New Year’s Resolutions

Have you ever spent all morning cleaning the house and gotten very hungry all of a sudden, and started craving those Trader Joe’s cauliflower pancakes you had in the freezer, but ALSO in the freezer was an overenthusiastic ice maker, which spewed ice over the kitchen floor whenever you opened it, and then, when you closed it and went into the fridge for another tasty and necessary item, you stepped on a piece of ice and started to slip, so you reached down to pick it up, and the fridge attacked you with GUSTO, and the collision it had with your shoulder dislodged the shelving on the side of the fridge door, and everything heavy and full and glass fell and shattered on the kitchen tiles, including that GIGANTIC bottle of gluten-free tamari sauce you bought because it was so much cheaper to buy that way, and then had to spend the next hour trying to mop it all up without cutting yourself too badly, and that damn soy sauce was everywhere. and THEN you remembered how you made this new year’s resolution that when you caught yourself having negative thoughts, you should say, “And this is good because—?” and found yourself thinking, “This is good because now I can feel a little bit sorry for myself without feeling ashamed?” I have.

Embracing the Whole Half-Empty Glass

©2015 Beret Olsen
I realize this is a jar, and not a glass; the important thing is that it’s half empty.                                                                      ©2015 Beret Olsen

I’ve been telling myself some lies.

  1. Things will settle down after the holidays.
  2. I will relax after I finish this project.
  3. There will be time for that tomorrow.
  4. This obstacle/leak/parenting gig/bad hair day is only temporary.
  5. As soon as I…
  • finish my degree
  • get a job
  • have a kid
  • turn 30 (or more)

…my path in life will be apparent.

NEW, EXCITING PLAN:  EMBRACE THE WHOLE HALF-EMPTY GLASS! I am going to jump right into the deep end with my eyes wide open this year.

Guess what? Things are not settling down now that the holidays are over, but that’s OK. I survived the holidays, so I’ll survive this crazy patch as well. Unless I don’t, in which case, I won’t care.

There’s always more that needs doing, even after finishing every item on the To Do list. The point is to relax now and then along the way, or I never will. Even ten deep breaths between meeting a deadline and driving the carpool can make a difference. A yoga teacher explained to me the importance of corpse pose at the end of a practice. One of her students consistently left class early and neglected the last five minutes of rest and relaxation because he was in such a hurry to get to his next commitment. He went straight from vigorous exercise to the next stressful challenge. One day, he raced to his car, buckled his seatbelt, had a heart attack, and died.

Apologies. That was an extreme example. Maybe we should talk about bread instead of a dead guy. How after you pound and knead the bejesus out of it, you have to let it rest so it can rise and do it’s bread thing. You don’t wait until the bread is finished to let it rest. That’s too late.

Newsflash: there’s never more time tomorrow than there was today. In fact, unless you’re on some transatlantic flight, every day consists of 24 hours. If you’ve got to do something, just do it. Or rest. Do the task or rest. I’ve wasted so much time and energy on the in between stuff–mainly worrying. What a waste.

If I’m thinking, “someone else will do that,” that is a clear indication to me that I need to do it myself or choose not to care if it gets done. Anything else is a recipe for frustration and resentment. Unless my kids should be doing said task. Then I should probably nag them so they don’t grow up to be insufferable bums.

Speaking of which, parenting IS forever, but not every second of forever. I can’t tell you how many people have told me to savor this time–even the annoying parts–because soon the kid will move out and forget to call home, just like I did. That may well be the case, but as a mere mortal, I can’t possibly savor every moment. My kids are old enough to avoid sticking a fork in the socket when I’m not watching, so I should probably try to have a life now and then. At least, this is what I’m trying to tell myself. We’ll see how it goes.

This isn’t a phase. This is life. The journey doesn’t start after the degree/milestone/enlightenment. This IS the journey. I don’t need to worry about finding the path because I’m on it. As for the obstacles, they’re always there. It’s time for me to put on my hiking boots and tackle a few. And it wouldn’t hurt to enjoy the view while I’m climbing over.

Aim low kid.

In days of yore, I studied life drawing at a little studio with an engraved brass plate on the door reading:  ‘entree des artistes.’  My teacher was crotchety and demanding, fussing in equal amounts about cake crumbs and his bad back.  He was wonderful, actually; I miss that place like crazy.

It was in crotchety man’s drawing class that I became acquainted with a guy named Doug.

Doug was a profoundly talented artist with an adoring posse, a portfolio filled with exceptional drawings, and a model or two clamoring to sleep with him at all times.  He was also a bit of an asshole.  I loved drawing next to him–peering over his shoulder for inspiration and hoping his muse might take an interest in me–but at break-time I tried to steer clear of him.  His self-absorbed ruminations and general lack of interest in anything I said or did were off-putting. Mainly, though, I wanted to avoid hearing about the challenges of maintaining dreads when you have soft, golden hair.  You have to get beeswax!  Oh, the daily ratting, teasing struggle of it all!  It was more than I could bear.  I never suspected that Doug would teach me anything of value about life outside the studio, let alone the secret to New Year’s resolutions.

Then one January evening, years ago, I found myself stuck next to him in the line for the bathroom.  After an uncomfortable silence, I finally asked him what I ask everyone at that time of year.  “Did you make any resolutions?”

“Yeah,” he said.  “Less motherfucker and more jive turkey.”

Brilliant, really.

Here was a guy who obviously had plenty of room for improvement, merely planning on swearing a bit less.  I responded enthusiastically–perhaps embarrassingly so–but Doug was nonplussed.  “Yeah,” he said.  “Last year my goal was to learn how to cook fish.”  Herein lies Doug’s secret to meaningful New Year’s resolutions:  HE SETS VERY SPECIFIC GOALS HE CAN ACHIEVE.

For years I had been making resolutions like,  “Read all the books I’ve been meaning to read,” “Exercise five times a week,” and “Find balance.”  These were resolutions I had proven myself to be incapable of achieving.  Setting the same elusive goals year after year was only making me feel inadequate and frustrated.  How exactly was that helpful?

Shortly after our conversation, I threw out “achieve harmony between life and work” and wrote down the following:  “#1:  In the middle of every day I will sit down quietly for 20 minutes.  Maybe I will eat.  #2:  If I have been working for 12 hours, I will leave work immediately WITHOUT bringing any work home.”  Most of my friends found these resolutions to be terribly pathetic, but I found them revolutionary.  I had put on paper two tiny steps toward carving space in the day for myself, thereby greatly improving my daily life.  With a few minor exceptions–an art show, finals, major deadlines–I can sustain these goals and turn my attention to other areas that I would like to address.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I am not saying to set your sights low for work or love.  Not at all.  But resolutions are most often about the habits and patterns of thought we hold that serve as obstacles to our health, happiness, and sense of well-being.  Setting reasonable, achievable, and sustainable goals requires a substantial shift in mindset.  I no longer consider myself a project, or some sort of approximation of the person I would like to become.  Instead, how liberating to consider oneself a decent person, doing what decent people do:  learning from last year’s experiences and working to make the coming year even better.

In the process of writing this post, I heard about Silvi Alcivar, who had always wanted to be a writer–even called herself a writer–but could not make herself write regularly as she thought a writer should.  She decided to set a goal of writing THREE MINUTES a day.  Now she she meets people all over and has very focused, intense conversations.  Then she writes them tiny, mind-blowing, three-minute poems.  I got a little weepy watching her video, but that is not surprising, I suppose.  I cried at a Keds’ commercial once.  Check Silvi out now at The Poetry Store.

In the meantime, you may be hoping that I’m planning a year with less motherfucker as well, but I have other small fish to fry.  Sorry, mom.