2019: A Year (and a Decade) in Review

Posted by Catherine Elms on December 31, 2019 Blog posts | | No comments

Every December I like to reflect on the previous year, to celebrate how far I’ve come, what I’ve achieved, and what I need to work on to make the next year even better. 2019 also marks the end of a decade, the first decade of adulthood for me and the first time I’ve given serious thought to the direction I want the rest of my life to take, asking questions like “what do I want my life to look like?” “What does success mean to me?”, and “what truly makes me happy, and how can I bring more of that into my life?”. “My Life” always seemed like a future concept, something too large and abstract to be able to shape – it’s only recently that I’ve realized that “my life” is what’s happening to me right now, the decisions I make every day, and the things I fill my time with.

This decade had some great highlights for me, but were mostly characterised by self-esteem issues, overthinking, emotional turbulence, and various mental health challenges. I published a short retrospective earlier this year about my twenties (which coincided with the 2010s – I turned 20 in 2009), where I wrote:

There are so many things I wish I had done by now. My mental health in my late teens and early twenties meant that I couldn’t see very far into my future, and when I did look forward, all I could see was mundanity and pain. … I look at some of my peers who are out there doing amazing things, and I feel behind in my life. There are certain big life things I haven’t done yet – find my dream job, mostly, but also a few big formative things that I wish I’d done in my early 20s, like backpacking, road tripping, discovering what my passion is, and a load of music-related things like recording and releasing more music. It’s difficult to not feel regret about those things.

Although those feelings are still true, I try to remind myself that age is arbitrary, and self-actualisation is a lifelong project. I don’t have to be a perfect, well-rounded person with most of her bucket list ticked off my the time I reach 30. The important thing is to keep moving forward, and to acknowledge the progress I have made. The last decade has been difficult in some ways, but definitely formative, and I’ve ended up in a place that I’m mostly optimistic about.

Highlights from the last decade

  • Studied at university, lived away from home for the first time ever, volunteered with the Student Union, got involved in student activism, won a Student Experience Prize, and graduated from university on time with a 2:1 
  • Worked my way through a series of jobs until I reached a job with decent pay and job satisfaction where I feel as though I can use my intelligence and creativity (although I’m still figuring out what I want to do with my career long-term)
  • Various music things, including: recorded 3 EPs, released an EP and went on a mini-tour of the UK, wrote enough material for 5+ albums, recorded 2 albums’ worth of demos, collaborated with various local musicians, performed my biggest gig in front of 2000 people, learned how to play the ukulele and played it live in front of a 100-person audience, re-learned how to play the guitar after 10 years away from it and played it live, learned how to play the bass and played it live on stage in a band, performed lead vocals live for a band for the first time ever!
  • Published 20 issues of my perzine, 5 issues of Sonorus: Feminist Perspectives on Harry Potter, and various one-off collaborative fanzines
  • My zines have ended up in zine libraries around the world, including Tate Britain and the London Feminist Library
  • Been interviewed for various zines, dissertations, and PhDs about zines, and spoke at an academic conference about zines and activism
  • Travel – notably, New York,  Amsterdam, Berlin (my first solo trip, and one of the best experiences of my life!), Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Mannheim, and Stockholm (read my travel diaries here)
  • Came out as bi/queer
  • Got involved in the local LGBTQ community, helped organise various large-scale LGBT events including Swansea Pride 2018, and a city-wide vigil for Orlando
  • A very long, stop-start mental health journey from being an awkward anxious teen to being a slightly less awkward anxious adult who sometimes passes as normal
  • Various intangible mental and emotional changes, mostly around improved self-esteem and emotional resilience
  • Co-organised 2 successful zine fests! 2009 me would be so fucking proud!
  • Met someone new, fell in love, moved in together, created a lovely home in rural Swansea, went on various adventures, now living together in a happy long-term relationship
  • Made loads of new friends and acquaintances 
  • Took up running, and went from being unable to run even 1 minute without wheezing, to running a 12k (I’m currently training for a half marathon!)
  • Blogged fairly regularly for the entire decade (all archived here on my blog)
  • Various public speaking gigs including International Women’s Day, LGBT History Month, and Bi Visibility Day events

Things I’m better at now than I was 10 years ago

  • Small talk and socialising
  • Playing the piano, guitar, ukulele, bass, and singing
  • Public speaking
  • Writing 
  • Being spontaneous and proactive
  • Giving things a go without being terrified of fucking up
  • Forgiveness
  • Nuance, and moving away from all-or-nothing thinking (sometimes, at least)
  • Emotional resilience and recovery
  • Recognising mental illness triggers and managing them
  • Thinking about death and grief without spiraling
  • Running and general fitness
  • Doing my hair and make-up
  • Giving (slightly) less of a shit about what other people think of me
  • Handling my fear of spiders – these days I can remove spiders from the house without killing them, even the big ones!
  • Knowledge of equality issues, especially LGBTQ equality 
  • Project management (I wanted to acknowledge a work-related skill, but yeah, yawn)
  • Avoiding procrastination 
  • Self-love and self-confidence

Things I want to get better at in the next 10 years

  • Small talk and socialising. This seems to be a vital part of being successful in basically any capacity, so I have to keep trying with this one. 
  • Being proactive
  • Patience
  • Taking risks 
  • Making decisions, and committing to them – even when the outcome is disappointing
  • Music improv
  • Finding Making time to do creative things outside of work
  • Overcoming jealousy and feelings of inadequacy
  • Making sure my quietness doesn’t come across as aloof/cold/disinterested – projecting more of a warm friendly vibe. (I have slight Resting Bitch Face. I’m working on it.)
  • Upper body and core fitness/strength – I would love to be properly buff and muscular for at least a few weeks of my life. I’ve been thinking of doing a LeeLoo cosplay (5th Element) so perhaps this could coincide with that. 
  • Posture. No more slouching!

I started to feel some anxiety this winter about bringing old projects and problems over into a new decade; I felt pressure to tie everything up in a neat bow and start 2020 with a clean slate. Of course, that didn’t happen – things are rarely that neat and tidy in reality. Still, it feels like a good place to end the decade in many ways – I’m happier, more knowledgeable, more confident, more mentally resilient, and more driven to achieve the things I want to achieve. 2019 was actually a pretty great year – probably the best year I’ve had in my adult life. 2019 was also the first time as an adult that I truly liked myself. Liking yourself seems like a nothing, selfish goal, but it leaves such a big hole in your life when you don’t have it. Liking myself means that I can finally see positive things in my future: success (whatever that may look like), but also adventure, exploration, possibilities, and the ability to bounce back from fuck-ups. For the first time ever, I’m excited for what the future holds. To paraphrase Walt Whitman: I, now 30 years old, begin my life anew, hoping to cease not until death… 

2019 Highlights

  • Travelled alone to Stockholm for the first time – a lifelong dream! Read my travel diary here.
  • Co-organised the second annual Swansea Zine Fest
  • Said goodbye to a job that made me unhappy
  • Started a new job that challenges me daily, and is a better use of my skills, knowledge, and creativity. It’s also the first time I’ve worked full-time for a few years.
  • Played the guitar live for the first time in over 10 years, to an audience of 100+ people at the Pride Cymru Big Queer Picnic
  • Played a few piano gigs in the Swansea area, including at the Swansea Fringe
  • Published two issues of my perzine – buy them both at my shop page
  • Ran the Swansea Bay 10K – my first ever 10k!
  • Went running 2 – 3 times a week for the entire year
  • Made new friends and socialised regularly
  • Attended a regular yoga class for most of the year
  • Went to loads of great live gigs including: Bikini Kill (read my thoughts about the evening here), Rachel Bloom, Amanda Palmer, Gary Numan, and Garbage.
  • Got my conch pierced
  • Got a new tattoo
  • Visited the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London for the first time
  • Visited Stonehenge for the first time
  • Had a course of singing lessons for the first time since school
  • Cosplayed as Wonder Woman at Swansea Comic Con (costume built by my very talented partner Daf, whose work you can check out here)
  • I turned 30 this year! Had a wonderful birthday party with my closest friends

2019 Best-Of Lists

Fave new-to-me albums of 2019:

  1. Mitski – Be The Cowboy
  2. Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell!
  3. Birdeatsbaby – The World Conspires
  4. Mother Mother – Eureka
  5. Poppy – Am I A Girl?

A song that will always remind me of 2019: Remember my Name – Mitski

Fave Films of 2019:

  1. Booksmart
  2. The Favourite
  3. Rocketman
  4. Midsommar
  5. Captain Marvel

Fave Books Read in 2019:

  1. Good Omens – Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
  2. The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
  3. Queer: A Graphic History – Meg John Barker
  4. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal – Jeanette Winterson
  5. Wayward Son – Rainbow Rowell

Fave podcasts listened to in 2019:

  1. Buffering the Vampire Slayer, a spoiler-free podcast that discusses every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer one at a time with a queer feminist slant.
  2. The Weekly Planet, a weekly podcast that covers comic book, action, and sci-fi movies, TV shows, and games.
  3. Miss Thing, a podcast that deep-dives into the pop/rock female singer-songwriter genre.
  4. Cool Playlist, where host Eliza Skinner creates very specific playlists each episode, including Gay Prom, Goth Wedding, and First Day In A Cool New Outfit.
  5. Drive All Night: The Songs of Tori Amos, a podcast that analyses every Tori Amos song one at a time, with line-by-line analysis, quotes, fan reactions, and live bootlegs.

Coming next: goals for 2020, and hopes for the next decade.

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