As part of our January series, we’re reevaluating our 2017 resolutions and committing to some new ones. Tara discussed hers last week; this week Kel looks back, and forward, at her goals.
Go gently into the good night
Resolutions are a romantic thing. In our making, they imply so much: that we are creatures of hope; that we know our faults enough to forestall our undoing; that we are stories, travelling upward towards joy and gentleness and, yes, resolution.
We prefer not to think of ourselves as recursive things, doomed to run thin on a cassette loop of repeated mistakes. In January, we willfully, willingly, suspend disbelief. Like everyone else, I am eggshell-quiet and still hopeful.
I try not to make quantifiable resolutions; my resolutions tend toward wanting to be, rather than do. In 2017, this was what I wanted to accomplish:
I drew this from a wonderful quote by Susan Sontag:
“Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.”
By this I meant many things. I wanted to look up from my phone more, to be ready for the serendipitous, to be open to encounter. To sit up straight, hungry for opportunity.
Remember you must die. This was tied to, but not quite the same as, “pay attention”. This was a reminder to be on guard against lost time. To do everything. To say yes.
Get better at volleyball.
This was more prosaic and straightforward. This, too, was tied to the resolution before: to revel in the possibility of my body as long as I could.
As a result, let me tell you what happened in 2017: I aced every single one of my classes. I did a lot (a lot) of civil society work. I wrote and presented and published a bunch of papers. I won awards. I played the best I’d ever played at a volleyball tournament.
Let me also tell you what else happened:
I withdrew, tortoise-head shrinking, into a tiny and comforting handful of friends. I was impatient with those I loved. I wanted, desperately, time alone; when I was alone, I had no idea what to do with myself. I didn’t write much. I met no one new, pursued no new friendships, let many others scatter wayside.
I crumpled under the “clenched, curious” desire to spring forward. Gentle reader, one cannot be poised in readiness at all times. It’s fucking exhausting. I got a lot of shit done, but it was a year of feeling like I was a kaleidoscope of myself, mirror shards lurching madly with every turn.
2017 was not easy, but I learned that I am more than the sum of my parts. That the best parts of 2017, the parts that I will remember most—travelling, friendships, love, the open skies, the neighbourhood dogs, scribbling in my diary by the Holocaust memorial in the drizzling Berlin rain—were the ones I paid the attention to least.
That, I think, my greatest and most genuine source of joy is to make things out of love and time, not out of a desire to succeed. That care is sometimes a gift, consciously given, rather than distracting labour.
I think that 2017 was worth it to learn this. (Here I am, patiently rewriting my story into a parable. This is what we do.)
So here is what I want to abide by in 2018:
Respond, not react. Be patient. Make, create.
They are not that dissimilar from what I wanted to do in 2017. They are one sidestep away from pay attention, memento mori, get better at something.
It’s a reframing that I hope draws away from the productivist imperative to do, to improve. I think resolutions can be like that. That they can be a thoughtful reprincipling—bringing some things into better focus—rather than a categorical change. That while resolution means a “firm decision” or a “quality of being determined”, its root word in Latin, “resolvere”, means to “loosen, release”. That, hopefully, we get better at the business of living with every year of life.