Thursday, December 30, 2010

new year, new you! (or not)

The end of the year always sneaks up on you doesn’t it? It seems to me that New Years  is rather horribly placed, being as it is right as we head into the dead of winter (in this hemisphere at least). Any get up and go that you might feel at the prospect of a shiny new calendar year is sure to be driven out of you by the dark days and bad weather come February 1st. I think it would be better to have it fall somewhere around March or April when the days start getting longer and the sight of nature renewing itself serves as an inspiration. But alas, no one has yet put me in charge of these things so we’ll have to make do with the present timing.
Now I love any excuse to drink champagne (birthdays, holidays, Tuesdays...) but I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. The idea seems especially moot for me this year, seeing as I already have this list that I’m working on (of thirty things don’t you know). While I think it’s possible to get a boost of energy from the beginning of a new year just as you can from a Monday morning simply because it is a chance to start fresh, it’s still a bit of a false motivation.  Every time I’ve made a resolution that I’ve stuck to, its inception has been organic. The recipe seems to be some combination of fear and hope that mixes with opportunity to create a genuine chance to change and move forward—not simply a day on a calendar.
Years ago I was working very sporadically on my first novel (the first one I tried to get published anyway), and I was having trouble making headway. Then in the spring of 2008, I had the good fortune of meeting and befriending an older Irish writer of some renown and we had a conversation one day over coffee that changed my life.  She enumerated for me with stunning incisiveness the reasons I was having so much trouble finishing my book: namely that I had a day job in publishing (which messes with your head), that I was terrified of trying to get published and that I had a hectic life with no time to write. The job I needed and the fear, she said, would always be with me (true so far!). The third one of these things was the only one I could control and so I damn well better do it. ‘Go to bed an hour earlier and get up in the morning to write before you go to work. Do this,’ she said, ‘or you will be sitting here ten years from now wondering why you never finished your novel.’
Guess who was out of bed at 6am the next morning? Four months later, I’d finished the book.
My father (champion advice giver always) told me that you have to watch for signposts in life and when you see one, have the courage to follow it. This swift kick in the ass from a writer I so respected was a big one and it was a moment in my life when I managed to harness my deep fear of failing in a productive way. So perhaps this year instead of resolving to lose ten pounds or start eating more kale or read Proust, resolve to be open to these moments when they come at you and to follow your instincts even when it scares you.
How do you feel about resolutions?


  1. I always feel ready to make resolutions in September - that back to school/new stationary and pencils feeling is still there every year.

    I've resolved to give up on the lose 10 lbs, do more exercise resolutions - same old same old. Instead I'm going to try to establish a more regular writing routine - details yet to be banged out (I've still got a day to do that, right?)

  2. I agree with you, A! I do not like resolutions either. I don't like the idea that you have a list of things that you should change and THEN you'll finally be happy. I'm all for goals and making plans, but I think it's important to try to find happiness with every stage in your life (not just when you finish that resolution).

    Every year around my birthday (which is quite close to the holidays), I like to take some time and reflect over the last year. How did I grow or change? What did you learn about yourself or values? I think reflecting over the last year is sometimes more important than looking forward. You need to know where you are before you can find out where you are going.

  3. What a great piece of advice, and the best part is that you followed it. This is so rare.

    I have no feeling about New Year's, one way or the other. It's just another day. (I've a similar apathy for all holidays – except the ones that revolve around food.) And making resolutions seems like one more way of disappointing myself. Although I do confess a true and abiding love for Mondays – they always make me feel so intrepid.

  4. i'm a sappy slub of a resolution maker for sure. i make them the first of the year, i make them on my birthday, and some months i get all rev'ed up and make 30-day resolutions. i like putting it out there. sometimes they stick and sometimes they fall off before midnight. but whatever, i keep doing it.

    butt in chair, butt in chair! that's my biggest resolution for this year.