I don’t like New Year’s resolutions. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I recently don’t like New Year’s resolutions. This is partially due to the fact that I typically don’t actually keep resolutions, which in turn is due to the fact that my resolutions are often wildly optimistic. (I have not, for example, won a Nobel Prize, nor have I summited any mountains, nor have I learned any new instruments, nor have I become Suddenly Good at Math.)
I prefer the term intentions. Resolutions are grim, static, imposing. They are good at guilt trips. They glower. They wag fingers. They reek of disappointments. Intentions, however, are different. They are the whisper in the ear, the nudge at the side. Intentions are rooted in a place of kindness. They are forgiving. They are prayerful.
Making a list of intentions for the coming year requires a person to reflect on the year prior – what worked, what didn’t. What fed the soul. What depleted the heart. With these intentions, I would like to find ways to offer myself to the world. To make the people around me happy. To make strangers happy. To make me happy too. But to really get at what I intend for the year to come, it’s important to also identify what I do not intend to do. My Non-Intentions. For example:
- I do not intend to run a marathon. Yes, I just turned forty, and yes, it does seem like it’s the sort of thing that people do when they reach a milestone birthday, in a “Hey, look at me, I am still young and strong and can OUTRUN DEATH if I feel like it” sort of way. Here’s the thing: I’m a runner. I love running. I do my best writing while I’m running. I like running around lakes and along rivers and down wooded trails and endlessly on lonely, prairie roads that connect my feet to the edge of the sky. But a marathon? Nawp. I don’t even like to drive twenty-six miles. An eight mile run does me just fine.
- I do not intend to keep my house perfectly clean at all times. There was a time, a few years ago, when we had a bit more extra cash sitting around to allow me to have a little help with the housework. That time, alas, has passed, and our spare pennies are going to boring things like college savings accounts and orthodontics. I put a lot of pressure on myself to keep the house dust-free and dog-hair-free and clutter-free. I do not intend to do so this year. We will not live in squalor – I couldn’t abide it if we did – but I do not intend to give myself guilt trips about it. So there.
- I do not intend to abide by strict word counts. There have been times when I have done this. Two thousand words a day or four thousand words a day or ten thousand words a day, or you are a TERRIBLE PERSON. This is crazy-making. And not helpful, because as one who is a serial/obsessive eraser, it meant that I was killing myself just to go backward. I write two thousand words, I erase another two and a half thousand. I write four thousand words, I erase five. I have been known to erase sixty thousand words in one sitting. And yes, there is a rip-the-bandaid-off-in-one-go sort of feeling to it, I can’t recommend it as a long-term strategy. This year, I have felt like I was turning my wheels. And I’m ready for a new strategy.
- I do not intend to finish every book I start. This is a big one. Maybe it’s the teacher-pleaser that never really left my psyche, and maybe it’s the Puritans whose ghosts walk the varied byways of this country and remind us that if it’s unpleasant IT MUST BE GOOD FOR US, or maybe it’s the fact that, as a writer myself, I know how very hard it is to haul a book from idea to word to page to publication. Still. I find that by forcing myself to slog through books I hate in a Sir-Edmund-Hillary-BECAUSE-IT’S-THERE mentality, it damages my relationship with reading and my relationship with books. From now on, Books? I give you a hundred pages. And then I walk.
So. Those are my non-intentions. Here, instead, are my Intentions for this year.
- I intend to rethink my relationship with social media. I’ve done this before, of course. And it was useful. Social media is, unfortunately, a necessary utility for writers. I say “unfortunately” not because there is anything inherently wrong with it. There isn’t. And, in fact, I take a great deal of pleasure from my deeply felt interactions with people online. I love the conversations, I love the connections, I love the humor, I love the abundance of knowledge and learning, I love the cocktail-hour feel to it. I love it a lot. And there is an incredible amount of joy in the crafting of a well-turned sentence, or a bi-tonal tweet, or a Facebook update that hits those notes of humor and rage, for example, or pathos and silliness, or analysis and rumination. But that’s just the problem. Because writers need to be doing all those things in the quiet of their desks, separate from the world, and utterly alone. Which, of course, is lonely. So it makes sense that writers would, perhaps, be more prone to addictive and obsessive behaviors online. Because it makes us feel wonderful. And the manuscript that we labor over in secret can never give us the kind of instant feedback and thumbs-up validation that we get from a tweet that gets re-tweeted a hundred times in a day. It’s like the Meth version of writing – awesome for a while, but it can up-end one’s life. I spend far too much time on social media, and it eats away at my writing time. So I’m going on a two month break, and will likely keep doing so. I want to experience the fullness of the conversation without the conversation driving the rest of my work. Family comes first, work comes second, and the conversation needs to be way down on the list. It’s just the way it is. So, I closed down my Facebook account, and blocked Twitter from my computer. I’ll still tweet occasionally, but only from my phone, or the automatic posts that WordPress makes every time I post something. In any case, it can no longer interfere with the tools of my trade, as it were. Because I need those tools.
- Short Fiction. I made a resolution last year to write one short story per month. This, alas, was wildly optimistic. I only wrote three. Four if you count the unpublishable novella, now standing at 30k. Uff. What was I thinking? Still, short fiction feels really good, and it allows me to explore territory that I likely won’t explore in my longer-form fiction. It is a much darker place. Edgier. With sharp teeth. I enjoy the work, and would like to plan for a reasonable increase in volume. So. Five. I intend to write five short stories this year. We’ll see if I can do it.
- I intend to stop erasing this year. I had a bit of a Coming-To-Jesus moment this year, when I realized that I erased more words than I had in any form in my manuscripts. Like, by many, many, many times. I write; I erase; I re-write; I re-erase; over and over and over. And it’s not useful. And it’s indicative of something else, too – a fear of finishing, a lack of honor in my work, a gap in kindness toward myself. So, step one. No more erasing. If I don’t like something, I make a new document. This is the new rule.
- I intend to do yoga every day, even if it’s only ten minutes. This has been awesome so far, actually. Because it really has only been ten minutes every day, and even that has huge benefits for me. I have a tendency to live within the confines of my brain (I know I’m not alone in this) and it’s not always the best place for me to be. Not only that, it is not an honest way of assessing how we typically live, you know? Our bodies are the interface through which we experience everything that is wonderful about being alive. One of the things I love about yoga is its insistence that mindfulness is not just the brain. Our skin is mindful. Our spine is mindful. Our intestines and lungs and shoulders and ankles and toes are mindful too. When I can fill my entire body with good, pleasurable feelings, when I can quiet my mind and slow my heart, when I can turn my focus away from the whirling dervish of my brain and focus instead on the flow of air in and out and in and out, it makes my work on the page far more fluid and easy and real. It’s remarkable, actually.
- I intend to cuddle my kids and my husband and my dog every single day and tell them how much I love them. Actually, I already do this. Every single day. But it is nice to say it out loud. And write it on my blog for posterity.
How about you? What are your intentions? And what are your hopes for 2014?