2016: What Is This, Anyway?

A strange thing happened on the way to 2016… I got pumped for 2017 instead

In the first week of the year, the parking lot below my apartment was blanketed by a clean white layer of snow. Not very deep snow, maybe only about an inch at the most, but it was enough to look the part of a truly white winter.

My friend Daniel was in town, still sleeping in. He’d been spending the first few days of the year with us while we were both on break from grad school. We went up to Portland for New Years and the day after, and to be honest, we spent most of that time hopping from one restaurant to the next.

Deanna was still getting ready for the day in the bedroom. I poured a mug of coffee and stared  out the window. A few of the kids who lived in the apartment complex had turned a trash can lid into a sled. It looked like everyone’s stereotypical image of children playing in the snow, except the icy snow that had fallen over the parking lot was hardly deep enough for makeshift sledding. It took them ten minutes, tops, to wear down the ice, at which point they were just tumbling down a hill while holding on to a garbage can lid.

It started to finally sink in that a new year had begun. In the past, the week in between Christmas and New Years had always been a big lull, giving me a chance to think over my life the past year, to celebrate the good and to set new goals.

This year, with all the travel and moving about, I didn’t really get that same opportunity. So, a few days into 2016, it had finally begun to sink in.

The new year felt blank as the snow over the parking lot. As soon as last year begun, it immediately struck me that we had entered our wedding year, and that most of that year would revolve around that major life event. Other years all came with major life events I could anticipate from the start… moving to a new state, spending an extended amount of time in another country, and so on.

This year, however, feels a lot more open than that.

It’s both a comforting and intimidating feeling. Comforting, because, it’s a blank slate to write all over, as every inspirational social media graphic can’t wait to remind you. Intimidating, because, well, I don’t exactly want it to be a boring year, now.

•••

•••

Here’s one thing I have to anticipate from this year… it’ll be my last year of grad school. Possibly of living in Oregon. At this time a year from now, I’ll be a free agent.

I love borrowing the term free agent from the sports world, because I imagine right now I feel somewhat close to the way a professional athlete feels as their contract is about to expire, leaving them free to sign with a new team. Not that I’ve ever been in that situation, but I’ve read enough offseason articles to think that I could empathize.

There’s a bit of the thrill coming from the fact that anything is possible. Perhaps the change in scenery leads to a big boost in performance, or finally winning the championship. Maybe the big new paycheck that comes with a new contract is the draw. It may not be a very romantic reason, but more often than not, it’s the real reason. Or maybe it’s the lesser spoken factors that are the big pull, being closer to family or to home. Or being able to stay put and cement a legacy, since uprooting all the time can be exhausting.

Alongside the excitement, there’s also a lot of uncertainty. Would I actually like living in a new hometown? It’s hard for a player and a player’s family to not be able to anticipate and make plans around the year to come without knowing where that’s supposed to take place.

Then there’s the challenge of staying present. Next year’s free agent is still a member of the team for this year. Even if this is your last year with your team, wouldn’t you want to end your time on a good note? Possibly even the best note of winning it all?

Sorry to go all LeBron, but these are things I’ve been feeling as the end of grad school is finally in sight.

Ultimately, I feel both really ready and curious to see where I end up afterwards. I’m ready to start earning a non-student salary that could support my family and a few others. I’m curious to see which city I’ll end up calling home, because I’m ready to stay in one for a long stretch of time. And I’ve been really restless with grad school, realizing that the academic lifestyle doesn’t quite fit me the way it used to.

All this while wanting to be present and wanting to make this year the best one I could possibly make it.

•••

•••

A strange thing happened on the way to this new year. I got really excited for 2017.

How on earth did that happen?

While I spent most of the past few weeks away from Eugene, going between the South, Southern California, and Portland, a few different things occurred to me.

1 – I’d like to have friends and family a lot closer.

We’ve come a long ways since we’ve moved to Eugene. We moved in not knowing a single person in the city, and we’ve definitely seen friendships grow and multiply over the past several years.

Still, family is family. My stepdad retired at the beginning of this year, so we’ll wait and see where my own parents end up in the next year or so, but either way, it looks like I’ll always have family around Southern California. Deanna’s family seems pretty entrenched in Bakersfield. More than anything, I’d love for family to be easily accessible. Accessible can mean anything from being easily able to afford tickets to see them and living closer to a major airport or actually living in the same city.

Also, I’ve had Daniel up here the past few days. On the day before Christmas Eve, I got to get brunch with our friends, the Wards and Angie, and then for dinner, we got to enjoy a meal with our friends, the Fosters. It occurred to me that I befriended all these people when we were barely out of high school, and now we’ve gotten married and begun to want different things out of life. There’s nothing quite like friends who have seen you through different stages.

2 – Everyone is getting older

Ivy, my cousin-sister (as in, cousin-so-close-she’s-like-my-sister, not redneck-relative), got engaged on Christmas Eve this year and I was thrilled for her. A week later, my stepdad retired after almost 30 years of working for the USPS.

Getting older isn’t always such a bad thing. I wouldn’t have gotten to enjoy her getting engaged if none of us got older. But getting older is a reality.

That means a couple of things. For starters, I want to be somewhere where I can be present for all the upcoming major life events. Weddings. Births. Other celebrations.

I also want to be in a place, geographically and financially, where I can be more helpful.

The generation above me is aging, and while I’m blessed to have them all in good health for the most part, I’d still like to be prepared. So many people in my family have lived the classic immigrant story of coming over with nothing, working harder than you could imagine, and providing support for countless people. As they get older, I don’t think they deserve anything less than being given the best kind of support imaginable.

On top of that, kids of my own might not be too far away, and I want them to like the place where they grow up.

3 – Work matters a lot less to me these days

At least the specific kind of work. It matters that I’ll be able to earn and support the people around me. I’m less picky about how I envision that happening.

I always assumed that having a couple of specialized degrees after grad school would set me up for a very specific and set line of work. Right now I’m realizing that my priorities are more about being able to care for aging family members, having the freedom and time to spend with people who matter to me, and about being in a good situation to have a family on my own.

This doesn’t mean I’ve given up my passions for international work or social justice issues, and those will still be the first places I look for work. But if I can’t find something that suits my top priorities there, I’m willing to look elsewhere.

•••

•••

Okay, all that is great and all, but like I mentioned it pertains to 2017. We’ve still got a whole year in between now and then, a year that would be a shame to let go to waste.

Alright then, 2016. What’s going on?

Like I said, this isn’t a year like many of the others that have come pre-loaded with all kinds of planned trips and events and adventures. Sometimes it’s good not to have plans. That said there are still some adventures I’m really looking forward to.

Next week, Deanna and I will be going to South Africa. That’s likely going to be our biggest adventure of the year and it’s happening right away. I’ll be going to complete my thesis research, but mostly, I’m looking forward to introducing Deanna to a world that’s so profoundly shaped my own. We know that the trip is likely to have effects that last long after we return.

We’ve also got a few weddings to look forward to. In Austin, and Salt Lake, and we have our suspicions that there will be more scheduled before it’s all said and done. Come summertime, we’ll also be off to Hawaii for a family trip.

I’ve signed up for my first half-marathon, and I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’ll be running through Tracktown, USA the weekend before my birthday.

And, ultimately, getting through the rest of grad school will be a feat on its own. As much as I take for granted my readiness to be done with it, it’ll take a lot of work- including writing the entirety of my thesis, still while teaching and finishing up the coursework that I have left. I shouldn’t overlook that fact.

Ultimately I’ll be trying to live like it’s my last year here.

There’s a chance that Deanna and I could remain in Oregon. Portland is one of the top cities where I’ll begin my eventual job search. That said, there are a lot of cities on that list that aren’t in Oregon, and if we do end up moving out, I’ll want to have gotten everything out of this state that I could have.

Oregon’s a beautiful state. One we’ve loved, in spite of the challenges that would’ve come with moving just about anywhere.

I’m looking forward to the summer and being able to camp again. There are still a ton of places around the state I have yet to see. I’d love to summit Mount Hood, and raft through Hellsgate, and spend some legit time in Bend. And I have many more Oregon-centric adventures enumerated on mine and Deanna’s list of adventures.

And I’ll continue to prepare for whatever comes next.

Much like the presidential election, it’s way too early to tell where I’ll be looking at moving a year from now, or what I’ll end up doing. But I know there are things I can do in the meantime to be well prepared for that transition once it comes about.

I want to continue to strengthen my relationship with Deanna. I didn’t realize it until I said it aloud, but being able to work on our marriage in a place where it’s just been the two of us has done wonders.

I want to be faithful to what’s in front of me. That isn’t always easy, especially now, since it’s grad school that’s in front of me, but that’s really the only way stuff gets done.

And I don’t want to stop learning. Learning the art of growing up was a surprise lesson from the past year. It’ll be interesting to see what this year holds in store.

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