2013 was, in many ways, a great year. I learned a lot about myself. I lived in a lot of places. I read a lot of books. But it’s also been something of a lonely year, and one that feels a little bit like the time you spend waiting for the 4-wheel drive vehicle with serious horsepower to come pull your tractor out of a muddy slip on the side of a steep hill. You know you need to wait, but it seems pointless, and maddening, and you have a lot of time to think about what went wrong and why you are standing in the rain.
I don’t usually like making New Year’s Resolutions, because they so often feel very forced, or they lead to disappointment when they aren’t immediately met. In retrospect, I’ve “given up” doing a lot of things… and then ended up doing them anyway. At one point early last year, I decided to move to France. It was a weird idea for me but I felt pretty damned resolved. Then, after about a month of job searching, I totally gave up on the idea and went back to job searching in the U.S. Then about eight months later I moved to France. Things change.
Often, the unexpected opportunities are the best ones to be taking. Feeling wed to New Year’s Resolutions you made in January might actually be a hindrance! So, personally, I tend to stick to sort of boring clerical things for New Year’s Resolutions. Even then, I’m not that ambitious, and I don’t make resolutions every year.
The one year a resolution really stuck was 2007, and it’s remained part of my life ever since: recording every book I read. This is so boring it’s hard to stay awake to write that out. Seriously, this is up there with taking bad Instagram photos of breakfast every day (I get it – sometimes it’s nice to remember a meal, but oatmeal? every day?).
There are also a lot of really obvious things that obviously I want to do. I want to be more physically active, spend more time outside, read still more books. Spend less time behind a screen. Travel. Eat healthy. I mean it immediately starts turning into cliché stew. So I don’t usually bother. But this year I do have a little list on my wall.
- Read 12 books from my to-read list
- clear my drafts folder* (*or keep it under one page, which is fewer than 20 drafts)
- continue blogging through the start of grad school
- compete in a 5k
- understand + use the manual settings on my super duper camera
As much as I try to be (and maybe am) an interesting person, this is really not an interesting list. But that’s kind of the point. These little things–because for me, they are all relatively little things–are ‘things I’ve been meaning to get around to’ for too long. If 2013 was a year of weird and seemingly endless, nondirectional yearning, 2014 is going to be the year of housekeeping, I can see it now.
That’s okay though. Already, I’m making inroads on number 1. I’m 8% of the way through Moby Dick (according to the Kindle app on my iPhone, which I am using during my twice-daily 40-minute bus commute to get through this tale) and I’m approximately 52% of the way through Real England (by Paul Kingsnorth) according to the Tesco coupon I stuck in there for a bookmarker since I bought the book while I was on holiday with my friends in England.
What’s behind the resolutions is more important than the resolutions themselves. First of all, I wanted to set achievable goals. I’ve already competed in 5ks, so the distance is no problem–I just have to get off my butt and do it. I’m not even trying to win! The camera is already in my possession. Learning how to use it better is totally doable and totally free. It means prioritizing that instead of fantasizing about the perfect pair of shoes or, for that matter, this other spiffy camera I saw the other day. Lately I’ve been traveling a bit without taking any pictures on my big camera, partly out of embarrassment when I can just snap a pic with my iPhone, but partly because I don’t feel confident rejiggering the settings for weird light conditions or people’s faces or whatever.
This blog is a good thing for me, but I spend a lot of time on it. A lot of that time starts and ends in the drafts folder, which at some point in the past 6 months since I started blogging actually had more posts than the Published section. Most of my regular readers (i.e. Mom and Dad) already know that I write posts in advance. I’m writing this one on January 18, but scheduling it to be published on the 29th. I try to stay about a week ahead, partly because I know my weekdays are going to be busy, and partly because having posts already set up tends to take the pressure off whatever I’m writing. My goal in shrinking my drafts folder is to make this blog more about “completing” written work than about just starting stuff. I need to finish things I start, and this is one obvious area to start working on that.
Number 1 – to read 12 books from my “to read” list – is really the only resolution I’ll be upset if I don’t keep. In 2013, I read 64 books, more than I had ever read in one year since my 2007 resolution to keep a definitive list. (Even in 2007, which is the 2nd highest year, I only read 59 books.) I recently saw a graph about the percentage of Americans who read at least one book per year, and I really thought that would be, like, 97%, allowing for a hopefully low rate of illiteracy. Another blogger recently posted the list of books she read in 2013, and it was over 80! I was flabbergasted, though even I realized that was out of the norm.
What’s behind this resolution is, yes, partly a desire to tidy up some lists. I’m a sucker for tidiness. But there are two other more important tasks behind it, tasks I haven’t written on the scrap of paper tacked to my wall but which are, I think, infinitely more important than reading the books themselves. And this is really the key to all resolutions, isn’t it? Not just the thing–compete in a 5k–but the goals attached to that–getting outdoors (to run) more, spending more time being physically active.
Of the two, the less important is that I figure out a way to get books home and stop worrying about shipping. I am using a combination of Kindle, my au pair family’s largish personal library, and my tiny personal library to satisfy my reading needs, and one of the things that had depressed me when I came here was thinking that I couldn’t own any physical books for a year. Not that it’s a big deal, in a way, and in a life or death situation I would take life without books over death, I suppose. But I, like many others, find books as objects to be profoundly comforting. Additionally, while there are some books from my ‘to read’ list that I really only plan on reading once, others are reference books that I know I will want to refer to, and be able to physically flip through, for years to come. So, to aid myself in following through on this resolution, I’m giving myself permission to buy a few books while I’m abroad, and eventually figure out a way to get them home.
Secondly, I have long been developing a list of famous novels and famous books about environmentalism and nature writing that I NEED to read–but I haven’t really made much of an effort to go back to this list and read the books themselves. I read the list over and over instead, hoping that will do the trick. It doesn’t.
So this second underlying principle is: to not only intend to care about this stuff, but to really mean it. Although my specific resolution limits itself to (at least) 12 books, and that’s just reading, the larger goal is to move from being a hypothetical environmentalist to someone with more skills and connections within the “discipline,” if you will; to become someone who is actually an actor rather than a spectator. Yes, burying my head in twelve specific books will not do anything remotely useful on an environmental level, but I’m hoping that, between my book selection and other elements of my life–like going to grad school for a Master’s in Environmental Policy–I can start to figure out how to use what abilities I have in a more realistically productive way.