If you’re like the vast majority of people I talk with online and in real life, you’ll probably agree that 2016 will go down as an especially relentless and difficult year. Painfully divisive politics, global atrocities and the many deaths of beloved celebrities are just a few of the things weighing on the hearts and minds of so many during these final days of the year.
Traditionally, this is one of my favorite weeks on the calendar — that liminal space between Christmas and the New Year. As a professor, I have at this point survived the hecticness of finals, and as a mother, I have at this point survived the chaos of Christmas with lots of little people in the house. I use this week to do substantial housekeeping (both literal and symbolic), ordering and decluttering my house, my mind and my body in anticipation of the clean slate that comes with a new year and a fresh semester.
Last year my New Year’s focus was fairly traditional: I resolved to focus mental and physical energy toward fostering practices of self-care and body positivity, and to do so in a public way via this blog (**happy birthday, blog!**) in order to make this work feel a bit less like naval gazing and a bit more like community-building and media literacy development.
My work in these areas — in my daily life or on this blog space — is not done, but as I look straight into the eye of 2017, I can see that the year will call for a different approach to resolutions.
Doesn’t it feel different this year? Doesn’t it feel like there’s more at stake? Doesn’t it feel like the need for connection, understanding, education, intentionality, purpose and a strengthened sense of our mutual humanity is almost painfully pressing?
In light of the enormity of these feelings, I’ve decided to take a different approach to my 2017 resolutions. And if you’ve considered supplementing your own goals beyond the more traditional resolutions of healthy eating or exercise or tightening the budget (all noble endeavors!), perhaps you might find this list useful as well.
In 2017, I resolve to…
1.) Improve my practices related to one aspect of consumer culture.
There are times when ‘the work that needs to be done’ can feel overwhelming and fiscally impossible. Thanks to all of the information at our contemporary finger tips, it’s now clear that there are many ethical quandaries related to the things we buy as a society: our clothing, our food, our health and beauty products, our jewelry, etc., both in terms of how they are produced and the effects they might have on our bodies. It’s too easy to say “Because I can’t do everything, I won’t do anything.” But a friend recently shared the fact that she and her husband prioritize one of these issues each year, taking a long-term approach to creating more conscious and ethical consumer practices. This felt doable to me. My personal goal for 2017 will be to work toward developing a more ethical approach to clothing and fashion, with a focus on upcycling, repurposing, second-hand shopping, and sustainably produced pieces.
2.) To curate a month-by-month reading list that will allow me to learn more about other people, other places, other ways of life and other times in history.
I love to read for pleasure, but I tend to get stuck in a fiction bubble because, frankly, pretend worlds, with their beautiful characters and happily-ever-afters, offer up a nice place to hide. But there’s no reason I can’t devote some of my free reading time to learning more about the world we’re living in, and how it got to the point where we are. I want to be sure to read a variety of books by people from many different life experiences, not because I anticipate agreeing with every perspective, but because I want to better understand how our ideas about personhood, community and nation evolve. My 2017 non-fiction reading list will look something like this:
–City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York (by Tyler Anbinder)
–The Invention of Russia: From Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War (by Arkady Ostrovsky)
–China in Ten Words (by Yu Hua)
-Between the World and Me (by Ta-Nehisi Coates)
–Evicted (by Matthew Desmond)
–Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (by JD Vance)
–Freedom Is a Constant Struggle (by Angela Davis)
–The Rise and Fall of American Growth (by Robert Gordon)
–My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel (by Ari Shavit)
–Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape (by Peggy Orenstein)
–This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate (by Naomi Klein)
–The Rise and Fall of Nations: Forces of Change in the Post-Crisis World (by Ruchir Sharma)
3.) To become locally active on an issue that’s speaking to me
My husband came to bed a few weeks ago and the minute he said goodnight, I dissolved into hysterical sobs. It was in the midst of the latest violence in Aleppo, Syria, and my day had been peppered with an endless string of posts, images and gory statistics about the violence happening in the region that I hadn’t allowed myself to fully process. We donated some money to a trustworthy charity on the ground there, but it didn’t feel like enough. As my husband and I continued to talk over the next few days, he made the suggestion that I might try to get involved with some sort of refugee- or immigration-related initiative closer to home, and even the thought of engaging in this work made me feel more hopeful. More useful. So this will be one of the opportunities I’ll pursue in the new year as a way to feel more active in a global cause that can at times feel impossibly far away.
4.) Work to create more intentional community in my personal and professional life.
Stop me if the following scenario sounds familiar: You’re casually acquainted with lots of interesting, intelligent and like-minded people that you’d love to get to know better, but you can’t seem to manage to actually spend any real, quality time with them. That’s surely the case for me. This goal, creating intentional community, is a recurring one for me (mostly because I keep failing at it.) We’ve moved so often in our 12 years of marriage, and the last decade of my life has been so affected by pregnancies, births, breastfeeding, and establishing my career, that for a long time it’s just been easier to say: “I couldn’t possibly.” But this year I want to do better about actually creating face-to-face interactions with the people in my midst who inspire me, enlighten me, and who are living out personal and professional lives with missions that feel well-aligned with my own. I want to create more rituals, more traditions, and more memories beyond “I went to work and kept my kids alive today.” As I approach 2017, this extends beyond just my extroverted and social nature; at this particular moment in time, it seems especially imperative to strengthen my face-to-face support systems.
5.) Carve out time for non-productivity
As I’ve confessed here before, I tend to be a productivity junkie. What started out as fairly generic over-achieving tendencies in my teen years morphed into a survival strategy of sorts during my grad school/breeding years. And though a firmly structured schedule actually tends to calm me, I can go too far with it, and I don’t leave in enough wiggle room, or time to recharge or just do whatever I feel like doing. The specific type of non-productivity I want more of in the new year is walking just for walking’s sake. Walking is a very particular kind of muse for me, and I’m not alone in believing that purposeless walking activates my creativity in very specific ways, but it’s something I’ve treated like a luxury (translation: it never happens.) In a way, incorporating a practice of walking just for walking’s sake will be a practice of self-care, of unplugging, of rejuvenating, and of seeing where my oft-addled mind wanders without me pulling it along on a tight leash. Given the work that needs to be done in the new year — in my classrooms, in my community and in our larger society — a little more time to reflect, rejuvenate and think things through now feels essential.
These are the tactics I’ve developed to approach 2017 with intention and purpose. Wherever you are, and however you’re feeling about the final chapter of 2016 coming to a close, my wish for you for 2017 is for work that satisfies you, family and friends and colleagues who support you and the ability to cling to hope in the year to come.
P.S. Two quotes from Edward Everett Hale, because this gal can’t resist a good quote:
“I am only one, but I am one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do.”
“Look up and not down, look forward and not back, look out and not in, and lend a hand!”