Ten. How on earth has it already been a year? How can a year feel like an eternity and a heartbeat at the same time? And what do we make of it, 2018? How do we summarize all these days stacked up, pains and hopes all scribbled together in the same handwriting, before we’re lost in the blur of 2019?
Nine. Shit, New Year’s kiss. I had 365 days to hold auditions for this part, and I’m coming up empty. In nine seconds, confetti flies in the air, everybody shouts ‘happy new year,’ and everybody lucky begins the year with a kiss. Love, promised in a wine-stained blur of cheer. What is wrong with me?
Eight. Okay, okay, but I’ve got things to show for myself in 2018. I moved to New York City, wrote and shared hundred of poems, ran a thousand miles and kept going. I traveled freely and loved wildly, and I’ve got the photos to prove it.
Seven. But wait, why is it my hands are always reaching for opportunities to prove something to somebody else? No matter how many times I start writing myself the promise that ‘this story is mine,’ I find myself scribbling defenses.
Six. Look at the faces in this crowded bar. Hope glimmering in everybody’s eyes, smiles at the ready. It’s strange to remember, in this moment, that every one of us has been surviving. Nobody here escaped disappointment in 2018. And yet here we are, shouting and grinning and hoping for what’s coming.
Five. ‘This is the year. I’m losing the weight, and I’m not looking back.’ ‘I’m done with excuses, this is the year I write the novel that’s been burning inside me.’ ‘So what if I’m single? This is the year I focus on loving me.’ ‘I downloaded the app, I’ll be ready for the 5K by March.’ ‘No junk food. Starting tomorrow, my shopping cart is going to be vegetables and sparkling water.’
Four. My friends are huddling closer now, and I can’t believe I get to begin the year with them. I used to try and take inventory of the love in my life by counting the people who’d exited. Funny how differently my counts came in the moment I started focusing, instead, on the people who’ve stayed with me.
Three. Down to seconds, and 2018 is flashing before me the way people describe their near-death experiences. Neuron flashes of love and laughter and heartbreak and grumbling and hope. Early mornings runs and late-night conversations, glasses of beer and cups of coffee disappearing, more Netflix than I care to admit. It’s a blurry, chaotic melody, but the prevailing feeling is this: I wish I’d wasted less time wishing any of it would go faster.
Two. And this, the New Year, 2019, what am I really hoping for from this unstained stack of days and nights? Should I forecast it as the year of finding love? The year of getting published, finding acclaim? If I’m writing the evaluation sheet, how will I know, a year from now, whether I’ve hit the mark or not? What do I want to be able to say, without inventing?
One. The glasses lift, everybody drinks down a healthy breath, eyes widen, throats clamor with the conviction we spent the year searching for
Happy New Year!
Each year, around this time, I find myself building a case for New Year’s resolutions.
That isn’t to say they’re in any danger of disappearing. My social media feeds are crowded with them, promises made in public so the seeds have hope of germinating, twisting themselves into plants that rise, push through soil, bear fruit. New Year’s resolutions range, but there are a few that seem to echo: weight loss, reading/writing more, taking next career steps.
Also crowding my feeds, annually, are condemnations of New Year’s resolutions. ‘Research says,’ argue the fact-keepers, sharing well-evidenced articles of the futility of the resolution-making process. ‘Can’t wait to spend two weeks at the gym with all of you,’ scoff the skeptics, adding, ‘new year, new me!’ Then, carrying perhaps the best intentions, there are the time-dismantlers, shattering the fourth wall by acknowledging that time is a construct, promising us that ‘every day is a day to make new resolutions.’
What I’ve got to say is this: I’ve yet to meet a single person who’s not well acquainted with the phrase ‘but actually.’ The world knows no shortage of reasons to hesitate, laid-out arguments for holding back from building dreams in the first place. But, once a year, construct or no, humankind has built in a time to hit the reset button. To set down what was and believe in beginning again.
So, damn it, dream. Nurture stubborn hopes. Believe in better things, and start the chase after them. Take the time to consider your wild wanting, and let your hands start drafting treasure maps accordingly. Drown out the naysayers and let your feet pick up into a jog. Etch down lofty hopes in your own handwriting, and share them with one another. This is a time for building better futures; do so without regard for voices that chip away at hope.
This year, amidst what is likely the wildest blur of settings and feelings my life has ever known, a pearl of truth made itself apparent in the midst of all my sifting: We have got to figure out how to be more gentle with ourselves.
Gentleness, of course, looks nothing like abandoning accountability. If we’re going to live good lives, leaving behind authentic goodness, we’ve got to acknowledge our worst parts. We will, all of us, leave behind scars on every person we try to love. Our best friends will reach out to us, hoping we’ll hear them, and we’ll paint over the moment with advice they didn’t ask for. Entrenched in our feelings, we’ll react, our words taking on razored edges, and our lovers will recoil, our family members will swallow tears.
Like it or not, we will fail ourselves. We will fail to finish our reading lists, to make the most of every experience. We will ruin perfectly good gatherings with our bad moods, and we’ll skip the gym and choose a terrible meal instead. We’ll forget to be brave, choosing our comfort instead of speaking up for ourselves or somebody else. We’ll clobber our loved ones and spend time chasing people who leave us, and all that wasted time has a means of making itself apparent. 2019 will bring every one of us heartbreaks, losses, failures, and the pen is in our hands.
Gentleness guides us not to look away from all this mess, but instead to look at it and nod. ‘Okay,’ Gentleness whispers to us, ‘what next?’ And, with a steady inhale and exhale, we get to begin anew. Gentleness guides us to see ourselves, see past the breaks we create in our own worlds and seek to understand why we created them. Gentleness guides us to stop the bruising, whisper honest acknowledgments, and begin in better directions. Gentleness heals the spaces our inevitable harm breaks to pieces.
In building my resolutions, I’ve found it helps to consider gentleness beforehand. Instead of setting a goal to ‘lose twenty-five pounds,’ achieving the body I’d always imagined would earn me comfort in a hard world, what if I set a goal to set aside time, each day, to thank my body with yoga or a morning run or a class at the gym? Instead of setting a goal of ‘finding a boyfriend,’ what if I set the goal of putting myself out there, inhabiting spaces I might meet somebody, but also improving my own life in the meantime?
Gentle resolutions leave us room for failure and beginning again, acknowledging that the magic we make rarely looks the way we’d imagined. Gentleness, in and of itself, takes resolve, takes forgiveness and trying anew. As second hands tick themselves free, pages stacking themselves in our past chapters, I’m setting aside space to remind (mostly myself, but, also, every last one of us) to be gentle.