New Year’s, as a holiday, is a strange critter. We assign digits to days, names to moon-cycles, numbers to years. We all agree that, yes, this thing called a year begins on this thing we will call “the first,” in this larger container we will call “January.”
If I’d been a monk (as I sometimes think I should’ve), I’d have been one of those recalcitrant Irish ones who insisted on my own date for Easter.
There is an undeniable utility, of course, in agreeing upon certain things. Thanksgiving dinner will be at this time on this day. A dollar will buy this much. “DO NOT FEED THE BEARS” means, for the love of all that is good and holy, DO NOT FEED THE FREAKIN’ BEARS OR YOU WILL RUE THE DAY.
But the thing about new years is this–we each have one, and it’s not on January 1st unless that’s the date we were born. For most of my life, then, I’ve been going about this New Year’s business all wrong. My New Year starts on November 24th.
What I’ve been doing all this time:
I took a break from social media for most of this month, and used the time I’d have spent online to do a lot of introspecting. The reason New Year’s resolutions typically fail for me, I’ve realized, is in part because I resist that kind of structured dedication, and in part because I’ve been going about them the wrong way.
Change for the sake of change, like change that’s poorly envisioned, is difficult if not impossible to maintain. So this November, I carved out the time to reflect, to look at my last year in order to help me see where I’m headed. This was a four-part process:
- Journal~I spent time writing about what it was I hoped to accomplish in this near-month of social media silence, and what I hoped for for the coming year. I think by writing, so the physical act of writing with a pen on paper was imperative.
- Read~I read over blog posts and journals from the past year, along with all my Quest 2015 stuff, to remind myself of what goals I’d set and get a sense of what I’d actually accomplished.
- Reflect~I spent some time just sitting with what I learned. I am impatient and a fidgeter by nature, so sitting on or with anything is sometimes a challenge for me, and one to which I need to learn to rise.
- Envision~I took time to think about the upcoming year, in light of the old one, and to come up with a way of shaping the new year that feels authentic for me.
(Of course, I did a bunch of other stuff, like wrangle critters and kids and teach English and French in such rapid succession that my brain resisted shifting from one to another and I would have to frequently remind myself not to give the English Composition students their instructions in French.)
What I learned:
I’m so glad that I made time for this. I tend to end each year feeling that I’ve failed, that I haven’t done what I said I’d do. I was starting to feel that way about this year, but reading through my written records of the year, in whatever form, I found successes. They weren’t necessarily the ones I’d hoped for–for a year or so, I harbored a wildly unrealistic goal of publication by age 40. It took me a year to realized that these aren’t the kinds of goals one can or should set–they depend too much on other people. I realized, in my reflection, that I need to set goals that depend only upon myself. But I actually did do some stuff:
- Facing fear~I got on a plane for the first time in years. I hated it. But I did it.
- Traveling~I got on that plane and went to Wisconsin and at all the cheese, but most importantly, spent good time with wildly creative souls. I took my first solo road-trip, to Buffalo, and it has just occurred to me that I neglected to eat all the hot wings. Why did I not eat all the hot wings??
- Writing~I finished a massive rewrite of my first adult fantasy novel. I collaborated with a friend on a piece for an art show, which led to a second-place honor and an art show of our very own, which is opening this Friday! (You can see some of our stuff here.) I submitted my contemporary YA fantasy to bunches of agents, got several full and partial requests, and got some encouraging and helpful rejection letters that pointed me to exactly what I need to do to make this book publishable.
I let myself feel good about this stuff. And then I mapped out my new year, with new improved goals that depend solely on me and not on the vagaries of anyone or anything else.
But it wasn’t just a month of reflecting–it was a month of living, of being present and whole and wholly messy and real, of not feeling like I have to make sure that my online presence doesn’t distance me from anybody in my wonderful pack of Christian fundamentalists and atheists and progressives and Republicans and Democrats and vegans and people who subsist solely on bacon. I love the connection the interwebs bring, but I’ve learned that for introverted me, the internet is not a place for totally wildly free expression. I think about every word I post, its potential impact on other people, and which of my Facebook friends is going to tell my mom (who is not on Facebook) about that thing I just posted. After a while, it wears me out. That and the compulsion to compare my full, real, messy life to the curated versions of other people’s lives. That and the alarmist reactionary stuff. Oh, and that and the pictures of babies with food on their faces. (I love you, friends with babies. I’ve been you. And still, I gotta say, I just can’t take one more spaghetti-on-the-head picture. Grosses me out. Judge me if you must.)
It’s been a month of sunsets. A month of birds–a pileated woodpecker in the back yard, a flock of little black wings that took five minutes to fly over the house. A month of walks with dogs, of frost-spangled mornings and chickens reluctant to leave the warm, smelly cocoon of the henhouse. A month of reading to boys. A month of quiet tea and fountain-pen-scribbling and thoughtfulness. Of silent epiphanies.
It’s also been a month of trying to work out exactly what I want my online presence to be–what’s the purpose of it? I’m still working this bit out. More on that when I manage to pin anything down.
If you’ve made it this far–thank you. You are the person for whom I write–the person who lingers over words, who feeds on ideas, who loves stories and feels their magic bone-deep. Without readers, writers would just be crotchety curmudgeons muttering to themselves. Thanks for joining me on this train of thought. I’d love to know in the comments what you’re thinking and doing and wondering as the old and new years draw close together.
p.s.~I’ve met a wizard who is looking for some dwarves and hobbits and such to share in an adventure. Interested? Check it out: Quest 2106!!!