Well, hello there, 2016. Tell me, please, what’s on your agenda?
If only it was that easy, right?
I will admit, I love some aspects of the reflection that a new year seems to bring out in many of us. In my work life, we talk so much about the power of reflection. Reflection, we say in education, is critical for growth, and we are encouraged to make it a part of daily practice. It allows us to recognize what is not working and make changes to improve our practice. The kids didn’t get that concept? Well, I’m not doing *that* again. It is, or should be, a continual self-assessment, a taking stock, a critical eye turned outward, first, examining our effects before we turn the eye inward and evaluate our contribution to them.
And, in theory (and sometimes in practice,) it works, teaching being a changing and shifting target. Kids being kids, they are rarely predictable. What worked last year or yesterday may not work today or tomorrow. So we adjust, tweak, alter, abandon, evolve, sometimes the better for it, but continually learning, testing theories and throwing new ideas against the wall. Sometimes those ideas stick. Sometimes they slide down the wall. And sometimes they bounce off the wall and smack us in the face. And so we go back to the mirror and stare into it again, looking inward by looking outward, and, if we are brave and willing, we start anew, a daily rebirth.
Unfortunately, being constructively self-critical requires a difficult balance that is unique to each of us. Some appear to roll so easily with these punches that it looks to the rest of us like they dodge every blow. Some appear stunned and broken by every misstep, each challenge another reinforcement of *capital F* Failure. Most of us, I believe, fall somewhere in between on this spectrum, and in all likelihood, we oscillate back and forth on it, confident and fearful, brave and frozen. I am pretty sure that our views of others are mistaken, too, that our self-assured friend is just better at masking her fears, that our anxious brother is actually successfully cautious. People being people, there really are few absolutes. Still, we compare ourselves to others because it enables us to avoid the risk of the mirror. So we plow on. We stagger ahead in what we think is a mostly forward direction.
On New Year’s Day, though, many of us are inclined to set aside our experience-born reservations. We take that cursory glance in the mirror and join our friends in wishing and planning and hoping and resolving. We calculate the ideal and paint it as a target, no matter how far or high or tiny. We speak in unqualified, powerful verbs, like “must” and “will.” We set objectives as obligations, non-negotiable imperatives that will ultimately define success in only one possible way. It becomes reflection as self-sabotage, and many of us willingly participate in setting ourselves up to fail. One’s “I must…” soon reinforces one’s “I can’t.” And so it goes.
I am as guilty of this as anyone. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen for this scam. And as the end of 2015 approached, I found myself once again thinking of painting some tiny targets. Facebook (!?) rescued me in the nick of time, however. Now, I think I recognize the inherent risks and issues with Facebook, or “social” media in general, which are many and well-documented, but in this instance it provided me with a kick that I needed. This year Facebook began a new feature in which they share with users daily “memories” of things we’ve posted on that date in history. I will admit that this is not always a pleasant experience. I have cringed at some of my posts – what was I thinking? Others have brought back unpleasant memories. (To be fair, Facebook doesn’t promise our memories will be happy. Those bastards.) Yesterday, while scrolling back through my Facebook “memories,” though, I came across something I posted a few years ago that I had forgotten. It is a quote by Ellen Goodman and it is:
We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives…not looking for flaws, but for potential.
I was apparently moved enough by the quote to share it but not enough to remember it. This year I hope to do better at remembering. This year I will look for potential. This year I resolve not to resolve, but to try.
I have not written in this blog for many months. I have many, many reasons, most of them authentic and true, some of them just an expression of my own insecurities. 2015 offered challenges that I didn’t anticipate. My depression ebbed and flowed, often spurred on by self-doubt or circumstances beyond my control, but also impacted by nagging health issues like my fucking sleep apnea. (I’ve decided that the word “fucking” is a necessary qualifier for my apnea; it is that subversive and sneakily debilitating. Ask Jeremy. I apologize for the language. If I discover a better word than “fucking” I
promise I will might switch.) My work – and education in general – is difficult; the rewards of helping children to grow and learn remain, but the outside influences, political and social, continue to place obstacles in front of us that feel increasingly impossible to navigate. The world seems to have upped the ante on despair and fear, presenting us with powerfully bleak images and producing a variety of reactions in people; some of those reactions, quite honestly, scare the bejeezus out of me and are almost as bad as the reasons for them. I have always been prone to “analysis paralysis,” and these factors, plus others, have enhanced my native instinct to do nothing until I have figured out the (impossible) solution. I’m not being hard on myself here; it’s just a recognition of the way I am wired. But maybe I can work around it. If I try.
So here I am, on January 1 of a new year, writing. I am firmly declaring the date to be arbitrary. OK, sure, it smacks of setting myself up to fail, of another resolution, but here is the thing – I am making NO promises, implied or otherwise, when I will write again or how frequently I will write. Could be tomorrow. Could be next month. It doesn’t matter. I only
resolve plan hope to try to write more. For me, writing is an opportunity to translate what I see in the mirror, to articulate my fears and joys and all of the questions that flow through me. To “say out loud” the things that might otherwise live only in my head. To dither and prattle on and utter ridiculous things. To ruminate publicly that which I haven’t yet digested or made sense of. To muse and celebrate and curse and contemplate. To maybe, just perhaps, place a small piece of the puzzle that is my life closer to its one correct spot, even if it is only the second piece I’ve put in place. (It can’t be the first because, well, the first piece of a puzzle is technically in the right place the minute it comes out of the box. You don’t even have to touch it. It just falls into place. Unless it is upside down, in which case, choose a different, right-side-up piece to be your first piece, because, duh, you get to choose. As Jenny Lawson said in her amazing book Furiously Happy, ““Don’t sabotage yourself. There are plenty of other people willing to do that for free.” And if you don’t know who Jenny Lawson is, you really need to start by reading her blog, The Blogess. I love her because she is hysterically funny and also because she is fearless in sharing her life and her mental illness in a way that inspires me and also makes me snort things out of my nose.)
Hal Borland, one of my favorite writers, said, “Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.” I don’t know about what wisdom my experiences have provided me; I don’t feel wise at all. But I am all about the “neither an end nor a beginning” part.
I suppose I should really go back to the beginning of this post and change that first sentence now, but I am not going to. So I have written myself out of one corner and into another. Oh, well.
I’m just going to change it here, at the end.
Well, hello there, random Friday. Tell me, please, what’s on your agenda?
Actually, scratch that, too. Friday won’t answer, and really, it doesn’t matter. It’s just going to happen anyway.
Today feels like a good day to write because I think I have something to say.
There. That’s better.
Happy random Friday, my friends.