The beginning of a new year is like opening a fresh page in a new journal — all possibilities lie ahead. Yet too often I burden myself immediately with those dreaded resolutions. Keeping with the journal metaphor, instead of sitting down to write a poem, I start making lists.
Lists of ways I could be healthier. Lists of ways I could improve my relationships. Lists of ways I could alleviate financial worries. Lists of ways I could be a better human being. And on and on.
By the time the lists are composed, all the freshness is gone, and here I am again, face to face with all of my old anxieties, fears, imagined shortcomings. I make myself promises for altered behavior, but it’s little wonder that within weeks (or even days) I am back to my old self, nothing changed at all, except a more deeply ingrained sense of guilt for having failed once again.
How to do it differently? As I think about 2013, and where I am today, the prevailing emotion that comes up for me is not dissatisfaction. It is gratitude. Here, then, is a radical jumping off point. What if I begin with what I have, instead of what I don’t have? What I like about my life, instead of what I wish I could change?
I have a reasonably healthy body that performs as it should most of the time. I can walk, run, even dance. I can hear, see (with the help of my ever-increasing number of pairs of glasses), taste, smell and touch the world around me, marveling in both its beauty and its variety.
After a younger adulthood spent in cut-and-run mode, I have established roots. I have just completed a decade working at a job I love, where I can finally say, “Me? Oh, I write for a living.” From my fascination with big cities, I have returned to small towns, learning the pleasure of being in communities where the postal clerks and baristas, the fire chief and the planning commissioners, all actually know you by name.
With those roots have come long-term friendships, the kind that go through rough spots but then figure things out and patch it all up, ending even stronger.
In this same decade, I met my wife, another axis of love and stability. And with that relationship came an entire houseful of four-footed creatures, companions I could not have when I was on the move from apartment to apartment in my many cities.
As if all of this weren’t enough, I finally have given myself permission to pursue my own personal writing, and I am being heard. I am being asked to appear at readings. Some of my poetry and creative nonfiction has won awards. I am making time to go to writing retreats, and feel as if I am with peers. I am home.
There are always trade-offs with lifestyles. Sometimes I miss the old days. But then I look around my house, our house, and I hug my dog, and a cat brushes past my leg, and a good friend calls, and I receive an e-mail with an invitation to go to a poetry slam, and my wife calls out, “Hey, babe, just made a fresh pot of coffee. Would you like some?”
And I think, “This is the good life. It’s not fireworks. It’s not parades. But it is really good.”
Because, you see, it’s not about losing 10 pounds or promising to write on a more regimented schedule or even about trying to be a better person. It’s about looking around your life, this very minute, and saying, “This is it. Wow.”
Okay, maybe I’ll try to learn to play the cello…