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In With the New

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2 1 HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!! What. A. Year. I'm sure many of you thought that we'd never get to 2021, but here we are. We've encountered so much in 2020, more than we'd ever anticipated. A global pandemic that shut down just about everything and turned our lives upside down. Racial tensions reaching a boiling point after innocent black lives were taken by police brutality and lack of medical care due to the alarming number of deaths in the African American community from COVID-19. Gridlock on Capitol Hill caused even more tension and division. And don't get me started on the election. That must've been the longest, most nerve-wracking week of my life. Months, even. Life as we knew it drastically changed in 2020. The places we love to visit - restaurants, theaters, movie cinemas, gyms (at least I enjoy going there, right?), libraries, bookstores, malls, art galleries, museums, and much more - either closed down or had to adjust how many people were allowed into their establishments. And most times, it's not a lot. Schools had to be moved to all or part virtual, which was heartbreaking for students. Shows and concerts had to be moved virtually or were rescheduled for this year. (Keep your fingers crossed!) Sports were either canceled altogether or went on with extra precautions, which may or may not have helped. Unnecessary traveling was discouraged, though it continued against the better judgment. Our holidays weren't the same, with relatives and friends kept apart out of safety and love. (Though there were some who visited anyway, and I only hope they would take what's going on to the heart and be safe. Some people I know did just that, thankfully.) If you've noticed the party decorations for New Year's Eve, some of them have the phrase F-U 2020 or have 2020: Not Recommended with one star underneath. But let me ask you something: is this really the way to bid 2020 goodbye? With "good riddance to bad rubbish" or giving the middle finger and other obscenities that are too numerous and inappropriate to name? I used to think that way until my mom told me that it's best to not bid the old year goodbye in a negative way, but also look to the new year with hope and new eyes. Yes, there were plenty of bad things that happened in 2020 that we don't want to happen ever again, but what about the good things? Even if it's small, it can be big in the grand scheme of things. We've learned to take the bad with the good, and it's time once again to reflect and express gratitude over what happened in 2020. Even if you never want another year like this one, there's still an opportunity to seek out the positives that kept you going. Even if it's simple or ordinary, they can be extraordinary things that made all the difference. Even if everything you've ever known was taken away from you, there's still a chance to be grateful for the things, people, and moments that shouldn't be taken for granted ever again. What do you say? What were some good things that happened in 2020 that you want to continue celebrating into 2021?

I can give you some examples. Several of my friends had babies this year, or are expecting new additions in the coming year. One person became a homeowner for the very first time this year. Another friend passed the bar exam after months of studying. Several people I know got engaged this year. There were even some who got married in these times, and the happiness was sorely needed. And yet another person moved to a new city to get a jumpstart on their dream career. Someone else accomplished their goal of losing weight and keeping it off. A couple celebrated a major milestone anniversary this year, even though the hardest of times like these came upon them this year. Love truly does conquer all. And we're all looking at things through a different lens and seeing that some things are better left behind, and we should focus on the things that are central to our lives more frequently than we've ever been before. What are some good things that happened to me this year? Plenty. And it's not monumental by any stretch of the imagination. But it still brought me joy, courage, strength, resilience, and compassion. For starters, I was worried about gaining weight during the pandemic. But I ended up actually losing weight. I was at my heaviest at 212 pounds back in late 2018. I have since then lost 70+ pounds, and I am still maintaining my weight by implementing a permanent healthy lifestyle. And it wasn't anything major. But it was simply keeping up with exercising, including walks, eating well, watching portion sizes, and just feeling good about myself. I literally went down from a size 12 to a size 0 in pants sizes, and from a size large to a size extra small in shirt sizes. I'm still pinching myself at times, but don't tell my mother that! After more than 18 years of therapy, I was officially discharged from the clinic I attended for the past six years after reaching much better stability mentally, physically, and emotionally. And that included being open and honest about living in an abusive household for so long, bullied in school, and dealing with the ups and downs of growing up. I've been an actress for four and a half years now, and I never really had the chance to invest in my career until this year. That led to developing my website, which includes this very section of blogs I write biweekly, updating headshots, creating business cards, attending virtual classes and workshops, doing virtual theatre, and even working with a professional theatre company for the very first time. And I actually worked with companies and organizations from outside the region where I live, and I'm very proud of the roles and opportunities that came my way. And my greatest joy was meeting new people and seeing my friends' reactions and encouragement from the performances I have done. My mom and I moved to a new apartment in a new city, which is much bigger than the one we've had for four years. And we've had help from our new neighbors that are friends of mine from the church I attend. This wouldn't have been possible without their help. All of this was done while wearing masks, by the way. We earned those burgers and sweet potato fries from PLNT Burger. I grew closer to God on my walk with Him. I've actually memorized a whole chapter of scripture which I still recite every night before I go to bed. And I'm about to memorize another chapter from one of my favorite books of the Bible. I've actually taken the pictures I took from my travels and put them into frames and hung them on the walls. I even started collecting Broadway posters and putting those in frames as well. In other words, I'm actually making where I live to feel like home. And that feels great for the first time in a long time. I celebrated my 32nd birthday in 2020, and even if I was isolated, I still felt the love and joy of reaching another year. I've learned to finally let go and heal. This was a combination of clothes, books, memories, and people. Especially people who were too toxic to be in my life anymore. In other words, I've established boundaries and realized that I don't have to take any of the negativity that anyone wishes to impose on me. In times like these, we shouldn't have to turn against each other and let words hurt us. Unfortunately, that's still the case. Even on social media platforms. And I was a recent victim of this. But I'm not stooping down to anyone's level and spewing hate to others. I am guilty of this at times, however, because my emotions get the better of me, but I am still learning and transforming day by day. If I couldn't say anything nice, it was better left unsaid and for me to actually think about what I want to say in a way that isn't immature or insensitive. I think that's a lesson we can all learn from 2020. Being transparent and honest is okay, but we shouldn't use either of those qualities to hurt one another. And as painful as that is, it's a valuable lesson that I've learned from my years on social media, and as an actress promoting myself professionally and personally, that should be rule number one. Take the time to THINK before you write and post. And that is quite an important lesson to learn this year. (Sounds like I have my next blog post to talk about in 2021.) I made my goal of reading 30 books in 2020. I LOVE to read, and I didn't think I was going to make it due to all of the virtual performances I have done in 2020. That in itself is an accomplishment! I think I may up the stakes and read 40 books this year. What do you think? I've tried new recipes that were successful. They included one pot cajun turkey pasta, sausage and peppers, pork tenderloin wellington, cornbread stuffing, enchiladas, homemade biscuits, and so much more. I've come to love cooking now, and I can't wait to see what new recipes I find for 2021! I realized for the first time in a long time how strong, courageous, resilient, kind, and sympathetic I am. It's hard being your own worst critic, and I'm sorry it took me so long to see those qualities within myself. Or even believing in myself. Now that I've seen these things, I don't want to let them go. I'm proud of the things I've accomplished and even how my struggles made me see these qualities for the first time. They're a part of me, and I want to keep them close to my heart. Not to the point of arrogance, mind you, but with humility and compassion. Those are just some of the things that brought me joy in 2020. There's lots more where that came from, and I'm pretty sure it's the same for you, too. Don't forget to find the good things when there's a neverending line of bad things happening to you. Even the simplest things can bring us joy. But even more than finding joy in a tumultuous year, there's something else that we can do for this new year. And that's leaving things behind. For good.

One thing I did with an ensemble theatre group earlier this week was a writing assignment with the following prompt: what do you want to leave behind? The list was pretty long, but I'll share with you some of the things I wrote down. I want to leave behind: Anxiety. Fear. Doubt. Pleasing others. People who refuse to see the injustice before their eyes. Toxic people, including members of my family. Anger. Insensitivity. The past. Hopelessness. What about you? 2020 has changed us in so many ways, and I'm sure you don't want to revert back to old habits or a sense of thinking that hampered you more than helped you grow. Perhaps it's time to let finally let go. Yes, this year was tough for all of us, and I do mean ALL of us. But we shouldn't forget to find joy in every situation, even during a pandemic. Even if it's as simple as taking a shower or bath. That counts as joy, right? It's so easy when things are tough to forget to be grateful for the little things that perhaps can bring us the biggest joy. I know that all too well. It was so easy to focus on the negative for a long time and come believe that what was said about me or my circumstances were true. But deep down inside, I had something that kept telling me to just "hang in there" for at least one more day. And that's called HOPE. As we begin a new year, I urge you not to give up hope, not by a long shot. It's the very thing that breathes within us and pushes us to keep going even when things look their worst. We tend to shine the brightest when circumstances are absolutely terrible. I think we can all agree with that, right? Even if we don't feel good about ourselves at the moment, we still forge ahead on our paths and find the strength to go on. And hope is a big factor in that. Even if your day is absolutely horrible beyond belief, you must never give up hope that things will get better. It might not be a big piece to make it through the day, but hope can be the right size at any time. Especially if it's small. It's just enough to make it through each day. (I know I've been saying a lot of things this week, but I also want to reiterate something that I've been saying in all of these posts. These are my experiences and observations, and you have every right to disagree with me. But as I stated earlier, I won't tolerate any insensitive or hateful comments from anyone. Please be kind to each other. Is that too much to ask for in 2021?) An Irish tradition that seems apropos is right before midnight, people would open the back door to let the old year out, and at midnight, open the front door to let the new year in. People would also greet their neighbors and wish them a blessed new year. Sounds like something we should adapt to our culture, right? Well, we not only let the front door open to bring in the new year, but we also opened all the windows to bid 2020 a not so fond farewell. I'm pretty sure you've done something a little bit more dramatic than this, and I don't blame you. But as we bid 2020 goodbye, I hope you can open the door to things and opportunities that will inspire, challenge, shape, and mold you in the new year. My wishes for you in 2021: Spread love each and every day, even if it's a simple peck on the cheek. Be kind to each other. It has a special power that ripples out to others and warms the heart. Say yes to the opportunities when it's presented to you. They may not come again. But it's okay if it doesn't feel right at the moment and you need to figure things out. That's where being flexible and open-minded also comes in handy. But just the same, be open to the opportunities. Be strong and courageous. Even if it's a small voice telling you to try again tomorrow, use it to propel you forward. Allow yourself to find that strength and bravery, even if it's getting out of bed after a rough day. You are stronger than you believe, braver than you seem, and smarter than you think. (See what I did there, Winnie the Pooh fans?) Take the time to check in with each other. Ask your friends and family how they're doing, listen to them, share advice, be encouraging, and show compassion. Remind them that you are always there for them if they need any help, and the same can be true for yourself. If there is a relationship that has done more harm than good, take the time to meditate, pray, ask for guidance from others, and more in order to decide what is best for both parties. Not everyone stays in your life story in all the chapters, as sad as it is. If you have to cut certain people out, do so with dignity, and bless them from afar. God or some higher power will take care of the rest. Celebrate each victory. Big or small, it matters. Laugh. It's true. Laughter IS the best medicine. Build each other up, not put each other down. Find the good in every situation, and look for the glass half full moments. They're out there, and even when things are at their absolute worst, there is always a silver lining. Choose joy, not sorrow. Be prosperous. Have faith. And remember that you ARE loved. I hope 2021 brings so many blessings, moments, and wishes that are filled with happiness, peace, hope, compassion, and joy. Always remember to look forward, not backward. Happy new year, everyone!

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