It seems quite fitting that I end the year walking through my place of birth and it also fits quite nicely with the theme of my end of year blog post, looking back over the year and looking forward to next year!
2020 has been a bit poo, let's be honest. I don't know anyone who is looking back at the last twelve months and thinking ' Yeah that was a good one.' That said, there have been a few high points for me - getting my MA, my brother-in-law and his wife having their baby, and the time we've spent as a family, to name just a few. However, to counter that there have been some horribly low points for us and we've had it better than most.
I got a lovely Christmas card from an old school friend who wrote inside it that in what had been a difficult year, my posts about the wild and wonderful antics of my kids and the daft things that had happened to us, had brought a smile to her face amidst all the doom and gloom posts. It was lovely to know that I'd brought some light relief to her, but it also got me thinking about the things that had made me smile this year and how I could carry that forward into 2021. Like most people, much of my Facebook feed this year has made for difficult and at times, heartbreaking, reading. However, there are two friends in particular whose posts always make me laugh out loud. I see what they've posted and think 'Oh I must share that with X' only to discover that it's him or her who had posted it in the first place!
There are other people who have reached out to me over the year: firstly, at the start of the year when I needed comfort and support in the wake of my sister's death so many friends got in touch to offer a listening ear or helpful words, then at my lowest point during lockdown my wonderful mother-in-law got in touch to say she'd read a blog and was worried about me, reminding me that I was doing OK and she was there if I wanted to talk, then congratulations flooded in when I posted about passing my MA and then again the words of support on the anniversary of my sister's passing.
In April 2019 I joined a local reading group and it was one of the best decisions I've ever made. That group of ladies have been my rock this year. We carried on with our bimonthly meetings via Zoom, but at the beginning of lockdown one of ladies formed a WhatsApp group of the regulars and we kept in touch every day. Some days we would just share jokes or silly things that we'd done, but it was also (and still is) a safe place to share our concerns and fears without worrying about being judged. No matter how low we felt, there was someone at the other end of the phone to remind you that you weren't alone in how you felt, or to give you a boost, or some reassurance, or a kick up the bum if that was what you needed. We have all shared our anxieties and tried to be there for each other throughout everything that's gone on. We are all very different people, with different political views, different interests, different tastes in reading, but none of that is important. What is important is that we have moved from being a group of women with a shared love of reading, who get together twice a month for a drink and a natter about books, to a close knit group of friends who have supported each other and carried each other through the ups and downs of this year. I have no doubt that this closeness will not just evaporate when we can leave our houses again - we will just be able to meet up in person again and I'm sure that we will find a way of incorporating Zoom into our face to face meetings so our friend in America can continue to take part in the meetings in the months she's over there!
I set up my website and started this blog towards the end of 2019 when I started the second year of my MA and I had no idea what I was going to write blog posts about or whether anyone would be interested in reading them, but what I've realised over this year is that ultimately, it doesn't matter. Sometimes it's okay not to have a plan in place for everything and sometimes, even if no-one ever reads it, it's good to write things down and get them out of your system.
However, it has also made me realise that one of the things that brings me the greatest pleasure in life is recommending books to people and then hearing that they've enjoyed them. At our last book group meeting, a friend told me how much she'd enjoyed Alison Knight's MINE, which I'd written a blog post about. Other friends I know have bought that and some of Jenny Kane's books on my recommendations and thoroughly enjoyed them.
The 30 Books in 30 Days series I did, also had friends contacting me to say they'd loved the sound of some of the books I'd blogged about and were looking forward to reading them. Honestly - you have no idea how thrilled I am, not only that people are actually reading my outpourings, but also that other people are getting pleasure from books I've written about! Therefore, next year my goal will be to do more book reviews and I'm also going to start trying to do reviews for new books if I ever get through the backlog of books I still have to read!
Next year I will be continuing with my attempt to buy fewer books, reading the ones I've got and trying to use our local library more often. I don't know about elsewhere in the country, but here in Essex our libraries are under severe threat of closure and they provide such an important service within the community.
I hate New Year's resolutions because I'm hopeless at sticking to them. However, as well as the usual ones - lose weight, get fitter etc etc etc I want to try to give myself some reading and writing goals to work towards. They're not resolutions, but are more in the way of targets I want to set myself.
Beat my total of books read this year (145)
Finish editing the first in my children's trilogy
Write books 2&3 in said trilogy
Complete edits on 'Blythewode'
Write first drafts of 2 adult fiction books I've got ideas for
Keep the blog going
Get myself an agent (could be a pipe dream, but you've got to keep trying!)
However, the most important thing I'm planning to take forward into 2021 is to keep doing the things I love and not put things off for 'another day'. If this year has taught me anything it's that nothing is ever guaranteed and life continually finds ways to surprise us. We can sink under the weight of our own expectations or we can be kind to ourselves and accept that nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes, hindsight is both a blessing and a curse and we can either beat ourselves up about the things we got wrong, or we can praise ourselves for the things we got right. We should also try to see ourselves the way others see us - their picture is often kinder and far more accurate than our self-portraits. A friend recently said that the one thing she had going for her was that she picked wise people to be friends with. She was right - not just about herself, but in a more general way. If we have friends, true friends who have our best interests at heart and who want only the best for us, then we can conquer most things. As someone else commented on her post, we all have our demons to fight but sometimes, it's okay to say 'Today I've been enough and that's okay.' And for the days when you can't say that for yourself, that's when you need the people around you to pat you on the back and say, ' You are always enough.' It's easy to beat ourselves up on the days we feel down because there's always someone who is worse off than us. But whilst that argument may be true, knowing of someone else's suffering rarely makes us feel better about our own. We shouldn't wallow in our sadness, but nor should we dismiss our feelings as being unworthy simply because other people have it worse. Sometimes it's okay just to take a step back and acknowledge: 'Today I feel sad. Tomorrow I will feel better. It is enough today to just"be".' Sometimes we simply need someone else to tell us that.
I feel very privileged that I have friends and family who do that for me. So as we move into 2021 I'm trying to do it with something approaching a positive attitude. Next year WILL be better. We WILL get to hug people again. Life WILL begin to get back to normal. My 'to read' pile WILL get smaller not bigger!