We don’t receive wisdom we must discover it for ourselves.― Marcel Proust
It’s become a ritual of sorts, a practice begun several years ago together with my writing buddies, one I dutifully begin as the old year nears its end and a new year beckons. There are no lists of New Year’s resolutions constructed, ones that, however unintentionally, are abandoned within a month or two. Rather it’s the choice of a single word, one that signifies what I hope and intend my new year to be, one that serves as a reminder of what I hope to achieve, and one that sits, framed, on my desk where daily, I am nudged into taking actions this word implies.
I was nudged into the annual process of finding my guiding word after a post-Christmas visit with a dear friend, who is recovering from several months of cancer treatment. “I think this will be my year of healing,” she said. Yes, I thought, healing is such a powerful word, one that holds so much meaning and implied action for anyone who’s experienced the months of surgeries and treatment for cancer. I was inspired by her comment and after my husband and I returned home, I began thinking about what word I would choose to set the tone and define the actions I want to take as the New Year begins.
There’s something elegant and honest about finding a single, meaningful word, but the process of choosing it is not easy, no matter how many words have preceded this New Year’s selection. I began, as I always do, making lists of potential contenders, consulting the dictionary, my thesaurus, and words of wisdom from poets and philosophers–all in the hope something written or described might jump off the page and announce, “I’m it! I’m your word!” Of course, it never happens that way. I reviewed my word choices of years past, hoping inspiration might be hidden among them. Instead, I discovered I had a distinct tendency to choose words beginning with the prefix, “re,” such as “renew,” “revise” or “rewrite,” each suggesting a “do-over,” an intention named but failed from an earlier year. I looked at my list-in-process for 2018. Yep, I had a definite majority of “re” words written down. I started a new list, obviously needing more effort to come up with something new.
The seeker embarks on a journey to find what he wants and discovers, along the way, what he needs. ―Wally Lamb, The Hour I First Believed
I returned to last year’s “word,” a phrase of “step-by-step.” I’d framed it together with an image of stepping stones in a pool of water. It was a choice that became a mantra, because in 2017 we decided to move back to Toronto from San Diego, and at times, the entire process was nearly overwhelming. My 2017 “step by step” helped me breathe, realizing that achieving our dream was a process of many steps. On June 29th, we boarded the plane, our belongings following later, and turned that dream into reality. Yet there were many more steps to take before we were finally settled. How, I wondered as I looked to 2018, could I equal last year’s choice of a guiding set of words? My mind was sluggish and everything I tried seemed unoriginal. Still, I wrote every morning, searching for that one shining word, one that would symbolize how I want to live and what I hopeto accomplish this new year.
A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them. –William Stafford
Despite feeling I was coming up empty-handed, the beauty of the creative process is that one’s mind keeps working on a solution to the problem. Three days ago, I put my notebook aside in disgust and walked to the kitchen to pour myself a second cup of coffee. It was as I filled my cup that the word–my 2018 word–suddenly announced itself: “discover.” I raced back to my desk, opened the dictionary and checked the meaning: “find unexpectedly or during a search,” “become aware of,” “show interest in,” or “be the first to recognize potential” in something or someone. I opened my notebook to a new page and began writing again, pen racing across the page, exploring all the ways in which “discover” could be the roadmap for a new year.
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
— Marcel Proust
I’ve referred to Proust’s quote many times over the years, but it seemed particularly relevant to this year’s guiding word choice. My husband and I have recently returned to a city we once called home many years ago, and while much of it feels familiar, there is a great deal that is new and different. Toronto a vibrant city, filled with places, activities, culture and people to be discovered. I have changed from the younger and more ambitious person I was when we first lived here, but that is no deterrent to discovery. We are older, mostly retired, and the implications of the aging process signals a new chapter of life–one we can merely endure or choose to discover new adventures and possibilities. We have joyfully embraced being physically closer to one daughter and a granddaughter who has now become a regular part of our daily lives. We’re discovering new friends and old ones too. While I will begin a new writing workshop at Gilda’s Club later this month here in Toronto, in the process, I am discovering Canadian writers who have experienced cancer, learning more about the resources for cancer patients and survivors here in Toronto, and without a doubt, my workshops will be informed by the uniqueness of what I am discovering here, just as they have been with each new series, each new sponsoring institution in the past. What I didn’t realize is that I’d already begun taking actions implied by my 2018 guiding word! Discovery is happening, and it’s only January 1st.
I didn’t know I liked rain
whether it falls like a fine net or splatters against the glass my
heart leaves me tangled up in a net or trapped inside a drop
and takes off for uncharted countries I didn’t know I loved
rain but why did I suddenly discover all these passions…
the train plunges on through the pitch-black night
I never knew I liked the night pitch-black
sparks fly from the engine
I didn’t know I loved sparks
I didn’t know I loved so many things and I had to wait until sixty
to find it out sitting by the window on the Prague-Berlin train.
–Nazim Hikmet (From: Selected Poetry by Nazim Hikmet, translation copyright 1986)
This week, why not try choosing one word that reflects your intentions or goals for this new year?
- Begin by writing the word at the top of a blank page.
- Set the timer for twenty minutes.
- Continue writing, exploring its meaning, memories or images it evokes in you.
- Once you have done that, write a paragraph stating your word, what it means to you and why you’ve chosen it for 2018.
I invite you to share your word choice by replying to this post or perhaps with a friend or family member. You might even frame or post your word where you can see it on a daily basis to be reminded of what actions you want to take during 2018.
I hope you will enjoy the process and find it as meaningful as I have over the past few years.
My good wishes to all of you who read and follow this blog for a year of healing, love, peace and new discoveries.
Happy New Year, 2018!