2017 was the most important year of my life.
I think the current year should always be the most important. It’s the only one you’ve got. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions and I try not to look backwards too much. I do think refleciton is important though. What worked, what didn’t. In all aspects of life. I want to be better today that I was yesterday. Better this year than I was last year. Not in end result but in effort. I don’t mind working hard only to fail anymore. I mind when I find myself not having the guts to go at it again with a different approach. I guess that’s what I mean by ‘better’.
Last Christmas holiday I went to hospital. In the end I was okay. A little shaken up. Yuka, 6000 miles from home and in a second language, kept it together. Kept me safe while I was, no doubt a little unreasonably, fearing for my life. I got home from hospital and drew a line in the sand. I didn’t want to be all talk anymore. A positive outlook isn’t worth shit if you’re not going to do anything with it. I started working harder. My relationship, photography, Japanese, teaching, my health have all improved since then. I like to think they would have anyway, but I’m not convinced. I know they’ll keep getting better going forward.
I started this blog this year. Totally failed to keep up with it after a while, but I still post photographs to it most weeks. I like writing. I’d like to do it more. That means finding time. Writing for this isn’t always a priority. It’s a joy. It’s something I’ll keep doing. When I have time and when I have something to say. I put too much pressure on myself at first to keep writing. That didn’t work. ¥4000 a year for a domain isn’t enough to force me to scrape to monetize it. After almost 12 months this website has made -¥4000. Totally worth it. Even if just that my parents have a place to see my photos.
I wrote about how I liked Instagram and then a little while later stopped really using it. I still post stories. But I love not getting likes on my photographs. If people enjoy them or take pleasure in them or hate them that’s awesome and I’m forever grateful. I don’t need a digital heart to tell me photography is important. That’s something I learned this year. As amazed as I still am that I now realize I needed to learn it.
I tried to shoot every day for a while this year. That didn’t work. I shoot most days, maybe one or two instatrashable shots that I never look at again. I enjoy the process of looking for a photo and I still think (not in any way originally) that every frame taken is just a step towards the next photo I enjoy. What really worked for me this year was making photobooks for Yuka after holidays. We went to Guam and Atami this year and after both I made a book (a ¥150 4×6 album from Bic Camera with my 20 or so favorite photos from the trip and a hand drawn cover in it) and gave them to her. That’s one of my favorite things about photography. Being able to bring a smile to Yuka’s face.
The other is the meditative aspect. Going the opposite way from trying to actively shoot everyday, I made sure to have some time every week just to walk and shoot. Usually on a Monday. I get my camera, get the train into Shinjuku, Shibuya or Harajuku (which are the most convenient hubs from my apartment) or a stop close to one of them and just walk for hours until I get fed up. Then I get the train back to my station, do my weekly shop, and go home. I walk with no destination in mind. I just turn down streets that interest me or follow signs in the directions of places I’ve not been before. I don’t usually get on the train until it’s time to go home. I just walk. No music. No podcasts. No audiobooks. Camera in hand. I just walk and walk and walk and walk, shooting what interests me, buying convenience store coffee when I need it and marveling at the beautiful monstrosity I live in. I start work for the week on Tuesdays. Spending Monday just walking the streets clears my head, makes sure I put graft into something that makes me no money. I love it. I go home tired, content, ready for the week.
The shoot every day experiment was a failure. I’ve been studying every day with far more success. I read a while back about tracking time on study. If you track your time it makes it impossible to make excuses about lack of progress down the line. I’d often found myself moaning that my Japanese wasn’t going anywhere; ignoring the fact that I’d have gone a week without touching a book or speaking more than to say thanks in shops. I got a time tracking app designed for self employed people. I started studying two hours a day. I started failing hard at hitting those two hours. Looking back I noticed I was hitting 90 minutes most of the time and reset my target to this more achievable one. I worked out when I study best – after dinner and an episode of something on TV, before bed. I look forward to this time now. I haven’t stayed up until 3am playing video games for months. I sit down and I study 45 minutes before I make the next days lunch and go to bed. It has a similar effect to the Monday photo time. I’m in the zone, doing something I love and making progress. When I get back from this Florida trip (which I’m taking as active downtime – no daily targets other than being pumped and hanging out with Yuka) I need to look at where I can find more time to speak. That’s where I’ve seen the slowest progress this year. Working late as I do it’s not always easy to find time to talk. I’m going to see if I get get online lessons before work a couple of days a week. If that doesn’t work out I’ll try something else.
I came off the running wagon a bit towards the end of summer. Every year since I got to Japan I’ve messed my foot up requiring an expensive, painful procedure with a very pleasant doctor and a few weeks of not running that I struggle to bounce back from. But I always do eventually and I will again. The last run I went on was also the last day I had a really nasty migraine. I know they weren’t related. It does feel a little like a ready made excuse though. My health in general has been better this year. I’m down 10kg since January – maybe back up a little after Christmas in America. I stopped drinking soda every day. Almost altogether. I’ve got more energy. I’m in a better place mentally than I have been in my entire life. I’m still way too paranoid about my health, but also getting better there. Yuka found me a doctor who has been fantastic and helped me have more confidence in my health.
Since making myself shoot every day didn’t work out I’ve been trying to find other ways to create every day. I don’t think I’ll ever be happy again with a day I didn’t make something. I can’t draw worth a damn but every day I sketch little things on bits of paper or in a notebook. I started taking joy in the characters I use in lessons at work. They spend at most an hour on a whiteboard before they have to be erased forever but I enjoy their brief existence. I moved from stick people to triangle people. That way they can wear different clothes and have different body types. It might not seem like much but having a way to make something even when I’m working adds something to my life I didn’t have before.
The last 76 days I’ve written a diary for Yuka while she’s away. I spend about half an hour a day writing and making little sketches in a cheapish spiral bound notebook. I’m onto the second volume, she has the first in a drawer at the airbnb. I think I could keep this up for the rest of my life. It’s another small, mind clearing joy I can make time for and at the end of it I get to give something I made to the person I love the most in the world.
2017 was the most important year of my life. I worked harder, did more, failed more, failed better, tried again and kept going. Every new year I listen to This Year by The Mountain Goats. I’ll listen to it this year too. It’s a song I love more than I can really explain. Every year though it’s a little different. The first time I heard that song I wanted to make it through the year because I knew deep down I didn’t want to die. Now it’s more about how much I want to live. A small difference maybe. An important difference.
I’m going to make it through this year if it kills me.
2017 was the most important year of my life.
Orlando FL, December 2017