Once Around the Fridge in 2021

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When my daughter was little, I used to read her “Something From Nothing”. It’s a story of a boy whose grandfather, a tailor, makes him a coat. When the coat wears out, he turns it into a vest. When the vest is past its peak, it becomes a tie. As time and the story march along, the tie becomes a handkerchief, and eventually, a button. It is the ultimate story about making the most of the resources at hand, about being clever and persistent.

I had a grandmother who was blessed with the gift of making “something from nothing”. She sewed useful things from scraps, knit countless toys from bits of leftover yarn, and fashioned sweet bouquets from stubborn weeds, but what sticks in my mind is her ability to make dinner from what seemed like random odds and sods. The cupboard could appear bare to the untrained eye, the bits in the fridge were assumed to be lost causes, and yet there would still be food on the table. She relied on a tried and true “once around the fridge” method of cooking. She simply took stock of what was there, sized up the resources available to her, saw possibilities, and got to work. There was nothing fancy about her cuisine, but it was tasty and filling, and nothing went to waste (heaven help anyone who didn’t clear their plate and help her avoid leftovers).

I can’t even begin to count the things that have disappeared in the past 10 months, the aspects of life as we knew it that just aren’t there anymore. I’ve been lucky in that I’m fed, healthy, safe, and employed, but I have to admit that it’s been tempting to slump into a “cupboard is bare” kind of mindset. It’s really, really easy to get stuck in that.

I never imagined I’d see the world grind to a halt at the behest of a virus, but I also didn’t think I’d see people pulling things together the way they have. There’s so much we used to assume was impossible: government assistance programs don’t get put together in a manner of weeks, vaccines take years, not months to develop, education and the arts can’t function online, and we can’t stay connected to others unless we’re in the same space as them.

Before you make puke noises and roll your eyes at me, let me acknowledge that none of this has been particularly pretty or refined. There are long-term costs to all of these things we’ve patched together in haste. I’m not at all impressed that we had to make these sudden changes (I am, in fact, mad as hell about them), but I am inspired that we could. What we’ve done, in essence, is a “once around the fridge” maneuver. We’ve collectively scraped together what we could find, and made something useful from it.

I’ve tried to mirror this in my own life over the past year. Okay, I don’t get to celebrate holidays in a typical way, or go fun places, or get together with people I care about. I’m not free to roam as I please and even small, everyday actions are covered in an extra, heavy layer of planning. I’m an extrovert with monkey brain and chronic wanderlust. Everything about this situation smarts, but I do still have resources at my disposal, things that might have otherwise been not worthy of note. I’m developing a much better sense of what I’ve neglected, and I’ve tried to connect that to my drive to just get things done.

I also have things to give others, ways to help, even from a distance. I can cobble together solutions for problems outside of my own small bubble, and that has been gratifying. As was the case in my grandmother’s kitchen, there’s nothing that can’t be used, no room for leftovers.

What I’m seeing in 2021, what my grandmother, and the tailor in my daughter’s book could see, are possibilities. There are things to be done, people to do them, and tools we can use, all of which have probably been there all along. Maybe it’s true that nothing comes from nothing, but we still have something. We still have lots of somethings, and maybe the clarity and drive to make good use of them.

The Me Behind the Mask

This isn’t a debate about masks. Let me just say that I think they’re really important, and if you can wear one, you should. I can, so I do. There. ‘Nuff said about that.

What’s occurred to me over the past few months, as I’ve been sporting my little spittle traps around town, is that I’m kind of in the process of reinventing myself a little. You see, in the words of my favourite holiday elf character, “I like smiling. Smiling’s my favourite.” I’m no Pollyanna, but I am a reasonably happy person, and I’m inclined to at least smirk or grin on a regular basis. That’s just who I am. Stop making gag noises. 🙂

Wearing a mask hasn’t stopped me from smiling (although the pandemic has definitely put a slight dent in it). It has, however, made me very aware that my usual calling card is, for the time being, hidden. Out of commission. Pretty much useless in public places. Covering up has led me to re-evaluate how I communicate with others, how I greet people, make connections, and show gratitude. I’m finding that I crack more jokes than usual, giggle a little more readily, and speak louder and slower. I use my eyes and brows as props, and if it’s possible, I gesticulate even more than I used to.excite

None of these are bad things. They’ve made up for my lack of smile, but they’ve also stepped in and helped me deal with not being able to hug people, or shake hands. I’m re-evaluating how I say hello and goodbye, how I congratulate someone, and how I show excitement and respect.

Wearing a mask has also made me realize how much seeing or not seeing full faces can impact some. For those with difficulties reading social cues, does it simplify things to have smiles taken out of the equation, or does it bring the challenge of having to learn other signals? If you can’t hear someone speak, and you can’t see their lips moving, how can they help? If you’re someone who’s always covered their face in public, how does the world look now? If you’re someone for whom wearing a mask is likely to arouse suspicion in others, how do you deal with being told that you must wear one? Mask wearing has made me much more aware of the politics surrounding our faces, and although I may not have answers, it feels much more important to ask these questions, to open up discussion.

We’re in the process of learning to relate to each other with one facial feature tied behind our backs, and it’s tricky, to say the least. If a small scrap of fabric with elastic loops can spark a response like it has, then maybe it’s an indication that there were issues just begging to be brought out into the open, challenges that we’ve been “masking” for far too long. I have no intention of dampening my smile while I wait for the air around us to clear, but I still welcome the opportunity to flex some other muscles while I reach out any way I can.

 

 

 

A Note To My Students, Past and Present

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I’ve had this rose for almost 20 years. It’s blue craft foam with a florist wire stem, both artfully twisted into something much greater than the sum of its parts. One of my high school students gave it to me, just because. Over the years, it’s followed me from house to house, carefully packed away with all the fragile treasures, and I’ve always had it on display in my home office. I’d be devastated if anything ever happened to it.

The student who crafted this for me wasn’t particularly academic, nor did she think much of herself. She was artistically talented, had a great sense of humour, and was a loyal, caring friend, but declined any and all compliments. Even when she presented me with this thoughtful gift, and I marveled at it, she insisted “It was nothing.” All these years later, I can remember her name, her face, her voice, and all kinds of stories she told me. I sometimes look at this lovely rose, and wonder if that student has any idea that I still think about her, years and years later.

After 20 years as an educator, my head still swims with snippets of memories of all kinds of students. I remember the one whose home was bombed when he was three, and he didn’t speak for almost a year afterward. I remember the one who protested in Tiananmen Square. There was one who couldn’t write her final exam because she had joyfully welcomed a baby the week before, and another who had been in a film with Jackie Chan as a child. Some of them really liked me, and a few of them (hopefully not too many) hated my guts. A handful of them have reached out to me via social media over the years, now busy with full, adult lives. But they’re all still in there somewhere.

Lately, this little rose has been a potent reminder of the situation we’re in, and not in a bad way. This semester, my students and I had to jump online three quarters of the way through our course, and we did our best to squeeze our conversations through WiFi. The rose was in the background as we got through our lessons, and now that our course is finished, it makes me think of the people in our class this semester. It makes me hope that they know that I’m still thinking about them, especially with all that’s going on in the world at the moment.

I feel pangs of something I can’t quite name for my own little thinker too, who very badly wants to go back to school. The rose has reminded me to assure her that her teachers are thinking about her, and that they share her wishes. I try to explain to her that she probably still occupies space in the heads of teachers from years before, and not just because she’s a memorable character.

That’s just the way teaching works, you see. No matter how well the semester or year goes, students don’t just filter in and out of classrooms without leaving a mark on the folks who are educating them. They sneak into conversations, challenge us to do things differently, maybe better, and occasionally, they spark worry. Whether you love your teaching job, or can’t stand it, whether the year goes swimmingly, or is a hot mess, your students wedge themselves into your brain.

For any parents who are reading this, please be assured that your kid’s teacher took something of them home when they packed up and headed indoors. Know that they think about all of their students every day, and that when they look at pandemic stats, or hear that there’s at least another month or two where they won’t be face to face with their classes, a little bit of them crinkles up and aches. And no, the fact that your kid was part of their class when this big, horrible thing happened won’t overshadow anything. Their teachers’ memories of the class of 2020 will include the kid who likes to eat purple crayons, or the one who sings the national anthem the loudest, or the one who insists on feeding the class fish. Please make sure your kid knows this too, that they’ve made an impression that’s likely to be there for a long, long time.

I’d give an awful lot to tell these things to the student who made me this rose.

It’s International Women’s Day 20: Are We Finally Listening?

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I’m looking for a collective noun that accurately describes the group of young women who have demanding the world’s attention lately. Even the word “demanding” seems wrong. It’s more like deserving. What do I call them, as a group? Army? Posse? Barrage? Cavalry? Onslaught?

Ew.

Anything militaristic seems just wrong. There’s anger in their voices, but it’s righteous anger. They haven’t come to take over or destroy. Quite the contrary, they’re all trying to fix something, and have simply grown impatient with the powers that be (or were).

Legion doesn’t work either. It’s not like any of them are looking to be superheroes. As many on the list above have stated, they’d give anything to be elsewhere, to not be needed anymore. They’d rather be at school, with friends and family, away on vacation, building a career and a life. Instead, they’ve been taking/dodging bullets (for real), watching the environment suffer, and bearing witness to all sorts of human rights violations.

It’s not like women have never stood up before. Suffragettes put their necks on the line for the right to vote at the turn of the last century. The 60’s saw women speak out for the right to govern their own bodies. We’ve seen at least three waves of feminism wash over outdated beliefs. But I don’t remember ever seeing the next generation get so loud before. They mean business, and the fact that they can’t vote, can’t rent a car, can’t become president (yet) doesn’t seem to phase them at all. They’ve been observant, resourceful, empathetic, brutally honest, and most important, tenacious. There’s an immediacy to their battle cries, a “This can’t wait until I’m older!”

I’m in awe, and as a feminist who is not a kid anymore, I’m so happy to make room. More than that, I’m happy to turn to them for a more objective take on world events and issues. They have far less reason to be swayed by flattery or bribes. They have a variety of social media platforms at their disposal. They’re all keenly aware that the things they let slip through the cracks will be the same things they have to clean up later. And they have a bunch of us to listen and to back them up, a large number of slightly more aged women who’ve been feeling and thinking and even acting, but have never found as wide an audience.

Maybe the appropriate collective noun is a “mobilization”? What about an “education”? I think the proper term is a “realization”. A realization of young female thinkers. A realization of activists. A realization of future-looking minds with the will to make themselves heard.

I look forward to it getting bigger, and louder.

Paris On My Mind

 

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Paris is probably a little cliche as an escape. Romantics, foodies, philosophers and history buffs alike talk about whisking themselves off to the city of light. Mention that you’re going, and everyone around you sighs dreamily and gets twinkly-eyed. That’s just what Paris means to people, at least in theory.

And I’m one of them, but for a slightly different reason. You see, my first visit to Paris inspired me to upend my life. Once upon a time, I was living somewhere I wasn’t crazy about, working bits and pieces of jobs to make ends meet, and generally sulking about being part of the rat race. I was tired, I was frustrated, and I was…stuck. I’m not ashamed to say that it was the film “Amelie” that put Paris in my head. I bought right into the cotton-candy pink images of flitting around on a moped, hearing snippets of love songs in the subway, musing about the meaning of life in sweet little cafes.

Maybe I should mention that years before, I did my thesis on Simone de Beauvoir, and no, that didn’t trigger any of this (sorry, Simone). The intellectual history of Paris just didn’t mean that much to me. The clincher was the idea that somewhere else, everyday life could include a healthy dose of whimsy. I needed the smell of croissants, the twinkle of lights on the Eiffel Tower, to be stared at by a gargoyle atop Notre Dame.

Long story short-Paris was everything I’d hoped it would be. We went for about a week, and packed in as much of the city as we could. On our first day, we sat on the edge of the fountain in the Trocadero and stuck our feet into it, like eager pilgrims who’ve reached the wellspring. We lived off lemon tarts and crusty bread. We walked, and walked, and walked, and observed how people enjoyed their meals without the distraction of electronics. Like many, many foreign suckers before us, we fell completely and utterly in love with the city.

And then we went home. And soon after, we quit our jobs. And then we moved. And then we started our own business. A complete life overhaul was all sparked by Paris. For a while, like a kid who becomes obsessed with dinosaurs after a trip to the museum, I was pretty single-minded about it. I decorated our kitchen with black and white photos of the city of light, and learned to bake Parisian treats. I watched every movie I could find that was set in Paris. I learned to wear an artfully-arranged scarf. Paris flipped a switch in my brain that wouldn’t be flipped back. It made me re-evaluate all the things I thought were important.

In the years that followed, there were two more trips to Paris, one just the two of us, and one with a preschooler who seemed to be just as enchanted as we were. The changes that came after each subsequent trip maybe weren’t as profound as the ones that followed the first one, but there was always some shift in world view, some re-evaluation of goals. Paris has become our symbol, our touchstone, our shorthand for needing something to move, to transform, to breathe.

Paris has taken up lodging in my subconscious too. I dream of it when I’m faced with major decisions or feeling stagnant. In my dreams, I mean to explore just the right little corner, to revisit something fascinating. In every dream I have of Paris, I run out of time and have to go home, or I keep walking past someplace important without realizing it. Sometimes part of the city is closed off or too crowded. Without fail, I wake to the overwhelming feeling that something has been left undone, that something has been uncovered.

It’s been about six years since I’ve been back. I’ve been lucky enough to explore all kinds of other fascinating cities around the world, but they’ve never had the same transformative effect that Paris does. Lately, I’ve started to notice drawings of the Parisian skyline on t-shirts and posters. I’m longing for roast chicken with frites and pain au chocolat. I’m feeling the need to wander through cobblestone streets, unhurried, past clever murals on the sides of buildings, to hear the lilt of chatter at the market.

I really have no idea what needs to change in my life right now, but I’m hearing the call, and with a little luck, I’ll be heeding it soon. This time around, I’ll be flying in from a place of curiosity, rather than dissatisfaction. When I come home, I won’t be quitting or uprooting anything, but I could be discovering or building. Once again, Paris has something to teach me, and I ache to learn.

“Paris is always a good idea.” Truer words were never spoken.

Pretty Optimistic, For A Pessimist

Oh, 2020. So young, and yet you’ve already dumped on us heaps of human dumbassery. No, I apologize, arbitrary number on a calendar, you didn’t do this. We’ve dumped it on ourselves. It’s so tempting to throw up one’s hands and concede that while homo sapiens sapiens are persistent, loud, and creatively destructive, we’re really not that smart, or that nice. Each new year seems to bring new reasons to lose faith in human nature and our supposed intelligence. We fumble our way into misinformation, unnecessary power struggles, wanton destruction of the very things that sustain us…ugh. Throwing up in my mouth a little as I write this.

Fun facts: humans have the largest brains of any vertebrate, relative to size. Over the millennia, Mother Nature has knit us a toque of trillions of synapses. We’ve got the grey, squishy goods to write symphonies, to explore other parts of the galaxy, to craft poetry, to fawn over sunsets, to restart someone’s heart. For the love of Pete, we were smart enough to invent butter tarts. And, even on a good day, all of this is grossly overshadowed by many, many instances of people repeatedly playing a worldwide, championship game of “You’re Hitting Yourself. Stop Hitting Yourself.”

Nope. We can do better. And when I say we can do better, I’m not saying that we should do better. Of course we should, but we really are able to do better. We’re waaaaaay smarter than this. Sometimes, it’s because we underestimate ourselves, our own intelligence, just like we underestimate the incredible smarts of kids, or animals. Sometimes we get flustered at the effort it takes to act like a clever species. Sometimes we’re overwhelmed at the amount of responsibility that comes with brain power. If you know better, you should be doing better, and you kind of can’t just excuse yourself from it. Regardless of our motivations, we are not living up to our potential. Not even close.

Remember this quote?

IMG_8088John and Yoko were really onto something, and I think you could easily replace”war” with  “stupidity”, “foolishness” or “irrationality”. Even if the movie Idiocracy is slightly less than fictional, and we are, in fact, shrinking in our intellectually capacities, we still have a ways to go before we lose it entirely. For the time being at least, we are smart, and we are savvy, and we have the equipment necessary to not think like moldy kitchen sponges. It’s right there, people.

Do I think we’ll see an improvement in human behaviour in 2020, or 2011, or 2030? Probably not. You see, I’m a bit of a pessimist. It disappoints, but does not surprise me when my fellow humans make a circus act of their very worst actions. When I turn on my phone every morning, this is pretty much what I expect to see.

But there’s an optimist that lives in my head as well, and although she’s tiny, she “wears heavy boots, and is loud” (Henry Rollins).  I know what we’re like most of the time, but I also know what’s available to us, all the resources and talents we have tucked away. I’ve seen it in the kids I work with, who celebrate their sparking, overloaded minds and hammer their elders with questions. I’ve seen it in my students, who manage to find really good ideas in the midst of the heavy task of finding themselves in the world. I’ve seen it in random strangers I meet at community events, when I get a glimpse of some nugget of wisdom they’ve been hanging onto for years. I hear it in a comedian’s punchlines, on the pages of my kid’s graphic novels, in song lyrics, and in protest movements. This tiny optimist is why I bother to do what I do, both professionally and personally. She won’t stop pointing out these possibilities to me. She’s why I brace myself for the worst in people, but still squint to see what’s hiding underneath the ick.

So we still have another 11 months left this year to redeem ourselves as thinking beings, and yeah, if we don’t screw things up too badly, we’ll have a lot longer than that. Let’s not blame the year itself, or the stars, or each other. Let’s just use what we’ve been given, and think.

 

 

 

 

 

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Tidying Up, In the Bleak Midwinter

Before anyone starts thinking of possible prescription meds to solve this, I’m happy to report that I’ve found an effective treatment. Last year, while immersed in the post-Christmas doldrums, I binge-watched a show on tidying up (yeah, it was that one). Then I went on Amazon, the officially supplier for cold-weather shut-ins, and had a whole whack of itty bitty boxes with dividers delivered. Then I systematically went through everything. I mean, everything. For a couple of months, I picked through every drawer, every cupboard, every closet, and toted out bag after bag of nothing in particular (and yes, I thanked it before I pitched it).

It felt really good, good enough that the fact that it was winter didn’t bother me so much. Like, good enough that this year, once the holiday hullabaloo was over, I just automatically launched into it again (holy crap, it’s amazing how extra stuff can grow back in only a year). Like, good enough that I actually look forward to the next domestic vivisection.

While I am somewhat beholden to a certain home organization guru for kicking me off on this endeavour, this post isn’t intended as a testimonial or an endorsement for any particular methodology. It’s just that, while I’m turning over proverbial rocks and dealing with everything that scurries from underneath them, I feel the need to also take stock of my reasons for doing so. I like to gut my mindset as I gut my closets.

So, into my second winter of epic tidying of the space between walls, here’s what I’ve found in the space between my ears. Being inside most of the time forces one to be alone with one’s thoughts. Yeah, I know, good Canadian girls get out and go skiing and skating and tobogganing, but…ew. For better or for worse, I spend the winter months reorganizing my ideas, my priorities, my goals. And just like the space at the back of my cupboards, sometimes it ain’t pretty. Type A extroverts like me tend to let things stack up, go unnoticed, get moldy with neglect. I’m forced to ask “Why did I ever think that was a good idea?” and then I’m obliged to thank it for doing its job, stuff it into a proverbial bag, and take it away.

As is part of the process of tidying my possessions, cleaning up my mental space also necessitates that I revisit the good ideas as well. There are sparks of awesome that get hidden underneath routine and foolishness. As I dig out cute, snarky t-shirts, cartoon socks and a pair of jeans that fits like it was meant to be travelling pants, I also excavate happy thoughts, plans that might still work. It’s strange how good ideas get lost in the shuffle just as often as less-than useful ones, maybe even more often. Good ideas are sometimes hard to wear and use, and easy to put away and forget.

Do I still feel at odds with winter? Hell yes. Do I still want the apple fritters, the hot baths, and permission to nap unabated? Absolutely. But I’m finding that a stack of empty bins, some garbage bags, and a little time to take stock of the clutter both inside and outside of my head can make it easier to find contentment as I wait for spring.

On Being Canadian. And Nice.

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Just like you never notice your own accent until you travel somewhere else, sometimes you don’t acknowledge your cultural identity until you’re far away from it. Last week, I went to a conference outside of Canada, and did several very Canadian things that led to me being almost blinded by my own Canadian-ness.

1. I spelled out loud with the letter Z. That’s zed, not zee. And then I apologized.

2. I had no idea what the temperature was in Fahrenheit. And then I apologized for that too.

3. When people commented on how nice, and polite, and considerate Canadians are, I got all awkward and humble and denied it. And yes, I apologized for us not being as nice as people think we are.

The first two are all in a days work when visiting our southern neighbours. I can’t help it if our alphabet is a little different, and our units of measurement vary. No biggie. The third one, in hindsight, really bugged me.

You see, I didn’t just do the “aw shucks” maneuver and thank them for their kind words. I kind of launched into a series of mini-lectures on all the ways in which we aren’t always nice. I’m not just talking about our prowess in hockey fights, or our tendency to passive aggressively poke fun at other people behind their backs, either. I got into our own recent increase in populism. I spoke of our history of oppression of indigenous people and minorities, and how current efforts to make reparations might not be doing the trick. I had intended to be cute and clever, but I think I came off as a little bitter. I made one American stare at me blankly and say “Well, you’ve burst that bubble.”

The strangest thing is, I love being Canadian. Even with our extreme weather and funny accents, I’d still rather live here than anywhere else I’ve ever been. Canadian modesty keeps me from shouting it from rooftops, but we’re really quite awesome here in the Great White North.

Maybe it was my Canadian modesty that made me tell the truth about us, instead of just smiling shyly and saying thank you. I’d like to think that part of my identity as a Canadian involves admiring our way of life without idolizing it. My love for my home country, for my fellow hosers, and love for what we’ve built together don’t stop me from keeping a critical eye open.

Maybe what others see as humility is just our Canadian sensibility that we’re not done yet. Humans have been stomping around our rugged landscapes for tens of thousands of years, and yet, we’re still figuring out how to get along with one another, how to love the land, and how to express ourselves on foreign shores. Part of being Canadian may just be the recognition that we’re not finished, not settled, still seeking. Our village (look up the origins of the name “Canada”) was built on a tacit agreement that we would forever be rebuilding and repairing it.

We are a nation of upgrades waiting to happen, a living laundry list of bug fixes and new versions waiting to be released. I may have seemed a bit of a downer when I was chatting with my new American friends, but in reality, they just happened to catch this Canadian mid-hiccup. A year before, or a year into the future, I might have had a very different list of changes to report. Make no mistake, though, there is still awesomeness to be found in the process of working on ourselves, of constantly being in the midst of a tune-up. I don’t feel like less of a Canadian for asking “What can we do better?”

So, here we are sitting on another birthday as a country (heck, even this holiday itself could use a little re-evaluation). Please join me in raising a beer, or a double-double, or a butter tart to this 9.985 square kilometer work-in-progress, and to the 37 million toque-wearing, notoriously sarcastic, Kraft Dinner-loving, overly-apologetic souls who aren’t afraid to constantly pose and re-pose the question “What is Canada, eh?”

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I Resolve to Find a Better Alternative to New Year’s Resolutions.

I’m not the biggest fan of Christmas (cue humbug). I’ve got nothing against the holiday, per se, but I really don’t like what we do to ourselves (and each other) in the name of all that’s holly and jolly. We shop, we make, we clean, we bake, we run around with big, nervous smiles embedded in our faces. There’s the expectation that we’ll get this holiday to be the best one yet, but when the ribbons eventually come off, we’re exhausted, and left wondering why we don’t feel all egg-noggy and cinnamon-sprinkled about the whole thing.

And then, only a week later, we make ourselves promises about the coming year. I will get my squishy, cookie dough butt to the gym and will make my muscles the consistency of fine Italian marble by Valentine’s Day. I will climb at least three rungs up the professional ladder. I will keep my new rhododendron alive at least until summer. And then I will pretend I never promised any of this stuff, lest I end up looking like a first-class dork later on.

I don’t know about you, but I work pretty hard, all year long. I’ve done my best in 2018, both at times when the universe gave me a cookie for being a swell gal, and when it flipped me the bird and said “Let’s see what you do with that.” I’m light years from achieving perfection in any one area of my life, but I’m not a slacker. Never have been, never will be. I’m not keen on the inevitable guilt trip that will come if I make resolutions, and then can’t fulfill them (and yeah, it’s gonna happen that way). So I just don’t make them anymore.

But what to do instead? I mean, just because I don’t make resolutions, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to pay respect to the year about to tap out, and welcome the one waiting to come in. Attention must still be paid. I’ve come up with a couple of alternatives, suggestions that still give a nod to the changing of the temporal guard, but that won’t make me feel like sheepish, inadequate garbage at any point next year.

First alternative: choose a personal theme song for 2019. Find a catchy little tune to play as a condolence whenever life appears to go off-book, or as a victory march when things work out. It should embody who you are, and your general goals, without being specific enough to set you up for failure. Really, it should be more about your frame of mind than about specific tasks or projects, and yeah, if you get part way through the year and find it isn’t cutting it anymore, you get to change it. Since I’m more about playlists than about single tunes, here’s my top 5 list, in no particular order:

  1. Ukulele Anthem, by Amanda Palmer
  2. What a Difference a Day Made, Jamie Cullum Version
  3. And She Was, by Talking Heads
  4. Woodstock, by Joni Mitchell
  5. Raise Your Glass, by Pink

Okay, so maybe a theme song isn’t direct enough, or it won’t work because you can’t pin it up above your desk. Fair enough. There’s also great value in a slogan or a catch phrase. Choose a quote to light your way through 2019. Use it as a mantra, or a battle cry (depending on the level of zen in a particular situation). Heck, choose a whack of them, make multiple copies on sticky notes, and plaster that business all over the place. Words pack a pleasing wallop. For myself in 2019, I’m thinking of:

“My optimism wears heavy boots, and is loud.” Henry Rollins

“I don’t have to attend every argument I’m invited to.” Dorothy Parker

“It’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it.” C.S. Lewis

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” Vincent Van Gogh

“You are what you settle for.” Janis Joplin

There, now isn’t that a whole lot less intimidating than solemnly swearing to read War and Peace or single-handedly finish the bathroom reno? You can still start a new year with intention, without having to adhere to a specific checklist. You can set yourself in a general direction and enjoy the ride, take advantage of the pleasant surprises along the way, and not be too thrown off by the bumps in the road. Best of all, you can maybe come to realize that life, the universe and everything don’t unfold in one-year chunks, if they unfold at all. We are ourselves on-going projects, impossibly complicated and lovely.

Happy 2019, all. I wish you beautiful theme songs, poignant words, and a palpable lack of resolutions.