Five years ago to this day—January 3rd, 2009—I wrote this in my LiveJournal¹:
Something tricky about January 1st is that it feels arbitrary—it doesn’t deliberately coincide with anything else in my life. Fall, for instance, when school starts up and changes everything makes much more sense as the start of a year. (Of course that will likely change post-graduation, but right now that seems an eternity away.) Especially at a time in my life when I find myself questioning almost all special occasions (I felt unbelievably distant from Christmas, Hanukkah this year. Every step I took to celebrate with family was like walking through a swamp.) celebrating the new year feels completely disconnected. As when celebrating a birthday every year, I still wake up the next morning with the uncomfortable feeling that nothing is different.
New Year’s still feels arbitrary, but now that’s part of its charm for me. Graduation is now an eternity behind me, not an eternity ahead. I’m happy that say that all of the things I listed as New Year’s resolutions in 2009—self-confidence, generosity, being better to the people who love me and less aloof, among others (see below)—are areas that I feel much improved in over the intervening five years. And I’ve grown in other ways, which I am grateful for, that I could never have anticipated. I have more empathy than I did five years ago. I have stronger politics.
I tend to make resolutions at times in my life when I’m feeling stagnant, dissatisfied, and in need of change. So, in that respect, I’m happy to say that I haven’t felt any desire to make resolutions this year. I’m in a dynamic period of my life. Things are changing for me, resolutions or no.
What is there to say about 2013? That it was one of the most satisfying years of my life. That I read a lot. That my politics grew and strengthened. That I left my home and office of seven years to travel for four months. That I lived outside of the U.S. for longer than ever before. That I lived with a lover for longer than ever before. That I learned to play the guitar. That I made many friends. That I fell in love. That I maintained old relationships. That I found a new home among friends in Washington DC.
What is there to say about 2014? That the roads I see ahead of me are unpaved. That I’m settling in somewhere new. That I’m working on how to build a life without the sensation of settling down. That I’m laying the groundwork for new things². That I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but I feel ready and excited.
There’s a small collection of poems I like to read every year when New Year’s rolls around. I’d like to share them with you now.
New Year’s Day—
everything is in blossom!
I feel about average.
— Kobayashi Issa, trans. Robert Hass
Poem for the New Year
So far it’s suspiciously similar
to the old year: the same wild cold
wind circling the yard,
and that oozy substance
still clings to the carton of orange juice
I lift from a shelf in the fridge.
Also, I notice that my face
in the bathroom mirror,
fresh from the bed’s wrappings,
looks a bit worn.
Last night, in my neighborhood,
a few guns went off amid the firecrackers,
surely a sign that something new
was entering the world,
though the sounds were identical
to the small-arms fire
emitted from the war documentary
I was watching on TV.
I missed the transition entirely
by not attending a drunken party,
wearing a pointy hat
and tongue-kissing a few strangers,
and so am still living
in the previous year,
where the windows are rattling
in the storm
and the front door suddenly
and I just as quickly rush to slam it shut.
— Kim Addonizio
New Year’s Day
The rain this morning falls
on the last of the snow
and will wash it away. I can smell
the grass again, and the torn leaves
being eased down into the mud.
The few loves I’ve been allowed
to keep are still sleeping
on the West Coast. Here in Virginia
I walk across the fields with only
a few young cows for company.
Big-boned and shy,
they are like girls I remember
from junior high, who never
spoke, who kept their heads
lowered and their arms crossed against
their new breasts. Those girls
are nearly forty now. Like me,
they must sometimes stand
at a window late at night, looking out
on a silent backyard, at one
rusting lawn chair and the sheer walls
of other people’s houses.
They must lie down some afternoons
and cry hard for whoever used
to make them happiest,
and wonder how their lives
have carried them
this far without ever once
explaining anything. I don’t know
why I’m walking out here
with my coat darkening
and my boots sinking in, coming up
with a mild sucking sound
I like to hear. I don’t care
where those girls are now.
Whatever they’ve made of it
they can have. Today I want
to resolve nothing.
I only want to walk
a little longer in the cold
blessing of the rain,
and lift my face to it.
— Kim Addonizio
This last poem is not technically a New Year’s poem, since it specifically is about November, but it always feels like a New Year’s poem to me.
It’s Sunday Morning in Early November
and there are a lot of leaves already.
I could rake and get a head start.
The boy’s summer toys need to be put
in the basement. I could clean it out
or fix the broken storm window.
When Eli gets home from Sunday school,
I could take him fishing. I don’t fish
but I could learn to. I could show him
how much fun it is. We don’t do as much
as we used to do. And my wife, there’s
so much I haven’t told her lately,
about how quickly my soul is aging,
how it feels like a basement I keep filling
with everything I’m tired of surviving.
I could take a walk with my wife and try
to explain the ghosts I can’t stop speaking to.
Or I could read all those books piling up
about the beginning of the end of understanding…
Meanwhile, it’s such a beautiful morning,
the changing colors, the hypnotic light.
I could sit by the window watching the leaves,
which seem to know exactly how to fall
from one moment to the next. Or I could lose
everything and have to begin over again.
— Philip Schultz
Something tricky about January 1st is that it feels arbitrary—it doesn’t deliberately coincide with anything else in my life. Fall, for instance, when school starts up and changes everything makes much more sense as the start of a year. (Of course that will likely change post-graduation, but right now that seems an eternity away. ) Especially at a time in my life when I find myself questioning almost all special occasions (I felt unbelievably distant from Christmas, Hanukkah this year. Every step I took to celebrate with family was like walking through a swamp.) celebrating the new year feels completely disconnected. As when celebrating a birthday every year, I still wake up the next morning with the uncomfortable feeling that nothing is different.
In part it’s this arbitrariness that has made me suspicious of the tradition of the New Year’s Resolution. In the past—and especially through high school—I made a habit of making changes in myself on a continuous basis. Whenever I noticed something wrong in myself, I would that day or that week make a resolution in my head to change it. I privately—maybe even publicly a bit—prided myself on my capacity for change. But I haven’t really done that this year. Maybe I didn’t really do it the year before either. I feel stuck. Suddenly the idea of having this impetus to change makes total sense to me. The same way that Boy Scouts have a seemingly arbitrary rule to ”do a good turn daily.” It’s not a quota thing so much as it is a training program. You should really be doing good turns or making resolutions constantly, but in case you forget here’s a reason to do it.
I haven’t followed the tradition of making them before the eve, but I have been making resolutions this year. Carefully, I’m thinking about things I want to change in myself. I confess that I like myself less with every passing year since high school and that I am decreasingly satisfied with my life—more lost—so I am at no loss for things to fix. But I don’t know how to fix all of them. So I’m thinking my way through them. Trying to.
I’m writing a list of things I want for the next year. None of these things are groundbreaking, particularly interesting, or even things that I haven’t said in the past. Some of them aren’t really even resolutions. And yet, I hope in writing them down something will change.
- Self-confidence, more of it.
- Take every reasonable opportunity presented to help others.
- I have never doubted my capacity for generosity. I would like to be sure I keep it that way.
- On a few occasions this year, I have conflated being completely honest with saying things that make people uncomfortable. I’d like to stop doing that.
- Try not to hurt people you love, who love you.
- Be more demonstratively loving. And less aloof.
I’ve been dissatisfied with my life these past few years and especially this year. That’s something I haven’t said enough and I don’t think people realize it. I’m giving 2009 and myself the benefit of the doubt. Maybe things this year will change.
And if you’re reading this, I want you to know that I appreciate you. I really, truly do. At least in this small way (and probably other larger ways) you are here for me, and I love you for it.
(Belatedly, Happy New Year. Let us make it a good one you and I.)
Belatedly, Happy New Year. Let’s make it a good one, you and I. If you’re reading this, thank you for being in my life.