Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015


As this wet and now snowy year winds down, I continue one of my favorite Stranger traditions. In the days after Christmas each year I start compiling my frustratingly-vague and probably obnoxiously-boastful list of the year's happenings.

You kindly read Stranger, some of you for many years now, and see the evolution of thought and experience I traverse, an evolution that is really ordinary and not all that special. The best thing about Stranger to me, and the whole reason I started Stranger in the first place, is that here I have recorded, by mere virtue of writing as I age, the progression of self. I've documented my thoughts and captured my experiences, exaggerated as some of them may be, through the vocabulary and lens of understanding I had at the moment of writing. And it's bizarre and interesting and sometimes embarrassing to me to look back over those writings and see what has changed and what hasn't.

I started Stranger in 2007. I was barely 23 at the time. I was a baby. I was in college.

And now, more than eight years later, I look at that early Stranger version of myself who thought his 30s were an eternity away and who could never have imagined what his life might be when he reached them. And it's strange to me. It's nostalgic in a way. And I'm not sure I really know how to explain this, but it makes me really proud. I'm proud of my hard-earned lessons that have shaped me into who I am now, even if most of those lessons were a result of my own foolish decisions and even if my continuing flaws are still exceedingly clear to me.

This year was no exception in my hunting and gathering of those hard-earned lessons.

In 2015 I looked out over my quiet city from my office window at 3:00 in the morning. I drank from a mosque's fountain per a midnight request. I cried when someone I cared about died. I visited a prison. I felt inadequate as a homeowner. I threw up on a mountain in Bosnia in front of an audience of best friends. I met a lot of homeless people and ached from it. I argued an important case in front of a judge and felt proud for days. I succeeded at the Ironman and then completed one. I forgot to take the garbage out. A lot. I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. I was confused on a floating island in South America. I attended a wedding in Cleveland with good company. I was a terrible landlord. I tried to just enjoy the moment in Jackson Hole and not worry about the future. I sold Polynesian food during a tornado. I deeply regretted arranging a blind-date. I dance-walked to a Croatian beach in the middle of the night with some British people. I lost sleep over a flood. I took selfies in a Manhattan McDonald's at 4:00 AM. I called 911 on a door-to-door salesman while he listened to the call. I gossiped with my grandma at a family reunion. I found some peace after paying a very hefty price. I danced in a bar, barefoot, with strangers. I improved an important relationship. I was threatened in a Serbian stairwell by a concerned citizen. I lost my temper with some dishonest people in a large meeting. I stood up for myself, even though it was hard to do. I harvested raspberries. I swam with strangers in Montenegro. I was mean to someone at a wedding when I didn't have to be. I talked to people about child abuse and tried to help.

In 2015 I learned that it isn't always my responsibility to punish people when I believe they have behaved badly. I learned that every action and every inaction is tightly tied to consequence. I learned that hard conversations are often a necessary component of meaningful progression. I learned that while I sometimes regret being impulsive, I never regret being spontaneous. And relearned that everyone is fighting an unfair battle, even my "enemies."

But more than anything else, this was the year that I finally learned how to be proud of myself.

The day after Ironman Boulder I wrote to you about my Earth-shattering epiphany that hit me in the final miles of that 12-hour race, an epiphany that I think was so obvious to so many of you already. I told you that it finally occurred to me that:

"Success is nothing more than persevering when perseverance is hard. Success isn't measured by money or friends or awards or finishing races. It's not something you achieve or capture. Success is a state of being. One that is maintained only with consistent effort and one that is lost when principles are abandoned. It is there to embrace every single time something becomes difficult and you have the choice to face it or shrivel. And those times come every moment of every day for every person."

2015 was yet another year full of opportunities for shriveling. I made a lot of mistakes this year. A lot of mistakes. Just like I do every year.

But the big difference this time? I'm not ashamed of those mistakes. I'm happy for them. Because they gave me opportunities to shrivel. And I never shriveled. And that feels like a huge success.

It's impossible to live life without looking like an idiot sometimes. And so it seems to me that it might be more productive to embrace the idiocy in its aftermath than to hide it. Because our mistakes are a waste if we don't learn about ourselves through them.

And our interactions with each other, the strangers all around us, are wasted as well if we don't use them to learn something.

A stranger is two things. It's an unknown, and it's a person. And sometimes when we use the word "stranger" we do so in the spirit of emphasizing the unknown part and ignoring the person part. And that's a shame. Because the unknown is what makes a stranger exciting and surprising and scary but the person part is what makes all of those things matter.

I'm grateful for you, Strangers. Who have traveled yet another year with me, without shriveling, and have helped make the exciting and surprising and scary so much more meaningful. And, well, strange.

It was a strange year. It was a strange year because this is a strange life. And the only thing that remains consistent year after year is that it just gets stranger.

Thank God for that.

~It Just Gets Stranger

24 comments:

  1. Another reason to hate Glee: http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/29/entertainment/mark-salling-glee-arrested-feat/

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  2. I needed to wake up and read this this morning. This year hasn't been the best for me but looking back I can see some value in the evil bad things. thank you for being you and sharing it with us.

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  3. You are human, Eli. Your block chronicles that human experience. It helps me realize, we are all human. We make mistakes.

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  4. This has been a great year on Stranger. I have loved every post and appreciate the time you put into bringing so much thought and joy to Strangers. This post was wonderful. Thank you for that.

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  5. I don't read blogs - mostly because there's too much other "stuff" out there for me to spend my time on - more important, more valuable, more real stuff... but you're blog over the years has become important to me - makes my life more valuable and I definitely feel more real when you share your life/thoughts - thanks so much Eli!

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  6. by the way... your hair looks terrific!

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  7. "I learned that while I sometimes regret being impulsive, I never regret being spontaneous." I love that! I am just barely learning the difference. Your blog is really fantastic. I feel like I know you. When I tell people something I read on your blog I always say "my friend wrote something funny on his blog" and then when they ask which friend I have to explain who you are.

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    1. Ditto. That's my favorite line from this post. It encaptures the dichotomy I feel often when I'm trying to figure out whether I'm being too impulsive.

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  8. I found a lot of insight in this:

    "In 2015 I learned that it isn't always my responsibility to punish people when I believe they have behaved badly. I learned that every action and every inaction is tightly tied to consequence. I learned that hard conversations are often a necessary component of meaningful progression. I learned that while I sometimes regret being impulsive, I never regret being spontaneous. And relearned that everyone is fighting an unfair battle, even my "enemies.""

    Thank you so much for your writings this year and every year. I can't tell you how much you have helped me and made me see the world in a different way---a stranger way.

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  9. I have followed your blog for 4 years now and have never once commented even though I have wanted to on many occasions. However, today's post touched me in such a way that I am compelled to express my gratitude. Thank you for your words, for taking the time to share, and most importantly for having the courage to be vulnerable and honest in your writing. I have found solace, humor and community in reading your blog. I am grateful to you and to the many strangers who have gathered here.

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    1. Thumbs up to this post. Very well said.

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  10. Ditto on all comments above!

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  11. Please share the story of calling 911 on the salesman sometime! That sounds hilarious!

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    1. I'm probably saving it for a Porch story. It's a doozy.

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    2. well, Eli, WHEN are you going to be on the Porch again? Inquiring minds wanna know (plus, we want to hear about the 911 call)!

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  12. Balter - dance walking
    Well that is how my siblings and I describe it.

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  13. Great post. Of all the blogs I read you sure do have a lot stranger adventures than any other.

    This is totally unrelated, but if you're looking for a roommate, I know a great kid (single, LDS, mid-20's, working professional, hair won't rival your own) that just moved to the area and is hoping to find a better area to live in in the near future. If it's too weird, I understand, but if you want me to email you his details I can.

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    1. You certainly can email me. I'm not looking for anything but I may be able to connect him with some folks.

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  14. So, 2015 went out with me getting the latest version of norovirus, then having to schlep 13 hours cross-country to visit my ailing/alcoholic mother....all the while frantically texting my baby sister, whose husband was admitted that morning to ICU with sepsis (he's much better, and home now), and popping zofran like they were tic-tacs. The fever only added to the fun.

    2016 can't get any more hilarious than that, I'm telling ya.

    It will probably be as manic, strange, weird, hilarious (no, really), sad, and wonderful as 2015..so, I say bring it on '16, shit's about to get real.

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    1. I feel like we could be sisters, awesomesauciness. I sure do love you like one. :)

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  15. Great write up. Love your photo of the mountains in the back. Where was that taken? I must go there! Alicia @ www.girlonahike.com, IG @girlonatrail

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    1. Thanks! It's the Grand Tetons near Jackson Hole Wyoming.

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  16. I'm the same age as you (May '84 represent!) and I've been reading your blog for a few years now. It continues to make me laugh and make me think, both of which have been critical for me this year. Thinking back on the past 8 years, I have definitely spent a lot of time looking like an idiot, but I've come a long way. I am less concerned with what others think of me, and more concerned with what I think of myself. So sure, I continue to make plenty of mistakes, but like you I'm working on recognizing them, embracing them, and learning from them. It's a work in progress. I don't know you but I enjoy watching your work in progress, too!

    (Pretty sure my hair right now is a mistake. I can only dream of glorious hair like yours!)

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