Michelle Anya Anjirbag

Scholar, writer, editor

Page 2 of 13

When waiting for change becomes stasis

I’ve somehow entered a time in my life where I’ve never written more, and yet, I have grown out of being a regular writer. I look back at the last post I wrote, so full of hope and openness, and while I don’t think that person disappeared over the first half of 2022, she’s certainly become more tired, less made of patience (not that she had too much to start with), and if anything, more impatient for some sort of sign as to what to do next and how to keep moving forward in any direction. She’s more frustrated, less hopeful and more aware of how much she needs a break from smiling and trying only to get her teeth kicked in by the universe. She’s tired of looking at a board full of deadlines that seems to simultaneously stagnate and multiply, when what she wants is a fresh start. In short, she feels stuck.

It’s a muddy sort of stuck, like walking familiar woodland paths after a hard rain and the mud just keeps slightly pulling at your shoes. I’m not stopped from doing anything, just highly aware that I’m trudging the same routes and not only are they not opening up new vistas, but, they also just seem to pull at me, with just enough weight that I feel a constant pressure. It’s just short of irritating, just enough to feel mildly fatiguing. Just enough to make both stopping full out or continuing onwards feel like equally bad decisions. No matter what I choose, I still feel things pulling at me, still feel a bit sticky.

There is something about summer in adulthood — it’s almost like we were all trained to look forward to the absence of school and in that training never noticed how busy this season remains, while also languishing. If the efforts of the winter and spring were unsuccessful, summer is where we learn to sit with it. The heat and humidity make it hard to physically want to move and can drive home lack of movement in other areas of life. It is the lull between application opportunities, between waiting for things to start in full swing. It is when I most feel on a hamster wheel, uncertain of if I should try to get off, or even how to get off. In several years now of waiting for the right moment and opportunity for change, of being poised to leap into the unknown, I’m realizing that I actually feel less ready to jump and more frozen in a single set of movements.

There is also something incredibly draining about only being able to make a decisions a year at a time. Where we live, what we do, what our future looks like – I used to think in five and ten year spans and for the last few years, my planning has been determined in 6 month blocks instead. It makes it difficult to feel like there is any kind of wide open sense of possibility ahead. Whether wanting ‘adventure in a great wide somewhere’ or wanting to be able to build something long term, neither is possible with knowing where you might stand. But that is just the problem, I’m not really standing anywhere; I don’t have a fixed point from where I can make plans, and move forward. I just have that hamster wheel, that well-worn track to either nowhere or continually approaching the same starting point. Someone said something about the definition of insanity being doing the same thing and expecting something different. It is interesting how the norms of my chosen profession expect us to do just that. It is interesting too how so much in this world expects us to respond to changes in such ways that the world manages to stay exactly the same for those comfortable with how things are or have been. These things are not unrelated; I feel them more in this season’s restless yet languishing humidity.

I have a satin pothos which seems to be struggling as much as I am in this season. I had bought him last winter. I named him Philippe. I only know what sort of plant he is because he went from full and vibrant to limp and struggling over the last month and I had to start doing some research. But when a plant is ailing, the solutions are pretty straightforward. Prune, repot, maybe take some cuttings from the healthy part for propagation as a backup. I have five such cuttings sitting in shot glasses on my table at the moment. But unlike those cuttings, I can’t chop off bits of myself, divide myself, and just wait for each separate self to take root. Humans just don’t work that way. But I like to imagine it might be possible, that I might be able to compartmentalize a little bit – not shut things away but rather set parts of myself to the side and maybe focus on sides that have been ignored in the relentless pursuit of a singular goal.

But even if I do find a way to grow in more directions, for now, it will be still with one foot on that treadmill, one shoe clinging to the muddy track. The truth is, I don’t know how to make this change, or what I might change to. What I do know is that I have a whiteboard with obligations and deadlines. I have things I have meant to do, and things to write in the next six months. Maybe by midwinter things will feel different. Or maybe, the most I can hope for is a new version of Philippe the satin pothos to be thriving despite the decline of the original. But for now it is the last Friday in June, two cuttings have sprouts, we know where we’re living for the next year, and in the next thirty days, I will be closer to done with abstract things that were set in motion anywhere from six months to two years ago, and can then turn my attention more closely to my more concrete everyday life and my thoughts of how I want to live it going forward.

So this is the new year….

It is almost 11pm as I have sat down to write this, on 1 Jan 2022, or, one of the times on the turn of the sun that we call the new year. I felt the urge for a late-night workout about an hour and an half ago, Tom has been fiddling on his guitars through the evening, and we spent the day relaxing, walking, and decorating gingerbread Moomin with a friend after a pretty tame evening watching trivia shows and reading. And I don’t feel any different.

Of course, everything is Different. The Gregorian calendar that dominates global day-to-day life and keeps us all on the same page across cultures, religions, and time zones says it is now 2022, but in all honesty, a part of me keeps writing 2020 or 2019 when I need to manually write the date. January 2021 feels like it was only one month ago. In some ways, I don’t really feel like time has moved at all over the last few years, although I logically know it must have, as too much has happened. More importantly, I know how much I have grown and changed over the last little while, as have those I am close with.

I’ve only realized how much I’ve grown more into myself over the last year or two over the last day. Our New Year’s Eve was a comedy of errors. It started with relaxing and a beautiful walk, deciding to ignore our phones and other people, and really leaning in (blergh) to our last day of both technically being on vacation before work begins again on Monday. We had decided to just spend the evening together, cook something new for a romantic breakfast/brunch the next day, and watch a movie with some takeout. Despite best planning, we had a massive bake-fail for our next-morning showstopper, and three dinner plan fails: the first choice closed early, the second never showed up with the order, the grocery store closed early (which was fair enough) so plan three fell apart, and the Domino’s finally arrived around 10pm. None of this is earth-shattering or a terrible problem, or even necessarily an event worth noting in itself. But what truly hit home last night is that two plan-centric, over-organized, usually-very-stressed-about-logistics people watched things fall apart over and over again, and just laughed and shrugged. Truly, if we are together and we can find something to smile at, it is enough and everything else can float away. After so much uncertainty over the past two years on all fronts, to be so malleable, to let change small and large roll off us, is a gift. And that has somehow minimized the New Year, or at least, made me look at it in a very different way.

I’ve never been a resolution person. Nor dry January, nor Veganuary, nor anything that requires change on someone else’s timetable. While I can understand why some might participate, for me, change has to come when you’re ready for it, not because one of the many overlapping calendars in existence has told you it is time for it. And really, this is only one time of year that I find myself wishing people a happy new year, just within my own cultural sphere. The turn of the year on paper might come now, but it just as easily comes with the rise of spring, or with the harvest seasons of different parts of the world. Each time we acknowledge it, we have the same chance to renew ourselves, renew our sense of self, look forward to what might come with a new outlook. The turning of the year, to me, invites a moment of acknowledging of the unity of the past, present, and future: who we were, who we are, and who we might yet be. Sure, it can be this moment to party, but I think I prefer looking at it as an opportunity to pause, and to breathe.

In many ways, January is simply the middle of the year; I am currently somehow a working academic after all. And beyond that, the Zoroastrian year is far from over, no matter which calendar one might follow. Never mind all the different reckonings of what entails a financial year when your bureaucratic life is currently split across three countries. But nevertheless it is nice to be able to look at change in a positive way; I’m more sure, I’m more confident, I’m ready to know when I need to draw limits around certain behavior and treatment and more importantly I’m willing to enforce those boundaries. I’m less afraid of being on my own; after about a year of learning to be a wife while bored and just waiting for anything to change in life while also being locked in the house with my new husband, I suddenly had to learn to be on my own again. I had to learn who I was, and who I was going to be in my thirties without all the other noise and pressure and expectation and distraction. I took a job and a chance on a new place, but, what I really did was meet myself all over again. And I think I really, really like her. And I think I really like who she might yet become.

I think about becoming a lot for my current work, and about aging, about how it can be viewed as a decline, or a period of loss, or equally, a period to regain things that perhaps were lost with so-called maturity and socialization. I’ve realized that I actually welcome it because I don’t think I’ll ever stop feeling just like myself, no matter who I continue to grow into. I also realize I have been lucky in my role models; formidable women who just, continue, just keep living through the passage of years. Because what is a year, anyways, or even several? Just a moment to catch one’s breath before continuing onwards, in the knowledge that we might do this again in just a few months, as another way to mark a new year arrives with the next season.

One month down…

Exactly one month ago I began my postdoctoral fellowship adventure in Antwerp, and I think I am profoundly struggling with the passage of time. One the one hand, it is moving so quickly, and in terms of work I feel like I am racing various clocks, and feel a (most definitely internalized and only coming from me) pressure to perform. And on the other hand, as much as I am growing to love this city, and am fond of the people I have met here, I am doubly homesick, for my home with my husband in the UK, and home-home in the US, and I am oh so aware of the time spent away from them. But I also know it is just a matter of weeks until visits and before I know it I will be back in the UK for good, and the bigger source of stress will be whether or not I will have accomplished all I wished to in this period of research time.

I’ve joined the Constructing Age for Young Readers (CAFYR) team at the University of Antwerp, and while this is a step in a different direction from my PhD, I am finding that it is opening up space to pursue questions and play with texts I did not have space for during my doctoral research. I’m excited to look at fairy tales from a new angle, discover new authors, and work with new people. I’m also excited to discover who I am as an adult on my own; I might miss home but I also know that opportunities like this are rare gifts, and that few people get the chance to step sideways onto a different path, face fears, do things that scare them.

I did not have on the bingo card for my thirties that I would end up a Belgian civil servant. As much as I love the idea of travel, I never thought I would end up living in a fourth country – I would have stayed in my home state my whole life if I hadn’t stumbled onto reasons to leave. And to be honest, it has not been the easiest transition, this step farther than I had ever gone before. But it has also been one of the biggest learning experiences, in terms of me learning what I can do, who I can grow into being, what I can handle. I know well that I will miss it here when it is time to go, and I think I might be a different person at the end of this. But that too will be its own beginning, and maybe life is easier if we think less in terms of the finality of time passing, and more in terms of the change it carries with it as it passes.

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