Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

        Why do we make New Year's resolutions? Is there any chance that we'll stick to whatever promises we make for the whole rest of the year? Aren't we just setting ourselves up for failure? I mean really, if we were strong enough to keep the promises we make in January, would we need to make them at all? Don't we make those resolutions because we weren't able to do them up until now? Most of them aren't sudden inspirations, they are things we know we should be doing but haven't. Will a simple flip of the calendar make it all different, make us more able to do or be the things we haven't done or been before? And yet, year after year we do it. Even if we don't announce them out loud, somewhere in the deep recesses of our soul, we try to start the year out with a clean slate and make silent promises to do something better.
        I'm no different. I work better with goals. But if there's one thing I've learned it's to make the goals small and achievable. It will never work if my goal is to be a better person. It's not like I strive to be a bad person, or a lazy person. In general I think everyone tries to be a good person, even if their idea of good doesn't match with those around them. So I will try to pick something more real, more attainable. I will try my best to do something kind for a stranger. Something beyond what I already do. I already hold open the door for strangers, I smile at strangers, I offer to carry items for people who look like they are struggling with their arms full. So what is it that I can do that is above and beyond my usual? I'll try my best to be kind to someone who is not being kind to me. I'm faced with this scenario often unfortunately. My day job is in customer service. Need I say more? I'm the person who receives the brunt of every customer's lousy day, frustration, anger, financial difficulty, or traffic ticket. It doesn't matter that I have nothing to do with any of those things. If they are in front of me, when one of those things are in the forefront of their mind, I'll pay regardless. Even if I've done my job well. I already do my best to handle those situations with as much grace as I can, but still, I'll try to do more. I'll try to understand that they're not really mad at me, that they have possibly had a horrible day, and could use a little good cheer. I will smile and wish them a good day and try to mean it.
        How many people vow to be healthier, lose weight, or join a gym? I have done this one myself. It always starts out good. In the beginning it feels good to put on some sweats and go to the gym and ... sweat. But before you know it, I start missing workouts. The weather is bad, I didn't sleep well, I have things to do. It always happens the same way. Once I was successful and dropped 55 lbs. I have kept most of that off, but now find myself backsliding a bit. So I won't try and join a gym, I won't eat carrot sticks and celery. I know those won't stick. Instead I'll try to walk the dog more. It's better for me and better for the dog. I won't beat myself up if I don't go because it's ten below zero. I think the risk of frostbite negates any health benefits, and if I make it completely unpleasant, I will soon hate doing it, again setting myself up to fail. Although if left to my own devices I might slack off from time to time, I have picked a partner who will not let me. There is nothing she loves more than a walk and she will bug me endlessly until I put on my shoes and grab her leash. I'll also strive to not take seconds. It's really not that hard to do. Trying to diet will never work, but portion control makes a huge difference.
        I will try my best to read more. Not just more, but a larger variety. You might laugh and think as a writer, I must be a voracious reader, and I am, or at least have been. I have stacks and stacks of books that I have picked up from used book stores, library sales, yard sales, and flea markets. I love to read but now with work, school, writing, and life in general, I find it hard to find the time. And when I finally do, it tends to be a genre I am very familiar with, an easy read. I need to branch out more. Try genre's I hadn't before. It will only serve to make me a better writer. So, it's something I enjoy that will also improve me. Seems like a win-win.
        I could resolve to be more organized, but I know this one is beyond me. I will however, finish what I started. I had set a goal (an unlikely if not impossible one) to finish a novel by Christmas. I set this goal at the end of October. I did not give up on this goal until the week before Christmas. I don't feel too bad though, because I really did give it my all. I was forced to put it to rest to get ready for the holiday, and I am giving myself this week until New Year's to recover. Next week I will be back to work. I have set a new goal date, but for now will keep it to myself. There is a little part of me that is afraid if I say it, I will jinx it. This is the one that takes precedence above all the rest. This is really my one true resolution. I can think of about a dozen other things I would like to add to my list, but again, I must keep this something I really can achieve, and if the list is too long, it will begin to overwhelm me. And if I become overwhelmed, I will give up on all of it.
        I will add one more thing though. I will make more resolutions next year, but not before revisiting this year's. I will pat myself on the back for the ones I was able to stick to and reevaluate the ones I didn't. I will work to figure out why I didn't and try them again, with maybe some changes to make them more achievable. So as you start thinking about your own New Year's resolutions, try to remember to make them not just possible, but probable. I don't see this as a cheat, I see it as a way to make your life better. If you set goals that are improbable, you will likely fail and then feel bad, which will just set you up to fail at other things. It becomes an ugly circle. If you set goals you have a good chance of being successful at, you will feel good about yourself, and in turn do more good things to better yourself. Give yourself permission (but not an excuse) to fall short sometimes. We are after all, only human. And keep a record. I have two bulletin boards in my office. One is a dream board, one is a memory board. Once I have achieved something from my dream board, I move it to my memory board. It reminds me that even though I haven't succeeded at everything, I'm making progress, which is all we can ever ask of ourselves.
        So in the end I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and that 2011 brings you health and happiness. I wish you the best with whatever New Year's resolutions you make. Even if you are the cranky person on the other side of the desk at work.
       See, that wasn't so hard! And it's not even January 1st yet!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Raising Stories

After all the years of my first job as mother, I should be perfectly suited for my new role as writer. You may be thinking, huh? But I've come to discover that writing a story is exactly like raising a child. 
This epiphany came to me as I awoke in the wee hours of the morning. For some reason, that's when the best ideas come to me. I tried to roll over and go back to sleep but it poked at me, and poked at me until out of sheer frustration I got up and wrote it down. I knew it wouldn't leave me alone. I would get no sleep until I tended it. My story is like that. During the day I feed it, I nurture it, I give it everything I can, and yet it never lets me get any rest.
It seems to call out to me at the most inconvenient times. When I'm trying to drive, or shop, or do the bills. It pesters me in the shower. I can't even go to the bathroom without it screaming for my attention. When I actually have the time set aside for it, it never wants to do what I want it to do. And so I go on. Trying my best not to collapse from exhaustion as I try to balance my paying job, the household duties and my child; my story.
As my story grows I try to do the best for it. Sometimes I know my best falls short and I vow to do better. Sometimes what I do works and my story grows stronger. When my story is young it amazes me how fast it grows. As it gets bigger it's growth seems to slow, and it seems more resistant to my efforts to shape it. It starts to have a mind of it's own.
Sometimes it resists me to the point of frustration. To the point when I wonder why I decided to do this at all. But I soldier on, because I couldn't possibly turn my back on it. There's nothing else in the world I'd rather do. In the end, after all my hard work, I have to let it go. It's not easy. I'm constantly trying to guide it, to fix it, to make it better. Eventually I have to ignore that urge and send it out into the world to be judged.
It may not be exactly what I imagined when I started. It never turns out the way I thought it would. It never ceases to surprise me, and it certainly isn't perfect. There will be moments when it makes me cringe. There will always be times where I wished I'd done a better job shaping it. But then there are times when it makes me beam with pride. Moments when it brings a smile to my face, or a tear to my eye. Not everyone will agree with my methods. I can't make everyone like it. But I will protect it because it came from me. From my sweat and blood. I will bristle with anger at anyone who disparages it. And when somebody else says they think it is strong, or beautiful, I will forget, for just a moment, all my shortcomings as a parent. It will always be, after all, my child.