Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year's Revolution

            It has become an annual tradition for me: On January 1, I reset the calendar and begin to recalibrate my life.
            For the last several years, I have rejected traditional resolutions in favor of a rather rigorous tracking system that requires me to examine each day’s progress in several different categories, from personal to professional or even spiritual.
            Last year, I made it all the way until mid-March with my plan, which included some challenging categories. I read a poetry collection each day. I wrote a poem. I exercised for thirty minutes, strengthened a family connection, and made sure my son ate at least one fruit or vegetable. There were also categories for professional health, financial health, and spiritual health.
            As a result of my efforts, I’m now a famous poet who is skinny and rich and totally squared away.
            Oh, wait—it turns out I’m an obscure poet who is the opposite of those other things. But I had a few great months, and they mattered. They got my year off to a good start and made me feel that I was moving in the right direction. For that period of time, I was moving in the right direction. And as of today, I’m moving that way again.
            This year’s chart is still in the planning stages, and I would hate to be too specific about it. It is intended only as a contract with myself—not a source of bragging rights, and certainly not a gauntlet thrown down before my friends. So far it includes a section on movement and nutrition, and ones on kindness, parenting, housework, and even romance. At the end of the day, the categories will be fixed. I enjoy thinking about my goals throughout the day of parades and football. I try to envision what challenges I can realistically take on. It seems reasonable to track six or seven categories, and at the moment I have a few too many. Something has to give.
            Perhaps I will think about the issue over cabbage. I don’t like cabbage much, but I try to eat some on New Year’s Day for the sake of symbolism. Who couldn’t use some more cabbage in 2015? If the only thing I do today to improve my financial health is consume a vegetable that traditionally symbolizes paper money, well, then I’m the one who’s in charge here. I’ll give myself a checkmark for the effort. If nothing else, I saved some money by eating at home instead of going out.
            My favorite New Year’s tradition, also food-related, never occurs to me in time to participate, but it comes from Spain, where revelers consume a single grape for each strike of the midnight bell. Taking one’s grapes in Champagne form is nice, but there is something to be said for going closer to the source—for biting down on a grape and experiencing each tiny explosion, like fireworks in the mouth. To look at it another way, here are twelve little bursts of sweetness. Just try to keep the optimism from stickying your fingers, from running down your chin.
            This year, my friend Molly Fisk made me aware of one of her favorite New Year’s traditions, which came from a friend of her own. Molly seeks out a word—or, more specifically, she allows a word to find its way to her. This word serves as a sort of theme for the year, and it serves as a touchstone for meditation and reflection. As I enter a period of professional transition in my life, today I found—or was found by—a word of my own: THRESHOLD. The first part of the word comes from an Old English word meaning “tread” or “trample.” The literal meaning of the second part of the word is lost to time, but folk etymology suggests that a “threshold” is a barrier placed on the floor to keep the chaff from the threshing of grain outside, where it belongs.

            That understanding of the word is probably bunk, but I’m keeping it in mind. I like the idea that there is a point at which anything that no longer has use to us—that has let go of its nutritive value—is left on the other side of the door we walk through. It happens every year, and it has happened again: Once again I’m excited about the opportunity to leave old ways behind and try some new ones.


  1. I love the image of unimportant things being left behind (left on the other side). Thanks for this, Karen. :)
    I need to come up with my own resolutions..... (How do you let a word find you?)

    1. Thanks, Kazuko! :) The way I found my word was to scan the blog post I'd written earlier in the day and see if any words stuck out. I came up with "mirror" and "threshold." Both of those suggested a frame for the self, whether in a reflection in the mirror or within the edges of a doorway. I sort of meditated on that, and I watched TV and read some things, staying on the lookout for words, but these two stayed at the fore. I rejected mirror because I didn't want a year of navel-gazing! "Threshold" just felt more and more right as I went along.

      I think this would be an interesting daily practice, actually -- finding the word that feels like the theme for the day. If you come up with a word, tell me! :)

    2. I'll try my best! =)
      I hope my words won't always be "anger" or "frustrated"... (seems like it's part of being a mother of teenagers...)

    3. I think those are powerful words. I see where "anger" comes from an Old Norse word meaning "grief." There is something very compelling about that idea!