For the Week of December 27, 2015: Running into a New Year

I am running into a new year
and the old years blow back like a wind…
that I catch in my hair
like strong fingers like
all my old promises and
it will be hard to let go…

(From:  “i am running into a new year,” by Lucille Clifton, in: Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980)

In a few days, 2016 will make its entrance to the annual fanfare and celebrations.  We’ll turn away from 2015 and look forward to a new year.  I’ve already begun  preparing for 2016, deciding which word I’ll choose to signify my intentions for the year ahead, making notes for goal-setting with my husband on New Year’s day, and, in the spirit of readiness for the new, taking the advice of Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up I’ve begun sifting through closets, files and books, creating stacks of “keepers” and “discards” in an effort to declutter and re-organize my belongings—aka, my life.  A dramatic reorganization of the home, Kondo writes in her introduction, causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective.  It is life transforming (p. 3).

I may have begun the process backwards though, first buying from Ikea  a bookcase and new desk for my office.  As much as I admire the economy, design and do-it-yourself construction of Ikea’s furniture, it’s rarely as easy as I think it will be.  “Don’t assemble the desk on your own,” my husband advised as he left the house this morning.  “Wait until I get back and can help you.”

“No problem,” I replied cheerily.  “I’ll assemble the little bookcase while you’re gone.  I’ve done one like it before.”

It turns out that prior assembly experience wasn’t as helpful as I thought.  Twice I took apart what I’d screwed together; by the time my husband returned an hour and a half later, I was still laboring to put the bookcase put together.

“It’s a metaphor for life, isn’t it?” I laughed, thinking how apropos it seemed for us.  We’re in the midst of creating a new life chapter in the wake of my husband’s retirement.  It’s already clear that even with all the advice offered or available, we’re forging our own path as we go.  Despite our efforts to anticipate and plan, we know that some things won’t go as smoothly as we hope.  There will be unexpected events, twists and turns in the path we can’t anticipate, even new possibilities we haven’t yet considered.

It’s not just this life stage that demands choices, letting go or re-designing our lives.  The new year is also opportunity for all of us, to embrace change, healing, leave behind old sorrows or ways of being that no longer work, turn to a fresh page and begin anew.  As Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said, Life can only be understood backwards but it must be lived forwards.

In an independent, 2009 award-winning film The Things We Carry, two sisters, pushed apart by how they each chose to deal with an addict mother, meet in a dingy motel in the San Fernando Valley in search of a package left for them by their dead mother.  As the sister come together, old sibling wounds are exposed and recounted before they discover peace within themselves and with each other.  “The key to moving forward,” the film’s tagline reads, echoing the words of Kierkegaard, “lies in the past.”

Moving forward and seeing things anew requires choices, trying new things and learning from the outcomes.  Carol, who died of metastatic cancer in 2008, was a sculptor who created sensuous and striking forms from stone.  In her obituary, her husband quoted Carol’s description of her artistic process.  I couldn’t help but think how aptly it also portrayed life and how we re-create or re-shape our lives out of changing circumstances, illness, loss or hardship.  She said:  At first the stone seems cold and hostile. As the shape emerges, the stone becomes warm and alive. The joy and pain involved in the carving process is …something akin to giving birth and seeing your creation change from a gawky adolescent to a sensuous adult… Carol  knew that the carving process involved constant dialogue between the stone and choices made with chisel and hammer.

I’m  a writer,  not a sculptor, but there are similarities between how we approach our work.   The blank page is formidable at times, but writing is always a process of discovery and choices.  Like the sculptor wielding the chisel, a writer needs patience and focus, dialogue between self and the page to discover the “real” meaning or form as the story or poem  begins to emerge. We learn to let “our darlings” go, retain certain passages, expand or simplify others.  Gradually, we create art from out of our words.

I know that what my husband and I want or envision in this next chapter of life will involve making choices, a process of give and take. Each of us will have to discard some old ways of being but also embrace the new.  I know we’ll linger over mementos before deciding what to keep, what to let go and what  to carry into the new year and a new life chapter.  Together, we’ll find our way and create what I trust will be a fulfilling and new adventure together–not without its challenges, but that is life, isn’t it?   I remember lines from  Rita Dove’s poem, “Dawn Revisited:”

Imagine you wake up

with a second chance: The blue jay

hawks his pretty wares

and the oak still stands, spreading

glorious shade… If you don’t look back,

the future never happens…

The whole sky is yours

to write on, blown open

to a blank page… 

(In: On the Bus with Rosa Parks, 1999)

That’s how I think of the coming year, like having a blank page in front of me.  It’s a time to look back and celebrate where I’ve been, a time to look forward to the coming year, discover new opportunities and adventures, and a time for us to begin writing a new life chapter.

Writing Suggestion:

What hopes, dreams and goals do you have for the coming year?  What will you discard from your old life?  What will you keep?  If you don’t look back/the future never happens…Take some time to reflect on the past year, what you learned from it and what you hope for the coming year.  The whole sky is yours to write on…  Why not turn to a new page for the coming year?

Happy New Year to everyone.

About Sharon A. Bray, EdD

Best known for her innovative work with cancer patients and survivors, Sharon is a writer, educator and author of two books on the benefits of expressive writing during cancer as well as personal essays, a children's book, magazine articles and the occasional poetry. She designed and initiated expressive writing programs at several major cancer centers, including Breast Cancer Connections, Stanford Cancer Center, Scripps Green Cancer Center and Moores UCSD Cancer Center. She continues to lead expressive writing groups for men and women living in the San Diego area and teach creative writing workshops and classes privately for UCLA extension Writers' Program. She previously taught professional development courses in therapeutic writing at Santa Clara University and the Pacific School of Religion, was a faculty member of the CURE Magazine Forums and at the Omega Institute in 2014. Sharon earned her doctorate from the University of Toronto and studied creative and transformative writing at Humber School for Writers, University of Washington, and Goddard College.
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