The holiday cards are coming in. Rounded edges. Matte finish. “Merry Happy Jolly.” Equal pictures of each kid, and maybe one picture of the parents—the people in the card you know. Their arrival is an expected stream of goodwill and kindness that comes with an expected but somehow always surprising wistfulness. Friends, I love getting these cards. Seeing your expressions from our sleepover and dorm room days in the faces of your children is powerful. It makes me happy for you. But because I can’t share my life in the same way, I struggle with how to reciprocate.
I don’t have any children to put on a Christmas card. In fact, I didn’t do anything card-worthy this year. I didn’t get engaged, married, buy a house, start a new job, move, or have kids. This year I threw up from alcohol for the first time. In 2019—year three of daily, aching plantar fasciitis—I still can’t run as much as I want. And I still don’t know how to fix my TV. But I did a few cool things, too.
In 2019 I made my bicycling in France and wandering in Paris dreams come true. I sipped real Champagne after descending into cool caves. I drowned in rooms of Monet’s water lilies. I climbed San Francisco neighborhoods, strolled in Portland parks, and tromped through magical Seattle snow. I sailed into the sun and anchored under the moon, ever aware that this was truly living. This, for those brief moments, was my sought-after community in places with people I never expected.
I deepened friendships with a group of emotion-fueled women singer-songwriters. I felt most like myself with them. I found romance at sea—letting the swell take me in thunderous waves and then rush out just as it had come in. I found ease and kindness in dating a friend. I ended all these relationships when it was time, instead of dragging them out and poisoning their goodness. Attempts to keep beautiful things beautiful. I spent Thanksgiving blissfully lounging on the floor with friends I’ve known for 16 years. I reconnected with travel mates in California, France, and Belgium. I took some sh*t from some people, but I’m also practicing setting boundaries. I laughed ‘til I cried with new friends whose affability I’d once shut down. I owe my most joyous, dance-filled, rum-soaked nights in the Caribbean Sea and Magnolia apartments to my employer.
I snorkeled in the waters of Belize and Guatemala, hiked the deserts of Arizona and Mexico, and biked the hills of Seattle and Provence. I got to know a troupe of endlessly motivated cyclists, their calves grinding along like gears on a clock. I trained for my own bike tour and, albeit briefly, became one of those people who wore a chamois and posted every ride on Strava. And when I completed that bike tour with success, I went back to running because that’s where my heart is. I have foot and now hip pain every time, but I keep going. I’m running through the pain and slowly increasing my mileage. Up to 30 miles a month and counting. I tried a new barre class and decided not to feel guilty when light yoga in my apartment was the kind of exercise I needed that day.
I fixed my DVD drive (by inserting a straightened paper clip into a tiny hole), learned how to make a yummy chicken piccata, and consulted a financial planner. I returned to meditation, committing to a six-week session. Then I kept going because it quiets and balances me in a way nothing else does. I tried out volunteering at four different organizations in Ballard, thoughtful about how I could give my energy in an impactful way. I’m sticking with the gig that’s the best fit. I started the year listening to a lot of The National and now, for whatever reason, a lot of Phil Collins. This year I said ‘yes’ to things I couldn’t believe, and ‘no’ to things I was sure I’d do. Both felt unnatural and yet oh so right. “Something Happened on the Way to Heaven” or “That’s Just the Way It Is?” At my highest high I let dashing men love me and new friends take me in. At my lowest low I didn’t stand up for myself and waited for emails and texts that never came. But even then I got up and ran a 9-minute mile to “King of Pain.” Because if I’m going to be in pain, you better believe I’ll be king of it.
This time last year I was reading Tina Turner’s latest autobiography. I learned that she had her first number one hit at age 45 and married the love of her life at 74. “There’s still time,” I thought. Ten months later I became her for a day on Halloween. So why is my “Christmas card” a photo me as Tina in a Santa hat mouthing “Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?” Because it captures a moment of balls-to-the-wall bad-assery that is worth sharing. And because that’s my life. No kids playing soccer or running through fall leaves. No moms and dads hiding behind the kids. No “Merry Happy Jolly.” Just me being ridiculous on an average Thursday that happened to be Halloween.
I also made another kind of card this year. I ordered business cards for myself, or rather katiej.org. They’re double-sided with rounded edges and a pink watercolor background. The back features only my tagline, “Writing that inspires a more authentic life.” It occurred to me as I was writing my Christmas cards that I could put my business card inside the Christmas card. It would be my own “what I did this year.” I don’t have any offspring to show for my labor, but I do have 78 pages in a Word doc turned into a blog that some people read. Not everyone, but enough to make it meaningful. And really, even if no one read my words—just as if no one saw pictures of your children—they would still be beautiful.
So here’s to all we share in our Christmas cards, and all that we don’t. Here’s to living a more authentic life with our children, partners, and friends. Or in a Tina Turner wig and Santa hat.