This New Year I’m not making any resolutions. No wish-lists such as seizing the day instead of the bottle, exercising at all, training the dog, tidying the pantry, writing a novel. All these aspirations, while worthy, are far better done than talked about. Otherwise, like New Year’s Eve champagne, they’re all just froth and bubble. And actually the exciting thing is achieving, not resolving.
I last pondered the New Year resolution dilemma back in 2015, but since then I’ve rethought my ideas. The problem with telling people about your prospective conversion to virtue or aspiration to high achievement is accountability. Someone inevitably wants to know how it’s going. But like asking how you are, it’s a rhetorical question and should be treated as such. Because if it’s going great guns, they’ll know. You’ll be sober, fit, organised, in control and boasting about your amazing publishing deal. However, if the project in question is not progressing, has stalled completely or success is looking about as likely as another Clinton presidency, talking about it won’t help. All the excuses in the world can’t fool the person who sees through every one of them – yourself. Only you know what really went wrong and who’s to blame. And blame inevitably leads to fixation on the F word (failure). Fixation so distracting that you lose sight of whatever motivated you to start out on the project in the first place.
In my experience, embarking on a challenge is exhilarating. No matter how grand or humble. Take the organised pantry. Tossing out the toxic waste, shining up the shelves, categorising the condiments might not be thrilling but envisaging an easy to use, aesthetically pleasing cook’s haven is.
Or, on a larger scale, take the novel. (In fact – here, take the bloody thing and don’t let me ever set eyes on it again.) No seriously. As may be evidenced by this blog, on which posting has diminished to a once a year event, I am writing one. Provisionally titled “The Making of Alice”, it’s a work of historical fiction inspired by the life of Alice B. Toklas. Begun in January 2015, it has covered a lot of miles. Especially last year, when thanks to a grant from Arts SA I travelled to France and the US to conduct research – a very fruitful journey both in information sourced and contacts made. Writing a book is of course not for the faint hearted and while those two blessed words “The End” shimmer enticingly in my imagination, they are still very distant in reality. There are long months, possibly even years of work ahead before I’ll be autographing copies at the book launch. At the beginning there were days of heady intoxication; planning, plotting, strategising, fantasising. But now like New Year’s Eve bubbly, the fizz has gone. Fortunately the passion hasn’t. The upside of a piece of work that gestates over a long time is that you learn a lot along the way. By now I know my characters inside out, their angst, their motivations, their failings and the story I want to tell about them.
Which is as much a positive as envisioning the end. But this phase, more than any other, is crucial. Getting caught up in focusing on an outcome and forecasting the work’s culmination, whether glorious or ignominious is counter-productive. As are progress reports, updates, accountings or anything that diminishes the impetus of just getting on with it. Even when the momentum falters, as it occasionally must, looking too far ahead risks not only a scary confrontation with the F word but an ugly wrangling with the D word (defeat).
So, if like Wile E. Coyote, you’ve leapt off a cliff, don’t look down.
Forget the chasm yawning beneath your puny body, just keep going for all you’re worth. Don’t think about falling, or failing. Don’t worry about how far it is to the other side. Don’t resolve to get there faster or smarter. Don’t talk about it. Just do it.
And if anyone asks how it’s going, simply say it is. And if it keeps going, as it will, you’ll get there, driven by the spirit that’s fuelled every human achievement since time began – persistence.
And remember one of the Wile E. Coyote’s golden rules: The Coyote could stop any time, if he were not a fanatic. And a fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim.
by Anne Green