It’s an odd sort of time, January, especially in the Southern Hemisphere where you’ve got the whole summer thing lumped on top of the Christmas/New Year things. It’s like no matter what you think you’re doing, your brain doesn’t really believe you’re seriously trying to do anything until at least February – and not even then, if it’s hot.
Have you ever seen your past laid out on a page? It’s unnerving.
Last week I typed up my 2015 work diary (a daily note of what I did or why I didn’t do anything) into a spreadsheet: a year at a view. It was disheartening, encouraging, and then disheartening some more.
I took four days off for public holidays, including Waitangi Day, Good Friday and Christmas. I also took three days for private holidays: my birthday, our wedding anniversary, and our family name day. That takes the total down to 306.
I had a startling eleven sick days, although nearly half of that was eye-related – having laser surgery does require a certain amount of time spent in the offices of eye-people, and also a certain amount of time resting the eyes afterwards (total: 295).
Then there were visits to friends or family, including one for a wedding – a total of five visits, to my amazement, which between them ate up 25 of what would otherwise have been working days (270).
I also took Edith Sitwell’s advice and had some days in bed – well below her suggested quota, though, as I only had six in fifty-two weeks (264). Am I super-lucky? Well, yes, but if it’s any comfort, I haven’t had a paid holiday (or sick leave) in nearly two years.
I did 36 days research; spent 64 days writing; another 40 days typing up what I’d written; a further 8 days reading through what I had typed and taking notes; and a whole 44 days blogging. I also spent a day on a letter to the Prime Minister about the Polish children of Pahiatua and another day on a skit for a local Light Party. 194 days of writing work, not counting the three I spent overhauling my workspace between projects, or the two I spent on working out a mission statement of sorts. Call it 199. (That’s the encouraging bit.)
The advanced mathematicians among you will have realized that if you have 264 days, and write in 199 of them, that leaves 65 unaccounted for. What happened to those days?
I wish I knew.
Some of them likely included unrecorded blogging, since the frequency of posts appearing here certainly exceeds the frequency of blogging mentions in the work diary. But bits of the year seem to have just disappeared, like the calendar of Verrius Flaccus.
For the most part, the blank days are scattered in ones and twos about the year. There are two and a half weeks looking blank in December – I don’t much mind that, we had some very special guests I don’t get to see nearly as often as I’d like – but there’s also a great wealth of blank days in May. After the 6th of May, there’s nothing recorded til the 3rd of June. And I don’t know why. There don’t seem to have been any external causes, I just ground to a halt for about four weeks. Except for blogging. (So thanks to you all, for keeping me writing in some form at least!)
2016, I decided, must be different. In preparation, I did my version of the Relaxed Writer’s exercise I did two and a half years ago. Three columns: I Don’t Want, I Want, and I Will. I think I meant to look at my writing life in particular, but it came out very much more general than that. And very repetitive. This is apparently normal and shows you what you’re most concerned about. Happily, this meant that my list of forty-plus “don’t wants” were reverse-engineered to a shorter list of “wants” and in the end my list of “I wills” had only six items on it to cover the lot.
Two or three of these are specific to a single matter, but the others are very general. In essence, what I need to do this year is to trust the process and trust God. I have a routine which I am gradually converting to habit;*; a routine which, if followed, will make sure that the things that need to happen happen, and nothing gets wildly out of control. Like turning the heel, I just have to keep going in faith that it will all come together if I just keep going.
*In looking back at this habit post, I note it was written in late May and mentions that I’ve been sick for the last couple of weeks. This may explain a large part of the absence of May, although you would think I could at least have left myself a note. In the diary, rather than on a blog. Do I look like the sort of woman who subscribes to her own blog? Still, it’s nice to know I wasn’t slacking off entirely.
No, it’s not December 31st just yet. (Did you give the calendar a panicky look?)
Tomorrow is St. Andrew’s Day (he’s the patron saint of Scotland) and also, this year, the first Sunday in Advent and therefore the first day of the new ecclesiastical year.
Question: why is it that people paint themselves green on St Patrick’s Day (even if they don’t have Irish blood) but they don’t paint themselves blue on St. Andrew’s Day, even if they’re Scots?
I mean, if you have an ancestral tradition of painting yourself blue, why not go for it?
I did actually paint myself blue once (although not on St. Andrew’s Day) with blue food colouring mixed into my sunscreen. I figured if it was safe to eat, it was probably safe to wear.
Rather disturbingly, though, it sank into my skin regardless of how many coats I put on, and I ended the day a pale silvery blue.
And then I leaked blue into my clothes for a week. Next time I might just rub myself with woad, or its nearest antipodean equivalent. (Tips?)
Anyway, regardless of what colour you are planning on being tomorrow, it’s the first day of Advent, the Season of Anticipation, when the church looks forward to celebrating Christ’s first coming, and remembers to anticipate his second. (N.B. If you are not looking forward to Christmas, try staying out of shops. It helps.) Advent is by its very nature a forward-looking time, and it can be useful for more than just preparing for Christmas.
You see, with traditional New Year’s Resolutions, the serious (in fact, crippling) downside is that you make them in the holidays, when everything’s out of routine. That’s the absolute last time that works for starting something new. If you start with the ecclesiastical new year, on the other hand, you get three to four weeks head start before the holidays whip the carpet from under your feet.
The other problem with the usual New Year’s Resolutions is that you don’t get any time to get yourself organized. You’re just plunged straight into the new year, everything’s closed, and by the time you’ve missed a day or a week or so, it seems a bit late for a fresh start that year.
Again, Advent to the rescue! Advent can be a time for getting things together, getting focused, and getting your head in the game. (Odd expression. There aren’t many games that are improved by sticking your head into the middle of things. Trust me.)
So, in the Adventular spirit of Looking Ahead, what’s coming up for you this year? Is there something you want to accomplish, something you want to quit, or any other kind of change to make?
Now, I know some people are staunchly anti-resolution, often because they know that resolutions seldom stick. I don’t make resolutions myself, for that very reason. Why make yourself more reasons to feel guilty?
But how about picking a theme for your year? The Year of Friendship, the Debt-Free Year, the Year of Moving On?
This year I’m going with a theme of Finishing Well. I have so many unfinished things in my life; so many projects from so many years ago, and some of them hang round my neck like millstones. So this will be my year of Finishing, and Finishing Well. Time to start planning how I’m going to make that happen.
What about you? What are you Looking Forward to this year?