Each December, I compile a list of things to do and accomplish during the upcoming year. Some things are vague and perpetual, some things are oddly specific. Regardless of its contents, its purpose is to encourage new adventures, and spend some quality time galavanting beyond the confines of the comfort zone. Because that’s where growth happens.
Reflecting on the past twelve months, I find my heart swollen with joy and pride knowing I packed as much life as possible in the teeniest timeframe. It was, and remains to be, an incredible journey of self-discovery.
This was my 2014.
01. Grow forever stronger; mentally, physically, emotionally.
02. Run a 5K. Do it in under 32 minutes.
“Before I pass out: I ran the 5K in 30:27. I murdered it. More later; exhausted, can’t feel thighs.”
—Just Keep Swimming, 5.2.14
03. See a concert. Or two.
04. Pay off Sergeant Pepper.
06. Visit places I’ve never been.
07. Spend time at an art museum.
08. Brand myself.
09. Push my creativity.
I’m a graphic designer—I get paid to be creative 40 hours a week. It’s totally awesome. And while I absolutely adore my job, exuding creativity and ingenuity full-time can be mentally exhausting. It’s tough, and after a long day of creating, it’s extra tough to go home and continue producing good work. Next thing you know, you’re stuck with a much-too-long backlog of to-dos (or to-creates) and little desire to get going. It’s kind of depressing.
Yet, somehow I managed to increase my mental capacity, avoid the strain, and produce some beautiful works of art outside the office. I blame one incredible man (thank you), and several stimulating ideas, for reigniting my passion for personal projects.
In 2014, my most notable projects included an apartment overhaul (complete with furniture-refurbishing, wall-painting, print-making, and chandelier-crafting), hand-painted stationary for handwritten letters, several floral pen drawings, and an in-progress photo + illustration collaboration with Eat Pomegranate Photography. And lest we forget my word-driven endeavors, “Just Keep Swimming” and “So Vicarious.”
Creativity, consider yourself pushed.
10. Paint something again.
11. Take a leadership role at work.
12. Get a raise.
13. Visit Lake Michigan. Swim in it.
“When the sun hit the horizon, I stripped down and ran. I swam out in that freezing water, and stayed there watching until the sun disappeared. It felt freeing. Not wearing a bra, underwear, or makeup for three days? Also freeing.”
—Just Keep Swimming, 6.9.14
14. Go camping.
In June, eight of my very best friends and I stuffed four cars full of camping gear and food, and took off for Hoffmaster State Park in Northern Michigan. We spent three full days enveloped in friendship, snacks, and nature.
Highlights included campfire songs, giant sand penises, and successfully convincing the group I was pregnant with my bastard child. Perhaps it was our overwhelming consumption of Nutter Butters, Gushers, and s’mores that knocked our maturity back to fourth grade, but I’m comfortable in our ability to do adulthood based upon our procurement of full-time employment. We also successfully fed ourselves actual meals, and bonus, no one died.
Joking aside, the trip was exquisite, and our time spent together outdoors was a clear indication of the solidity of our friendships. It’s a rare deal to adore your coworkers as much as we adore each other.
15. Learn to fish better. Eat it.
16. Practice archery.
17. Shoot a gun.
18. Spend more time at the beach.
19. Buy a bike.
20. Fall in love again.
“I don’t believe it was nuts to think it was possible to fall in love again before this book was filled. But what I do know is that my heart is ready for love again—that it’s strong and whole enough to embark on that great adventure.”
—Just Keep Swimming, 9.1.14
Instead, I fell head over heels for myself.
21. Throw a party.
Fact, I love tequila. In a shot glass, a frothy margarita, with orange juice, on a Tuesday. Whatever—just put it in my mouth. Naturally, in my quest to organize a friendly springtime shindig, it made the most sense to choose a date that paired nicely with three fifths of José Cuervo; Cinco de Mayo.
The weather was absolutely beautiful; warm, sunny, breezy. I whipped together a healthy dishful of roasted vegetable enchiladas, fiesta pasta salad, and filled my lovely glass drink dispenser to the brim with José, fresh limeade, sliced oranges, and vanilla beans for a batch of the most potent, incredible margaritas on Earth. I slapped on a party dress dotted with confetti, blew open the sliding glass door, and promptly cued some Enrique.
My heart swelled with joy as my guests graciously plowed through second helpings of food and drink. My tiny apartment was bursting with love, and I was supremely drunk on happiness. I quietly observed their merriment, thankful to have all of them in my space, happy, healthy, and well-fed. The evening concluded with a rousing 30 rounds of Catch Phrase, resulting in fits of unnecessary screaming and choking laughter.
Not too shabby for a Monday.
22. Learn new recipes. Eat well.
23. Attend a wedding. And dance. A lot.
The daughter of my namesake married in April, and the wedding was nothing short of spectacular. It was a decadent cultural affair; tuxedos and gowns, a five-course dinner, and decor fit for a fairytale. But if there’s one thing the Lebanese do well, (not including family, food, and booze—because duh), it’s music.
The band was incredible. Give me a dance floor and four handsome men banging drums singing a language I can’t understand, and I’m good to go for a couple hours. The energy in that room was explosive.
After a round of shots with the wedding party, I scampered to the dance floor shaking my junk at no one in particular. Mid-shimmy, I spotted a handsome, stylish dude across the crowd. We acknowledged each other’s moves with a hat-tip and a giggle. He wore thick-rimmed glasses, a hot pink bowtie, and matching navy polka-dotted socks. His suit was immaculately tailored. I was about it. He snagged my hand, forcing me into the most flawlessly executed twirl of my life, and we glided across the floor like Fred and Ginger in “Top Hat.”
Truth be told our grace probably fell short of movie-quality, but it felt on-point, and we gained an audience in the process. The crowd shifted to make room for our grand display, and we finished with some enthusiastic applause from our senior spectators.
I had a ball.
24. Play recreational sports.
I smashed more faces, handled more balls, gave more high-fives, and ran stronger, faster, and harder than I ever have in my life. As a veteran softball player, team sports are kind of my deal. This year, I split my time between dodgeball, volleyball, and softball teams; all of which were coed, incredibly fun, and fueled by brew.
“I think it’s team sports that really get me wet.”
—Just Keep Swimming, 9.14.14
While I don’t necessarily associate my tech-loving coworkers with superior athleticism (we are, after all, a software company), we know a thing or two about team spirit. Combine first-rate team work, some top-shelf liquor, and a little luck, and you get a highlight reel that makes ESPN look like amateur hour.
At the end of the day, coming home battered, covered in dirt, sand, or sweat, and smelling like a homeless man was infinitely more enjoyable knowing we’d accomplished something together.
Making new friends was merely a bonus.
25. Make new friends.
Well, how about that?
26. Read lots of books.
I dumped cable in May. In addition to the obvious cost benefit of pocketing $93 a month, it felt incredible to give Comcast the middle finger. Because each minute you spend on the phone with customer service, you’re voluntarily deducting one full year from your life. In seven months, I’ve barely noticed its absence.
As an alternative, I doubled down on my book load, and the used book section subsequently became my new cost effective BFF—I gobble books like Skittles. Some favorite reads included “Life Itself” by Roger Ebert, “Hot Art” by Joshua Knelman, “The World to Come” by Dara Horn, “The Year of Living Biblically” by A.J. Jacobs, and “1984” by George Orwell.
27. Take lots of naps; the good weekend kind.
28. Have great sex.
29. Practice yoga.
30. Never settle.
31. Model nude again.
32. Be kind to everyone. Except assholes. Eh, them too.
33. Start a fire.
Last New Year’s Eve, I stowed my sequin mini dress and cancelled my quest for a soul-shaking midnight’s kiss. Instead I opted for sweatpants and wrapping my mouth around a bottle of California red. My sister Lauren and I decided on a quiet night in. I use “quiet” loosely.
We filled the house with laughter.
Donning raggedy t-shirts and fuzzy holiday socks, we plopped down on the couch for a round of Modern Family episodes, and regaled each other with tales of laughable sexual encounters. Three stories deep, we were choking on wine and spit in fits of hysteria. Miley Cyrus and drunk baking ensued. As the ball dropped, we draped our arms over each other and swayed merrily together, bottles in hand, counting down with the rest of Times Square. We shared a loving, sisterly peck, then immediately took to FaceTime to wish a ‘Happy 2014’ to the rest of our siblings, and our inebriated parents.
When the wine started winning, we threw a starter brick in our wood burning stove and promptly struck a match. A fire roared to life; one of several I’d ignite in 2014. We curled up beneath a stack of blankets and fell asleep together on our oversized sectional.
It was the best New Year’s Eve I’ve ever had.
34. Attend an MSU basketball game.
35. Attend a Detroit Tigers’ game. Or two. Or three.
Each year, my coworkers organize a group outing to a Tigers’ game in Detroit, complete with a full-blown tailgate, a charter bus, and enough alcohol to flood the Titanic. Baseball, hot dogs, and Miguel Cabrera aside, the hours-long bus ride alone is reason enough to attend. This year was no exception.
One fifth of Smirnoff, one fifth of Fireball, 150+ Jell-O shots, a 30-rack, and 40 minutes later, we’d found ourselves blasting 90s hits from a miniature boombox scream-singing a drunken arrangement of Alanis Morissette’s “You Outta Know.” We did the back of the bus proud. Our driver, Ron, thoroughly loathed us.
“I barely remember the game, except Lauren sucking nacho cheese from her fingers, Eric buying me a massive, alcoholic slushie, and sending Mike’s mom a selfie. An A+ evening.”
—Just Keep Swimming, 8.17.14
We found out later that Ron had never driven to Detroit, much less navigated a charter bus in city traffic, and definitely not among a sea of screaming tweens headed to a One Direction concert. Detroit was a clusterfuck—that man was a hero.
We repaid Ron with complete silence upon our return—everyone was comatose from excess booze and saturated fat. I awoke to a poking finger and a puddle of drool spilling from my mouth (sorry, Mike), and thought to myself: “success.”
36. Learn to use a camera. Take pictures.
37. Avoid judging.
38. Study mixology. Drink well.
39. Learn to whistle.
40. Save for something.
Buying a new car was never the plan. In fact, it was the farthest thing from the plan. After having paid off Sergeant Pepper, my 2003 MINI Cooper, two years early in February, the plan mostly involved driving him into the ground while simultaneously stuffing the savings account until it exploded. For what? I had no idea.
Sgt. Pepper and I had a long history of wallet-crippling repairs, but when the little bastard faced an $800 fix in late July, I decided it was time to part. It was devastating, and if there’s any doubt as to why, read this. But I digress.
I stumbled upon Bane, my 2012 MINI Cooper S, mid-August, and after two mental breakdowns and a week’s worth of internal debate, I decided to pull the trigger. My sister Lauren and I hopped a train to Chicago to bring him home. Because God forbid I make things easy for myself and buy a vehicle in the mitten.
Rachel, the very friendly, very helpful motoring advisor, snagged Lauren and I from the train station and shuttled us to the bank where I withdrew an obnoxious amount of cash. Thank you, savings account. I felt like T.I. gearing up for Boys Night at the strip club. When we arrived at the dealership, the doors flung open and I strolled in, slowly pulling my Ray-Bans from my face with my left hand, and snapping my bank roll with the right. Hundred dollar bills cascaded from the ceiling in gobs.
But that’s what it looked like in my head.
41. Continue paying down my student loan debt.
42. Explore Lansing.
43. Explore Grand Rapids.
44. Explore Ann Arbor.
45. Learn to golf.
46. Grow a garden.
47. Donate to charity.
48. Help a stranger.
49. Stay humble.
50. Love wholly. Always.
51. Continue learning.
“I am so unbelievably proud of my wholeness, and thoroughly impressed by my bravery in saying ‘yes’ to so many new experiences. My god, I’ve learned so much. And I owe all of this strength, and sass, and courage to myself.”
—Just Keep Swimming, 9.1.14
While I neglected to fish or practice archery, and I didn’t make it to an MSU basketball game, I did the list proud. More importantly, I did myself proud. I grew exponentially stronger; mentally, physically, emotionally. And this year was a testament to my limitless strength. As 2015 approaches, I’m resolved in my ability to do life solo, and I’m hopeful for more good things as my swim continues.
Life is an adventure, and I want to grow forever, in and out of love.