Feature image photo by LanaSweet via Getty Images
There is no more cynical day on the internet than the first of January. A bleary eyed morning, hearts and minds hungover from over indulging in year-end lists, look-backs, and all the auld acquaintances that had been forgotten. But now, this morning, this January first, the calendar is new and unmarked. For 365 days we will find ourselves peering back with scrutinous pride, cataloging and putting away all the footsteps in the sand behind us. Cynicism is the currency of the internet though and, as the new year approaches, it is all too easy to fall into an endless feedback loop of dissonant irony, snidely sneering at the idea of promise in a new year.
I completely understand why this happens: It’s fucking fun.
It’s fun to make jokes! It’s fun to write on your notes app that in 2023 calling all squirrels “handsome little fellas” is in. Post that screenshot to your social media of choice and watch the likes roll in. Or whatever they are on Mastodon. Horns? See, I’m doing it too. It’s me, I’m irony-pilled.
There is a race to the finish line with bits like this, that sudden burst of air beneath our wings as we scramble to make our own versions of the same joke will eventually dissipate. You can’t even store the endorphins from those final likes of the year in our little pockets and hold them close for when we are bereft of social capital; they are just moments lost. Given to the false gods of the perfect posture of ironic detachment.
I say all of this from a long history of familiarity, as I am very 40-years-old and as such have had plenty of new years to practice the fine art of not really overthinking being alive. I too have sneered at the coming year and the practice of intentional movement through all the seconds that accumulate. I’m just like you, I have lived in the pit, posting about how firmly I care about nothing while the world moves on.
I didn’t come out as trans until I was in my thirties. I had committed for so long to being and doing nothing that it was almost like a tick. An involuntary movement of the heart when the year turns a new number over. The first new year after I came out, I impulse-bought a plain black Moleskine hardcover notebook and a new pen, took it home, and sat with a bottle of brown liquor and wrote the word GOALS in my trademark terrible handwriting with a fine-tip black sharpie at the top of the first lined page.
That first year my goals were simple. Get HRT, get therapy. Think about a career change because being trans and working in trades was surely going to be untenable. The usual suspects were in there too: exercise and eating habits and do I have a drinking problem. The irony of that page being stained with the brown ring of the bottom of a rocks glass is never lost on me. I posted my little jokes about the new year on Facebook and felt the rush as each laugh emoji carved a little mark into my heart. How clever I was.
I told no one of my real goals, kept them secret and safe within me. On the outside, I allowed myself to play the part of aloof and withdrawn, a sturdy oak that could weather all manner of storms. This was a lie, but it had always been a lie, and if you lie for long enough you get very good at it.
That year was the first time I had ever written words with intentions on finding the path to following them through to the end. Writing down ideas for who I was as opposed to who I was allowing myself to be. It was invigorating, this idea I had just discovered that I was real and incomplete and that it was incumbent on me to find all the ways to build up the parts of me that had fallen to disrepair.
The years that followed, I bought new notebooks. I explored color beyond the classic Black Moleskine and bought orange, salmon, and bright yellow ones. I bought pens just for journaling and goal-tracking. I sought out bigger notebooks and calendars and apps for my phone that turned my everyday tasks into minigames. All of a sudden, my life had side quests, every doctor and YouTube yoga instructor an NPC in the mundane game of my life.
I firmly believe mundanity to be underrated. All the years I made no effort, I received no prizes and wondered why that was. Why had the world not simply showered me with what I deserved. I had stopped believing in Santa but kept on with the illusion that if I was good and righteous that the things I wanted would be delivered to me while I slept.
For 30-something years, I cared who I was for superficialities. I invested in how I looked, how I was perceived and considered, because that helped me survive. I didn’t care who I was but rather who I was when people spoke about me. I cared about the perception of me when I posted on the first of January all my little jokes about how little I cared because I wanted people to like, to heart and laugh emoji, just how little I cared.
Secretly, I wanted to know how it felt to be connected to who I was. To find the parts within me I wanted to show off. The idea of perception started at home. Who did I want to be when I was staring myself down in the mirror? Who do I want to be when the world isn’t aware I have changed.
Slowly over the years, the goals I wrote in sharpie on the lined pages of notebooks began to materialize. I got that HRT, I found a therapist. You know I changed careers because here I am.
It took a few years to get a sense of what this sort of goal setting meant. How much of it was beyond this sort of short-sighted immediacy. That first year I laid my goals out for myself, they were necessary and limited. Once I could check that box, they would disappear into the void. But as the year became new once more, I realized a lot of the parts of me I felt I was carrying from an old life had come with me.
It took a while for me to understand goals were a promise I made to myself, a commitment I made to live intentionally. Slowly my goals became more long-term before they became all together limitless. In my head, I could see who Niko was, unencumbered by the history of who she had been. I wanted to find the road to her.
So the start of every year, I draw that road map.
It is an easy thing to feel silly about. Vision boards and goals and dreams. But I have moved to a place over the years where I am now beyond the keep it secret, keep it safe, and into a spot where I am legitimately looking forward to the new year starting and new intentions.
This year, 2023 (really? That feels wrong. It was literally just 1997), I wrote two different lists for myself. My personal goals, my professional ones, too. I wrote them into a notebook that was big and spacious and empty, that had room to let ideas breathe and grow. I wrote ideas, and the word Running became a question. Why do I want to get back into running? You don’t know this because I have never told you, but I ran a marathon once, when I turned 30. A whole ass marathon. It took me four and a half hours to do it. I made a promise to myself years ago that I would do it again when I turned 40. But I was recovering from too much when I became 40 and I missed it. But why do I want to get back into running? What do I like about it? What am I hoping to get out of it, to achieve. I started asking myself these questions, and then I turned those into action steps and a plan.
I have two planners, a daily and a weekly. I wrote down everything I want to do in a day in those, I put them in my Google calendar too. I make notifications for minutes and hours and days before. I put everything in there. Take meds. Do voice training. Write. Log off Twitter. I ignore some of them. But even then, I am in control of what I ignore. I am intentional with what I let slide and what I make happen.
For so long, I was a construct of everything that happened around me, flotsam in an infinity pool, but surely I could feel every wave below me. Now I am learning to swim and looking to the horizon for land. Making plans on how to get there, to feel what it might be like on land if I choose to make my way to its shores.