Soft Resolutions

At the end of December, I thought about giving up some of the things I love. My jeans were tight again and I was feeling burnt out on overindulgence. This happens every year. The holidays arrive and there are cookies everywhere. My days are loose, and so I drink extra coffee. By evening, my mind is still spinning from caffeine and so I drink a glass of wine to settle down. And then I eat more cookies. While I eat, I ask myself if I even really want them, or if I’m just eating them because it seems like I should want them. The idea of January 1 with its clean slate and healthy mandate starts to sound like a relief from all of this rigorous consumption.

I thought maybe I’d give up bread, and cheese.

I thought maybe I’d give up wine, and coffee.

I thought maybe I’d exercise six days a week.

And then I changed my mind. On December 30, I fed my sourdough starter and made dinner rolls. I ate them warm with butter and a bowl of potato leek soup and I thought: this is not a practice that needs to end. Making bread is an all-day process that grounds me. Unlike the cookies, it brings me genuine comfort. I wondered what would happen if I made my resolutions softer and more playful, advisory rather than punitive. I wanted them to feel like a friendly bird on my shoulder, not a drill sergeant.

I decided I wouldn’t give up anything, but instead I’d focus on guidelines, that I would see how my body felt if coffee and alcohol became things I only drank two days of the week. I decided that if there was a window in my day where I could make it to the gym, then I would. And I decided to start cooking a pot of brown rice every few days so that I would eat more whole grains, less bread.

So far, it’s felt a little magic, living with these soft resolutions. I made it to the gym four times this week. Each time I go, I step on the treadmill and tell myself I don’t have to stay very long. But the first ten minutes pass quickly, and when I check my stats I see that I’ve already run nearly a mile. I give my permission to press the stop button whenever I want, and something about that permission makes me want to keep going. I bump up the speed and the resistance. I run until my eyelids sweat. I come home and eat my brown rice and my salad. I ask myself if that’s really what I want for dinner, and for now the answer is yes, although I often follow up with ice cream for dessert.

It is January 17 as I write this, and I do not feel deprived or punished. I also know that this won’t last forever, that eventually the treadmill will lose its novelty, as will brown rice and salad. But that’s the thing about my soft resolutions. I won’t let them turn into failures. I will only keep them as long as they serve me.

 

 

 

When Your Pen Takes Over Your New Year’s Resolution

I asked myself the question: What’s the most important thing that I can focus on this year?, and I thought that I already knew the answer. I thought that my New Year’s Resolution would look like a pared-down version of my daily to-do list:

Write every day.

Exercise more.

But I was writing with a pen and paper, which is a little dangerous because sometimes my hand takes control of the prompt, and ignores what my brain has been planning to say all along, and instead of the sentence “I need to find time to write, if not every day, then as much as possible,” my hand wrote:

The most important thing I can do is to experience joy in my body, and bear witness to joy when people close to me experience it.

Shit. Why did my hand write that? I thought that writing every day was a challenging priority, but making room for JOY in my body and my life? That might require me to become a different person, one who can write joy in capital letters without wincing. One who can relax for for more than ten minutes without listing my to-do list in my head, without feeling like my body is tightening around me.

At the moment, it feels kind of like standing in the middle of a forest with no trail, only a compass and a destination. And I don’t really know how to use a compass. But I may know enough to orient myself. I know enough to start.

I’ll start, when I remember, by taking breaths, by imagining my lungs, my belly, my capillaries opening and making room for for this somewhat foreign and suspicious feeling.

I’ll start, when I remember, by slowing down and searching for whatever small joy might be found in the task I’m doing. The feeling of my fingers stretching across the keyboard, the one perfect sentence in the paper I’m grading, the moment halfway through a class I’m teaching when I notice (sometimes) that things are going well.

This sounds like work to me.

I’ll start, when I remember, by engaging more deeply with Stump and his world, by letting him run through the house in his diaper, by mirroring his happy dance when his brother comes home or when I offer him a piece of chocolate.

I’ll start, when I remember, by saying Yes instead of Later to Smoke’s bids for more time and attention. Yes, let’s open your science kit Now, and Yes, you can pour all of the colored sugar on top of the cookies.

I’ll start, when I remember, by holding the word between my fingers and coming to know it. Such a small word for something so sweeping and grand, (joy, joy, joy).

boys