An open letter: My 2013 in review

It’s customary for most people to reflect on the year that has just passed, and I am no different. Through this blog and other online channels like my flickr account, you, the reader, probably got a flavor of what my year was like. There were definitely some high points, like:

  • My two big bike tours, one from Portland to Spokane via the Columbia River and Walla Walla, and my Central Oregon Cascades tour that marked my first visit to Crater Lake.
  • My small tours and bike overnights, like my journey around the San Juan Islands.
  • My completion of my first 200 km randonneuring “brevet” back in March.
  • Getting full-time status at work again, with all the benefits like health care and paid vacations.

But this year has seen some lows, most notably, my break-up with April. To be honest, while the highs were good, this year has been a tough one. The dissolution of my four-and-a-half year relationship with April will loom heavily over 2013 in my memory. Not only that, 2013 was the end of a two-year slide, not always downhill, but never uphill either. A lot of sideways sliding, I guess. As I stated earlier in the summer, my personal (and professional) life had stagnated since my return from the Cross-Continent Trip in October 0f 2011. I fell into old traps. I wasn’t being challenged, and I wasn’t challenging myself. With the breakup in July, I was definitely being challenged, like it or not.

Since the breakup, I moved twice, once from the apartment I shared with April and other roommates to a short-term situation with someone I knew, then into the more permanent house I find myself in. While it was good getting out of the old apartment with April, as I always felt it wasn’t “mine”, (it was April’s old place before we moved into a place together in Montavilla in 2010), the temporary place got weird and once again it wasn’t “mine”. It’s good to have something permanent, something mine. And I see that the new house in Woodlawn can become a good thing. But as middle age creeps ever closer, I don’t know how long I can do the whole “living with roommates” thing. When I was younger I didn’t envision living with roommates at 40, heck I didn’t envision living with roommates at 30. And our digs are spartan, at best. Shouldn’t I have something more at this point in my life? Heck, I don’t even have a “true” bed. I guess it beats living in a van down by the river. And it’s not like I want extravagant digs either, just something more “adult” for want of a better term.

Still, the new place is helping me get over the breakup. After nearly a half-year, I can say that my heart is mostly healed. I realize that April and I aren’t getting back together, and I’m moving on. Though if I could go back in time and try to fix things, I probably would. It’s really weird: before April and I started to go out, I hadn’t had any real serious relationships, and worried that I might not ever. I felt so unexperienced in love, especially compared to some of my friends. Now I’ve had a relationship longer than some of those same friends. Before April, I definitely felt a loneliness, a longing for companionship. And while I do agree that it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all, now I am fiercely missing those things you can only get from a long-term relationship: the familiarity, the comfort, the domesticness of it all. And the knowledge that someone loves you, and that you love someone else? That’s a big deal. It made me feel good inside. I’m not saying there won’t be other relationships in my life (well, I hope there will be others), but all that stuff takes time and can’t really be expected until a year or so into the relationship. I don’t want to become one of those desperate people who hope that every time they date they’ll find “The One.” I want things to come about naturally, organically.

But every cloud has a silver lining. The breakup was a shakeup which made me re-examine my life. I knew that my life had been stagnating and I should do something about it, but I didn’t have the cojones to do anything about it, as things were never really bad, just stale. The comfortable existence I had built for myself wasn’t a bad one. But now everything’s on the table and no option shall go ignored. I need to move my life forward in a more bold way. As I’ve mentioned, I’m barely two years from 40. And while I know that’s not necessarily “old”, it is a time to examine where one’s life is heading. Is this where I wanted to be at 40? Obviously for most it’s going to be “no”, as life doesn’t always end up the way we planned it. I can say a lot of the things I have accomplished over the last 10-15 years or so are things that I never expected to do when I was younger, and that’s a good thing.

There is one glaring expectation that I haven’t lived up to, something that I’ve wanted since I was about 6: become an Artist. “But wait, Shawn.” you may say, “I thought you were already an artist? I’ve seen your drawerings.” Well yeah, I guess I am an artist, but I want to become a capital-A “Artist”. Someone who takes what they do seriously, rather than haphazardly, rather than half-assedly. There are many things that have held me back from this goal: bailing on art school, lack of confidence in my own abilities, the want/need for a steady paycheck. But as the years go on and I see many of my peers doing okay for themselves in this department, I get jealous and resentful. But I have no one to blame but myself. So I need to actually try. 2014 will become the year I really try to be an Artist. Hopefully I succeed.

And the breakup/shakeup has made me reconsider my whole relationship with Portland, too. While I still love this city and the Pacific Northwest in general, I never had any long-term plan for living here, especially not when I moved here almost 13 years ago. Back then I expected to be here for a few years then maybe move somewhere else like Chicago. Then a few years turned into indefinitely, as Portland has become comfortable. I’ve gotten to know this city quite well, and have made a lot of connections. It’s a great place. But maybe the comfortability has become a bad thing, and I need some more shaking up? Is this the place I want to spend the rest of my life? I will admit that April and I had romantic notions of relocating to a place like Astoria, Oregon, but it was definitely more romantic than practical. And I had thought about relocating a few times on my own, or more specifically, not returning from long trips when it seemed like my Portland life was in turmoil. But this was back in both 2003 and 2005 when I was less established here. Now that I’ve spent a third of my life here, it’s harder to just up-and-move. When I was 25 in 2001, the whole “move to new town without plan, find a whatever job, get a whatever place” was fresh and exciting. Getting closer to 40, not so much. I wouldn’t want to move to a place without a real plan, or a real job. And where the heck would I move, now that I love this neck of the woods so much?

I’m not saying that me leaving Portland will be a definite thing. But the last time I felt this way was when I left Connecticut in 2000, when everything felt dead to me. Portland felt dead to me for about a month after the breakup, but my love has slowly re-established itself. Still, I can’t ignore that “urge” to get out, and if I don’t leave, I need to figure out how to make Portland “work” for me for the next five to ten years. If I can’t pull that off, maybe it is time to move on to new horizons. At the very least, I need to travel more. I haven’t left town for more than a week-and-a-half since returning from the Big Tour, and I haven’t left the region since then either. I need to get out of the Pacific Northwest soon, and I know I’ll need a longer tour in the next few years. Nothing as epic as what we attempted in 2011, but something longer than a week for sure.

So I have a lot of work ahead of me. And I look forward to it. 2013 is a chapter of my life that I’m all to impatient to close, and the thrilling uncertainty of the blank page awaits.

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