Special Feature: What’s New? Less Than You Think, But More Than You Need
A guest post by Erin Bartels
Deep breath, everyone. We’ve just officially closed out what was in so many ways an overwhelming year. I won’t rehash it. You were there. Much has been lost, and it is right for us to grieve it. Lost health, lives, jobs, landscapes, connection.
And in ways both small and significant, much has been gained, though it might be hard to see at first. Gained time, quietness, appreciation for all we take for granted.
Because I’ve worked from home for more than 15 years and my son went back to in-person school in the fall, I needed to make far fewer adjustments to my everyday life to deal with everything last year threw at us. Most of my grief is on behalf of other people. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have some of my own.
I am coming to realize more and more as I get older that I am a bit of a contrary person. No, maybe that’s not the right word. I don’t mean that I am prone to arguing with people (I avoid conflict wherever possible). More that, when things are tending one way, I pull the opposite way. So, when things seem to be moving along too easily and without resistance, I get suspicious and start waiting for the other shoe to drop. And when things are going badly and everyone is laser-focused on the negative, I find the silver linings.
I’m a balancer. If there’s a loud person in the room, I’ll be the quiet one. If no one is talking, I’ll fill the silence. I’ll follow a good leader, but in the absence of one I’ll take the responsibility to lead. I find the good in the bad and the bad in the good.
So yes, I lost the chance to connect with readers and writers at nearly twenty events that were canceled over the course of the spring and summer last year. But I gained connection with book clubs over Zoom that I would never have been able to visit in person anyway.
My family had to postpone a long-awaited trip to Yellowstone, but no worries. We were able to reschedule. I missed out on seeing many of my friends, but I still managed to make a new one (and I don’t make new friends often or easily).
When I look forward to the year ahead, I don’t see a heavy cloud of doom hunched on the horizon. Nor do I see nothing but blue skies simply because a page on the calendar turned and we replaced the final digit of the year with a 1. I don’t see a brand new start or a new chance to become a new me. I’ve been me since I was born. I’m not getting any more me with time. (In fact, with age, I am replenishing my own dying cells slower and slower…so I’m kind of becoming less me, in some fundamental way.)
So what’s new? What’s new about a new year? What’s bigger, better, new and improved?
It says in Ecclesiastes that nothing is new under the sun. Everything that has happened before will happen again—good and bad. But what can be new, every morning, is our willingness to take on the day ahead with a renewed spirit of love, joy, generosity, and reconciliation.
My newest novel, All That We Carried, features two sisters who balance each other out in almost every conceivable way. Emotionally and spiritually, in their physicality and their personalities, in the way they’ve decided to live their lives. Both are tied to a past tragedy. Both are yearning to move forward. And both are going to be challenged with a new way of looking at their world and their problems.
They’ll be helped along the way by a new person who shows up in their story at just the right time. Their circumstances won’t change. Things won’t get easier. In fact, they’ll get harder. So these sisters can’t just wait around for the world to fix itself before they can be happy. It’s not the world that must change. It’s them.
We’re all ready to move forward, aren’t we? Ready to leave behind the stresses and struggles of last year. Maybe worried that they’ll follow us into this one? When it comes to finding joy and meaning in this life, you don’t have to wait for any particular calendar
year to end. You don’t have to wait for your circumstances to get easier. You don’t have to wait for your political party to come into power. You don’t have to wait for anyone’s apology or anyone’s permission or even anyone’s encouragement. 2020 wasn’t your year. It wasn’t anyone’s 2021 might not be either.
But I bet that this could be your day. Or if not this one, maybe tomorrow. Or the next day. Because every morning you wake up is a new opportunity…to love well. To put love into other people, into your work, into your community, into yourself…to live well. To find joy amidst the struggle, to make good use of the time you have been given, to enjoy the small pleasures of good food, good drink, good company…to learn well. To read great books, to discover new trails, to hone a new skill.
We don’t have to wait for a new year to feel renewed. It can happen every day. And when you approach each new day with a spirit of renewal, you start to discover that you have more power over your experience of life than you ever imagined.
Here’s a look at Erin’s latest release:::::ALL THAT WE CARRIED
Ten years ago, sisters Olivia and Melanie Greene were on a backcountry hiking trip when their parents were in a fatal car accident. Over the years, they grew apart, each coping with the loss in her own way. Olivia plunged herself into law school, work, and an atomistic view of the world—what you see is what you get, and that’s all you get. Melanie dropped out of college and developed an online life-coaching business around her cafeteria-style spirituality—a little of this, a little of that, whatever makes you happy.
Now, at Melanie’s insistence (and against Olivia’s better judgment), they are embarking on a hike in the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In this remote wilderness they’ll face their deepest fears, question their most dearly held beliefs, and begin to see that perhaps the best way to move forward is the one way they had never considered.
Michigan Notable Book Award winner Erin Bartels draws from personal experience hiking backcountry trails with her sister to bring you a story about the complexities of grief, faith, and sisterhood.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
ERIN BARTELS is the award-winning author of We Hope for Better Things—a 2020 Michigan Notable Book, winner of the 2020 Star Award from the Women’s Fiction Writers Association in both the debut and general fiction categories, and a 2019 Christy Award finalist—The Words between Us—a 2020 Christy Award finalist—and All That We Carried (coming January 2021). Her short story “This Elegant Ruin” was a finalist in The Saturday Evening Post 2014 Great American Fiction Contest. Her poems have been published by The Lyric and The East Lansing Poetry Attack. A member of the Capital City Writers Association and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, she is former features editor of WFWA’s Write On! magazine and current director of the annual WFWA Writers Retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Erin lives in the beautiful, water-defined state of Michigan where she is never more than a ninety minute drive from one of the Great Lakes or six miles from an inland lake, river, or stream. She grew up in the Bay City area waiting for freighters and sailboats at drawbridges and watching the best 4th of July fireworks displays in the nation. She spent her college and young married years in Grand Rapids feeling decidedly not-Dutch. She currently lives with her husband and son in Lansing, nestled somewhere between angry protesters on the Capitol lawn and couch-burning frat boys at Michigan State University. And yet, she claims it is really quite peaceful.