On gentleness and the new year
Shoutout to all the question dancers! Shoutout to everyone learning to embrace the ambiguity of the ever-expanding cosmic web! 🌀
Hello hello <3
I’m tumbling into your inbox with exciting news.
I am delighted to announce that I will not be hitting the ground running into the new year!
I will be taking my sweet ol’ time on this long and winding stroll. I’ll be stopping to point out every perched bird and tree that’s bent like it’s caught in an eternal wave so that I can gratefully wave back. I’ll be drifting gently like dandelion seeds off a breath of hope. I’ll be pausing to say hi to the fellow moseyers that pass by. I’ll be ambling & moon-eyed & drinking in all the wonder eagerly awaiting my heart. I’ll be paying closer attention. I will trust even when lost I will find a path. The rush, the hand pointed to the ticking clock, they were left behind. Instead, I patiently folded an apricot jam and almond butter sandwich and tucked it into my tote before opening the door. The sky is beckoning. I’ll be taking my time as I make my way towards it.
I don’t think there’s an expiration date to when we should stop saying “Happy New Year!” It’s such a love-filled phrase. Happy new year! You made it here! It’s so good to see you! So to you, reader, I wish you the fullest happy new year. Happy new year to the we, all of us together, soft threads to the cosmic web that we’re all woven within.
A few years ago, I began setting new year affirmations rather than goals. No shade to goals. But the new year often comes with an advertising-driven “New Year New You!” energy that leaves me more exhausted than inspired. December 31st arrives and dusts off the image of this shinier, perfect me. A me that stays effortlessly hydrated, who religiously takes off their makeup before going to sleep, who has gotten their gender confidently figured out and never has petty feelings of jealousy or self-criticism and to whom writing comes effortlessly. A me that is always three steps ahead, visible but forever unattainable, dangling the certificate of “highest self” and the secrets of love and art in front of my day-old eyeliner streaked eyes.
But this perfect version of myself? They don’t exist. If anything, they’re only a projection of my ego, and choosing to hold onto it is a permanent contract with forever breaking my own heart. I’ve found the more irritating and difficult truth to hold is that who I am currently is not a dress rehearsal for the day the real me struts onto the stage. In this moment, right now, I am more me than I will ever be. Which means that in this moment, with all my imperfections, with all my ideas of “not being there,” I am in fact, there. I am here. Here, my heart is calling out for love and grace.
In reflecting on what was time for me to call in this year, what rose up was gentleness. To soak myself in compassion and let the waters of softness be a guide. To believe in this full ass heart I carry. To show up to that belief with actions centered in care.
sighs. Easier said than done. But I’m out here, devoted to practicing it across my lifetime.
You know the meme where Pingu is angrily decorating a little paper valentine? That’s me with my heart, learning to treat it softly. It’s HARD. I remind myself of how it’s designed to be hard. How the country I live in is invested in white-supremacist and capital-driven systems. Where loving ourselves, and each other, is a threat to that system. In learning to care for ourselves and each other, we create ecosystems of care that white supremacy could never begin to imagine.
2021 moved fast. I think it did for many of us. Especially within the context of, well, the global pandemic we’re in and the U.S. government p much telling us to figure this shit out on our own.
Within that space of turmoil, my life continued to rapidly change. I began to embrace a truth I’ve run from for a long time: that I’m a writer and artist. You might be thinking, huh? Annika haven’t you been writing and art making….forever? And yes, I have. But not in a way that I took seriously. I treated writing and art like a fun side quest, nothing to do with how the main arches of my life would play out. I often take my lack of institutional markers of “artistic seriousness” as evidence of my lack of “true artistry.” I compare myself to other artists who have MFAs, with published work, who have won awards and attended residencies, who are in galleries, who have gone to a multitude of writing and design classes and workshops. Having accomplished none of these, I decided that art wasn’t a space I could claim. My art and writing was just something I shared on social media. Nothing of real value.
Gratefully, I have beautiful friends, ever-present ancestors, and a grandmother whose heart blazes like the sun who consistently remind me that these ideas of what makes a true artist are a load of shit. That these ideas are a part of the rubble of the age that we live in, where everyone must be a personal brand that is always achieving something (and that achievement has to be institutionally acceptable).
It is one thing to hear this affirmation. It is something else entirely to embrace and live it. Which was, and continues to be, terrifying. Embracing “I am an artist,” meant showing up for the truth of what that meant. It meant a lot of big changes. It meant walking away from areas of my life and definitions of my self that felt safe and well-tuned and comfortable. It meant holding that I truthfully feel a presence with magic when writing, really with art as a whole. That I believe art is a kind of spell that allows me to connect with my spirit and the spirit of others. That art allows me to see the web - the belief that we, human, animal, plant, Earth, are all a part of an ever-shifting but forever interlaced connection.
So last year, I wrote. I designed less and stared at empty google doc pages more. I began the journey of this newsletter. I released my first book. I started to share my voice in ways that I’ve always dreamed of.
And yet in looking across the year, I cannot say that I was particularly kind to myself. The year entailed a lot of new, and I met that newness with apprehension. I yelled at myself a lot about output and the lack thereof of it. The noise in my brain got louder with further criticism and doubt, and I attempted to quiet the caterwauling with self-isolation. Compassion knocked on my door every day with gentle arms, and I usually ignored it.
I think writing is a kind of muscle that’s learning to be flexible. To be flexible, you have to practice stretching. If you haven’t stretched in a while, learning to begin again is tenuous. If you move too fast, with too much force, you lend yourself to injury. To stretch is to take your time with softness.
When I think of gentleness, I think of extending compassion, which is closely tied with forgiveness, grace and trust. Gentle comes latin “gene,” meaning "to give birth, beget.” In a way, gentleness is hand held out to the child of ourselves. It is an offering of remembrance.
In the face of spiraling through narratives of self-hate: “I’m unworthy, my art is bad, that dream could never happen, I’m good enough, I am unloved,” gentleness offers: “I remember the truth of who I am - I am loved, I am love, I am worthy, and I tend to that truth by offering myself what I need to thrive and replenish.”
I’ve been reading Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet,” a collection of 10 letters that Rilke wrote to Franz Xaver Kappus, an aspiring poet seeking advice from Rilke on his poetry. In one of the letters, Rilke writes:
"I ask you, dear sir, to have patience with all that is unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves, like closed rooms, like books written in a foreign language. Don’t try to find the answers now. They cannot be given anyway, because you would not be able to live them. For everything is to be lived. Live the questions now. Perhaps you then may gradually, without noticing, one day in the future live into the answers."
It’s that line: “Live the questions now,” that I’m holding closely.
I deeply believe that art is a form of magic. That art is the practice of alchemizing spirit into something tangible. And how that alchemy entails a great deal of mystery, of constantly dancing with something beyond what we can comprehend. A something that is beyond the limits of time, at least within a Western sense. That art is a practice of giving questions a shade of color, or a note, or a language.
As romantic as the language of dancing with questions is, you know just as well as I do, it is exasperating work. Shit will have you feeling lonely as all hell with fumbles at every turn. It is frightening to choose to walk ahead knowing there is no map to provide direction, in choosing to relinquish your illusions of control so that you may embrace the unknowns of the world and yourself.
Which I think means all of us, every question dancer, can learn something from softness, to practice meeting unknowing with patience and intentional embrace. To choose not to rush ahead out of worry of scarcity or being alone. To trust abundance. The journey is a long one. We prepare with a pace that leaves room for awe and wonder along the way.
My affirmation for this year is: I meet myself with with gentleness at every step of the path. I’ll be continuing my forever studentry of learning to love the curve of the questions of my spirit and creativity. To treat everything more like a meandering stroll that is meant to be traveled slowly, with eyes bright with curiosity. To meander holding my heart and the hearts of those I meet along the way with kindness. To trust my spirit, and all its big softie tender cringe full and open energy.
I’m wishing the same full, winding, and abundant energy to you.
Newsletter Changes & Housekeeping! 🧹
Lemme take a moment to extend the DEEPEST gratitude to you for being a subscriber to this lil’ newsletter. Truly, shouts out to YOU. I worry about how this newsletter never stays on a set topic. But y’all are here and rocking with me, across subjects. Thank you, sincerely, for being here and supporting this multimodal bish 💌.
This newsletter is also a big experiment, and I change things up when I feel it’s needed. There are a few things that I’ve learned are important to me with this newsletter. 1.) That this newsletter is financially accessible to marginalized folks 2.) That this newsletter can support my writing so that I can continue to write it and keeping it accessible 3.) That you feel held in being here! Truly. In this digital love letter, there’s a little web of people that I feel incredible gratitude for.
That said, I’ve been feeling the need to switch things up, so please see below for a few newsletter updates!
This newsletter is free for those that can’t afford it. My list of current favorite things (5 things that made me feel joy / 4 designs I’m 😍 over, etc) will now only be going out in a special monthly email for paid subscribers, alongside a special edition pdf printout (will it be a poster? a bookmark? a fortune teller? who knows! we’re keeping it a surprise baybeh ✨). If you are able to financially afford a $5/mo subscription, find value in my work, want to support it and keeping it free for others - consider becoming a paid subscriber.
Thank you so much being a part of this process and this work.