2023: The Year of Playful

(In which we observe the annual tradition of cataloguing all the year’s happenings that are worth preserving.)

I made a few very smart decisions early in 2023, and they set me up to be more joyful, more at peace, and more all-around well-adjusted overall than I have felt in a long while. For posterity, these were the things I made a point to do:

  • Named 2023 THE YEAR OF PLAYFUL, used that as my test for whether a silly, not-thought-out, whimsical, or weird thing was worth doing (it was), and wrote down all the COOL SHIT I DID, big and small, throughout the whole year.
  • Shifted from reading the hoity-toity classics I felt I “should” read, as part of my lifelong penance as an English major, to reading the things that people in my life suggested. It made me fall in love with reading all over again.
  • Set a fitness BHAG that paired a SHINY, EXCITING NEW THING — going to Grand Cayman island — with a whole lot of week-after-week dedication required to bring that to life.

There’s a common theme in there: I found ways to reward myself for being disciplined. I figured out that I can turn the euphoria of new into my fuel for doing big things in life. And that’s what I want to figure out how to replicate in 2024 (and maybe every year?). And that’s not even mentioning all the other big stuff that happened in 2023.

I went to Ecuador, Canada, Jamaica, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates, the Cayman Islands, Brazil, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Italy, ALL THIS YEAR. And Michigan and PA twice and Hawaii and Texas and central and northern Florida too. 32 flights total, something like 100 days of the year outside of Miami.

Maybe even more noteworthy: out of all those trips, only 1 of them was completely solo travel! I went to Canada and Michigan to see Dan, Jamaica with Carlos, the ‘Stans and the UAE with Dan + Young Pioneer Tours (who I also fell in love with), Grand Cayman with Mario, Brazil to see Hajime, Belgium to see Goa, Italy to see the Zaharchuks, PA for work and holiday time, Hawaii to see Jen, and Texas to stay with Mario and see Ryan. That is an epic list, and it’s a testament to what happens when I lean in and ask for a travel buddy instead of just convincing myself it’s easier and better to go it alone. This was the year of everybody asking me to come visit or go with them or finding new fun people to go on adventures with. And I loved it.

Somehow in the middle of all that, I also let a sweet new man into my life. This is the first time since my divorce was finalized that I’ve had a significant other for the majority of the year, and it feels… good. Good like I’m reminded all over again that home for me is a thing I build, not a place. He feels like one of the many definitions of home I have built for myself, and I am thankful for that. Mario and Andre definitively feel that way too now, like more examples in my life of that wonderfully blurry line between friend and family.

I swam with manatees! I swam a mile in the Caribbean! I swam in a bioluminescent lagoon! I saw the mermaid show in Weeki Wachee! I won a MOTH Story Slam and got to participate in a MOTH Grand Slam! I recorded backup vocals for an artist with Miami Sound Choir! I saw Lahore Fort and Bamiyan and the Blue Mosque! I went to fucking Afghanistan, and loved it! I went up in the Burj Khalifa! I tried pickleball! I invested in Clever Fox Rum! I saw Japão em Miniatura and reconnected with Hajime and met Lauane and partied all night in Sao Paulo! I saw Jen happier than I’ve ever seen her in my whole life and got to experience Oahu all over again! I went to a concert for the first time in probably 10+ years, in Orlando with Mario! I saw Vianden Castle and Dinant and Italy through the eyes of my sister and my niece! I started up Japanese lessons again! I saw the San Antonio riverwalk and the Briscoe Western Art Museum! I bought an Xbox Series X! And I spent Christmas in Perkiomenville for the first time as a grownup!

All of that, and so much more. Including a horrible months-long bout with pneumonia that still hasn’t 100% resolved, and allowing my boyfriend to take care of me, which was pretty huge.

At the end of 2019, I said, “I don’t know that I’ll ever have a year as dynamic, transformative, and perpetually unforgettable.” Partly because I took the time to actually write down all this year’s moments, I will remember 2023 as pretty damn close. I think the descriptor I’d use for this year, though, is unexpectedly heartwarming.

At the core of what it means to be Doug is the sometimes-annoying fact that it’s very, very hard for me to feel that life has any meaning if there isn’t an abundance of new. And since I’ve “settled down” again and bought a place — 2023 is also the first year I will have begun and ended living in the same place since 2017 — the nasty-not-nice narrative I’ve told myself is that there’s now all too much sameness in my life again. This is plainly ridiculous, of course, given the exclamation-point-laden paragraph above, but it is also the internal battle I will fight until the day I die.

But I think I am starting to crack the code, at long last.  I learned/re-learned that mixing new things (read: places) with tried-and-true things (read: people I love) makes the whole thing a thousand times richer. I learned/re-learned that friends make the staying more beautiful, too. I learned/re-learned that kinda-sorta sharing your life with a person is pretty cool and pretty worth it, even if it does make me constantly itchy for the absolute freedom of single life. I learned/re-learned that too much bebopping around the whole damn world and doing ALL THE THINGS! eventually makes rest mandatory, and it’s super-duper nice to have a place to recharge.

I have already dubbed 2024 THE YEAR OF SOUBHIYÉ. I stumbled across this Arabic word recently, and as I understand it, it’s that unique feeling of peace in the morning when nobody else is up yet and it’s quiet and you’re free to just enjoy it and maybe read a book or sip some tea. I have had so much go-go-go, new-new-new, which has been glorious, but I am also longing for the pendulum to swing back (a little) in 2024 — which tells me that there is, importantly, a limit. So I want that sense of peace to be my guide for a while, and I want to be more purposeful about recognizing the moments when I’ve caught up to it.

When I go, I want to close some gaps in my experience of America. Savannah, Georgia and Chattanooga, Tennessee are already on the docket, and I definitely want to add a big ol’ all-American Wild West roadtrip to that, and maybe a big Alaskan adventure too. Beyond that, I’m going to hit 75 countries/territories in March, and once I do, I want to not be on the road literally once every 4 weeks all year. (What a concept.)

When I stay, I want to lean back into the things worth being disciplined about. I need a fitness BHAG. I need to find ways to keep making reading exciting, like my recently rekindled love affair with the Miami-Dade library system. I need to finish writing my damned memoir. And I need to see what the heck will make my shiny new Xbox Series X worth keeping around and worth integrating into my life without consuming it.

But hey, 2024 might also be my last year in Miami… who knows?

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