I rang in 2014 in a yurt, with a kidney infection. This is one of those stories that requires a little background information, and since I haven’t written much in awhile, I’ll begin with the last time I watched the clock strike midnight, which, in all honesty, was probably the same day in 2013. (That’s not entirely fair. I got up at midnight plenty of times in 2013.)
There are a few similarities between today and New Year’s Day in 2013. I spent both in Palmer, and I’m very much laid up today, though I don’t deserve it in the same way I did then. Starker, though, are the differences: none of the people with whom I rang in the last New Year with are in Alaska anymore, for various reasons, and given my propensity for Alaskan disaster, it strikes me as odd that I should be the last man standing.
My fall semester included strep throat, a still-mysterious fainting episode, weekly bouts of nausea, the flu, and, now, a kidney infection. I think I have the sort of constitution for which, in the 1930s, a doctor might have prescribed a move to a warmer, more humid climate. Maybe a nice beach house with whimsical furniture and a nautical-themed bathroom. You know the kind of place I mean.
The fanciful beach house is not where I spent this fall. I spent it taking twelve credits and working three jobs, none of which paid enough to support a real human, let alone one with expensive habits like skiing and climbing. Ironically, in my desperation to finish graduate school and work jobs in my field, I had very little time to actually do very much, recreationally speaking. This fall, then, was what I’m calling The Semester In Which I Came To Terms With Not Doing Enough.
The biggest challenge here was that my life is ruled by guilt. I can always find something to feel guilty about: I’m not exercising enough, Bix left his friends and family behind for this miserable rainy winter, I should be studying harder, I’m not working enough hours. When I’m feeling really ambitious, I switch from guilt to worrying: Have I been a good friend lately? Did I lock the door on my way out? If I have to call in sick to work again, will I get fired? What will I do when I finish school? And so on.
Actually, one of the few recreational activities I regularly had time for this fall was worrying, and I went at it with gusto. A favorite topic to ruminate on was whether I was “doing enough,” wherein I compared myself to various mentors—especially my thesis committee chair, who is a full-time professor, search-and-rescue volunteer, and avalanche safety instructor, and somehow still finds time for hot yoga (and, to boot, is excellent at all those things)—and, in contrast, felt hopelessly inadequate.
I had a few particularly gloomy days in which I was too sick to go anywhere, and, on those days—trapped in my hovel at the corner of 43rd and Minnesota—I felt utterly unsure that I had made the right choice in coming back to Alaska. It’s not a bad place, as crummy apartments go; you can watch the planes taking off from Ted Stevens, and I like to make up stories about where the hourly sirens flying by our building are headed. (A heist, maybe?) Still, the lack of sunlight in the fall and winter months made the apartment an ideal setting for mulling over my shortcomings, and on my numerous sick days, I indulged.
The thing is, that kind of prolonged self-loathing is draining, and, as I think I proved to myself over the last few months, not good for one’s health. Friends kept remarking how much weight I’d lost, and it dawned on me one morning, as I cinched my belt a little tighter, that they were serious. I caught a glimpse of my pale, bony form in the mirror and was a little surprised, despite myself. I was not the same vibrant, muscular climber I’d been all summer. Pale and bony is not a great look for me.
I’d like to roll through a montage here in which I eat lots of protein and lift kettle bells to heart-pumping music, but instead, I ended up with a kidney infection, so my New Year’s Resolution—to come to terms with not doing enough—will have to be taken seriously. (If I were in good health today, I’d be skiing with Hannah, thus “coming to terms with not doing enough” by simply doing more.) As it stands, though, skiing will have to wait, and I’ll have to just feel okay about not doing everything all the time because that’s exhausting.
Fortunately, I had the foresight (and Bix’s insistence) to do less this spring. I’m going to have at least a day off every week. This is big. It will leave me time for things like: Writing. Doing more yoga. Spending multiple hours a day outside. Reading things that aren’t about research methods. Having beers with friends. Getting to know my friends’ new baby. And, if I’m really lucky, having enough time to not do anything.