There were a lot of firsts this year for us all, Effing First Times (FFTs) as Brene Brown calls them. Our firsts deserve an expletive because they challenge us, make us doubt ourselves, and force us to grow in new ways that are probably uncomfortable if we’re really getting out of our comfort zones.

Like me, you’ve probably experienced moments of loss, grief, joy, and contentment. Sometimes fleeting, sometimes all at once. And you’ve probably experienced a whole bunch of firsts.

Paradoxia Season 1

One of my firsts in 2020 was recording the first season of Paradoxia: the podcast. In the months prior, I had countless conversations with friends about how we hold tension in our lives and accept that good and bad exist in one space. But I wasn’t seeing that idea reflected so much in the media. So in a moment of boldness, I decided to seek out, record, and share those conversations myself.

I had no recording equipment, no podcasting experience, and I was terrified to start. I doubted that I could add anything to the conversation, but I wanted to try. With a little encouragement and an easy first conversation with one of my first childhood friend’s I was off. I didn’t spend a cent, didn’t purchase recording equipment, I just started talking to people whose perspectives I wanted to hear myself.

They were artists and activists, doctors and yoga instructors, students, professors, and public officials from all walks of life across the country.

Artwork by Rukmini Poddar, Dear Ruksi, featured in Episode 5.

When I look back at those 10 conversations now, these are the lessons about holding complexity that really stuck with me from each of them.

  1. Belonging to a place is tenuous. Our relationships to place and home shift overtime in ways that complicate our own sense of who we are and who we are becoming.
  2. The greatest literature holds immense duality starting with our spiritual texts. A good book invites us to wrestle with contrasting ideas.
  3. Social media can help us step into our power and pull it away, the result is dependent on our self-awareness when we engage.
  4. Grief and joy will always co-exist to varying degrees, each season we have to build a home for what comes.
  5. When we name our feelings and create something from them, we can process experiences and become more and more ourselves.
  6. There’s a careful balance between truth and hope, but it’s even more challenging to consider that there may not be one, known “truth” all the time.
  7. We choose our own identity, no one else, and we can celebrate the puzzle even when others don’t yet understand where the pieces fit.
  8. Our stereotypes build a wall between us and someone else’s full experiences. We can only really be supportive of them when we let preconceptions go.
  9. It’s our responsibility to tell stories that hold complexity and nuance, it gives the listener a better chance at real understanding.
  10. We can use our voice, our bodies, our art to hold the complicated reality media often misses.

Artwork by Morgan Overton, Mo in the Studio. Featured on Episode 10.

We talked about exploitative media, sexism, racism, homophobia and white supremacy this year too and how they color and influence each of the ideas above. One of the things I love most about podcasting is the space long-form conversations allow for depth.

Conversations have the capacity to hold a great deal of complexity and nuance in those ways. More than a short article possibly can. But, I often find myself in a reflective mode at the end of the year, looking back on the 12 months prior for some meaning. And this was an opportunity for that.

In a world of bite-sized graphics and instantaneous consumption, especially in a year I personally spent so much time in front of a screen, I turned to conversations, podcasts, and long-form stories in books for some of the more nuanced experiences that are not always reflected online. In every instance I learned from the person on the other side of the couch, end of the phone, or story on the page.

Soon I’ll record season two. Some things will no longer be new to me, but others will. This time around I’ll have conversations with folks who have brought together aspects of themselves or their passions in life that might be unexpected. Guests will share their FFTs in art, movement, business, and home life creating space for new, complex things that didn’t exist prior.

And only time will tell what additional understanding of this beautifully, painfully complicated world 2021 has in store for us.