"Deep reflection" is a state normally reserved for such occasions as planning to produce a child, tearing off the last page of your cat-a-day calendar or deciding whether that orange blazer you grabbed from the sale rack makes you look trendy or traffic cone-y. Well, let me just say that when I assembled files for my accountant last week, I didn't consider it a sentimental event; for heaven's sake, it was tax time. So it was rather unexpected when my head began registering pangs of rumination rather than basic arithmetic.
I'm aware that doing your taxes is decidedly a left-brain affair. The tax code may have 5,296 pages, but it nowhere asks you to list the your emotional losses and gains.
And yet, as I pulled out my intricate "catchall" filing system (read: one large pile), I revived the tumult and triumph of 2011, one crumpled piece of paper at a time. It's not as if my W-2 and pay stubs provoked memories of the year before. It's that they lived next to remnant scraps that did.
I flipped through the first (and oldest) item forming the base of the pile, a hefty packet of my birth certificate and other vital records, translated into Greek. They were necessary to begin the process of securing Greek citizenship, my ticket to living and working anywhere in the European Union -- a dream as unrealized as my application, which is likely tucked in an unopened box sitting in a dark office in bureaucratically stalled Athens.
I unsheathed a folded printout that reveals an unused (and expired) Groupon. Knowing how much I enjoy baking, my ex-boyfriend's mother had gifted me a coupon for a cupcake-making class at a bakery downtown. A stab of regret gripped my chest; I didn't bring her a sample batch because I never redeemed the voucher.
I thumbed through neatly handwritten flyers that advertised the small summer stoop sale I had hosted in anticipation of what I thought would be a daring move to London for a few months until citizenship came through. Three weeks later, my white walls bare, circumstances changed, I wasn't going anymore.
Flip. Flip. Flip.
Margaritas. About $400 in receipts for margaritas. It's too bad you can't write off a breakup.
I peeled apart a stack of photos that had nearly fused after being compressed in the pile for eight months. I had developed them from a disposable camera purchased en route to a late-summer canoeing/camping trip with friends in Maine. I shuffled to a photo of me below a 10-story bridge, clinging to an accelerating rope swing knotted above. The picture was snapped mere seconds before my hands slipped down the coarse fibers, sending me into shallow bed of rocks below rather than the safety and depth of the Saco River. My only scar was the gash in my second toe -- and of course, the battle wounds of embarrassment.
I squinted at a faded receipt and made out "Walmart." Road-tripping to pastoral southwestern Pennsylvania, friends and I had stocked up on groceries for a long weekend of hiking in Ohiopyle State Park, cooking in a lakeside cabin and exploring Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater. I likened myself to the architect, drawing a sense of well-being from the walls of blazing autumn leaves lining the mountain roads. Of course, he had channeled that inspiration into architectural feats, while I merely sat in the passenger seat of a rental car and stared at the cows dotting the textured landscape. I was doing absolutely nothing.
I unrolled a wrinkled note card and read the mantra printed carefully on it: from darkness lead me to light. At the end of the year, I reallocated a portion of my London fund into my Costa Rica fund, and I signed up for a weeklong yoga retreat on the rugged Osa Peninsula. I sweated and breathed through three-hour sunrise classes on an elevated yoga platform buffered by a dense flock of tropical nutmeg trees, screeching with howler monkeys and pelicans. My teacher spread his arms to the jungle around us and urged us to "leave everything here -- it can absorb it all."
Two hours later, I had gone through the contents of my year.
Yes, I'm aware that a good old-fashioned filing system (or a simple folder) could have helped me avoid this untimely jaunt down memory lane. But the truth is that confronting how I spent my money and my time helped me recognize the true trajectory of my year. Disappointment didn't shrink or stall me, like I thought it did at the time; while I was trying to reinvent my way out from under the weight of big plans gone astray, I didn't realize I had already thrown myself back into the world.
As for all of my recent receipts, mementos and ticket stubs, I'm throwing them all into a brand-new heap, already piled three and a-half months high. 2012, I'll deal with you next year.