December 2, 2010

On Luck, Resolutions, and the New Year

When the sky turns light gray and the grass is covered with a dusting of snow, my mind and heart join together in prolonged reflection. It has been that way for me since 1990, my first holiday season after a divorce; when I realized the deep divide between "before" and "after." A division that was all-consuming after 13 years of marriage, but now from the perspective of two more decades, was not the only Big Thing In My Life. Time does that, thank God.

In fact, from 1990 through 1998, there was no snow in November to prompt reflection, for I lived in Florida. The blinding whiteness there is found on Siesta, Lido, and Longboat Keys and in the crushed shells in so many driveways. Yet, come "wintertime" and the annual lighted boat parade with jolly Santa carousing by in a speed boat upon the blue waters of the Intracoastal Waterway, I would feel all mushy about my life, the befores and afters, the "what next?" and "what if?"

I would set a few goals and, guess what, they would come true! Slowly, surely, but each goal would come true sometime during the next year. I set goals slightly bigger. They came true as well. Yes, a lot of things came that I didn't ask for and did not want in the least. People and circumstances and troubles that slithered into life like varmits seeking a warm place when the weather turns cold. And, like everyone who moves several states away to start a new life finds, these creatures followed me from Florida to Ohio, where they alerted their bad-news relatives that I was an easy mark.

So, as dreams were realized and luck and good fortune, I fashioned out of disappointment a giant virtual fly swatter to knock away those happiness-suckers, those nay-sayers, those we're-gonna-knock-you-on-your-ass-and-kick-you-in-the-teeth life events that, face it, most everyone has by the time they are well into their grown up years. Some people have them right from the start, but I was blessed that way.

When November rolled around and I looked back at goals that were met and looked forward at goals to be set, my heart would fill with a sense of gratitude that needed no Macy's Parade prompting or Advent calendar reminding. I got it. I got it from my head to my toes, how life comes at us. How we pull it in toward us. How we do nothing and it jumps on us. How it doesn't need to know anything about us to kick us -- or to bless us.

Some folks do not believe in luck. They are the "up by their bootstraps" sort of folks who own their due for all that they've done; for how hard they've worked for all that they have. But if I were to do that, I would be saying that others who live far away in less-stable places, or right in this very county of Athens, Ohio, for instance, are where they are right now completely because of their own bad choices or laziness, and I know in my heart that is not true and is not fair. And thinking that way does nothing for my soul.

Yes, we steer the boat that is our life, but the floatsam that drifts toward us -- we cannot control it completely. There is an element of luck to life, bad luck and good. That's why there's the lemon>lemonade saying, and why kids who sold lemonade from the end of their driveways in the '70s and clipped coupons in the '00s are thankful and hardworking but also would like to have a break once in a while from having to strive so hard.

And that is the good news about each successive year that I reach November and plan ahead: The striving has taken on a different tone as I've reached my fifties. It's less about things and more about "I am likely to get another year on this earth, what do I want to do with it?"

People joke about New Year's Resolutions. I love them so much I start in December. It takes the focus off the commericalism, the credit card debt-to-come, the work involved in enjoying a holiday . . . Resolution is not the greatest word for it, I think (and I have ordered a new thesaurus to help me find a better word soon...). Hope is not quite the right word either. Some word is needed that expresses a proper mix of "can do" with "gratitude" and "hope" and "pluck" and "optimism" and "forging on in spite of the tough times that might come our way as well."

Put the Christmas gift list down. Make a cup of your favorite warm drink. Sit in silence. Think about the coming year. What do you want? What do you really want? Don't pick "win the lottery." Pick something that is more toward the end of probable than impossible. Pick something that matters, but something you can measure. Write it down. Stick it on your mirror. Believe it. Consciously and unconsciously move toward it. Tell others you want it, or keep it a secret, but do not forget to want it. Do not be afraid to want it. Go for it.

And next December, please share with us how your goal was met.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Janice Phelps Williams and


Jessica Bell said...

This is a really lovely post. You know, I need to learn how not to set too challenging goals, because I almost always fail. For some reason, something doesn't feel like a goal unless it's practically unattainable. I suppose I get a thrill out of the possibility of achieving something so hard to do. Hmmm, or maybe I'm just a sucker for self-torture! LOL! Have a great day, Janice! xx

Dina said...

Janice, I've said it before and will say it again: you have so much wisdom. I wish I could spend a day/week/month/year by your side soaking it up!

My goal? To move back home to CT. With this economy, the job market in publishing and the housing market - not sure if that will be attainable but I can hope!

Melissa Kline said...

Great post Janice! I recently wrote a list of all of the things I have accomplished this year. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many of my goals met, most of which I didn't even expect. Writing this list gave me an overwhelming sense of gratitude and optimism for the new year. I feel very content and peaceful with where I'm currently at and am going to rest in that for the remainder of the year - after all, my lifelong dream just came true! What more could I ask for? :)

Janice Phelps Williams said...

Jessica: I know very well you have achieved some amazing goals; you can't fool me! Just don't forget on your way to the big ones to pat yourself on the back for the smaller ones. Each step on the ladder will strengthen your legs and make it less likely that you will fall (OK, I just listened to your "The Girl Who Fell" song... it's on my brain.)

Dina: I am going to close my eyes and envision you in CT with your aunt and extended family. I know how much you want to be there and you are so talented. Something will open up and one day you will find you've been there three or five or ten years and how did that time go by so fast. Just that now it seems to take so long... Wishing you a winter of lovely knitting with your beautiful cats nearby.

Melissa: What a great idea to make the list of goals met, especially before setting next year's dreams. It is a joy for me to have a part in making your lifelong dream come true. I know you are doing that for other authors as well, as they read your blog and follow your lead.

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