Most years, at the beginning of the calendar year, I choose a word as my guide rather than a goal. These words aren’t mandates so much as keys to an almanac–they help me orient myself through each season’s circumstance. This year, 2023, I chose, instead of a word, a guiding poem: “The Orange.”
“The Orange,” by Wendy Cope, is a poem about splitting an orange–the heft of which makes everyone laugh–with her companions. But more than that, it’s a poem about the realization that, quite unexpectedly, you are happy. The last line sits inscribed above the doorstep of my mind: “I love you. I’m glad I exist.” I love the implication of that last line,--that the act of loving others is intrinsic to our existence and an entry point to loving our own lives. That’s my guide this year, an ontology of care creating me as a person of radical joy.
I turned 26 this week, breaking the soil of a different calendar, a different new year. I had two goals for 25 (a year begun blessed by bonfire smoke, hemmed by friends): to get top surgery, and to become more rooted in my community here in Kittitas County. In my last month as a 25 year old, I walked in front of the first Kittitas County Pride Parade in a mesh shirt–scars shining through–, led a birding walk and geology hike in the local community forest, rode with a new friend to speak on a panel on watershed conservation pathways, and signed up for a leadership course titled “Seeds of Radical Renewal.” That workshop is part of my goals for 26: to devote myself to learning again, and to apply that learning. My birthday years have goals; our calendar years have words.
My practice of ascribing words to years began with a retroactive naming.
🔥 2017 was a year of devastation. Like a stand-replacing wildfire, the events of that year reduced my internal landscape to charcoaled snags and ash. By the winter of 2017, I could barely breathe, and I had to take a medical leave from college.
🌱 2018 was a year of vulnerability. With no remaining framework for who I was supposed to be, with no fear of failure because I felt I had already failed so completely, I allowed myself to risk disappointment. I made the college crew team, and later had to quit. I got internships with a literary journal and an arts outreach program. I met new people and went on dozens of first dates. I realized I was asexual and genderqueer. I faced parts of myself I hadn’t acknowledged since childhood.
🌿 2019 became a year of engagement: it was a year of deepened friendships, national writing conferences, my first semester of grad school, a job with a digital humanities project on environmental anthropology with my theory idol, and involvement with the Flagstaff Quaker meeting house. If I saw an opportunity, I took it.
🌼 2020’s designation: a year of nuance and complexity. (Oh and also global disaster.) I started the year with so much hope (remember the soon cryable posts: “2020 is gonna be my year”?). In 2020, I introduced myself as Vince for the first time. Later in that January week, I listened to undergrads in the class I TA’d for talk about where they saw themselves in five years, and I wrote my past self this letter:
In five years, you are Vince, a poet published and in graduate school, but studying anthropology. You live with a professor and her thin orange cat. You impress so many of those whom you meet. After making an elaborate Irish breakfast each morning, you catch the bus–tea in hand–to study in your office before class. Binders mean you no longer have to slouch. Medication means you no longer have to fear Plath’s feathery turning, its malignity. And hope means you can imagine a future. I know you can’t yet, but you’ll be able to imagine. Five whole years, and you’ll be alive. Imagine.
As 2020 became a revelatory year for so many, exposing the failures of the US healthcare system, the everpresent brutality of our carceral and policing systems, and the demands of a capitalist class built upon the expectation that poor lives are expendable, I was simultaneously confronting the questions of where I fit in, and how I wanted to. I attended protests and vigils, approached all of my relationships with more honesty, acted publicly on my personal beliefs, and started testosterone. Despite the physical isolation of 2020, Loneliness, who had been my lifetime companion, slipped away.
🔥 2021, also retroactively labeled, was a year of collapse. It turns out, when you are honest about who you are and what you believe, some connections (friends, family, fields of study…) naturally prune themselves. And that pruning may be for the best, allowing you to grow, but it feels devastating. In 2021 I completed the coursework for my master’s degree but dropped out of the program. I slipped into an ever-worsening depression as I switched antipsychotics twice, wrecked my knee, was rejected from or ghosted by nearly fifty jobs, then later ripped my kneecap in half. It was the second worst year of my life. Then, in the November of that year, the final hour, I was hired into a dream job that seemed as if it had been designed specifically for me.
🌱 2022 was a year of rooting. The task of slowly regrowing my personal and professional confidence shaded every other tendril of growth. I dedicated my days to skill building, and I dedicated my evenings to friends and family, filling my weeks with movie nights, sunset hikes, and shared jigsaw puzzles. Who I want to be is directly related to the role I want to play in my own community, so I began to connect.
Rooting doesn’t just involve digging into the soil and holding firm–root systems speak to each other through mycorrhizal networks, which allow them to reach beyond the individual plant and become part of the surrounding forest. With mycorrhizal networks, plants can pass resources and care through their roots. For this rooting, this regrowth, I want to form my identity in direct relation to the people and land I am part of.
🌿 2023 is The Orange. 🍊 A year of sharing fruit, of honoring the small joys, and of letting those joys inspire me to fight ever more fiercely for my communities and the communities of those I love. It is already the year I had top surgery, graduated from Kittitas County Leadership, celebrated new friends, spoke with my representatives about environmental reform and queer rights, supported more mutual aid requests than I can count, and turned 26.
As I celebrated my birthday last weekend, my family and some of my closest friends told me that watching my life take form in this last year has brought them so much joy and hope. I’m taking full advantage of the stability of this season to bloom and to fruit.
Maybe as you’ve read along, you’ve noticed the seasons, too.
A winter/death/wildfire/ending allows for fresh growth and connections, then a budding/rooting, followed by a blooming or fruiting. I am headed into a season that will bear fruit, that will produce the seeds of the next person I will become.
I began the year (calendar, not birthday) by making a playlist: 100 songs that all match the theme “I love you. I’m glad I exist.” It’s titled, predictably, “The Orange.”
I like how this guiding poem fits so well into the seasonry–the guiding metaphor–of my life. 🍊 I like how my birthday falls neatly into the calendar year after the completion of the sixth month, giving me the opportunity to reflect in increments, like this. I like how the songs on my playlist are a mix of love songs for friends and lyrical calls to action to create a more loving world. But mostly, I like how a whole guiding ethic can be embodied in the simple, tender act of peeling an orange and letting the juice drip down your wrists as you split it into segments to share with your companions, glittering in the sun.