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Two hours before the clock strikes midnight, I am alone in my bedroom, cross-legged on the floor. On the carpet lie 200 pieces of me. 

They are the myriad of photographs I probably printed too many of, made bright by the luminous beams of the people that they captured. They are the ten spontaneous snapshots I produced from the Polaroid camera I commandeered from my sister’s closet. They are old race bibs and older birthday cards, hand-written letters from hard times and a long, bold banner from better ones. Armed with clear tape, scissors, an office chair, and these fragments of my past year, I am equipped to make a collage— or, as I like to think of it, to reconstruct my year.

Four hours earlier, my family gathered around the TV in the living room to watch a movie and some news coverage of New York City. But the night was growing older. As the practiced and dexterous darkness weaved itself into the soft blues and light pinks of the passing day, we slowly retired to our individual spheres. My sister left to watch a movie or video call friends, I’m not sure. My parents, per usual, went to bed. The magic of New Year’s Eve is never enough to overcome the spells of fatigue that long weeks of work and routine have already cast over them.

I am more easily entranced by the promise of a new start; though intangible, the idea of a New Year always compels me to stay up, even when I am alone. The moment is ephemeral, but it never fails to excite me in a way that other holidays never can.

The year is something like 2015, and the circumstances aligned, as they will for the better part of the next six or seven years, to bring me right here, to crossed legs and cutting scraps in the dwindling hours before January 1. In these late hours of the last day of the year, encumbered by nothing, I have the freedom and inspiration to create.

ₓ˚. ୭ ˚○◦˚.˚◦○˚ ୧ .˚ₓ

This year, like the first New Year’s Eve I made a recap collage, I do hold some physical pictures to look back on. But I have decided to deviate from my tradition a little bit. On the eve of 2023, I turn to words to try to process the reel of emotions I experienced in 2022.

ₓ˚. ୭ ˚○◦˚.˚◦○˚ ୧ .˚ₓ

The images I have of January are the farthest back in my mind’s archive, but they are clear to me nonetheless.

I can still see the hospital I was in on the second day of the year. I thought it would have been empty at such an early hour. People or activities I could not see kept it busy. We waited and waited and waited for a bed on cheap cloth-covered chairs in the hallway. The light was too bright and I considered throwing something at it just to dim it. Some nurses were laughing and I wished they would stop, how could anyone be laughing right now? I was fairly certain there was a dried bloodstain on my chair. I tried to cover the bloodstain with my thigh.

Today I hold that image up to the light and look for what lies at its borders, the things I often cut out of the shot. That week, cracking under the weight of what I felt like I was carrying, I called anyone who would listen to me: a professor, a roommate, some people I was in a school club with, someone I met a year or two ago, someone I’ve never met in person. This is the part of the picture that I entreat myself not to forget: no matter how loose or tight our ties to each other at that moment, no matter how they would change, everyone I called listened.

I remember that February was dark. Maybe it’s for the best that I leave some of those memories behind. Let them fade with time.

I tried to keep myself busy. I went to class. I went to meetings. I went to the doctor— I fractured my fibula or tore some muscles in my ankle or maybe both while running. A man in a white coat gave me a bulky gray boot to wear for the next few months. It wasn't fun to drag around a college campus in Colonial Williamsburg, where every path seemed to promise uneven brick paving or stairs. What was fun, though, is collecting signatures from my peers. Every autograph on the boot made me feel a little less alone.

I got closer to a girl that month, one I like to think of now as an older sister. She was much taller than me and had short, curly hair, always styled in a fashion that kind of reminded me of Marilyn Monroe. We had a few study sessions together at a local coffee shop that dissolved into convivial conversations almost as fast as the sugar we sprinkled into our warm drinks. It was exactly what I needed.

By March I started to find a new rhythm, thanks to a professor who gave me the notes to follow. He challenged me to do something spontaneous every day for at least thirty minutes and to email him what I did before the stroke of midnight. Some snapshots from that assignment: I spent an afternoon reading a book, stretched out on a vast green field. I met some classmates over cafeteria lunches. I went on long walks and watched the world from behind large windows. I learned that, in spite of everything, I was still capable of love. Did I escape myself or learn how to hold myself closer? On some days I even imagined that the sun was smiling down at me.

April and May blur together in my memory, a collage of shared meals and phone calls and final exams. In the jumble, here’s one picture that sticks out to me: a friend of mine picked me up in his car in the middle of the day. He drove at least twenty minutes away from campus for a Very Important Reason: redeeming a one-time-only Auntie Anne’s coupon on a free pretzel. We arrived and rain was pouring in sheets. We ran to the store through the storm, only to find that the coupons could not be applied at checkout. He bought me a sweet-and-salty pretzel anyway.

Oh, and Washington, DC. I loved that place and what I was there to do. I could make an album just out of my two weeks there. I took the Metro with my roommate for the first time to meet friends at a quaint ramen-turned-Hawaiian restaurant. We bussed around the city for half an hour to find the local enchiladas of her childhood. We watched a free movie on the roof of the Swedish embassy. I forgot to bring my glasses, so I couldn’t actually see anything on the screen, but I enjoyed the moment anyway.

I spent the summer months of June and July and part of August in South Korea, living and working alone in my mother’s homeland. I wrote a lot there; unable to engage the world around me in fluent language, I often felt caged in with my words. My journals contain clips of the loneliness and fear and guilt that accompanied this circumstance, especially when I faced family members whom I desperately desired to speak to but could not. These feelings can drown out my memories of South Korea when I allow them to, but when I wring myself dry of them, I find that I have much from that trip to be grateful for.

How could I forget the excitement and independence and happiness and love I found there? How empowering it was to navigate a country in a language that was not my native one. How inspiring it was to be surrounded by that language, one I had believed could never be my own, and feel it become something closer to my grasp. How wonderful it was to meet new people and share shaved ice desserts with small sweet toppings and explore the city together. The images I hold of that country feel so extraordinary sometimes that I can still hardly believe that they are real. I flew to my mom’s island, Jeju-do, by myself and stayed with her family. I flew to my mom’s island by myself and stayed with her family!

My fall semester— the months of September, October, November, and December— began maybe two weeks after I returned from Korea. My second-to-last semester in college seems to have passed in fast forward, but my mind has managed to capture a few stills of the season. I recall several attempts to stay connected with my summer experience by cooking Korean foods (and setting off the fire alarm at least three times in the process). I remember drawing out graphs for what I thought would be my hardest class and hardly believing that I was actually, kind of (?) liking it. I look back on a professor telling me to make room for happiness in my life, and another one writing me instructions on how to do that on a paper napkin. (I kept that napkin.) I enjoyed occasional meals in good company at restaurants. I watched morning sunrises and walked under trees that extended their long arms to wave at me with red and orange hands.

ₓ˚. ୭ ˚○◦˚.˚◦○˚ ୧ .˚ₓ

My fall semester— my year— was not perfect. Sometimes, when I look back, I can focus only on the bad memories: the sadness, the anxiety, the anger. Those images can develop too quickly in my mind; they float fast and easy to the surface of my recollection.

Today, as I review those moments, I allow myself to acknowledge that they held real subjects, real stresses, and real pain. But I also remind myself to examine my memories from different lenses, and to remember that, while they may represent pieces of me, they do not make me. 

In 2023, I hope that I spend as much time developing the bright shots as I do the dark ones. Because as easy as they can be to neglect, they are just as real.


  1. You sure had an amazing year!! I love the photos!

  2. As always, a very profound post, Claire! I didn't know you were in the hospital and injured yourself earlier in the year. I'm sorry to hear that your year started off quite rough. But, I'm glad that there were some moments of bliss too. I especially loved you sharing advice from professors. Doing my MA in 2022, I also received a lot of help from professors and forged relationships with academia that I hope to carry with me for the rest of my life. I'm glad you had those positive experiences too.

  3. I love how photos can help you remember a time, although you may not always remember the exact circumstances that inspired a shot they help you remember where you were when it was taken. It sounds like you did a lot last year, even if all of it was not happy it inspired a lot of memories. Visiting and living in Korea for a short time sounds like a lot and I cannot imagine how isolating it would be not speaking the language yet knowing you had family there you wanted to speak to but you seemed to have gained a lot from the experience.

  4. I love this, your writing felt really nostalgic and reflective! <3 The trip to South Korea sounds especially memorable, with all the loneliness and empowerment that come with it. I hope 2023 will be a great year for you too! <3

  5. I'm a photo taker too. It helps me remember what was going on at that time. I really enjoyed reading this and seeing what all was going on in your life.