2016 — A Year in Review: Questioning, Writing, Wearing the Ugliest Sweater I’ve Ever Seen and Celebrating the Only First Date I Would Ever Need
For me, it wasn’t long ago that the end of the year meant partying like a rock star deep into the suburban night followed by long, lazy stretches on the couch, burning afternoons away and watching an endless string of romantic comedies on TBS.
But now, I’m proud to announce I’m a responsible adult (of sorts). And though I still like a good party ( and a good rom-com), the end of the year serves as a better time for reflection instead of hangovers.( Plus, dading and hangovers don’t mix.)
On a national and global scale, 2016 was pretty awful. A year spiked with terrorism, racial tensions, celebrity deaths, political tomfoolery left us in a state of disillusionment and wondering if that REM song from the 80’s was about to be right ( Is this the end of the world as we know it? And do we feel fine?) Yet from a writing perspective, this much maligned year offered a wealth of material.
Though a terrible year for humanity (and I feel kind of douchy saying this), 2016 was my best year as a writer. In fact in 2016, I actually began announcing myself as a (dramatic throat clear) writer as I wrote and published 78 blog posts and WoFo had over 11,000 visitors and over 27,000 page views
But here’s something–the writer’s life is not as sexy as I thought it would be. It’s a hard life. A daily grind. One that requires much sacrifice. Early mornings, late nights and the will power to turn off the TV ( goodbye rom-coms). And most of what I write you’ll never see. Why? Because it stinks. Because most 500 word blog posts begin as 1,700 word scrabbles of run-ons, tangents and general old-man-in-a-bathrobe incoherence that I must work and shape and polish before it meets your eyes
I also learned that to uncover good, authentic material, a writer must be willing to probe themselves with questions. A writer must have the nerve (and maybe a slice of schizophrenia) to constantly interview themselves.
And asking questions is something adults simply don’t do naturally well.
My children ask questions ALL THE TIME. Questions do not intimidate them (neither does timeout or the threat of sending all their Christmas gifts back to the North Pole).
But adults, well, we fear questions. We fear the vulnerability and shame that comes with not knowing.
But if my writing in 2016 has taught me anything it’s that questions are more important than answers. That answers are finite. They are subjected to limitations. Hard, unbounded questions spark creativity and fuel the relentless pursuit of passion, of truth.
So with that, I thought it would be fitting, in this year-end post, to conduct a little Q&A with myself.
What were the things I was most proud of in 2016?
- Being named my school district’s Teacher of the Year
- Being published on medium.com, themighty.com and holdinholden.com
- The growth of the Write-a-Thon events
- Having the courage to wear matching ugly sweaters with my wife.
What were some things I lost sleep over in 2016 but now can laugh at?
- 3 out of 5 Armstrongs having strep throat on our first family trip to Hershey Park trip. “5 Things I Learned about my Family (and Myself) while on “Vacation””
- Having to evict our tenet from our rental property and then having to spend upwards of $5K and the last two weeks in August cleaning and repairing the mess that he kindly left us. “8 Lessons from a First Time Landlord”
- The worst performance review I ever received as a teacher (Yes, in the same year I was awarded Teacher of the Year. As an English teacher, I have to admit, I love the irony of it all).
What are some things I need ( and want to) work on in 2017?
- Exhibiting daily gratitude.
- Avoid the seduction of the smart phone when I’m in the company of real, living people.
- Laughing more.
- Exercising daily.
What were some of my favorite reads of 2016?
Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss– a massive text packed full of insights, wisdom and strategies from highly successful people. This is more of a resource then a natural read. However, it’s an awesome book to have at your disposal when you’re in need of some guidance.
The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday– Reading one page from this book is now part of my morning routine. Each page offers a stoic thought for the given calendar date. The reading is simple, quick but the ideas are deep and stimulating and linger with you throughout your day.
Fucking Burning by Dan Marshall– I picked this book up in bookstore on a whim. I read the first chapter standing in the aisle. Midway through the first chapter I was LOLing. By the end of the same chapter I was fighting tears. This nonfiction narrative about a son’s efforts to care for his dying father. It is funny and heart-wrenching and chuck full of obscenity ( hence the title).
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen– Ok, of course I’m biased. In 2016 I wrote 3 posts about the Boss, was featured on Blogness on the Edge of Town (the foremost Bruce blog on the internet) and was a 3 time guest on the Set Lust Bruce podcast. Nevertheless, Springsteen’s autobiography is an exceptional read. His musical lyricism bleeds into his prose as Bruce covers all aspect of his life. From growing up in the blue collar town of Freehold, New Jersey to his fractured relationship with his father to juggling fame and family life, Born to Run offers an intimate look into the life of one of rock’s greatest legends.
Linchpin by Seth Godin– I was turned on to Seth Godin and his blog in 2016. Seth writes mainly about how to run and manage a successful business, yet his writings have a certain universal wisdom to them. Like The Daily Stoic, Seth’s writings are short and simple yet packed with powerful, life-affirming ideas.
What were some of the important lessons I learned and wrote about in 2016?
- Achieving happiness takes tremendous effort. And sustaining real happiness is back-breaking, knuckle-splitting, hate-yourself-for-ever-being-born work. “The Only Way to Find Happiness”
- The best way to find your way is to lose yourself in a process. “How Sarcoidosis Inspires Me to be Creative Everyday”
- Burn your boats! “Let’s Burn our Boats in 2017”
- Dedicating to a daily practice is the key to achieving and sustaining any type of success. “The Most Important Thing Writing has Taught Me”
- And yet despite our protests, it’s the unplanned life that teaches more then our fantasies ever will. “The Day I Learned I Could No Longer Jump (or Learning to Fly)” (This is the post I am most proud of)
- Kindness is a natural painkiller. “The Healing Power of Donuts”
- Stories are our best (and only) defense against the permanence of death. “To Robbinsville, New Jersey” (This is my most viewed and most important post of the year)
- Witnessing my children collect their own stories is an absolute thrill and further punctuates the magic of life. “Why Stories Matter”
What new idea has got me all jazzed up for 2017?
I’ve never been a new years resolution guy. In fact, I tend to chuckle at those fool-hearted souls who assume that by merely flipping a calendar their life will somehow magically improve. But after some solid thought, I do want to make a resolution for 2017. And not a long winded resolution that I’ll most likely abandon by half time of the Superbowl but one that is simple and easy to remember. And because I want to parlay the progress I made in 2016.
So for 2017 my resolution will be to commit to just one word. A word that will provide my life with focus. A word that will proved perspective. A word I can rally around when I want to sink into the couch and watch The Bridget Jones Diaries.
My word for 2017 is ownership.
I chose ownership because I like its flexibility. It can be applied to all areas of my life. Writing, marriage, parenting, health, personal hygiene.
Furthermore, I’ve seen how many adults fail to accept ownership of their lives and become addictive excuse can be. I don’t want to become that kind of adult. I want to take ownership, for better or worse, of my life.
What is one goal you have for WoFo in 2017?
I want to hear from you (dear reader)!
I will admit, I’m still a novice at this blogging business. There are some days when I stare into my computer screen, feel a hot flame of panic rip up my chest and convince myself that I can’t write another post. But after I calm myself down (usually over a bowl of cereal), take a walk, surf the interwebs for a few hours until I find something worthy to write about. Something I want to share with you.
But now it’s your turn. I would very much love to hear about your WoFo experience.
What did you particularly enjoy on WoFo in 2016? Not enjoy?
Where and when did you find yourself reading the blog?
What would you like to see more of?
Feel free to leave on message on this post our to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Any final words?
Writing about personal things on a public forum is scary business. When I started WoFo I took a leap of faith and had no idea where I was going to land. I’m truly grateful for everyone who made the leap with me. Thank you for your support, for spending time with me and allowing my stories to find a place in your life.
I wish you and yours a healthy and fulfilling 2017.
PS… 20 years ago, on December 30, 1996, I was lucky enough to score a date with Cindy.
She picked me up at my parents house in her light blue Grand Am. We went to the movies, saw Jerry McGuire, checked out a Christmas light show and found ourselves sitting nervously in my parents driveway playing with the radio dial, making small talk and afraid to make eye contact.
Now there is a great deal of things I’m unsure of, but I somehow knew in that eternal moment, with unflinching certainty, that I did not need to go on another first date for the rest of my life. We were 16 then. We are 36 now. And even then I just knew.
A lot has happened in those 20 years. Too much to write in this post script but that first date 20 years ago changed my life, sealed my fate. A life, a fate I can only describe in one word…lucky.