Last updated on April 12, 2020
No, not actually the word what, though that could work as well:
WHAT were you thinking?
WHAT is that smell?
WHAT THE CINNAMON FROSTED F*CK IS WRONG WITH YOU? (Shouted at the TV screen regarding current occupant, and stolen with impunity from Twitter)
See? It could work. But sadly, what is not the winner of the 2019 Word of the Year. That designation is given to…drum roll…hold that thought…
I’ve chosen a word of the year since 2011. Some years have been more…ahem…successful than others, in having my mind follow the word. In 2011 I had strong; it was a hellacious year, and I found myself strong to the point of stoicism. 2012 brought grateful; it took a few more years before I brought an ongoing gratitude practice into my life. When 2013 came ‘round I’d had enough; sadly, life hadn’t had enough of me. 2014 I wanted to be in charge of my story; that’s all well and good, but writing one’s story is an ongoing practice, don’t you think? In 2015 I chose mindful, and did fairly well on that end; still a work in progress and will be until the lights go out. Mindful picked effort as my 2016 word of the year, and it was a good one. I put in the effort, it was an effort getting through the days, that word covered all the bases. I just didn’t have the bandwidth for a 2017 word of the year; the effort of coping with 2016 did me in. 2018 I wanted to connect, and I wish I could say that was a life-changing word for me, but by March I’d forgotten it; I didn’t have a physical reminder in front of me, as I’d had in previous years.
Which leads me to now. This year will bring an immense amount of change and challenges, the likes of which I haven’t seen before. In April I will suddenly have an adult child, when Andy turns 18 and oh holy hell I’m not ready for that. He has started interviews for jobs and internships but the kid still isn’t driving. He’ll also graduate homeschool and start at the local community college. Jack will start driving, and despite his age is also getting job interviews. I have several huge opportunities and events this year, all while keeping the plates of life and my flute studio spinning. And those are just the things I know about; there are certain to be many other enormous events hiding, and I just pray that they are of the positive sort. Please send a pair of kittens for my blanket fort.
So what kind of word is out there to guide me through a year of such change and upheaval? I scrawled words in a corner of my planner for weeks, trying them out, seeing what fit. No one word was flashing itself, trying to get my attention. When Kate, my friend and co-conspirator, posted about her word being three words, something in my head perked up. THREE? Hmmmm…not tethered to a single word but guided by a few? Things finally shuffled into place. And so, for 2019 I have more than one word, which makes sense. It’s a big, life-changing year, so I finally gave in to the three that demanded to be the High Trinity of 2019.
Good lord, Jen, you really can’t count, can you? Four words. There are FOUR WORDS HERE. Yeah, yeah, you see four words. I say three; I see an invisible dash between subtle and arrogance. It took a long time to come up with this set, so let me walk you through just why I chose the ones I did.
Intention. As much as I have to do every day, I feel like I’m lazy and often piss away the time I have. I know it’s more than likely not true, but I can’t help how I feel. I realized, looking back over 2018, that I was not even remotely intentional with my time and focus. It was as though I floated along on a raging river, splashing here and there and occasionally smacking up against some pretty sharp rocks. I didn’t come close to my reading goal, my blog here grew mushrooms and not the fun & funky psychedelic ones, and there was still no book #2 out there with my name on it. I don’t know if I could have accomplished those things if I’d been more intentional, but without focused intention I sure as hell didn’t hit those goals. So for 2019 I intend to be more intentional with my time and attention. Pie in the sky? Yup, but I love pie, especially pecan. Or French silk. Just never, ever pumpkin.
Evolution. I’ve felt stagnant in my life the last few years. That’s not quite the right word; midlife crisis flames of overwhelm and panic, incinerating my mind and soul. That’s probably a better description. See? Why use one word when many work just as well? I intend (ha, see what I did there?) to evolve past that this year. Rise from the damned ashes and all that. Take those ashes and forge concrete bricks upon which I will construct a stronger me, because I know there are glowing coals of overwhelm and panic ready to ignite when I least expect it. I’d briefly considered transform, but that felt a little too extreme; the more gentle evolve spoke to me more strongly. So if I’m intentional with my time and my life, evolution will then follow, yes? That’s the hope and plan.
Ok Jen, explain Subtle Arrogance, if you please?
I play in a wind ensemble, which is a fancy way of saying band. I love it, it’s one of the best parts of my week. I feel more me than ever when I walk into rehearsal with my gig bag slung over my shoulder. Every Tuesday night, for two hours, I am a musical cog in an ensemble of other musical cogs. It’s been the love of my heart since I was nine and played in band for the first time; once the bass drum boomed into my sternum it was all over, I was head over heels in love.
A few years ago, during a long and tedious rehearsal, the director was trying to get the horns to play in a certain way (for the curious, the piece was John Mackey’s “A Wine Dark Sea” and you gotta go listen to Michigan State’s performance of it…just…damn). He wanted more, but not too much. Over and over he had them do it. Finally he just said to them, “You need to play with more subtle arrogance…you know, like Jen Merrill over here.” I gasped and squeaked out, “WHAT?,” the band laughed, rehearsal went on. I had to find it funny, because I’m about the most reserved person you’re ever gonna meet. Shaddup! Quit laughing. Why are you laughing? I am reserved! Kinda. Mostly. At least when you first meet me. Fine, whatever, back to the story. At first I was a little offended. Me? Subtly arrogant? And then I was amused. Me? Subtly arrogant? And then I owned it. Me! Subtly arrogant! Fast forward to last spring and the director and I were chatting as we stuffed folders (because, of course, I’m also the band librarian). Turns out he was talking about how I played, not my actual personality (though I do sometimes wonder if he was just covering his ass). So. Yeah. I do play with subtle arrogance, aka “don’t eff with me because I work my ass off and I will make it my personal mission in life to do what you expect and beyond because I know I can and don’t even TRY to challenge me on this because I will eat your liver with chianti but not fava beans because those are gross.”
Do I bring that subtle arrogance to other areas of my life? Oh, sweet summer child, you’re new here, aren’t you? The answer to that is no, no I do not. I tend to hold myself back, to get the read of the room, to defer to anyone and everyone I remotely think is more experienced or knowledgeable. So I hope that by adding subtle arrogance to the mix of intention and evolution I’ll be closer to the confident person my headshot suggests. You know, fake it til you make it and all that.
It’s a big year, and only a few weeks in I’m holding tight to these words, trying not to be dragged down by overwhelm. These three (FOUR, JEN!!) words are the right ones at the right time. WHAT didn’t stand a chance. Maybe next year.