive development, a healthy psychological breakthrough. A midlife crisis in a good way! “Could have, should have, would have” sounds full of regret on the surface, but so many of life’s expectations are societal, capitalistic, arbitrary, and self-inflicted. Perhaps a good life is more about who you are than what you’ve accomplished, what you’re doing rather than what you’ve done. Maybe it’s time to stop beating myself up over if-onlys and what-ifs.

Or maybe I’m just rationalizing, I don’t know! The point is, for all its disappointments, I’m ending 2023 in a good place. It was a year of process, tinkering, reflection, recharging, experimentation, and incremental progress. I lived my life, had some fun, and made some memories. I feel pretty grateful about it, and even more grateful to all the wonderful people who made my life better every day. Thanks for reading, and hope you all have a fantastic 2024!

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