So we’ve made it into another one, as I hurtle toward the double nickels this September. I’m reading an early Shell Scott novel (so early that Shell’s hair is brown, as opposed to the white that he has in the overwhelming majority of the series! Turns out the book had a complicated history.), listening to some XTC, and occasionally glancing up at the Rose Bowl. Mrs. M managed to disguise the black-eyed peas as bean dip, which actually worked much better than the usual annual ordeal.
I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like the idea of making New Year’s Resolutions, because too often, they become something else about which I can feel guilty. But I think I can envision some possibilities for the year ahead, things I’d like to do, not things I have to see as challenges to my willpower, which is less than abundant anyway. So what are some things I hope to see in my life this year?
- I want to write more. I’ve always had the need to write, and it’s something I do more or less without a choice in the matter. Even my natural gifts for procrastination and self-distraction wear thin from time to time, and I find myself putting words on screen or on paper. I’ve always operated under the assumption that at most, I might amuse someone or distract them from the outside world for a few minutes, that I may briefly decorate a fragment of someone’s life. And those, I think, are honorable things to do.
But I’m starting to wonder if I might be able to write something that might stay with someone besides me. I’m not talking about writing for the ages or anything — I’m not delusional. But I know there are stories and characters, in prose or verse, that have stayed with me, and I wonder if I can do that for someone else.
In order to find that out, I’ve decided to take a sabbatical this coming fall semester. I don’t know whether I’m going to take a shot at a novel, a collection of shorts, or what. I don’t know whether it’ll be genre work, or the genre-in-disguise we call mainstream. I’m not even sure where I’ll try to do this — I’ve applied for a couple of writing residencies, and I’ll take a swing at a couple more in the coming weeks. (Thus far I’m waitlisted for one, and will hear about the other in about ten weeks or so. Of course, there’s no requirement that I go anywhere to write, but I think it might help, and it might serve as an additional vote of confidence.) But I’m going to try to think of myself as a writer, rather than a guy who writes sometimes. My trip to New York next week is part of that; I’ll be doing a “real writer” thing, in the company of writers who have done important work. In the past, I’ve referred to these as “Pinocchio moments.” But eventually, even Pinocchio may have come to think of himself as a person, rather than as a former puppet. So that’s a vision.
- Another vision? A return to music. It’s been more than two years since I’ve been in a band. I’ve had longer layoffs — the years when the Spawn was brand new and I was working on the Ph.D.. But just as there is a satisfaction in having written well, there is also satisfaction in creating something cool in collaboration with others, and in the sense of being “in the moment” as I create. I’ve missed that, and so have some other musicians I know. So I think it’s time to do that again as well. I’d like to see it happen.
- I want to read more, and in more depth. We live in an era of reduced attention spans — including my own. I think — in my case, I’m morally certain — that the time I spend online is a factor in this. I want to improve my focus, read more developed ideas, and think about them harder. I also think that will improve my chances of success in the areas I’ve already mentioned.
- Finally, I want to try to break my habit of self-deprecation. I want to learn to take a compliment without downplaying it. I want to try to believe that maybe I’ve earned some of the good things in my life. This may be the biggest challenge of all, as it’s a way of thinking I’ve had all my life. But maybe I can persuade myself that, well, maybe I am pretty good at some things, and that those are things worthy of value — and that I am as well.
Maybe I’ll see these come to pass. Maybe I won’t. But I know my students — most of whom are athletes — envision themselves making their shots, hitting their pitches, or sinking their putts. In that spirit, I encourage them to imagine themselves as writers until it feels natural. Shouldn’t I give that a try as well?
And as for you, I hope you find everything you want, and that it’s still what you want when you find it. Happy New Year, everyone.