You all know I don’t make resolutions at the New Year. I’ve said it more than once over here, and explained why. Mostly because it seems like an artificial point in time but also because this time of year has historically been so stressful (for me) that resolutions would tend to be along the lines of “burn it all down.”
But this year . . . this year feels different. I feel different, more resolute. Actually, in going back to re-read a few older posts, I see that last year at this time felt different as well. I resolved then that 2016 was going to be the year of me being selfish and saying “no” and focusing on what I wanted to do, which was write fiction.
To a great extent, that’s what I did. I made significantly more progress in 2016 than the year before — just shy of 100,000 words, a vast improvement — but not as much as I had hoped.
This past year has been really tough for a lot of us, myself included. It has gotten to the point where things that I’d normally take in stride have felt devastating. Things that would normally not feel personal have piled on top of troubles that are very personal and their combined weight has been overwhelming. It’s been an accumulation of tragedy. Following waves of communal grief. Shared anger and frustration and a feeling of helplessness. It has all added up this year and become a relentless self-perpetuating cycle of trauma.
That’s not healthy.
There are so many awful things I can’t do anything about, I’ve lost sight of what I can influence and achieve. But I do think recognizing a problem is a necessary first step in doing something about it. So, there’s that.
* * *
I’ve been re-reading portions of my novella, A PLACE TO START — looking at some details for the sake of continuity in the second book — and came across this scene toward the end where Mac (our hero, for those who haven’t read it) (why haven’t you read it?) and Charlie (a wise old mountain man) are having a little heart-to-heart. I skimmed it, as it wasn’t the scene I was looking for, and then stopped and read it again. And again.
Why? Well, see for yourself:
“Life is chock full of pain and death. You can spend all your days anticipatin’ it and, by God, you won’t be disappointed.”
“I don’t spend time anticipating it.”
“Sure you do. That’s all you been doin’ these past three years. Waitin’ for someone else to die. Ain’t no way for a young man to live.”
Mac couldn’t even remember the last time he’d felt young. “We all grieve in different ways.”
“That’s the truth. But after a time, it’s just purely selfish. It ain’t helpin’ those done gone and it sure ain’t good for the people still here. Wallowing, is what it is.”
Mac couldn’t argue with that, but still. “Harsh words.”
“Truth often is.” He spat again. “Fact is, you got a choice, the way you look at things. And you been focused for so long on those moments of pain, waitin’ on the next one, you done lost sight of the happiness and peace in between ’em.”
“Aye. Haven’t seen much of either, lately.” Except with Jo.
“That’s ’cause you ain’t been looking, son. There are whole long stretches of it, between the pain, days and weeks and even years of it. There’s love mixed up in there too, if you ain’t too dense to see it.”
You know, sometimes I read a thing I wrote and can’t quite believe I wrote it. It’s as if past me was giving advice to future me, like I knew I’d need to hear those words someday.
So, that’s one of my resolutions for 2017. Change the way I look at things, try to focus on the positive and happy and peaceful in between the inevitable moments of pain and grief.
While I can’t change certain things, I can limit my exposure. I’ve been doing that already, to a degree, since November. I can certainly set a timer before I look at twitter or facebook or news sites. I can unsubscribe from RSS feeds that I tend not to read anyway and get rid of some clutter. I can mute a good deal of the negativity and anger, and try not to engage in it myself. Maybe. Probably.
In the week since Christmas, I’ve resumed my focus on good eating habits and cut back on consumption of adult beverages and chocolate which, to be honest, had increased a wee bit since November. *sigh* I can’t avoid the fact that my work involves sitting in one place for hours each day, but I can set reminders to get up and move more often. Release some endorphins. Or, failing that, a kraken or two.
I can’t control when people send me text messages and emails, but I can control when I read and reply. In fact, yesterday I spent hours getting rid of hundreds of old unread emails from various group feeds, admitting I’m never going to read them. Given the rapid changes in publishing, most of them were obsolete anyway.
I definitely can’t control whether some idiot mouse decides to enter my house, as one did the night before last, nor can I stop The White Ninja from playing with it to the point of bloodshed. Again.
Cats are barbarians.
But I guess I can be glad all I have to do is clean up the mess and not chase the stupid doomed thing myself. Small mercies.
So, those all are positive and constructive things I can do to improve my mental and emotional state. It’s helpful as well to keep in mind that there were a lot of really good things that happened worldwide in 2016. If you need a refresher, take a look at this powerful listing in the twitter timeline of Commander Chris Hadfield, Canadian astronaut and all-around good guy (keep clicking “show more” at the end to see the entire list of 46 items):
Really, go read it. I’d missed hearing about several of them.
* * *
I’m also resolving to do something I hope will improve the consistency and volume of my writing output. No promises about what it’ll do to the quality.
The other day I was scrolling through twitter and saw a spreadsheet graphic someone had made where she’d not only tracked her writing, she’d blocked out time during the year for vacation and sick days and flex time and holidays– just like she would if she were working a “real” job. It was complex and colourful and highly organized. It was also a real eye-opener.
Yeah, I know, everyone says you need to treat writing like a “real” job. No surprise there. And I thought I had been doing that, until I saw that schedule and realized . . . I don’t have one. What an idiot.
Thing is, I know how to work hard. I know how to get stuff done. I know what it takes to meet deadlines. And I know I haven’t been doing it. Not the way I would if it were a “real” job with a real schedule.
How do I know? Because for the past two years I’ve been keeping track in my own complex, colourful, highly organized spreadsheet of all the words I’ve written. I can see exactly how and when I’ve been slacking off. Not holding myself accountable. Indulging myself when I should be demanding the results I know darn well I’m capable of achieving. Getting lost in the escape of reading when instead I should be writing.
If I were my boss (and I am) I’d have fired my ass by now.
Yes, I’ve had reasons for some of that behaviour. As I said, tough year. But that certainly doesn’t account for all of it. Some of it, I’m now convinced, is due to a lack of structure.
So I’m going to make a writing schedule for the coming calendar year, with concrete goals. Not just to keep track of what I’ve written, which is good and necessary (for me), but to plan out what I intend to do and when. Create a familiar framework within which to get shit done.
I’m going to schedule four weeks of vacation, something I’ve never had at any job, ever. I’m giving myself a week of sick time and all the weekends and holidays I didn’t get to take off while working in retail finance, even though I wasn’t part of the sales team. In some ways, it feels like I’m still stubbornly making up for that lack of time off, even now.
That sounds like a lot of non-writing days, doesn’t it? I imagine you’re wondering just how, exactly, I expect all that time off to improve output. But here’s the important part, the part I’ve been missing: The rest of the days will be for work.
No more vague feeling of every day being the same, of not having a sense of whether it’s a work day or a weekend or vacation, which makes it way too easy to procrastinate and simply take the day off since there is always tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.
I’m going to hold myself accountable for sticking to it, even if it gets all irregular and pear-shaped at times. Which it will. But I can already tell that having a schedule mapped out will make it easier to get back on track when life tries to derail me. Which it will.
I wonder whether this sudden enthusiasm for a schedule is just a sign of getting older and sensing time slipping away more quickly each year, feeling the need to control it somehow or at least force it into neat categories. I’m sure that’s part of it. I never worried about this when I was younger. Of course, when I was younger I had schedules and expectations imposed on me by others. In this strange new stage of self-employment, the first couple years without a schedule was the most liberating feeling of sheer relief– I have no words for it.
But it feels like it’s time for some order and routine again. Maybe I’m just fooling myself and doing this will be setting myself up for failure and future feelings of inadequacy and guilt and shame. Or maybe it will work.
Won’t know if I don’t try. So that’s my new plan of attack, even though I’m wondering why it took me so long to figure this out. Nope. Not going there. Regrets are useless.
* * *
For a change, I’m feeling all resolute at the same time of year everyone else usually does. Time to move forward and make the coming year what I want it to be. And every year after, for however many more there might be.
One thing 2016 demonstrated quite clearly is that none of us are guaranteed more time than this moment right now. And as old Charlie might say, “Not makin’ the most of the time you got just ain’t no way to live.”
We all have varying interpretations of what it means to “make the most” of our time, our talent, our energy. However you define it, my wish for all of you is that you manage to accomplish that in the coming year.
May it truly be a Happy New Year, for all of us.