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Happy New Year!


When the ball drops on December 31 and everyone reaches out to hug and kiss their friends who are gathered to celebrate the end of one year and the start of another, I’ll be right there, making resolutions and getting ready to cook a pot of black-eyed peas for good luck. But truthfully, for me, the real new year always seems like it starts in the fall.

I don’t know if I feel this way because my dad was a teacher who had summers off before the school year began each year, or because I followed in his footsteps and made new, hopeful syllabi every September, or because my birthday falls in this month. Whatever the reason, when the air begins to cool, and the slant of late afternoon light is so much softer and more golden than it’s been all through the hot summer, this is when things seem to begin anew for me.

When I was a kid, school didn’t start until a week or so after Labor Day. I loved that day when we could ride our Schwinns over to Thomas A. Edison Elementary School and find our names on one of the lists taped on each teacher’s door. Then we’d go to Thrifty’s and buy Pee Chee folders and pencil boxes and lined paper and new erasers. September still feels like the chance to start over, to set some new goals, to assess my materials, to think about what I want to focus on for the next several months. When August drags on to its sweltering end, and September slides in with a bit of a breeze, and crows start scavenging nuts and sticks to prepare for the fall and winter, I begin to dream bigger than I’ve let myself for awhile.

This will be my year to think big--to believe in possibilities, to let go of my long-held grasp on potential limitations.

What do I want next? Where am I headed? What’s missing from my life and what is niggling at me too often? The answers are probably nearly the same from year to year, but I find myself seeing them more clearly now than when I was younger. My life is no longer an indistinguishable blob of clay on the table in front of me. Now it’s sharper, more defined, and I'm often longing for a kind of clearing out, like throwing away those boxes in the garage and sweeping out the dreck.

What don’t I need? What’s not serving me? What is getting in the way? Sounds simple enough to figure out, but I tend to think often in terms of either/or. If I've committed to a money-making project, for example, surely there won't be time to work on my own book proposal. If I'm going to help the 17-year-old with homework after school, there's no way I can write that essay I've been thinking about when I get home. Suddenly my anxiety is zapping my creativity, which in turn keeps me from figuring out some great ways to do whatever I need to do without seeing everything in such dichotomous terms.

So, in honor of September once again, I am resolving to do the hard work this year—take the risks, try the things I dream of trying, push myself to stick with the projects that frustrate me because I want them so much that they scare me. It won’t be a year that looks much different to anyone on the outside, but inside the shift will be substantive. It will be me at my desk working on my projects without putting so many self-created barriers in front of me. When I reach that point in a manuscript when I’m not sure what I’ll write next, I’ll keep sitting, or maybe go for a walk, but I won't talk myself out of it. I’ll send my work to literary magazines, get an agent, do the projects I tell people I’d love to do “if I only had the time.” This will be my year to think big--to believe in possibilities, to let go of my long-held grasp on potential limitations.

I know that anyone reading this is bound to be skeptical about the potential success of my plan here. And I get it that nothing shifts overnight. I’m old enough to know that my whole life is not going to be different just because I’m making a few resolutions for the new year. But, I’m also old enough to know that absolutely nothing will change if I don’t.

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