My Word of the Year Was “Closer”

Feature image by Boris SV via Getty Images

Whenever I hear the word closer, the phrase to the edge quickly follows. The word and the phrase are so connected they may as well be synonymous. Despite my efforts to dispose of my black and white thinking, my first tendency is to assess: Is “the edge” good or bad? The first image that comes to mind is a cliff, so in many ways this association could be “bad.” But then I think about edging. The edge is the most fantastic, exhilarating part.

The edge isn’t impending doom or forthcoming glory, but rather an indication of something explosively falling apart. Ten years ago, I would’ve been pleased with a life that was explosively falling apart. As a hopeless romantic with undiagnosed bipolar disorder, extremes felt astutely on plot. However, now as a medicated and fairly stable human simply trying to love and be loved in this explosive world, those words strung together seem horribly gloomy.

This year, I’ve determined that existing closer to the edge is neither good nor bad, merely a marker of transition — a word I’ve expunged of all its meaning.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve held a silent tradition of closing out each year with a word. I spend most of my fall months, and even the occasional spring and summer moment, noting phrases, feelings, and words that seem to expose me completely. During years where I avidly journaled, these words were processed and documented. In more recent years, this word rumination process has become more of a nighttime prayer. I only started consciously noticing this process about a month ago. It’s been such a passive ritual that it never felt important or sacred for me. The reflection was simply part of who I was. As much as I would love to say I was awakened to this ritual during a therapy session or reading something profound, it quite literally just came to me while I was lying on my couch. The discovery wasn’t necessarily thrilling or eye-opening. It was an acknowledgement of a home that had already made space in my body.

I vaguely remember words like “happy” and “learning” becoming a part of me before my teenage years, when life felt intense but simple. High school brought words such as “hard-working,” “intimate” or even “intense.” My twenties have given me words that are equally transient as they are ubiquitous, with almost all of them existing as a branch on the tree of “transition,” a word that consistently gives me the “bad” flight or fight feeling in the pit of my stomach. Truthfully, all of life is transition, but the past few years have thrown me many intense, sudden, and dramatic curveballs.

Laying on my green velvet couch, looking over at the small Christmas tree my sister and I pieced together, I felt my nerves electrify as the word closer invited its way into my brain. Closer implies transition, but it also provides an actionable future. It’s a word inching nearer to the birth — or death — of something. It’s neither good nor bad but guarantees that change is coming — and that you have agency in this change.

My word for 2022 is closer because I stand in the middle of acknowledging an edge I could fall off of or the point from which I conquered to get to the plateau, closer to the mainland.

When flipping through the mental screenshots of my year, I noticed a trend: sudden and dramatic changes. This year, though, instead of them happening to me, I felt more in control of where to steer them. I moved very suddenly twice, once to the other side of the country. I made an enchanting group of friends, only to lose them with the move. I started two new jobs, I quit two new jobs. I fell out of touch with a few friends and completely lost a few more. I fell for a woman only to end it, realizing our paths were headed in two very different directions. I decided to go back to school. However, these are all things I did. Closer implies a direction I decided to take.

Somewhere in the mess of navigating my relationships, juggling jobs, and fighting to stay alive in LA, I excavated the desire for a life I never knew I wanted but was somehow always within me. Similar to coming out, I just knew it was right the first time I could name it.

It all started once I made the deliberate choice to not date someone. She and I never explicitly dated but rather spent two years in the runaround of “I like you, but” / “I want to be with you but.” The “but” being a very complicated family situation she didn’t want to bring me into. Despite her setting boundaries, I still entertained the idea of what my life would be like if we were together. It would require me moving to California, a place very far away from my family in Ohio, Michigan, and Florida. It would require me choosing a career with a stable income to support our family. It would require me to take steps in a parenting direction, which comes with so many complicated nuances. I most certainly got ahead of myself — seeing as we were never actually dating — but we both wanted to consider all the options before potentially catching further feelings.

This nearly one-year process forced me to ask myself questions. What do I value? What do I want my life to look like in five years? How important is family, chosen or not? As a writer and generally reflective person, I was shocked when I realized I didn’t quite know how to answer these questions. The adventure of the un-girlfriend helped me realize what and who I wanted to be close to.

In late July, around the time I decided to bow out of my life in Los Angeles, I was assigned a project for school: Write an obituary for yourself (I’m in school to become a therapist). As I started writing about my life from the perspective of someone who’d live into her nineties, I realized I never really planned for my future because I never thought I would get one, a phenomenon that is quite common among queer folks. Life beyond my early twenties never seemed like a real possibility. Now that I’m nearly 28, I feel the pressure and liberation of realizing I can dream up a life I actually have a chance at living.

Since working through some of this aforementioned trauma, I’m excited about the idea that some day, far down the road, I could own a house. I could own a dog. I could write a book. Maybe three books. I could settle down with someone and even get married…with an actual wedding celebration. I guess this all comes with the territory of growing older, but I never saw myself getting these things in the span of my life. It feels within grasp because I’ve been making tiny (and not-so-tiny) decisions toward who and what I want to be close to, something I never quite came to terms with until I met my un-girlfriend.

Reflecting on this past year is a much more productive use of my time than creating resolutions for a year unknown. The most truthful thing I can do is begin a year with lessons I’ve learned from the previous one. I feel closer, more than ever, to finding the place where my talents and skills intersect with my values and desires. I can see a life outside of this current moment. While I may always be in transition, 2022 gave me the gift of growing closer to who I am with intention and hope.


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Em Win

Originally from Toledo, Ohio, Em now lives in Los Angeles where she does many odd jobs in addition to writing. When she's not sending 7-minute voice messages to friends and family, she enjoys swimming, yoga, candle-making, tarot, drag, and talking about the Enneagram.

Em has written 29 articles for us.

3 Comments

  1. so interesting!!! thank u for sharing!

    i have been taught a practice of listening for a word or phrase to guide the coming year. not a resolution. just a direction or instruction that unfolds over the year. it has been really wonderful.

  2. I tried starting off the year with a word and that was a massive fail. I like the idea of a word at the end of the year. I’ll have to think on it.

    Thank you for sharing about the obituary writing exercise. I recently found an obituary that my mom wrote- she is still alive but getting older and having some memory issues. It was sweet reading her reflection on her life.

    I used to have a five and a ten year plan. And I’m grateful to have accomplished many of the things on my list, and I feel I have found “the place where my talents and skills intersect with my values and desires,” which is such a great way to put it! Now I’ll spend some time thinking about my obituary.

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