I spent my last night of 2014 on a ranch in Mexico. I spoke broken Spanish with 12 and 13-year-old Mexican girls who told me they thought my younger brother Cole was muy guapo. I ate posole, a traditional Mexican soup with chicken broth and bones, hominy, onions, cilantro, tomatoes, crushed oregano and lime.
I watched as Mexicans and gringos donned black trash bags, stuffed their cheeks with 20 jalapeño peppers, and caught streams of pale green drool in Styrofoam bowls during a fierce game of Chubby Chihuahua.
I hopped on the back of a truck with 15 other people at 11:15 pm and gripped the arms and knees next to me as we bumped along the dark, dusty road toward the bonfire at the base of the mountain.
I rubbed my gloved hands against my brother’s arms as we stared at the 20-foot-tall pile of dilapidated wood and wondered aloud whether the broken pieces had dried yet from the morning’s rainstorm.
I stepped back as several men lit the tall wooden structure. I watched as the flames crept slowly along the ground at first, then shot upward and engulfed the structure in a mass of blazing orange.
I stood at the back of the crowd and watched the group walk in sync toward the fire like members of a cult that worships the light, or like aliens who have never felt heat. I laughed.
I huddled with my new friend Kelly under the sleeping bag we had unzipped and draped over our shoulders. We stared at the flames, felt the waves of heat burn our faces and make our eyes water.
At midnight, we cheered. I hugged my new friends and kissed my brother on both his cheeks. I took a deep breath and stood with my back toward the fire to warm my legs and butt.
I stared at the stars for a while then closed my eyes and listened to the sounds around me: the wood splitting from the fire, the chatter of people sharing resolutions and memories, the excited echo of “Feliz Año Nuevo,” the faint melody of music coming from the bars in nearby San Vicente.
I saw people lighting and lifting a tangerine-colored lantern into the black sky and I followed its trail with my eyes as it danced with the smoke from the fire, glided past the setting moon, turned into a teeny orange dot, and disappeared.
After a while, everyone piled onto truck beds and drove away. I stayed with Cole and buried my face in his chest as I let every beautiful and bright and difficult memory from 2014 wash over me. My memories flashed through my head like a photo slideshow in fast forward. I thought about everything.
I thought about road-trips along the West coast of France with Julia, Charlotte and Laura; about train rides to Paris listening to Haim;
about long cold runs around Lac d’Auron, peeing in the bushes and wiping snot from my nose with gloved fingers;
about sharing bottles of rosé and stuffing bananas with dark chocolate and sea salt in the chilly winter evenings;
about hauling groceries up the stairs to my apartment covered in sweat; about my French students kissing me and yelling "Hello Paige!" every time they saw my face;
about drinking tea and cocktails in England; about walking through the streets of London high off the city's buzz; about attending a formal dinner at Oxford;
about skinny-dipping in Croatia and running along the shore in San Sebastian; about making orange blossom and cinnamon galettes with my honorary French family;
about visiting French markets and becoming obsessed with olives, socca, ham & cheese galettes, mussels, goat cheese, ginger, and macarons;
about saying goodbye to friends in metros and airports, watching them with a desperate ache as they wheeled their suitcases in the opposite direction;
about saying hello to my family and my boyfriend in Southern California’s summer heat;
about swimming in the Pacific Ocean and drinking kale mango smoothies;
about fierce games of Smash ball with my dad on the beach in Maui;
about eating garlic sweet potato fries with Kyle and jumping up and down to The Killers’ killer set in San Francisco;
about Netflix days with Dexter Morgan, Lorelai Gilmore, Ted Mosby, and Francis Underwood;
about conversations and chips and salsa on the grass at Salt Creek with my best friends; about Excel spreadsheets and emails during my PR internship;
about weekend visits to LA for nightlife and gluten-free pizza;
about starting Feed the Good Wolf and the rush of sharing my passion online; about enrolling in a travel writing course and connecting with fascinating people across the globe; about empty inboxes and rejection letters; about frantic bouts of Internet research planning trips I can’t yet pay for;
about the thrill of being published for the first time; about sunrise hikes in San Luis Obispo and reunions with girlfriends;
about attending Oprah’s “Life You Want” tour in Seattle with my mom and listening to Elizabeth Gilbert speak;
about solo beach walks contemplating the repercussions of my restlessness; about long hours at my computer writing words that make me happy;
about choppy Facetime chats with faraway friends; about days consumed by self-doubt and fear of familiarity; about the joy of waking up to an email from Arianna Huffington; about date nights with white wine and Brussels sprouts;
about growing in my spirituality and starting a gratitude journal;
about the holidays with my family;
about playing “pato, pato, ganso” with all the niños and helping out at this children's home in Baja California.
I cried for a while as I thought of my experiences over these past 12 months. I cried because I experienced gratitude, passion, independence, confusion, wholeness, stillness, sadness, movement, inertia, prosperity, uncertainty, apathy, restlessness and growth.
This has been a year of contrasting emotions and circumstances for me. Living on my own in France then moving back home and trying to start a career in writing has led me to question so many aspects of my life. In asking these questions, I have learned so much more about myself—about how I approach problems, how I communicate with others, what I need to feel fulfilled, what stimulates me, what comforts me, and what drives me.
I have learned that I’m a desirous person, greedy to see every beautiful view and meet every interesting person and do every exciting thing I can. But I’ve also learned how to be still, how to surrender to whatever is in front of me and accept that everything has a place of value in my life. I have learned that I want to move through this world spreading as much light and love to others as I possibly can.
I have learned that there is still so much to learn.
Cole and I walked back to the ranch dormitories together that night arm in arm, stepping over the ridges of damp red clay in the road and leaning on each other for support. We glanced back at the fire and I took a deep breath. As I let it out, I released every worry and fear and moment of loneliness I created for myself in 2014. I released it all and, with a new breath, let my heart and my mind open to the possibility that the New Year brings.
Cheers to embracing change, welcoming the unknown, and staying present in 2015! May we all create the adventures we wish to have this year.