Every weekend in January (except for today) feels like an observation of yet another cultural beginning. The New (Gregorian) New Year was on the 1st and 2nd this time, Eastern Orthodox Christmas took place on the 7th (family friends sent group texts), on the 14th it was the Old New Year (Julian calendar), and on the 21st my close friends J&N hosted a Chinese New Year celebration in their apartment. 1
Next weekend is the Lantern Festival. In the absence of any notable holidays today that I’m familiar with, it is fitting to take a few minutes and fill the void in the cadence of this newsletter.
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At the tail end of the discussion we all took 10 minutes to write our own poems. While it was a new experience for me, the welcoming atmosphere lent itself to everyone just doing it, even those who are “poetry noobs” (as Jibran el Bazi humbly called himself). I wish I could share with you some other participants’ motivating poems, but for privacy reasons will contain myself to only my own “poem” in the footnote; sharp criticism is highly appreciated. 2
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Thank you to the so many of you for sharing your sentence-long answers to this prompt in the past 3 months:
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned this year?“
Everyone’s reflections were inspiring, and throughout the year they will be shared in this space one-by-one with my commentary, in no particular order. I’ve also opened up substack chat, a relatively new feature, for anyone to chime in and discuss these.
Lesson #1: Friends can be chosen family
This one is easy for me to comment on. My biological family happens to be scattered across the globe, separated from each other by thousands of miles. And when they do come together at certain points, there is at times no end to disagreements on trivial matters, a feature perhaps intrinsic to families where distance exacerbates unrealistic expectations and creates unhealthy power dynamics.
While everyone remains civil, it is easy to tell when the vibe is off. The issue is likely also a symptom of insecure attachment styles among certain family members, leading to an intermittent breakdown in healthy boundaries. For as long as I can remember, my role has often tended to be that of a mediator in some of intra-family quarrels, sometimes by choice and sometimes out of necessity.
To fill the gap in sufficient familial presence, since 2015 I have tried my best to intentionally create recurring opportunities for my friends — old and new — to gather on different occasions and under varying circumstances, connecting those who do not know each other, and recreating conditions that might in some cases be more common to experience only within families. My sincere hope is that the time and effort expended into planning such events has been worth it for the participants!
I am immensely grateful to those friends with whom I’ve had the opportunity to bond with over global travels and other common interests since graduating from college back in the day, and to grow together ever since. These kinds of ties last a lifetime, and these friends will forever be my chosen family.
1 J&N were fabulous hosts and prepared over 200 delicious dumplings for their friends and family last Saturday. They allowed me to post our joint photo here:
2 My “poem” was inspired by a collection of owls sitting on top of my bookcase; after staring at them for a minute, I came up with these eight lines. Please be hawkish in pouncing me; how would you alter this skeleton so that it feels more like a good poem to you?
on the shelf