2008 was, for all intent and purposes, a quiet and uneventful year. It was a year where I laid-low and kept to myself – it was a year where I put my nose to the stone and worked hard and threw myself into running the homeless program at work (Junior and Karma Gods Went Tsk, Tsk) and any travelling that I did was more about rest and recovery, including my two trips to Halifax (Going Home and Because One Exclamation Mark is Not Enough), and the two trips to the cottage (Things That Go Bump in The Morning and And the Leaves Fell One By One). The one exception was our trip to Vegas in May, for our anniversary (Vegas Girl) but even that trip, despite the amount of time spent at the poker table, also included a lot of down time at Red Rocks and hanging out by the pool, early morning runs up and down the strip and lots of good food. And did I mention hanging out by the pool?
2008 must have truly been a tiresome and stressful year, because when I wasn’t at the cottage kayaking and sitting in the sun with a Strongbow in hand, or in Halifax, napping with my sister, a lot of my time was spent in the backyard, digging in the garden that Tay and I planted (Watching Tomatoes Grow Takes a Lot of Time and Mid-Summer Harvest). I discovered the pleasure of walking around the garden, looking at each plant to see what was new, counting peppers and smelling the basil and plucking tiny, delicate cherry tomatoes from the branches that burst with flavor when I popped them in my mouth.
I started doing a lot of cooking in 2008, reading cook books and experimenting with different ingredients and spending lengthy amounts of time roaming the aisles of gourmet and organic grocery stores, coveting things like truffle oil and buffalo mozzarella cheese. I starting roasting chickens on a regular basis, with lots of garlic and lemon, learned to pan fry steaks that were cooked perfectly and accompanied by a red-wine reduction. I made risotto for the first time and chicken tikka, which seems to keep getting better and better every time I make it. I learned to appreciate food made from scratch and started avoiding the inner aisles of the groceries where they keep everything that is dried and processed and filled with preservatives and stuck to the outer aisles with the meat, dairy and produce.
I discovered the joy of cooking in 2008, realized how therapeutic it was to stand in the kitchen, knife in hand, slicing vegetables and making soups and sauces and savory meats. Stressful week? I think I’ll roast a chicken or make a carrot cake.
When I started thinking about 2008 a few days before the New Year, I found myself thinking that I hadn’t accomplished a lot. A few quiet trips that were essentially self-indulgent, time spent alone in the garden or in the kitchen. I didn’t exercise anywhere near the amount that I did in 2007 when I trained for the half-marathon (the longest run I took in 2008 was maybe 30 minutes – in 2007 I could run 2+ hours) and my trips to the gym were sporadic at best. I finally got back into a regular gym schedule, started going to Body Flow again (combined with Body Pump) but even that didn’t happen until November of 2008. I read less in 2008 than in 2007 (2007 I did 32 books, 2008 was 22). Even the amount of time I blogged was substantially less in 2008 than in years before, with weeks and sometimes a month going by before I would have something to blog about.
I started to feel like I had wasted the year.
But then I reminded myself of the work that I had done this year, professionally, the amount of time I had spent working with the homeless program at work and how many Sunday nights I spent at work, serving dinner to the clients and being harrassed and the neverending stories that I heard about drugs and violence and mistreatment on the streets outside our shelter doors. I thought about the business case that I helped write for an increase in funding and the resulting 13% that we recieved, and the clients that we managed to house despite having to close our program during the summer while we renovated and the meal program that I campaigned for through the city when I knew we would be closed. I thought about the clients that I got to know, their names and their stories and what a handshake meant to them, especially when I initiated, my hand held out to them. In July, I was accepted in the United Way Speakers Bureau and for their 2008 campaign, I was requested to do dozens of engagements where I talked about the work that I did with homeless people and I managed to do 12 or so, despite the original committment to do “1 or 2”. Some of the engagements were for million dollar clients, big companies that donate $3+ million dollars to the United Way, and I stood there, knowing that I was a part of a $100+ million dollar campaign.
Tiring and exhausting work, easily the most difficult work that I have ever done in the expanse of my career but work that was thrilling and rewarding and fullfilling like work has never been. And yet, if I had to pick, the various successes of the program were not my greatest accomplisment of 2008.
Because the more I thought about 2008, the more I realized that I had forgotten the underlying current of the year, the one thing that ran below the surface and was always at the corner of my mind, regardless of what I was doing. The reason why so much of 2008 was a year in which I kept to myself because so much of it took place in my head.
2008 was also the year of the book, of After the Funeral – of Jeremy, and Wendy and Fiona and Amelia – people that were just as vivid and just as real to me as the friends that I met for dinner and coffee and hung out at the cottage with. Hours and hour on the Go train, on my laptop as I pieced together a story that, once I started writing it, I couldn’t stop. A novel, my first and perhaps likely to be my only, a novel that I couldn’t not write and I hesitantly shared at first with a select few and which I even more hesitantly offered to my book club as our first read of 2009.
And so this -this is what I think about as I reflect on the year that has past. I try not to think about the miles that I didn’t run, or the 15-20 pounds that I didn’t lose, or about the work that remains piled on my desk downtown or the clients that are still homeless. I think instead about those 100K+ words that I wrote, the novel that has my name on it.
And regardless of what happens to it – if nothing becomes of it, if it’s never published, if the few people that have read it or are reading it hate it, what matters is that it exists.
When I think of this year that has passed, I will be able to say that in 2008, I wrote a novel. And that, more than anything else in the past year, is what I am most pleased about.