Every year brings growth and change, but some years bring change that could not have been imagined. 2023 has been, by any measure, an extraordinary year.
My long-term job with EDGI finished as a Civic Science Fellowship in March: several years of working on data to support environmental justice communities closing out in a week where I was already trying a next thing, learning and writing about maple syrup tapping on a friend's Minnesota farm. I had a couple more contracts in the same vein, helping NASA understand the challenges EJ communities face in accessing data, and building mapping tools for New Jersey university students to learn about water quality, but the major role was done.
Thematically, I pursued rest. I tried — exhaustingly, expensively — to conceive a baby using purchased sperm for over a year. This involves not just the thing itself but various types of daily self-measuring, and emotional turmoil towards the close of each cycle. It didn’t work. Pausing this process was almost as hard as continuing: it’s not known for getting easier as you get older. But I wasn’t okay, and that doesn’t work either.
Activism has been a main theme of my life since early 2016. I've been through the full cycle a few times: nerves, learning, leadership, frustration with everyone who doesn't participate, acceptance, guilt in diminished volunteering, pride and power, finding a sustainable role, letting the role grow, burning out, teaching others... The causes are worthy, the communities always oscillate between supportive and infighting. I think it is adrienne maree brown who points out that most people come to activism in the first place because they are not okay. There is grace and beauty there, but there is also pain inherent to fighting a mighty status quo. Even small wins can feel like losing; gains are meager; each participant has their own reactions to change.
In the spring, I taught an activism cocurricular, "Practical Civics," at my alma mater. I am so proud of the students who are interested in developing and acting on theories of change. I am letting myself move into more of a support role on volunteer causes.
I didn't take summer quarter classes. I finished the spring course of my master's in data science, and later determined to finish the remaining four courses in the fall. Friends, don't do this. Two is a reasonable maximum on grad school courses. I dropped one of the four after much angst nearly halfway through (I'll finish it, and the program, this spring) and self-flagellated my way through the other three.
All of this quitting makes a lot of space. I made even more by taking a six week trip to Ireland and Wales to walk long trails with my mother, and by moving to Juneau, Alaska for the summer. This helped me leave a relationship and a living situation where my needs and wants had been treated as unimportant for years.
In Alaska, I biked to work every day, across the Gastineau channel towards the mountains. I had my own office with The Nature Conservancy, and my colleagues supported me in exploring watercolor painting and photography as a potential career path. I met relatives and other members of my tribe, deepening a long-sought connection with Tlingit culture. I tried dating for the first time — which, contrary to popular opinion, was fun.
By the end of summer, I had an art portfolio, a couple of photos selected for The Nature Conservancy's annual report, and a role as an artist on a research grant for bear-human interaction. I enrolled as a full-time remote student for the fall. And then, I fell in love.
I fell in love with a man who admires the things I love most about myself, goes on hours-long walks, quietly does all the dishes, wants a simple life in a wild place. We talked for hours across time zones in the autumn sunshine, and in November, I went to London to be with him.
There's a lot more there: more jobs, more travels, an endless font of ideas. But one of the things I'm practicing is the simplicity of priority. This is where I am now: a new life that better supports the self I most enjoy getting to be.
This New Year's Eve I am with my family. We all met up in South Africa for the navigation sport we have always done together, orienteering. In the new year, I'm moving to London for the next while. I'll finish my one course, graduating in spring. For my career, I'm working on projects that require deep engagement with the world: art, writing, poetry.
My family and friends are no longer surprised by my many life pivots, or their rapidity, but it is a lot of change all at once. I'm checking in with myself: it's not exactly stable, but it feels good. I'm calm, in a way I haven't been for a long time.
For 2024, I don't have goals or resolutions; I have plans. I can rely on myself. But even better, I can trust the people around me. I don't have to do everything on my own.