Unresolved

fireworksI don’t like to make New Year’s resolutions. Well, not officially. To be honest I’m always making resolutions. The only thing special about the New Year’s ones is the timing. The fact is, I am constantly making myself promises I fail to keep. I will eat less cheese and more salad. I will spend more time walking and less time on FaceBook. I will accomplish some great project instead of frittering away the evening watching YouTube.

You know how it goes. Really, the only resolution that I should ever make is to stop making myself unrealistic promises. But that, ironically, would just be an unrealistic promise.

So tonight, as I prepared to flip the calendar page to a new year, I decided it was time to rethink the whole resolution thing. Time to write some resolutions that will last past the first week of February. Time to get real.

So here goes. In 2016:

  1. I will screw up lots. I will make less-than-perfect decisions and do things that annoy my children and my co-workers. It won’t be for want of trying to get it right, but because I’m human. And that’s just fine.
  2. I will want some things I can’t have, get some things I didn’t know I wanted, and in general end up with what I need, even though I don’t always know what that is until I have it.
  3. I will learn new things about myself and work really hard at trying to put those things into the words I need to explain them to those around me.
  4. I will try to wear shoes that make my feet happy.
  5. I will eat too much dark chocolate and not regret it. Because actually, is there such a thing as too much dark chocolate?
  6. I will read great books, and feel like I should read more.
  7. I will visit with great friends, and feel like I should spend more time with them.
  8. I will write, and it will never feel like enough.
  9. I will keep resolving to make changes, both small and large.
  10. I will only succeed at making some of these changes, but I will keep resolving the others over and over nonetheless. And that, too, is because I’m human, and is also just fine.

And life will continue to be all the surprising and astonishing and mostly wonderful things that happen while I am stubbornly and naively making other plans.

Happy New Year!

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Margin Notes

blank notebookFor a writer, a blank piece of paper can be both thrilling and terrifying. The crisp expanse of a new notebook. The open-ended  promise of launching a clean, new Word Document. Anything is possible on a blank page.

There’s such a temptation to treat the new year as a blank page. When we reflect on the changing of the year (and boy, do we ever feel called upon to reflect!) we either enumerate the highlights of the year that is ending or list the ways that the next year will be better.

The ways we will be better.

I think the reason New Year’s resolutions have such a woeful track record is that they are so often made on the assumption that wanting badly enough to change will make it so. When we resolve that the flipping of a calendar page will trigger a transformation, we are acting as though the new year is a blank page– a new notebook without a mark.

There are no blank pages. The notebooks of our lives are dog-eared and full of ink scratches and smudgy bits where we tried, not quite successfully, to erase our mistakes. They are smeared with tea-stains and tear-stains, and some of the pages are irredeemably stuck together with chewing gum and determination. There are pages that look like they have been crumpled and smoothed and crumpled again, and there are pages torn in anger and frustration. The closest we get to a blank page is the day we are born, but even then we are each handed a notebook already marked up with pencil sketches of the circumstances of our birth and a trail of notes on our family of origin.

Imagining that the new year offers a blank page on which to write a new story is folly. But that doesn’t mean we can’t write a new story.

It means that our resolutions for change are always margin notes. We fit them in around the edges and between the lines of what has gone before. We write them up the sides of the page if we have to. Or on the inside cover. As long as there is still a scrap of that notebook yet to be filled, we have the opportunity to rewrite the ending. But we don’t get to throw away the beginning. Or the middle. If we are going to change, we must change from where we are–not by magically transforming, but by taking a step. And another. And another. We only get one notebook, and the parts of the story we don’t like don’t go away. We just turn the page and write a better ending.

Wishing you the courage and creativity to edit your own story with the kind of margin notes that will make 2015 a year to bookmark and highlight.

Happy New…anything

calendarIf you really think about it, the hoopla surrounding the arrival of a new year is a bit puzzling. Part of me wants to insist that January 1st is just an ordinary day, made significant only by the inconvenience of having to go out and buy another calendar. There are all sorts of other “new years” we might just as easily recognize. Where I work, everything revolves around a budget year that starts on April 1st. I could easily make my August birthday my own personal year marker.  As a former teacher, the beginning of September still resonates for me as a time for new beginnings. I also grew up with the Christian liturgical year which starts four Sundays before Christmas with the season of Advent. So why make such a big deal about the first day of January?

And yet I still get caught up in it. Not so much in the “new-year’s-resolution” sense, but more in the “reflecting back and looking forwards” sense. As arbitrary as it may be, there is something about the changing from one year number to the next that seems worth celebrating.

Since this is my first New Year’s since starting my blog, I’ve been thinking for some days now about what I wanted to post to celebrate the start of 2014. From what I’ve seen there seem to be three common approaches for an “approaching the New Year” blog post:

  1. The Retrospective post. Given that this blog has only been in existence since September 12, a “year in review” where I revisit all my most popular posts over the past 12 months seems both self-indulgent and silly. Maybe next year.
  2. The Resolutions post. I could write a list of New Year’s resolutions. Except I don’t really make resolutions. At least not in the traditional sense of “here are ten things I’m going to change utterly about my life that I will doubtless have given up on by Valentine’s Day.” More about that later.
  3. The “Why I Don’t Make Resolutions” post. To be honest, this one is the least appealing, mainly because it’s hard not to feel as though it has all been said many times over.

The truth is, the celebration of the New Year appeals to me because it’s all about starting fresh. A new calendar page. A clean slate. Whether you make formal resolutions or not, you are still getting handed a fresh, new untouched bundle of days/weeks/months that are yours to do with what you will.

I like the New Year because it’s a time when, briefly, the rest of the world joins me in reflecting on the positive aspects of change. You see one of the reasons I don’t typically make New Year’s resolutions is that they would be indistinguishable from the resolutions I make every other day. Resolutions about making better use of my time and money. Resolutions about eating healthy and getting more exercise. Resolutions about projects that need finishing and friends I am overdue to call.

A few years ago, during a time when my life was in some chaos, I adopted as my mantra the phrase “change one thing.” I discovered that, regardless how out of control my universe seemed, there was always one thing that I exercised a degree of control over– one aspect of my life in which I could make a choice.  I also discovered that if I changed one small thing, it often led to other bigger changes that I hadn’t dared to hope for.

The changes didn’t have to be big ones. In fact most of the time they weren’t. They were simple things. Make a cup of tea at the office in the morning instead of stopping to buy coffee on the way to work. Rearrange the living room furniture. Go for a walk downtown at lunch instead of surfing Facebook at my desk. The point was simply that they were a change. And a change that resulted from a choice I made.

Which is why I am always making resolutions. Because there is always something worth changing. Always a choice to be made. And because I’m human enough to make lots of bad choices, so there is always room for improvement.

When I was in grade six, my mother decided to quit smoking. But she didn’t just resolve to quit smoking. Instead she told herself: “today, I am not going to have a cigarette.” She told herself that for weeks and months– perhaps years– of consecutive “todays.” The fact that I am telling you this forty years later is some indication of the degree to which I was inspired by her example.

So actually yes, I will be making resolutions for January 1st. But I’m not planning to publish a list of them, because to be honest they aren’t that special. They are the same sort of resolutions I will make for January 27th, or March 11th, or November 16th.  You see, even though we are celebrating the start of a whole new year, the reality is that the year only gets doled out to us one day at a time. And every and any one of those days is a new opportunity to make a small change that will add weight to all the other small changes that ultimately add up to becoming the big changes in your life. So every day is an opportunity for a new resolution. To change one thing.