The week between Christmas and January 1 contains the highest concentration of navel gazing in my year. (Second is, of course, the week leading up to my birthday when I contemplate what I’ve learned and forgotten over the course of my trip around the sun.) There is something about the idea of a fresh start that appeals to all of us, I think. It’s a new notebook, freshly sharpened pencils, a blank calendar…the possibilities of being more organized, healthier, a better person than the currently flawed version of ourselves.
Plus it’s a challenge and there’s nothing more appealing, I’ve noticed, than a challenge.
I wonder, sometimes, if it’s an American thing–this need to throw ourselves into impossible situations for the sole reason of saying, “I did it.” We don’t seem to have the ability to back down from a dare–even one we give ourselves. We are a people who have hot dog eating contests and gruelling cross country sled races. Dares and challenges are woven into our history and celebrated with a high gloss sheen that ignores the truth. (A habit we still have if social media is anything to go by.) I read the other day about the hygge challenge and laughed. We are so in love with challenges, we’ve turned the art of cozy relaxation and quiet introspection into one.
There’s a part of me that loves that about us. I love the passion and drive and even the obsession.
There’s another part of me who looks into the mirror and sees the dark circles under my own eyes as I strive to write a novel in thirty days. That same part of me picks at the food on my plate as I wish for a non-compliant cheese to complement the whole foods on my plate. It’s the part of me fretting over unmet goals, worrying over self-imposed deadlines passing by, and looking with envy at the seeming ease with which my peers publish book after book.
I’ve spent much of 2017 thinking about priorities and goals and the point of it all. I am, after all, 42 now and we all know that’s the age in which we are supposed to find out the meaning of life. In a culture as obsessed with youth as it is with challenges, it’s easy to think that perhaps I somehow lost the “I want to be an author who writes for a living” challenge. It’s a bit late for me to hole up in a garret with my fingerless gloves and be a starving artist. Honestly, I like cheese far too much to give it up at this point and we all know cheese is expensive and not on the grocery list of any legitimate starving artist. Ramen is, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve discovered my body doesn’t really love sodium.
As I navel gazed over the past week, an column popped up in my timeline and cemented the idea that Facebook can now read my mind. In the New York Times Ask Roxane column by Roxane Gay, someone – two someones – asked, “Is it too late to follow my dreams?”
I, of course, clicked and read with a salute to Zuckerberg for knowing my thoughts and sending help.
One bit stood out to me:
“The older we get, the more culturally invisible we become, as writers, as people. But you have your words. Writing and publishing are two very different things.”
The publishing world has changed even if the public perception of it is firmly set in the 1934 version. In modern publishing, a writer has to be a marketing specialist, a technology genius, and keep her fingers on the pulse of a rapidly changing platform. In some of my writing groups, authors are churning out dozens of books a year, getting them in front of readers with a savvy I don’t fully understand let alone possess. It’s overwhelming and exhausting and saps at my soul.
But then the advice continues:
“Other writers are not your measure….The only thing you can control is how you write and how hard you work.”
I sat back in my chair and sent a prayer of thanks to St. Mark of Facebook for sending these words to me just as I opened my fresh notebook to begin my New Year’s Resolutions.
While I’m aware enough to realize I will end 2018 much the same person with the same habits, I also know every now and again, something sticks. Sometimes it will be something small. (NY Resolution 2013: Make my bed daily.) Sometimes it will be big. (NY Resolution 2014: Write a book.) Sometimes it won’t matter to anyone but me. (NY Resolution 2010: Reduce consumption of meat to twice a week.) And sometimes, it will change everything. (NY Resolution 2016: Finalize my divorce.)
This year, I have writing goals, but instead of tying them to my publishing goals, I’m splitting them up, divorcing them from each other in a way my brain can recognize. Two separate filing cabinets, two separate rooms, and a dishy personal assistant to manage them both while fetching me tea. I also have personal goals, more amorphous than “lose weight” or “get healthy”. They are hard to pen down on the little slips of paper we use to fill our goal jar, but I’m closer, I think, to understanding how it all fits together.
I will throw them all at the freshly painted wall of 2018 and see, in a year, what sticks.