It’s a new year, but I haven’t felt very ceremonious about it (anyone else?).
I’m the same me…and honestly, I’ve been pretty sad. Several people in my immediate circle love people who are currently battling cancer. We’re somehow two years into a global pandemic with no sign of anything improving anytime soon. Spending one minute on social media proves it’s ceased to be fun anymore. And to top things off, ⅔ of my household struggles with anxiety + depression, which leads to general January blues and an overall sense of despair.
So yeah, things have been *fun* around here.
Anyone else rowing in this pathetic little boat with me?
Still I tried to do the January thing. I tried setting goals and was even pretty rigid about keeping them — for one day. It’s become nearly impossible to plan further ahead than that, and in no way do I feel like a goal setting, resolutions-dominating #girlboss (puke) (I hardly had the capacity to type that sentence, let alone embody it).
As if on cue, a package arrived in the midst of my sads that was almost too pretty to open. It came from my filmmaking friend Maribeth, who drew sharpie stars all over the yellow mailer and a huge HAPPY NEW YEAR across the back side. Immediately I wanted to cry. I didn’t want to open it, only to look at it, savor it; coming off of a season where much gifting is conducted obligatorily, this random parcel felt like a tangible expression of love.
I met Maribeth several years ago when we were both volunteering photo and video services for our favorite nonprofit. We spent a whirlwind weekend together in St Louis last summer filming for Smithsonian (yes, that Smithsonian), and my affection only deepened for this creative soul who has been like a sister to me in the industry. On that trip I saw Maribeth write with — and give away — her favorite pen, the same kind of pen she most certainly would have used to write in the card accompanying this gift to me.
The words in her card carried much weight; and, in signature Maribeth style, they were written in erasable ink.
What a freeing thing, to write in erasable ink! With all the gravitas of a regular pen’s stroke, but the forgiving grace of a pencil. I’m a pen and paper gal forever — for fact, this writing was first a journal entry — and no matter how many people try to convince me, a tablet won’t do the trick. I love writing in erasable ink, knowing my words on paper can be edited if I change my mind mid-sentence — and this is the kind of metaphor I love for a new year.
It’s tempting to want to write our goals for January firmly, practically in stone: “With this new year, I pledge to X, Y, Z!” How triumphant it sounds. I don’t need to tell you the statistics of how long the average resolution lasts, but you can Google it. We’re talking mere weeks at most for the majority of us; by March, we’re back to who we were before we had the grandiose ideas about living our best life in the new year (what does that even mean, anyway?).
That’s why, when writing goals of any kind (and especially during a pandemic), erasable ink is the instrument of choice for me.
Fluid. Editable. Forgiving.
The freedom to change one’s mind is a form of grace.
Casting aside any rigid goals, I’ve put pen to paper about some habits I want to surrender over the course of this year. I made a few resolutions that I’ve already bent a bit to be more gracious, more accommodating of my actual self vs. the idealized version of me — and that’s the magic of writing in erasable ink, baby.
With everything in the world changing at rapid speed, the choice to default to grace is quite literally saving my sanity.
Just this week, six of my photo and video shoots needed to be rescheduled due to Covid-19 (SIX!). And then my laser lady came down with symptoms, so it’s looking like a neckbeard might be the hot accessory for spring. Every morning I’ve woken up ready to write, I’ve experienced pain in my body and a general exhaustion that has held me captive in bed. I have been discouraged — but only momentarily, and this is new for me. Usually the day’s defeat tucks me in at night, but grace has helped me reel it in.
Grace is the remedy to self loathing and disappointment, like smearing softening balm on a dry wound.
Some of us write our goals in a sort of invisible ink, I think — making plans in our heads without voicing them to anyone or writing them at all, which makes it easier to give up entirely over simple setbacks everyone faces. But we mustn’t give up. And writing out our goals equips us to persist and keep the vision when all we really want is to quit.
People of faith know the importance of this:
Write the vision and make it plain, the prophet said — plain and editable, I’d add, giving ourselves endless grace.
When it comes to setting goals, let’s write in erasable ink, re-setting as much as need be.
Let’s give ourselves grace to start over and over again. Why not?
Opening the package from Maribeth to reveal a star-speckled white wrapped gift inside, I felt so seen. As I slipped a finger underneath the envelope to loosen a card taped to the top, I relished the experience: the smooth crease of the paper wrapped around the box, the smell of fresh, crisp stationery in the card, filled with the sweet encouragement of a friend who is also Going Through It like the rest of us in a pandemic, but who still took the time out of her life to see me, and put her observations into words in that beautiful, flowy, erasable ink.
That’s a bit how this new graceful approach feels, like a gift. Like seeing myself for the first time in a long time. And then writing what I see as it as I see it, not as it should be.
Let’s write so much grace into the margins of our lives that our worried little heads have somewhere soft to land when, inevitably, they roll off as we fail at living up to the most perfect versions of ourselves! Because where failure runs deep, God’s grace is sufficient enough for me (2 Corinthians 12:9); and there’s plenty of grace for you, too.
I invite you to join me in this prayer I’ve been saying as I wake up each morning:
Thank you, God, for new opportunities to simply begin again.
So happy *boo hoo* new year. We might be sad, but we’re getting through — and we’re giving ourselves lots of grace as we do.
The annual fresh start doesn’t feel very fresh, but this graceful approach certainly does — and we don’t need a new year to experience that. Thanks be to God.
Here are some gems pointing me to grace at this time:
Sara Bessy’s Field Notes — particularly, Excessive Gentleness
Silencing the Inner Critic — this article has circulated for a while now, but I finally read it on the recommendation of my instructor in a narrative healing writing class last weekend. I’ll be revisiting this information often.
Self Compassion Exercise 1 — same as above. I needed this! Maybe you do, too!
Finally, I leave you with this poem that my friend shares every year. It makes me laugh, and laughing helps combat the sads; I hope it brings some joy to you today, too.
Resolving to Succeed
There strut amongst us them what will
Romp and riot and sin and swill
And burn their candle hot until
When sudden-like they’ve got their fill
Of hedonistic overkill
And so affirm, all smug and shrill
In grace they stand immersed
The New Year’s Resolution be
A righteous curiosity,
An exercise in sanctity
Easier said than done
If temp’rance was your cup o’ tea
You would be sober already.
And giving up on gluttony
Is battle never won
“I will regain my lean physique
By working out three times a week”
Sounds doable when things look bleak
Hung-over New Year’s Day
And then you’re playing hide-and-seek
With folks from your Pilates clique,
A self-indulgent bob-bon freak
Committed to decay
Don’t be a tool, you weak-willed fool!
Keep always to this Golden Rule,
Resolve to quit only what you’ll
Be glad to go without
Give up the nasty and the cruel
And watch your self-improvement pool
Grow suddenly both deep and cool
Success no more in doubt
“I will not dine on rancid meat
Or lick a dirty toilet seat”
Are Resolutions hard to cheat
And don’t take lots of time
“I’ll never slap a nun from Crete,
Or juggle chainsaws in the street,
Or drink a half-liter of DEET,
Or pistol-whip a mime
“I won’t support the Taliban.
I won’t wear shorts made of rattan.
I won’t pour gin on Raisin Bran
At least till 8 o’clock.
“If someone says ‘Let’s join the Klan!’
Firmly will I denounce that plan.
I’ll not use pages of Quran
For origami stock.
“No way will I sit idly by
While supermodels sigh and cry
For want of an appreciative eye
I’ll dote on ev’ry lass
“I will not clean my squalid sty
Engage in treason on the sly
Won’t ever make what I can buy
I won’t feed orphans glass
“I won’t eat possum from the can,
I won’t defy a no-fly ban,
No way I’ll finish what’s began
Or start what looks like work
“I won’t defect to Kazakhstan,
Or eat X-rated marzipan,
Or pick a fight with Jackie Chan,
Or gamble with a Turk
“I promise not to learn to sew,
Won’t study Edgar Allan Poe,
Will steadfastly ignore J-Lo
Wherever she’ll occur
“I won’t take strychnine with my Joe,
Or paddle-board a lava flow.
Nor shall I be induced to mow,
Or worship Lucifer.”
Aspire too much and wind up lame?
Or maybe finally beat this game.
Glory is yours, or yours the blame.
The row is yours to hoe.
No Resolution worth the name,
Need end in failure, die of shame.
Should noble schemes go up in flame,
Your Resolutions blow.