Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Into 2015 with Resolve and a Shorter List

Is anybody really good at New Year's resolutions? Every year when January 7 rolls around and I've mangled every single one, I remember that Lent is coming in two months and I have another chance, so I can give up again for a bit. I don't like to fail, but I fail spectacularly at these.

Mostly, I think it's the type of resolutions that I make. Exercise more. Spend less. Volunteer more. Yell less. They're generic and abstract and utterly unattainable when phrased like that.

So I've been rethinking resolutions, with a little help from my mid-30s and from my friend Heidi. My mid-30s have found me college-educated, employed in a job I love, married, mortgaged, and mommy-ed. Last week I found myself in a panic because there was no concrete milestone (that wasn't actually my kids' milestones) in sight except menopause. I've always looked ahead for the next "thing," and suddenly, I have no more "things." Vague "traveling" and "writing my novel" feel slippery and distant. I love my life, but for me, having a defined, achievable goal gives me balance and a tether in this tumultuous world.

And then my friend Heidi, ever the realist, told me that she had a New Year's resolution that was simply to finish "Moby-Dick" within the year. Nothing glamorous or abstract about such a resolution, but also not pressure, no competition, and no guilt. After all, it's just a book.

With these two disparate thoughts clanging around in my head as I sit here, drinking bad champagne and waiting for Chef Matt to come home so we can watch even worse TV, I think I've found a middle ground for 2015. And there are only three. Double-digit resolutions are the expressway to early-January failure.

1. Re-read a couple books from high school that I hated.

There weren't that many that I truly hated, but I can think of a few: "The Scarlet Letter," "The Invisible Man," and "The Old Man and the Sea" are ones that I haven't touched in 17 years. I can't even remember why I hated them, why I feel repulsed every time I see them on a "Greatest Novels Ever That Everyone Who Thinks They're Smart Should Read" list. So it's time for a revisit. I think sometimes we hang on to an opinion for so long that the original motivation for that opinion is completely lost. If it's in our power to do so, rethinking beliefs and ideas that are comfortable and part of us, even if we ultimately come to the same conclusion, is healthy and might make us more willing to hear what others have to say. I'll start with books (probably "The Old Man in the Sea," because Hemingway and I don't see eye-to-eye on anything) and see where that takes me.

2. Write something.

Vague and specific, best of both worlds. I love to write, to twirl the words around my fingers and release them on the page and feel exhilarated when they land in an exact expression of the thoughts in my head. A long time ago, someone told me that a writer is always writing, no matter what they're doing. and it's the truth. I write in my head almost all the time, but rarely does that writing ever end up in black and white. Time and energy: those are my excuses. and they're good ones. But what I've failed to embrace is that the words I write don't have to be brilliant or complete or for anyone but me, and that hesitation has cost me. So this year, I will write. It might be a Word document with a series of one-liners: "Today, I ....." Or it might be this sadly neglected blog. Or it might be one of my actual writing projects that I've crafted in my head over years of sitting in traffic. As the transcendent Maya Angelou said, "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."

3. Model positive self-image.

This one sounds like I pulled it straight from a suggested resolutions list. But it might be the most personal for me, so hear me out. My self-esteem and I are perpetually warring nations. Every time I think we've declared an armistice, it comes back with some mixture of new and old weapons that I just can't defeat. And it leaks out into my work and my health and my relationships, in particular the relationships with my kids. I don't want my kids to see what I see when I look in the mirror.  I want them to look in the mirror and see bright, thoughtful, inquisitive, silly people, but that confidence doesn't all come from within. They see the way I talk about myself and treat myself, and no matter how highly my husband might speak of me in front of them, the poor self-image will always break though, at least a little.

So it's baby steps here. It's saying, "thank you" to a compliment. It's fighting the urge to internally criticize every word I've said in a conversation. It encompasses those usual resolutions of eating better and exercising more, but with a mental component: do it to feel healthy and strong, not just to reach some arbitrary number. It's accepting that I've had four babies and all that comes with that physically. You can tell someone that it doesn't matter, because look at those gorgeous children that you created, but it's sometimes quite another thing to come honestly to terms with the fact that there might be mom jeans in my future. I know this all sounds very recycled; we've heard this a million times before, the person who struggles with nothing original. Maybe, but it's still a struggle. The end goal of all this for me is true, actual belief, which, when projected out at the world and my kids, feels sincere.

The moral of this story, I guess, is that I'm making a resolution to actually make resolutions, to be truthful about what I can accomplish and what needs a little TLC so I can better contribute to the world. A new year always feels a little lighter, as if you've left the cumulative weight of 365 days behind and are forging ahead with determination to be a better version of yourself. And maybe a determination to find better milestones to look forward to than menopause. We are all dreamers on New Year's Eve, right?