Requiem for 2017

1. Soliloqui  

 2016 was, universally and unanimously, agreed to be abysmal, so when it ended I wrote "So long and good riddance" thinking that 2017 will be the year it all falls into place.  I was supposed to (in no particular order) get my citizenship, eradicate my back pain, take my photography to the next level,  claim back my identity I had somehow lost due to small children, and finally start writing daily and consistently.  It cost me years, and it left me feeling hurt and lost, but I had done the work: the foundations of my family life were laid and I was ready to enjoy motherhood, make art, and kick proverbial ass.  If I squinted really hard, I could see the Tesla and the Pulitzer Prize I dreamed of almost within my reach.   

 But of course such a notion is, to say the least, naive because it is based on nothing more than superstitious hope and stems from one being tired -- tired fighting against the inevitable fact that, as you age and your life becomes more complex, things will only get harder.  In that regard, 2017 took the fuckin' cake.  If last year was bad, this one has been a dumpster fire of a year incarnated.  I did get stuff done, and I did have some fun, but boy oh boy, nothing was easy and everything was problematic.

   To recap: the leader of the Free World is now an addicted to social media nefarious behemoth demented egomaniac who, like any textbook tyrant, uses intimidation, bravado, and fear-mongering in his unilateral moves to violate and take basic human rights away.  Wildfires made worse by the draught ravaged the West Coast.  There were mass shootings and violent clashes on the streets.  Climate-change induced hurricanes and flooding.  Earthquakes.  Refugee crises.  The threat of Nuclear War.  The exposure of sexual abuse epidemic in Washington, Hollywood, and The Silicon Valley (word of the year* should be "consequence").  Chris Cornell died.  Basically, the news looked like the opening credits of every disaster movie ever done.

  Natural disasters and political debacles aside, there were numerous setbacks on a personal level as well.  Random things kept breaking around the house. There was a lot of loss this year.  Health scares and pain, too.  People around me got hurt, myself included.  My back problems got so bad I needed therapy.  To get rid of it I had to all but move in the doctor's office and experiment with drugs.  Bored of doing family portraits, I focused on shooting models and art/film photography, which was emotionally liberating but reflected negatively on my income.  I took more me-time and better care of myself, but I didn't mange to quit smoking or come to terms with getting older.  My relationship with the boys grew stronger, but the stress of Johnny starting Kindergarten was just too much (I have authority issues and no experience with the American public educational system whatsoever).  I find writing much more painless and effortless now, yet I still only find time and energy to do it sporadically.

2. Growth Happens When The Pain Of Staying The Same Becomes Greater Than The Pain Of Making A Change

  All of this put me in a sort of a stupor.  I went through the motions but for the most part of 2017 I felt like crap.  Until a few weeks ago, nothing could truly and permanently cheer me up. I tried everything: quitting sugar, taking walks, meditation, learning dance moves on YouTube, adult coloring books.  I went down multiple rabbit holes, some of them quite orthodox, such as re-watching 13 seasons of Grey's Anatomy (and most of Netflix's original shows), but also exploring sub-cultures -- Maria's ASMR role play videos being the most endearing with their pseudo-scientific premise, and Nicole Angemi's (a pathologist assistant) IG page being the most sobering with its gruesome hard-science (not linking to this one as it's graphic).  I learned about Poppy (though I'm not exactly sure what to do with that information), I learned about the British Royal Family, I watched nature documentaries.  No dice; I felt apathetic within, and any attempt to find inspiration by shifting my gaze outwards made me want to claw my eyes out.  The state of things was so defeating it crippled everything.  The world had suddenly grown darker and it discouraged me from aiming high this past year. 

   The good news is that I lived to tell about it -- I see myself as an old lady sitting in a corner in her eccentric outfit, a cat in her lap and a cocktail in one paw-like, crooked hand, at a family gathering celebrating a great-grandchild's birth where everyone is wearing VR goggles wirelessly connected to an AI pod or something, rambling about the year of the Total Solar Eclipse when we had a cartoonish villain for President -- given, of course, that I am indeed as naive as to believe that I will survive 2018 also (because I am certainly still superstitious enough to fear the catastrophes-come-in-threes confirmation bias)... 

  The bad news is that 2017 isn't technically over quite yet, and that any consolation I might find in thinking up inspirational New Year resolutions is deceptive.  I've been thinking a lot about unhappiness and misfortune (and what causes them) and the wisdom I managed to conjure up in the past eight years since I came to America, and since my "real" life here -- my life as a mother -- began is this: if shit can happen it will happen regardless of what I set out to do in 2018, and however well I plan, plans can fail.

3. Woe Is Me

   Here's the thing, though.  It's a matter of focus, and mine have been narrow of late.  Maybe it's the fact that I am a parent now and I fear more for the future, that I am exhausted and under-slept.  Or perhaps I had bad luck because it was the Year of the Fire Rooster and "being in the year of one's birth sign does not bode well".  I don't know what it is but lately I can't even deal if the supermarket runs out of my favorite ice-cream.  Traffic makes me apoplectic.  A simple cold leaves me wretched.  I believe that children, teenagers, and people in their twenties handle misfortune well -- they still believe in the good of people and the world -- and they recover faster, as their energy hasn't been sucked out yet.  Old people have it best, and I envy them.  They know that the world is going to hell and they are cool about it.  But middle-age people, which at 37 is where I am headed, are screwed.           
  Manifestly, however, the reason we think it's been a bad year (or a string of bad years) is a sort of a Baader-Meinhof complex.  History knows far worse, yet thanks to the media (only if it all were a fake news!) and to human tendency to dramatize and, somewhat perversely, get high on the sensation that in the midst of political fiascos and natural disasters we've come through unscathed, we seem to see only death and scandal everywhere.

4. Story Time


  A lifetime ago, back in Bulgaria, I had the perfect childhood.  I mean it.  Absolutely cloudless and free.  I was a happy child in the most conventional way possible -- healthy, loved, and well taken care of.  When the Berlin Wall fell and my country started going through changes, I hit puberty.  Those were turbulent years and I had to change too, in order to survive.  I drifted on luck.  My raw talent for a boat, and my desire for self-discovery and knowledge was my only compass.  I was young, ignorant, and didn't care that it wasn't a smooth sailing or which shore I'd wash up because I didn't believe I was going anywhere, anyway.  Life in my old country had conditioned me that catastrophes and bad years are the rule, not the exception, and I didn't pay no mind.  It made me a little cynical, a bit austere, but I had all the energy I needed to say fuck it.  What a feral creature I was!  Completely unprepared for the world outside Bulgaria, unpolished to the point of abrasiveness, unwilling to fit in any social group or to subscribe to any particular ideology... I isolated myself as a survival instinct and if shit happened it couldn't touch me.


  Later, in England, ambition and purpose found me, and as my world-view expanded my defenses became more of a drag than protection.  I had fallen far behind and had much to catch up.  It was one thing to work odd jobs and fall back on my parents when I quit (or get fired), or to stay at a government job for years because, while it was exhausting and tedious, it paid just enough to afford my lifestyle on my days off and it was, after all, a job in a vacuum -- it provided a buffer between me and a wider world of private enterprise which paid better but also required qualities such as the ability to work in a team and the guts to put yourself out there -- qualities I was insecure of having and reluctant to develop, convinced that it was better to resent being a Police Dispatcher and have my own kind of fun during my breaks, than to become a full time corporate office worker with no soul; and it was quite another thing to venture in the world of Art and Literature, a world I had craved and dreamed of all my life, and to navigate through the rules and etiquette of Academia all the while speaking a foreign language and living away from my family for the first time.    

  My social deficiencies became glaringly apparent.  My lack of experience stumped me.  I struggled to translate any natural abilities or affinities I had into tangible, practical skills.  Suddenly, good things were happening, really good things, and I found myself not drifting anymore, but clumsily splashing around.  I was so used to catastrophes that I had become hostile and incredulous to success and happiness.  Somehow, with time, and the help of John and the joy I found in studying Writing, I got over myself and picked up the ability to choose my own direction.  I adapted, and I moved on.  By the time I graduated, I had ceased to be the gullible rube I had convinced myself I was, the inadequate Eastern European with no fine manners or cosmopolitain life perspective based on hard earned knowledge.  I was now well traveled, emancipated, and I looked forward to earning my place in the world through the art I was going to make.

  Bad things, of course, kept happening, but I had retained enough of my Balkan resilience which, combined with the confidence my fresh education gave me, helped me stay unfazed.  And why would I be?!  I was comfortably in my late twenties, happily married, and I was moving to America to start, yet again, anew.  I was ecstatic.  I knew four people in all here, and I came with a single suitcase full of old photographs and plans for Total World Domination.  California was the dream I never had the courage to dream about, and I was living it as fully as I could.


  Little did I know, my sparkling Arts and Humanities degree and my newfound positive outlook won't get me diddly in these here parts.  The Bay Area was the new Hollywood, here was where it was all happening.  I was living in the home of Big Tech, and I didn't even have a smartphone.  The freeways were the only way to get around, and didn't know how to drive.  People were making 200 K a year and owned houses, and our one-bedroom apartment (for which we could barely afford rent) was furnished with stuff my father-in-law bought for us from the village church store.

  There was a year or so-long period of adjustment, but our young love and our young bodies got us through.  John went to work for a startup, and I took photos, walked dogs, babysat, and blogged relentlessly about the peculiarities of the Silicon Valley and the idiosyncrasies of the local folk.  I went to the apartment complex' gym daily and lost all the weight I had gained in London due to its cold weather and caloric food (and big city-related stress).  I chilled by the pool writing poetry and I learned to slow down.  I made new friends at the cool coffee shop in town and I hung out at the bookstore, where I even had a photo exhibit once.  The foundations for my small photography business were laid when I started taking family portraits for friends, and when I finally got my driver's license in the mail I felt I had arrived.

  There was surely a certain level of uncertainty, for John and I were beginning again (after a stint in pursuing his dream to play soccer in Europe for John, and, well, a stint of being a late bloomer from the Balkans for me) while surrounded by people who'd already grown lasting roots and were well into their careers... and I can't deny I was often anxious and lonely and culturally frustrated (it took me a moment to decipher Californian vernacular for instance), but all in all those were good times indeed.

5. You Don't Need A Permission To Be Truly Great

  Then, poof! babies.  Oh, it wasn't exactly like that; babies are tricky -- they sneak up on you (that's how they get you) -- but you know what I mean.  By the time you realize what has hit you, they are a few months old and it's too late to take them back.  Anyway, my point is that having kids was a baptism of fire.  You learn as you go, but you have the perpetual feeling that you have no idea what you're doing.  It's very humbling.  Fast forward five years, at the end of 2016, I was out of the baby-bubble and I thought I'll be crossing the Rubicon any second now.  No more diapers, no more waking up eleven times a night, no more teething and strollers and looking/feeling like I've been run over by a semi.  I was even starting to take care of myself a little!  The "it-gets-easier" mantra all other parents repeated so many times was about to happen and I was going to get back out there and do big things, right?


   With kids, nothing is ever finished.  Nothings is done.  There's always the next milestone, the next new phase they'll be going through, the next thing they'll need support and love for.  At the end of 2016, I falsely convinced myself that somehow I was free again.  And while I did have more time for myself this year, I didn't feel free.  I felt unhinged and unfocused.  I expected a break, some sort of a reward, but none came.  As the months flew by, I learned that freedom is not matter of circumstance, but of state of mind.  My success depended on my own ability to look at myself without looking away.  Older, slightly misshapen by the weight of responsibility, pleasantly neurotic -- whatever.  I had to make a promise to myself not to waste a second longer in getting upset at how terrible everything is, buckle up, and march towards the next five years.

  In hindsight, I think I had a kind of midlife crisis there.  I had to figure out how to recover from failure, and also how to recover from the melancholy that comes after success.  I am just so used to knowing what I want, and to reaching to grab it without a second thought, and this "now what?" situation is new to me.  The calm passing of slow time is strange.

6.  Beyond The Pale

  I am not entirely sure what's coming in 2018.  And I am not sure how to end this essay, either.  The obvious, cliched silver lining is that despite all the crap, I am still here, still able to experience life, the world, and my family.  While some events are indeed bad, most of them are simply different from what we expect or desire, and therefore we classify them as bad...  Celebrities will continue to die, because people inevitably die.  Natural disasters will most likely get worse before they get better.  Sexism, gender inequality, and racism will be rampant, but will eventually implode and die off as we raise our children to be better people.  And stuff will keep breaking and plans will fail because, randomness.

  The trick, for me at least, is to take it all in stride, and resist the urge to give in to fear.  Year by year, as events unspool, I tend to hesitate and worry more because I have so much to lose now.  My tragedy has always been that I am too badass to be so insecure, my dilemma -- choosing between passion and reason.  I've been unhappy with myself in the past because I have great ambition and I am very aware of my potential, but I've been afraid to unleash it.  My self-imposed barriers came from thinking that my success has to come at a price, that I will have betray my loved ones to achieve it.     

  I guess my goal for the upcoming year is to, first and foremost, avoid anything to do with dying, and secondly, to utilize all my time and faculties to build something great.  For the success of a year is not just measured by how we feel about it, but also by what we've managed to bring to it.

  There's lots to be done.  I want to shake the world in a gentle way.  I want to write a book, in which I extend myself completely and aim for the deepest place inside me I can find.  I want to return to Bulgaria and show it to my children.  I want to photograph the most exquisite portraits and the wildest moments.  I want to support my husband in his own journey forward.  I want to work hard and become the strongest, the most honest, and the most one with myself I've even been. 

  I am ready.

* Word of the year is in fact FEMINISM.     


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