Why I Left

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Listen to this post here . They say you shouldn't play with ouija boards unless you're prepared for the consequences -- because when you open the door for spirits, they will  come through. Back in November 2020 when I decided to go public with a Facebook post explaining why I had left Tom and all but vanished from the lives of most of my Boston-area friends, I had done so with the acceptance and knowledge that I would be opening myself up to a lot.  With the editorial assistance of a few trusted friends, I wrote: On November 13, 2014, I made the necessary decision to remove Tom [ last name redacted ] from my life. In order to untangle from him completely, that meant that I stopped going to your shows, your parties, and any of the places we used to run into each other.  Maybe you noticed I had ghosted the scene. Maybe you wonder why that happened. The short version of the story is this: Tom is a highly skilled manipulator who uses emotionally abusive tactics like gas-lighting, d

Number 3,654

January 1st's reader question: "Resolutions: do you make them?  Are they helpful?" - Rebecca

January 1st's genre: nonfiction


I want to be very clear about this: I think New Year's Resolutions are sort of hokey and maybe a waste of time, in general.  They always seems to be things like get in shape or lose weight or be more organized -- potentially habitual things or cosmetic things that have fallen by the wayside.  My thing, though, is if that were really important to you, wouldn't you already be doing it?  There might be other reasons why your eating habits aren't necessarily the healthiest or your body isn't as toned as you dream it could be or you can't keep your workspace orderly.  And even if you can identify what those broader issues might be, why would you need to start working on that on January 1st when really a day by any other name would smell as sweet?

However.

I have a New Year's Resolution to write every single day, something I decided to do probably a good month or two before the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2011.  Yes, I could have just started writing every day when the idea hit my brain -- and I probably really wanted to -- but I needed a bit of space and time to wrap my head around it and get it set up and figure out my game plan.

And that had a little bit to do with the reason why I'd decided to embark on this year-long quest.

So what happened...  

I started writing short stories when I was maybe five-years old.  The first one I can recollect was about a bear.  I don't recall the plot but I'm sure it was nuanced and understated..  It definitely included drawings of bears.  This maybe be because my favorite book series as a child was the Berenstain Bears -- I was obsessed.  I liked the little lessons to be learned from this family who never seemed to change their clothes and that may have inspired my first short story.  Who's to say?  All I really know is that once I started, I didn't really ever stop.

By the time I was in middle school, I had gotten in the habit of writing short stories for my friends for Christmas and birthday gifts.  I wrote poetry in the margins of my notebooks.  And for awhile, I adopted a fortune teller persona and would write these long, elaborate "predictions" for my friends' futures.  Many of these I wrote on request -- so it wasn't like I was being 100% a weirdo.  Maybe only like 70%.  I really had fun with it and my friends were supportive of my creative pursuits.  I thought maybe I'd go on to be a journalist or something along those lines and even majored in Journalism for one semester as a freshman at Kent State University before a jackass professor super casually told us -- as he handed us back mostly C's on our latest assignment -- that we didn't need no stinkin' degree in journalism to write for a paper.  If we wanted that career, we could just go write for a paper.

So I became an English major.

All the way through school, I was praised for my writing by teachers and professors -- I was encouraged to keep going with it.  And so I went straight from my undergraduate BA in English to an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College.  There, I honed my fiction skills, certainly, but -- thanks to the brutal stylings of Professor Bill Knott -- I emerged a very strong poet as well.  Those talents seemed best reserved for me writing short stories and poems on the backs of invoices at my retail management job during moments when the store was dead.  It wasn't unusual for me to write four or five poems before going to sleep every night.  I was constantly churning out content, like a leaky faucet that never ran out of juice.

I completed my MFA in May 2005 and was then set loose on the world, truly.  All of my life prior to that I was a student, first and foremost, and a retail guru second -- I'd never really been a big partier (not even in college) and that was mostly because I didn't have the time or the social push out into the nightlife.  

Then in September 2005, I met Tom.

Meeting Tom was a massive game-changer for me.  He showed up in my life at an important cross-roads as one love was leaving my life and even though it was his bandmate Chris that I found attractive (for those of you just tuning in, they played together in a cover band called Swerve), Tom was the one who took my hand -- literally -- and guided me through the chaos of the bar scene.  Becoming his friend opened up the doors to many other friendships and it wasn't long before Tom and I had created a world in which we were the center.  From 2005-2010, nothing could touch us.  We were invincible, especially together.  He really admired my writing and pushed me to spill the tea on my creative process.  He didn't just want to be the bassist in some cover band -- he wanted to be doing his own music, too.  And so while he supported and encouraged my creative writing, I supported and encouraged his original music quest.  What we created independently -- but at each other's urging -- was truly an emergence of our own artistic voices.  We brought out the best in each other.

But our path took a darker turn in March 2010 when we suddenly started fighting for the first time in our relationship -- mostly about his "new" girlfriend.  New is in quotation marks because he'd been dating her behind his previous girlfriend's back for somewhere in the ballpark of eight months -- and beyond that shitty behavior, I just straight up didn't like her.  Eventually our fights about her spilled out across the canvas of our relationship and became a sort of red herring for the problems that had become overgrown between us.  To put it simply, we both sort of accused the other of being in love with each other while we flatly denied that was our actual truth.  It's hard to say where we really were at that time -- the story is certainly much longer than today's pages are structured to hold.  The point that I'm driving towards is that Tom and I went through a breakup that I call The Divorce in October 2010, which lead to about a year where we weren't exactly out of each other's lives but we certainly weren't reliable friends to each other, either.

Shit got ugly.

And one of the things that really hit me after making the decision to pull away from Tom for "awhile" was how much I'd come to rely on him for, well, banter.  During our work days, it wasn't uncommon for us to ping g-chat messages back and forth to each other from clock in to clock out (me, the manager of a retail store in Boston; him, a chemical engineer at a startup in Westwood, about forty-five minutes outside the city) while also emailing and sometimes also texting.  You may say that sounds excessive but it was how we played with each other.  It was like playing pingpong across several different tables all at once and it made my brain very happy.  Tom has his flaws, certainly we all do, but he is one of the most agile verbal sparring partners I've ever had.

Once he was out of my life, though, I felt all of my creative energy drain away.  I wasn't keeping that muscle strong.  And if I really thought about it, I had been slipping in my output across the board.  Work was too busy for me to write poems in between rushes and who knows when the last time I wrote a short story was.  It was in the void left by Tom that I started to focus on this broader creative starvation I was feeling.  

I knew I needed to recommit to my writing.  

So I decided to make my first ever official New Year's Resolution: to write something new every single day in 2011.  I'd never really blogged before -- I had a blog where I housed some stuff I'd written over the years but none of it was written for the blog -- but I determined that putting my content on the internet was how I'd hold myself accountable.  I'd write every day and I'd share the link on my Facebook page as "proof." Other than that, there were no rules.  I could write as much (or as little) as I wanted -- I could do writing exercises -- I could write in any genre -- I called the creative shots.  I truly thought I'd do it for one year and that would be it.

What I didn't expect was for people to read what I was writing.  I didn't expect them to talk to me about the project.  And I really didn't expect anyone to ask, "So what are you going to do next year?"

Oh.

Well!

I decided that I would start a new project on January 1, 2012.  And I decided that it would be all fiction.  Brilliant, no?? Except then it hit me: how the hell was I going to write 366 -- because you know that had to be a leap year --  short stories??? I was prolific, but even I have my limits.  

Then another idea hit: I'd have my friends write first lines for the stories and use those prompts to write the rest.

The concept worked and so I wrote my way through 2012 and then 2013, 2014, 2015, and so on -- all the way through until today.  Every year, the blog has adopted a different theme and it's become one of my favorite rituals to sit down and write each day.  

In case you're wondering what happened with Tom, we resumed our relationship in August 2011 and endured some very high high's and some very low low's until November 2014 when I once again made the necessary decision to leave him.  When he and I were still involved in each other's lives, he remained a staunch supporter of my writing and a frequent contributor, writing many first lines for me or offering other audience participation prompts, according to the theme.  Once he was out of my life, that's when the blog content naturally shifted again as I found myself dipping a toe in the "personal" waters with greater frequency and mounting courage.  After the blog went private/subscription-based in 2019, it became more and more the norm that I'd swim in these deep pools of how did I get here and I can't explain in concise words how meaningful and personally informative and enlightening it's been for me to write about my very complicated relationship with Tom, how it shaped me, what I learned from both him and our time together, and how I'm seeing those teachings and learnings play out in my current life.  

Every year on January 1st, I leave behind a very comfortable and familiar body of writing to begin anew and even if things carry over or there's a sense of continuity from year-to-year, I feel the thrill of a fresh, crisp, blank page more deeply on this day than any other.  At this point, I think I call it a New Year's Resolution only out of respect for the project's origins -- but, really, it's as necessary as breathing or eating or sleeping.  Sometimes people ask me how I manage to do it and I swear to you that the key is doing it every single day.  If I'd resolved to write every Sunday and Wednesday for a year, I promise you I would have fallen out of the habit long ago.  But making it something permanent in my schedule -- making it something I have to balance with work, family, friends, school, travel, life -- something I can't shove off until later -- that's how I've been able to keep it going.  I know, for a fact, that this practice has improved my inner life in ways I can't explain and I think that's shown through in my outer life as well.  I've been told that my writing has inspired some and made others feel less alone.  Writing every day has given me new vocabulary to talk about the hardest and darkest parts of my life and myself.  It's happened countless times that I've actually discovered something while writing.  That alone has made this endeavor worthwhile.

I remember back in December 2014 when I was asked to talk about one of my blog projects (a choose-your-own-adventure novel that I wrote over the course of that year) to a group at MIT that there was an audience member who grilled me about what she perceived to be as the stress of putting so much of my work out there.  "Don't you find it intimidating?" she pressed.  My honest answer was no.  One of the beauties of generating this much content is the straight up knowledge that it wasn't going to be the greatest thing the English language has ever seen every single day.  It also wasn't the point of my project.  I don't write every day to redefine what it means to be a writer or to prove myself as a great thinker of our time -- I do it because it's exercise.  I do it because it's ritual.  I do it because I want to write.  That's why I love audience-participation blog themes where the content is only partially controlled by me.  You give me the topic and I roll with it.  Today is the three thousand six hundred and fifty-fourth day in a row I've done this, people.  That's gotta be some kind of record.

I suppose, then, that if you're someone who's considering making a New Year's Resolution for yourself, it might be worth the extra beat to ask yourself why you're choosing what you're choosing.  Is this a personal goal and if so, what's the root of it?  Is this something you just think is en vogue or PC or what you project that others may wish you'd do to be "better"? My advice is only make the resolution if you can explain why you're setting the intention, what you're hoping to get out of it, and how it makes you feel to set out on this quest.  Don't do it if you think it'll make you feel bad about yourself or if it's a goal you know you can't attain.  Be realistic.  Be gentle. Engage your sense of humor and your sense of adventure.  A New Year's Resolution should lead to a productive change that you claim you want -- so be flexible and compassionate with yourself if you realize that it's not having the impact you thought.  

And honestly?  Fuck January 1st.  Start on March 11th or August 23rd or November 5th.  Start when your body, mind, or soul calls you to start -- and stop when you need to stop.  Don't call it a resolution if that makes it too intimidating.  Don't tell anyone what you're up to if need that privacy to begin your process.  I keep writing every day because it's meaningful to me and I'll keep doing so as long as that's the case.  It just so happens that means I've kept it up for a decade.  

So, yes, I do make this one resolution and I do find it helpful.  But that's because I've made space for it in my life, I've prioritized it, I've been very intentional about the process.  How about you?  Leave a comment below if you want to share your own thoughts on the matter.

I want to close this one out today with a song that more than one person has taken the time to quote to me privately over the last week or so because I know that 2020 was hard for most people in some capacity. It's been a long December, and there's reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last. If setting some personal goals to kick off the new year is helpful for you, then I say go for it.  But it might be even more beneficial to reflect on last year and how you navigated the weirdness or the isolation or the massive change many of us encountered.  I bet you achieved some things you never thought you could -- I bet your resilience showed up in unexpected ways.  And, frankly, I don't think we're giving ourselves enough credit for those areas of growth.  So give yourself some damn credit -- you earned it.  The goal in this life should never to be perfect: to have the perfect body or write the perfect blog post or have the perfect anything -- it should be to see ways in which we faced what life gave us and coped, overcame, grew, learned.  That's really it.  Perfect is a construct -- resolve to let it crumble away.


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From the Anything Goes in 2021 daily writing project (details here / subscribe here)

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