Reflections on my Jesus Year

Jesus Year

Jesus of Nazareth is a very controversial figure—different traditions and schools of thought have wildly different accounts of who he was and what he represented, but there are a few things that most people can agree on, among them that he and his followers fundamentally altered the course of world history…and that he died when he was 33 years old. The latter is the inspiration behind the term “Jesus year,” a generally humorous idea that serves as a kind of chalk mark on the wall that anyone can use to compare himself or herself to the most famous carpenter in the world: “Let’s see; me: 33, successful lawyer in private practice, married with 2 kids, and I’ve got a nice house to call my own.  Jesus: 33, same nature as God, crucified for the sins of all mankind, rose from the grave 3 days later, fundamentally altered Western civilization and reset our conception of time based on the year of his birth. [dejectecly] You win, Jesus.”

My own Jesus year drew to a close Tuesday evening (I wrote most of this post before it did, but I was in the midst of a 15-day electronic communication vacation, so I’m only posting it now); rather than a time to sit back and take stock of my life, though, it was as close to my own personal hero’s journey as anything I’ve ever experienced…and although it certainly didn’t start out that way, in the final reckoning it was one of the best years of my life. Here are 33 highlights, in kind-of-but-not-really chronological order—the format is an inspiration from a friend of mine who did something similar for her 27th birthday last year:

  1. The foundational event of the past year, undoubtedly, came when my fiancée got cold feet and called off our engagement—February 8th, 2013, four days after my 33rd birthday, although the issue had been bubbling for awhile before that. It was one of the most traumatic things I’d ever experienced; I felt literally futureless for a long time afterwards, and it took me awhile to regain my characteristic optimism, for the spring to return to my step. The reason I list the breakup as a highlight, though, is that without it the rest of this year wouldn’t have been possible; the amount of energy it released back into my life was enormous, once I started learning to process it. In hindsight I’ve honestly come to see it as one of the best things that’s ever happened to me, simply because of the positive effects it’s had on virtually every other aspect of my life.
  2. That’s been the case in large part because of a) my friends and family (more on that in a moment) and b) the way I handled the 3 ½ weeks immediately following the breakup: I opened myself up to it completely, in a way that was very much out of character for me at the time, and I gave myself plenty of time to process everything surrounding it before I went back to my life. When a close friend from college went through something similar a few years ago she sent out an email to everyone she’d invited to the wedding to tell them the news; the day after the breakup the last thing in the world that I wanted to do was have dozens of conversations explaining the situation to friends and family, so I followed my friend’s lead and wrote a simple, heartfelt email in which I told people about the breakup and asked for their help in the coming weeks. It was one of the most vulnerable things I’d ever written, but the response was overwhelming—the replies to that email were a large part of what kept me going that first week, and through them I also discovered a much stronger community here in Seattle than I’d previously realized I had. I shed myself of all responsibilities for three weeks—no work, very intermittent Internet access, etc—and spent the first week driving the best roads in California in a convertible and the second and third weeks back in Seattle intentionally connecting with friends in a much deeper way than I’d done before the breakup. I’ve been keeping a more or less daily journal since January of 2010, and something I did starting on the California road trip that really helped was to go back and re-read the entirety of the relationship from the very beginning, starting with the first time we met and going all the way up to what was then the current day, including all of the significant emails that we wrote each other along the way. It was painful to re-live it in that way, but it also helped me to see it for what it was, warts and all, and it ensured that I was dealing with a more realistic version of it than the simple caricatures that I had in my mind at the end. It also prevented me from overly distorting my mental image of who my ex-fiancée was, either positively or negatively, which helped me immensely in ultimately forgiving her, recognizing and accepting my own role in the end of the relationship, and moving on with my life. I also read a good breakup book, Getting Past Your Breakup, early on, and I had an epiphane while I was in California that writing for an audience was an important part of my life that had been missing or neglected for a long time.
  3. My friends and family really are the reason that the last year was as good as it was, and that I’m doing as well as I am right now—I opened the door, but the degree to which the people I’m close to walked through it and sat with me through some of the toughest times I’ve ever experienced made all the difference in the world. I especially came to feel like part of a genuine community here in Seattle for the first time since I’ve lived here, and that feeling manifested itself in a richer and more fulfilling social life than I’ve had since I graduated from college. I had looked to my relationship for a lot of my sense of belonging in the past, and losing that sense of belonging forced me to go looking for it elsewhere, which led to deeper friendships than I’d taken the time to really invest in before the breakup. It would be impossible to overstate the importance of my friends in making this year what it’s turned out to be; the time I’ve spent with them (you) has formed the core of the experience and driven a lot of the growth that’s come to characterize my Jesus Year for me.
  4. Posting regularly on this blog starting in mid-February was my way of getting out there and writing more in the beginning, and it marked the start of a much deeper engagement with the written word. The last 12 months have seen me explore Morning Pages, join a book club, read more novels than I probably have in the last 5 years combined, write my first short story and my first play both, write to friends in a way that I haven’t done in a long time, get back into some of the travel writing that I enjoyed so much in my younger days, play around with the dynamics of storytelling via Facebook and Twitter…and realize and accept that some essential part of myself has always been wrapped up in the intricacies of language and the ways in which it finds expression in the world, and reclaim that intentionally in a way that makes me deeply, deeply happy.
  5. I started seeing a therapist for the first time in March of last year, and it was an experience that I found hugely valuable. I ended up going back for about 8 months, weekly at first and once every other month in the end, and there were a lot of great things that I took away from the experience, among them a deeper exploration of vulnerability and what it means for me, a new perspective on my own relationship both to myself and to the world around me, an appreciation of the importance of some of my early life experiences that I’d never really processed before, and some good specific tools to use in my daily life that I’ve continued to get a lot of value out of (affirmations, for example, which I’d read about but been hesitant to try because I associated them with Stuart Smalley from Saturday Night Live).
  6. Learning to embrace vulnerability in a lot of different areas of my life was a really important part of this past year. I’ve enjoyed selling things for as long as I can remember, so I’ve always had pretty thick skin when it comes to rejection in a professional context, but one of the insights I arrived at through conversations with my therapist and my friends was that in my personal life I’d spent the past 20 years building up a nearly airtight suit of emotional armor to protect myself from the possibility of personal rejection, rejection of who I am as a human being—as opposed to rejection of whatever it is that I happen to be selling at the time, from which I actually draw energy and which I can deal with literally hundreds of times per day (telemarketing, voter registration, canvassing & phone banking, etc). Unpacking what that’s meant and slowly starting to remove that armor piece by piece has been one of the most important things that I’ve done in the last 12 months. Keeping myself safe is no longer the goal; I’ve accepted that opening myself up to being hurt is not only OK, it’s more or less responsible for all of the best parts of my life and everything that I’m proud of in my personal history. In the aftermath of the breakup I often found myself longing for the feeling of being alive in my own skin that I had immediately after college, and I eventually came to realize that what I really missed was the feeling of, as a friend once described my post-college travels, throwing myself out into the world with no guarantee or reasonable expectation of success—picking a big, ambitious goal and just going for it. “It’s in letting go that we truly live,” I wrote at some point during my car sales days, and it’s a truth that I still have to remind myself of today.
  7. Getting more deeply involved in the world of improv has also been great for me—a couple of friends were taking improv 100 from Unexpected Productions and asked me if I wanted to join them, and I said yes for two reasons: because it sounded like fun, but also because improv had been an important part of my ex-fiancée’s life in college and immediately afterwards (although not one that we had shared), and I saw taking a few classes as a way to reclaim that mental space in the wake of the breakup. I wasn’t prepared for how much I would love everything about it, though—the focus on getting out of your own head and being completely present in the moment, the joy of playing with a group of like-minded people, the thrill of performing on-stage, the satisfaction from putting in the time to get progressively better and more comfortable onstage…I realized the link between vulnerability and improv early on, and embracing improv has been one way in which I’ve learned to embrace vulnerability. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun, and a wonderful community in and of itself.
  8. Playing more, in general, has been an important theme—that’s included turning the work/life dial as far towards “life” as I realistically could, making time for a lot more trips to the outdoors than I have in the past, and generally relaxing the overly rigid view of myself that weighted all of my decisions with their impact on the different branching possible versions of my future that I eventually realized was preventing me from fully enjoying all of the beautiful interlocking day-to-day moments of which life is constructed. Playfulness is a characteristic of mine that I think comes closer than perhaps anything else to defining my essence, and yet it was something that I had been neglecting in my attempt to create the perfect life for myself, with perfection defined largely in terms and constructs that I had adopted from others without ever sitting down and critically asking myself whether I believed in them at a fundamental level. When the relationship ended it brought my whole future and all of the plans that had gone into it crashing down around my feet, and one of the best things about picking up the pieces again afterwards was that it forced me to really sit down and ask myself what adds value to my life and what doesn’t, and adjust accordingly. Play, in all its many forms, adds an enormous amount of value to my life, and it’s felt great to recognize that and embrace it more fully as a result.
  9. Backpacking specifically was a major theme this year, especially this summer (there was a run in August-September where I spent four weekends in a row having wonderful outdoor adventures with friends)—it’s something I’ve always enjoyed but haven’t often made the time for, and intentionally making time for it after the August primary turned out to be a great move. There’s a certain specific kind of joy that comes from playing outdoors that had traditionally been something I got in little bits and spurts and day-hikes, and taking in long, deep drafts of it was incredibly nourishing to a part of my soul that doesn’t often get fed these days. Through backpacking I redefined my relationship to both nature and civilization, and rediscovered my inner wild animal in the process; explored the limits of what my body is capable of; rediscovered the visceral, simple joy brought about by pain and injury and the attendant juxtaposition of my own mortality with the uncaring vastness of the natural world, through which I’m reminded of what it really means to be alive; bonded on a deeper level with friends; and discovered new forms of relaxation while also arriving at new insights about the barriers to relaxation in my daily life.
  10. Snowboarding was another activity that re-emerged this year after a long absence. I went once in February here in the Seattle area, with friends for the day; and then for Christmas this year, instead of my flying back to Texas to see my family we all met up in Colorado (I took the train down and back) and spent four days skiing and snowboarding together. In Colorado I ended up snowboarding the first day, taking the second day off to relax in the cabin, skiing for the first time in nearly 20 years the third day, and taking the last day off as another relaxation day. It felt good to be back on the slopes, and it was surprising to me how quickly all of my skills came back to me; even though I hadn’t skied in a couple of decades, by the end of my first run I was every bit as good as I’d been at my peak, and by the end of the day I was doing runs that I never would have been able to do 20 years ago. It was a good object lesson in the fact that there are huge tracts of ourselves that we allow to lie dormant over the years but that are waiting patiently, perfectly intact, for us to rediscover them when we’re ready.
  11. The train trip back from Colorado took an unexpected turn when the train broke down 2 hours north of Los Angeles, and the chain of events that unfolded from there culminated in a moment of travel euphoria that was reminiscent of my glory days: I booked a flight from LAX to Seattle leaving in a matter of hours, hitchhiked (for the first time in America) down to Santa Barbara and then caught a cheap, down-to-the-wire ride to the airport with an off-duty minivan taxi driver and his wife, featuring a pit stop at In-N-Out to grab dinner and a feeling of complete and utter joy as I sat at the terminal with 10 minutes to spare and lost myself completely in the bliss of the moment. It was the same feeling I got coming back from Siem Reap crammed into the back of a compact truck with 17 other people the summer after I graduated from college, and standing by the side of the road in New Zealand with all my worldly possessions at my feet the first time I hitchhiked, and on a handful of other occasions that together mark the high points of the collective time that I’ve spent on the road over the course of my life. It was great to be reminded that those receptors in my brain still work.
  12. The last year of the McGinn administration was a journey in and of itself. Volunteering on the first campaign in 2009 and then working for the mayoral administration for four years in many ways formed the core of my Seattle identify—most of my relationships in Seattle came from the connections I made in that world, not to mention a huge amount of the knowledge that I have about the city and its residents and the lenses through which I see them and the monthly salary that had allowed me to buy my own apartment instead of continuing to rent—but after the breakup my heart was never in either the job or the campaign to the extent that it had been before. I came back to work, and volunteered on the campaign in my spare time (albeit not as much as I could have), because I saw it as the most important thing happening in Seattle at the time, but I decided in mid-February that if we won I wasn’t going to come back for a second term. It didn’t prevent me from putting my heart and soul on the line—and it didn’t make the loss any easier to take—but it did take away one of my crutches in thinking about my future to know that I was going to be looking at a blank slate one way or another on January 1st. We didn’t win, so my farewell to the Mayor’s Office ended up being part of a larger group farewell, an experience that was by turns bitter and sweet but much more manageable for being something that we all went through together. For 3 years and 10 months working in the Mayor’s Office was a non-stop firehose of information and projects and deadlines and timelines and things to react to; after the election the firehose slowed to a much more manageable stream, and we were able to focus, collectively, on wrapping up loose ends, making preparations for the transition to the new administration, and, just as important, both mourning the loss of our community and winding things down in a way that was meaningful for us and true to who we were. The last substantive thing that I did in the Mayor’s Office was to organize the office’s farewell dinner; all I did after that was clear out my inbox and finish packing up my things. Coming in to work on December 31st, my last day, was largely ceremonial—I spent most of the day writing a long farewell blog post, and then we had an informal gathering in the Mayor’s office from which we trickled out, one by one, from the 7th floor of City Hall for the last time.
  13. Letting go of the Mayor’s Office, interestingly enough, was something that I approached through the process of giving away the engagement ring just after the end of the campaign, to a friend of a friend who had lost the ring she was preparing to use to propose to her partner when her car was broken into in early November. I’d moved on from the relationship awhile ago at this point, but part of me was still holding onto that ring, more for the memories it represented than anything else. In the same way that giving away the physical object of the ring necessitated my taking back and reclaiming all of the emotional energy with which I had endowed it, accepting that the Mayor’s Office version of my future was really and truly gone allowed me to take back all of the energy that I’d put into that version of what my life could be, and it forced me to start thinking more deeply about what I wanted to do with it in this new, more open-ended version of my present.
  14. Startup Seattle, the City’s tech startup initiative that I consider to be the legacy of my time in the Mayor’s Office, was funded in this year’s budget last fall, just before Thanksgiving. It began as a simple roundtable with high-profile members of the tech startup community in May of 2012 (planning for which started in February); by the end of that year it had become a full-fledged initiative, and the first half of 2013 was spent refining and finalizing the components of that initiative with a community advisory committee, the culmination of which was securing funding for a new staff position in the City’s Office of Economic Development for a full-time liaison between City government and the tech startup community. The whole process of getting to know the local tech community better and putting together the initiative was one of the most enjoyable parts of my time in the Mayor’s Office for me; I’m excited to see it grow and change over the course of the coming months and years.
  15. I decided definitively against pursuing nursing as a career path. I wrote what I think is one of my better blog posts about that decision and its history, but the short version is that I realized through volunteering in the Harborview ER that a) nursing isn’t something I’m really passionate about, and it never has been, and b) life’s too short for me not to be doing something I’m passionate about for a living. It was a significant decision, because I’d always thought of nursing as a safety net—something I could do if I needed to, and a career that would always be there if I really needed it. Knowing that I was operating without a safety net, I think, connected me viscerally to my own financial mortality in the same way that gashing my hand open while navigating a narrow rock ledge on a backpacking trip in April, for example, connected me viscerally to my own corporeal mortality, the end result of both being to make me more sharply attuned to the present and less invested in some distant possible future version of myself or my life.
  16. Speaking of being more sharply attuned to the present, the need to be more present in the moment has been another strong theme, and practicing mindfulness meditation again for the first time in a long time has been an important way of addressing that need. I was very interested in monasticism as an expression of self-sufficiency immediately after college, but I gave up on the idea that self-sufficiency even exists about 8 years ago, and around the same time I largely stopped meditating. What led me back to it was a persistent finding, both from re-reading my journals over the years and from the newly learned lessons of this year, that the best moments in my life have all involved being completely and wholly present in a given moment but that it’s something I struggle with on a daily basis. The focus of my newfound meditation practice has been on more fully experiencing everything that the present has to offer—on unlocking more of the joy and beauty and potential that are waiting in every moment of my life. It’s been slow going, but I can already notice a difference.
  17. Along those same lines, being intentional about giving myself prolonged periods dedicated exclusively to rest, relaxation, and reflection has proved to be incredibly valuable. The most significant of those were the 3 ½-week period immediately following the breakup; the train trip that bracketed snowboarding in Colorado over the Christmas holiday; and the 15-day electronic communication vacation that I’m in the middle of at the moment. That last one is like existential meditation, in a way—disconnecting all of the traditional inputs that are constantly vying for my attention has allowed me to observe what I miss, what I don’t, and what natural urges emerge into the space created by the absence of my usual routines. It’s very similar to what I get from a good travel experience, except that travel tends to replace familiar routines with unfamiliar ones; the question of what kinds of routines and life paths arise naturally in my mind in the absence of anything else is a very interesting one…and for me, at least, it’s been a very productive way to think more deeply about what I want the post-Mayor’s Office phase of my life to look like.
  18. One major thing that’s emerged into that space, when I’ve given it a chance, has been a burning desire to create more in addition to just consuming, and to change what it is that I spend my time consuming in the first place. Writing has been an important part of that, as has performing through improv, hosting gatherings instead of just attending them, molding my apartment—with the help of a friend who’s an excellent amateur interior decorator—into my favorite space that I’ve ever inhabited, and strongly considering creating my own income stream for the first time in my life instead of simply taking a job with an existing organization. In a lot of ways it’s felt like my inner artist has been released into the world for the first time since I was a child, and it’s been fantastic—two friends host art nights at their house from time to time that tap into a crafts-based pleasure center I’d forgotten I even had as I sit on their floor or at their dining room table dripping wax onto patterned sheets of construction paper or making a floppy bonnet out of a shopping bag and a leftover canvassing walk sheet; I dressed up for a friend’s wedding, white linen suit capped off by a black latex Batman mask, the only one of the guests who took the “what to wear” suggestions from the website to heart, and it’s hard to remember a time when I’ve had more fun at a wedding…rediscovering, and expanding, my own capacity for creation and creativity has been both incredibly meaningful and deeply, soul-nourishingly enjoyable.
  19. I upgraded from the Fitbit I’d been using since the end of 2011 to a Basis B1, a more fully functional activity tracker that I prefer because it has more sensors than a Fitbit and a better gamification system, but primarily because of the form factor: it’s a watch, so not only does it have a bigger display and an easier access point, but it also tells time! There’s a lot of quantified self wearable tech out there to choose from, but I would wholeheartedly recommend a Basis if you’re thinking seriously about making a purchase in that area in the near future; I love mine.
  20. I sold my iPad last year in an effort to reduce the incidence of its primary use case, reading news on the Internet while lounging around on the couch at home; I balanced it out on the gadget scale, however, by buying an Xbox 360 package during one of Amazon’s lightning Black Friday sales, which represents the first time that I’ve owned a console gaming system since I sold my last Xbox 360 when I left Texas to volunteer on the Obama campaign in mid-2008. After binging myself on Halo the first few days I realized that I’d need to implement some rules to keep me from spending hours in front of the TV, so I came up with a system whereby I can play Xbox every day for as much time as I spend learning something new (capped at 30 minutes per day), provided that I’m at inbox zero on gmail for the day—doing lessons out of my HTML/CSS book counts, as does improv class, reading a meditation book…etc. For the last week or so I’ve relaxed the learning requirement and just given myself 30 minutes per day of Xbox time, but I should probably re-implement it; it’s a really great form of motivation. I like to think that I’m still deriving the neurological benefits of playing video games without spending too much time on them, though, which is a marked change from the role that they’ve often played at earlier points in my life.
  21. Another good habit that I’ve been intentionally trying to build (I use a little iOS app called Lift, but it’s really just an electronic version of a daily checklist) is to do one thing, every day, that I really don’t want to do. It can be as simple as getting up early and running when I really just feel like rolling over and going back to sleep, or it can be something more substantive like finally doing a project from my to-do list that’s been languishing there for months or having a conversation that I’ve been dreading; either way, though, I’ve started conditioning myself to derive pleasure from doing things specifically because I don’t want to do them, and it’s been fairly successful so far.
  22. After 4 ½ years of car-free living I bought a new car in June of last year, a Honda Fit…and it’s been really wonderful having a car again. I intended to use it for hiking and snowboarding and generally getting out of the city when I bought it—and I’ve done a fair bit of that—but by far what I use it for most often is just going to parts of the city that I otherwise wouldn’t visit very often. It’s amazing how much more often I leave the general Capitol Hill/downtown walkshed when going to Fremont or the U District or even Ballard or West Seattle takes a fraction of the time vs. what it would take on a bus. I’m a fan of being able to get around the city more easily without using a car, but there’s still a huge chunk of the city for which using the bus as a sole method of transportation really does take significantly longer. I will say that being car-free was much better post-Car2Go than it was pre-Car2Go…but there’s nothing quite like having a car of one’s own, especially to a native Texan like myself.
  23. Speaking of checking items off the list, my first trip in the Fit was to Mt. St. Helens the weekend after I bought it, something that had been on my list since the last time I lived in this area back in 2002-2003. It was a significant trip for me—the mountain erupted a few months after I was born, so I’ve always thought of it as my birth volcano—and it was also the experience after which, upon further reflection of it and the breakup both, I decisively let go of the last vestiges of my belief in any kind of a willful force in the universe that intervenes in the affairs of men.
  24. I played a very small role in helping a friend pull off what was easily the most epic marriage proposal that I’ve ever seen, involving the last City Council meeting of the year, all 9 City Councilmembers, and a speech about artificial intelligence that gradually morphed into a Power Point recap of their relationship and a split Council vote for which his girlfriend came up and cast the deciding vote. It was really and truly one of the greatest things that I’ve ever seen.
  25. After realizing that I don’t own much specifically happy music, I’ve made an intentional effort in the last few months to listen to pop music, probably for the first time since I was in high school, using a couple of top 40 radio stations but also making heavy use of Spotify, which conveniently keeps playlists of both the top 100 tracks in America at any given moment and the top 100 tracks in the world. Downside: I’ve had “Dark Horse” by Katy Perry stuck in my head for the last 5 days. Upside: I’m kind of OK with that.
  26. Redecorating has been another major theme over the course of the past year—one friend helped me completely redecorate my entire apartment, to the point where not only do I enjoy having company over more often, I also just enjoy the space more on a day-to-day basis; another went shopping with me and revamped my wardrobe, which was frankly in desperate need of it; and, all on my own, I got new glasses that for the first time I chose in order to actually highlight the fact that I wear glasses instead of trying to hide it somehow—the way I see it, wearing glasses is about as close as it’s socially acceptable for most of us to come to getting a face tattoo, so you might as well do something interesting with them. It’s amazing what a difference a few pieces of extra furniture, some new shoes and shirts, and a new pair of glasses can make, but I have to admit that they really and truly have improved my quality of life.
  27. I’ve also, for the first time in my life, intentionally added living things to my apartment (fruit flies from the compost bin don’t count), in the form of a small ficus, some spider plants, and a carnivorous terrarium. It’s been a good lesson for me in making sure they get enough water and sunlight to stay alive…and it’s also helped me to realize just how important direct sunlight is for urbanists who want to grow plants. Mine have all adapted to the conditions of my apartment, more or less, but I’ve had to accept that from a plant’s perspective it’s actually a very low-light environment. It’s another factor that I would never have thought about a year ago, and it’s opened my eyes to a whole world of indoor horticulture that I’d never even stopped to think about before that first fateful trip to City People. I’m considering investing in a good indoor sun lamp; let me know if you have any recommendations.
  28. Entertaining more has been another positive effect of having an apartment I want to show off to my friends—my apartment is fairly small, just over 600 square feet all told, but I’ve managed to cram as many as 20 people in here for movie nights, brunch on New Year’s Day, and my 34th birthday this past Tuesday night. There’s a really great feeling that comes from being able to share your home with a lot of people you care about, and it’s one that I look forward to experiencing a lot more going forward.
  29. I finally started reading novels again in earnest this past year, and over the course of the year I re-read two books that were very important to me in my immediate post-college years, Lord Jim and Underworld, each for the first time in nearly a decade. It was interesting to see echoes of my younger self in each of them, but also to see how what I noticed in each one had changed over the years. When I was 23, Underworld was a meditation on the grid and the process of working within the system to fundamentally remake oneself from the ground up; at 33, it was about the process of longing through which history is created and a desire for the freedom of youth in the later stages of life, the primacy of the heart over the head. Lord Jim, after college, was a romanticized hero fantasy that I identified with about adventure and love and the need to be tested by life and by the world; last year I recognized old familiar phrases that I’ve been carrying around with me since the first time I read it, but the protagonist just kind of annoyed me, and the early 20th-century racism was much more stark; the part of the story that spoke to me the most was the warning description of the motley crew of seafarers looking for easy jobs in the East Indies—“…and in all they said—in their actions, in their looks, in their persons—could be detected the soft spot, the place of decay, the determination to lounge safely through existence.” At 23 I saw in that phrase precisely the forces to which I had constructed my life in opposition; in the early stages of 33 I recognized myself in those words to a degree that made me uncomfortable, and made me wonder what my post-college self would have thought about me and the way I was living my life, the degree to which I’d prioritized safety over adventure.
  30. After an absence that was entirely too long, I’ve started playing chess again. Last Wednesday night I went to the Seattle Chess Club—which turns out to be in the basement of the same Northgate office tower where the title company that handled my mortgage closing docs is located—and spent 2 ½ hours playing two great games against Mike, in his early 60’s and as such one of the younger members of the club. I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship to chess over the years, but its peak was the period of a combined 2 or 3 weeks that I spent sharpening my skills against the best chess partner I’ve ever had, a super-friendly Hungarian guy named Karoly who ended up at the same two working hostels that I did in New Zealand in 2004, first picking apples down south and later picking mandarins and working in a packhouse up north. We were almost perfectly matched, and we played every night—he was slightly better than I was, but I managed to get a few wins in from time to time. The last game we ever played, though, was an epic, 3 ½-hour battle of attrition that ended with a nearly empty board…and his king in checkmate. I could probably count on one hand the number of games I’ve played since then; it’s something that I really miss, though, and finding (or creating) a community of players here in Seattle has been on my to-do list for awhile. The Seattle Chess Club might not be my permanent home, but I think it’ll be a great place to get started.
  31. I’ll be giving the third Ignite talk of my career on February 12th at Town Hall, about the life lessons I learned during my time as a car salesman after college; I learned my submission had been accepted a few days before the start of this electronic communication vacation. My first two Ignite talks were attempts to get people excited about local government—a losing proposition, as I discovered, but good practice and a lot of fun anyway—but this one will be all about telling a story and sharing concrete, tangible lessons that I’ve found to be really useful in my own life over the years, which I think will be a better fit for the format. It also comes at a perfect time for my budding writer/performer self; being able to create something and then perform it live in front of an audience of over 800 people is an incredible opportunity, and one that I don’t think I would have fully realized the value of even a few months ago.
  32. Speaking of writing and performing, after having just gone through the 2-week boot camp that is ACT’s Adult Playwrights Program, I have what the teacher calls a “zero draft” of my first play! Writing it was an amazing experience—I signed up for the class without any idea of what I would write about, and the structure basically involved writing 10 pages of dialogue for each of the 6 class sessions and then bringing your new material to class, where we took turns doing readings of each other’s work and getting feedback. Before the first class I went for a long walk to give an idea time to surface (using the tried-and-true Character/Relationship/Objective/Where framework from improv to construct the initial scene and then building from there), came back to my apartment, and just started writing. I’ve always had a mental block about writing dialogue, but once I forced myself to sit down and do it I was amazed by how quickly it started to flow. I can’t say the play is anywhere close to production-ready, and between now and my reconnection to the world Friday night at midnight I’m going to try to totally re-write half of it…but it works, even in its current form, and I’m really excited to keep tweaking it and tuning it and eventually, if all goes well, maybe even to see it performed on stage someday. When I think about what I want my professional contribution to the world to be, I honestly can’t think of anything better than creating compelling stories that speak to people and connect with them in something approaching the same way that Lord Jim and Underworld and Death of a Salesman and No Exit and All My Sons and countless others all have for me at various points in my life. The Man at the Bar (working title) feels, legitimately, like the first step of a long journey into that world, and it’s a journey I’m really, really looking forward to.
  33. And, last but not least, I’m grateful for every moment of my life since I became officially unemployed on January 1st. The past month and a week has seen me recapture the unformed, raw energy of my youth (albeit in an older, wiser, and more geographically centered form), take two different last-minute trips, each of which was amazing (Aurora Borealis watching in Alaska and visiting a friend in New York), write the aforementioned play, and  take 15 days off from all electronic forms of communication (phone, SMS, and the Internet in its entirety), which was intended to mirror the cargo freighter trip that kicked off my open-ended post-college travels both in the disconnection from the electronic world that it represented and in delivering me, at its conclusion, to the shores of a totally new world to explore, one without the boundaries or restrictions that I’d left behind at the beginning of my journey. Having now disembarked, I can safely say that I’ve reached a place my 24-year-old self would be proud of; I’m looking forward immensely to exploring the world beyond the Mayor’s Office, and to seeing what 34 holds for me.

4 thoughts on “Reflections on my Jesus Year

  1. I thought a bit more about this in the context of your “jesus year” intro. Many of your highlights actually lend themselves to the central mystery of Christianity. Death -> Resurrection -> Ascension -> Pentecost.
    Death – loss of “life”
    Resurrection – reception of new “life” – your 40 days and 40 nights of grieving, riding in a convertible, re-reading the relationship
    Ascension – letting go of the old, refusal to cling, no “if onlys”
    Pentecost – reception of new spirit for the new life you already have.

    Glad to have you in my life, Sol

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