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Blog // Productivity
December 19, 2022

2022 Review – The Year Of Tensegrity

This year threw some of life’s hardest challenges my way. Perhaps more than ever before, my yearly theme helped me deal with those hurdles. This was 2022, the year of Tensegrity.

The Holmes and Rahe stress scale is a psychological tool developed in the late 1960s to assess a patient’s risk of physical illness as a result of life stress. It lists 43 life events and assigns them stress scores from 11 to 100. You look over your last year and add up the scores from all the events you experienced. If your total is under 150, you’re probably OK. In the 150–300 range you’re at moderate risk of illness. Over 300, you’re at risk of developing an illness.

My score for 2022 is 511.

Yes, it’s been quite the year!

2022 The Year Of Tensegrity

This was a year of sad goodbyes. I said the final goodbye to my mother. I said goodbye to my home in London, and along with it all the unfulfilled dreams, personal and professional, that I had about living there again. I said goodbye to a beloved pet. And I said goodbye, at least for the time being, to most of my belongings. They have been on ships and in storage since the middle of the year, along with the rest of my things that have been in storage since 2019.

This year stripped me right down to the bare essentials of life.

My theme for the year, Tensegrity, was drawn from my pilates practice. Tensegrity describes the way our body is held together through a network of structures that make use of both tension and flexibility. We’re at our best when we’re both strong and supple.

Since the pandemic began I’ve been doing a pretty bare bones form of movement exercise. A mat, a roller, a block, and video lessons.

I chose Tensegrity as my theme because I felt uncertain and off-balance about the year ahead. I foresaw challenges that I might not be able to fix or resolve. But I hoped to grow stronger through the experience of moving through the year.

Tensegrity is a term used to describe a system of balance and support. It is based on the idea that our bodies, relationships and lives are in constant evolution and require constant readjustments. Tensegrity can be used to maintain stability during times of uncertainty, change, and grief.

When considering this theme last year, I said, “The tensions we live with never fully resolve.”

How true that turned out to be.

On Creating Structure

I had a few other hopes for 2022. The pandemic and perpetual working from home had turned every aspect of life in 2021 into one big amorphous blog. Writing about the kind of schedule I wanted to create for the year, I identified three changes.

1. How can I add holidays back into my life?

2. How can I feel the seasons of the year again?

3. How can I make my days more colorful and creative?

The changes worked fairly well in the first half of the year. I took my digital sabbatical every seventh week and cut down greatly on screen time. I used that to create momentum for more creativity and play. And I took more breaks, days and weeks off, which gave me more time to observe the seasons of year, especially the wonderful spring and wildly hot summer London had this year.

So, the first half of the year found me trying new recipes in the kitchen, drawing and painting, writing more creative non-fiction and poetry, making music for the fun of it, building Lego projects, reading for pleasure, tending the garden, silently sitting in the park enjoying the birds and clouds and flowers, or playing with our pet hamster.

But the moment I got on my one-way flight out of London I torched the whole thing. Not consciously, of course. We never do that, do we? But once I was in Melbourne, living out of a suitcase in a serviced apartment, I just forgot about those three questions. The habit tracking, the intentional structure, the daily writing, all fell away and life just happened to me.

And kept happening, over and over again.

What I learnt over and over again is that we live perpetually on the cusp of abundance and destruction. It’s a tension we cannot avoid. Our habits can fall apart so quickly. The best we can hope to do is to respect those opposing forces.

The Best Choice Of 2022

One of my favorite metaphors for life comes from an essay by David Sedaris, in which he likens life to a four-burner cooktop. One burner represents career, another family, the third is health, and the last is social life. But the problem is, you only ever have enough fuel to run three of them at a time. Sometimes only two.

Which do you choose?

When I think about what worked well in 2022, it’s clear the family burner was always on, and the decision to make that a priority was wise and worthwhile. I was with my mother during her final days, but was also able to see her on three prior trips this year. I accompanied my spouse on another career-defining (for her) move. I made three trips to visit my daughter in the US and share deep and wonderful experiences with her. And I cared for our hamster Espi in her final beautiful months of life.

I also managed to write a lot, attend some great writing workshops, and even resurrect some writing projects that went into pandemic-enforced hiatus.

When the time to grieve came I was able to lean into writing again, filling up the pages of my literary journal with sadness and rage and all the conversations I’ll never have with my mother. Those pages found me at my lowest but also accompanied me as I travelled slowly up the other side of the emotional hill.

The Need To Add Enjoyment

A few weeks ago I found myself at Melbourne airport, going from the First Class lounge to seat 1A on a flight to Adelaide. The whole experience was joyless. I wondered how I’d become so jaded. Grief was partly to blame. As was the amount of travel I’d done this year, after so long being grounded and at home.

But there was something else. Everything felt provisional, temporary, and so joyless.

I love the word enjoyment. When you break it down, en-joy-ment, it’s not just a feeling but a process. We choose to possess joy, to own it, to make room for it.

I spent a lot of the final quarter of this year thinking about enjoyment and how to add more of it to my life in 2023. Again, my year’s theme of Tensegrity helped me here. I wasn’t trying to erase the grief, or balance it out. Rather, I was seeing how the fullest expression of life contains both the sadness and the joy in their deepest expression, and how that makes us emotionally stronger and more supple at the same time.

Some Things I enjoyed in 2022

I tend to bemoan how much TV I watch, but it was another wonderful year for the small screen. Some of my favourite shows had solid new seasons. Hacks was great again. The Crown had a good course correction after some bad casting in recent seasons. The Marvelous Mrs Maisel is still my favourite thing on TV, even if season 4 didn’t shine as brightly as previous seasons.

But my picks for the three best things on TV this year were a bit less sparkly. I was blown away by The Bear, with its tight dramatic action, incredible editing, and being stripped to the essentials of story telling. I couldn’t get enough of Extraordinary Attorney Woo for being such a winsome yet confronting depiction of neurodivergency and for taking time to explore some profound social and ethical issues. And I loved everything about Andor, which at last is a Star Wars product made for grown-ups who don’t need long expository explanations or relentless east egg references for every obscure detail of the franchise.

As for music, Taylor Swift clearly had the best pop album of 2022. Jasmine Myra’s Horizons was my pick for jazz album of the year. But there was so much good music. You can check out my playlist of the year here on Apple Music.

I didn’t see enough films to really justify making a list, which I guess means I must add that to the changes I’ll make in 2023!

Looking Towards 2023

The Holmes and Rahe stress scale doesn’t even list every stressful event I underwent this year. There’s no score for the death of a pet, or the serious illness of a close friend. No points are added for living through a pandemic. Or the general overwhelming sensation we often feel thanks to all the digital technologies that fill our waking minds.

The theme of tensegrity reminded me, over and over again, in a calm and reassuring way, that I didn’t need to force things, look for easy resolutions, or avoid the pain and grief. The tension, the stress, were just part of this season of life. It will pass and hopefully I’ll be wiser and more adaptable because of it.

In a few days I’ll announce my yearly theme for 2023. In choosing a word and a direction for the coming year, I was painfully aware that the stress, tension, and feeling of being pulled in different directions isn’t going away any time soon. There’s no simple way to balance things out.

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