Green Light

I was desperate to find a church service on Christmas Eve because I was feeling sort of generally desperate, which is what propelled me to the stoplight on Keystone and 96th Street.  My sister was in the passenger seat next to me; we were listening to Hard Candy Christmas.  I was in the left turning lane along with 4 or 5 other cars waiting for the green arrow. The normal straight-driving green light turned once, and then twice, without the arrow popping up after it.  Green light, but no green arrow.  By the third time, two or three of the cars switched out of the turn lane and either decided to go home or figure something else out.  Those of us that remained waited for the fourth round of no green arrow, finally convinced it was never going to happen before we inched out into the intersection to simply wait, then yield.

In looking at my most played songs on Spotify this year, Green Light by Lorde is in the top ten.  I must have listened to it a hundred times, most frequently in the house I lived in for 3 months that was the result of a very humbling mistake.  I would loop it over and over and over again and dance, sometimes beautifully, sometimes in a sort of awkward anger, wishing there were other people to dance with or that Lorde herself would knock on my door and say, “Yes, that’s it exactly, Jessie.”  I listened to the rest of the album incessantly, too, but nothing matched the fevered pitch of dancing in my living room to the very first single. “I’m waiting for it – that green light, I want it.”

Personally, there were a lot of false starts this year.  A lot of very beautiful things that perhaps will remain that way in memory because they never got past the beginning.  Things that appeared to be one way and then very abruptly became another.  I find myself thinking (not uncharacteristically) of the infamous line from Rent – “How do you measure, measure a year?” That song is corny as hell if you want it to be, but when they start talking about daylights and sunsets and midnights and cups of coffee, and you start to think about the specific iterations your own year contained, it is actually an incredibly useful manual for measuring.  The cup of coffee I had in Portland at the very beginning of January, sitting across from my little sister who dragged me and my older sister there because she saw it on Instagram and wanted to go.  The countless cups of coffee brewed in the countless homes lived in, in the tiny machine my grandmother sent me when she found out I was moving into an apartment in college.  The free cup of coffee I had at a church that was so bad I couldn’t finish it.  Pourover made in Amy’s basement apartment.  Two cups on the morning of Kelsey’s wedding.  I could literally measure my whole years in cups of coffee, and I don’t even drink coffee that much.  Beginnings, endings.  It is so temping to align things by calendar in order to decide how best to proceed, so innate to want to find meaning in everything that happened.  To mind-palace your way back to January 1 of 2017 and retroactively realize all the things you didn’t know would happen.  To remember the exciting or very painful things; much harder to remember the days where nothing much happened.  A new year gives you a shot at reordering the old one.

I filled in the lyrics past cups of coffees and sunsets for myself.  For the last week or so, I have been trying to remember the books and conversations and geographical locations of travel and sorrow that occurred.  That’s all very good inventory for me, but perhaps the thing that you yourself can relate to is the overall feeling of my year.  I felt very, very stuck, as is clear by much of the writing on this website.  Stuck has slowly thawed into stalled during the last quarter of 2017, so it’s easy to want to camp out there and say that’s the truth, I didn’t really feel stuck, I just couldn’t see things clearly or some other sweep-away statement that keeps me from remembering things as they were.  But, meandering through January, February, right on through August, amidst a lot of some really exquisite happenings, the interior stuckness I felt cannot be ignored.  I know I’m not the only one, because of those conversations and books and geographical locations of travel and sorrow.  There is so much talent and vision and goodness that gets improperly channelled for a hundred different reasons, chief among them the feeling that any choice could be the wrong one.

It’s also very natural to look to the new year for new chances, resolutions and the like.  I’m all about that, improving and concrete progress and chomping on life, but I find myself thinking that perhaps the energy is better spent on trying to stay a particular way in the coming year in the wake of events of the year prior.  My only real resolution isn’t new; it’s resolve.  I have lists of goals and ideas and plans, but the only thing on my so-called resolutions list is to stay soft.  Plain and simple.  It takes a lot of work, and no one else is going to do it for me.  To be clear: when I say soft, I mean a braid of hopefulness, gentleness, and unabashed vulnerability in a personal and communal way.  “Let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”  A commitment to undoing things that have been done to you by forgiving what has not been apologized for, to staying a little longer in a moment that’s terrifying, or reconsidering what might be humbling to change.  Staying soft when everything suggests you should be a big blue meanie who is miserable and disillusioned and disappointed.  To borrow from The OA, keeping your invisible self alive and well and not invisible to your own self.  Every year there is less reason to remain soft, which, of course, means that every year you need to a little bit more.

Here is my wish for you: that 2018 is filled with green lights all in a row, the kind where one turns green and then the rest up ahead do too.  Green light after green light after green light.  The answer “yes” perhaps more often than even you think you need to hear it, bathed in the sweet green glow of permission.

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