New Year’s resolutions matter so much as we prize cycles of time. I for one lay my loyalty at the feet of the watch face and the minute hand. New Year’s Eve is my favorite celebration. Through the fog of sequins, glitter, and champagne, this is a gala that looks back and forward. Resolutions are a metronome through which we can tunnel back into past visions of ourselves and forward into imagined horizons.
I’ve asked six Bay Area writers to share their resolutions.
Kai Carlson-Wee, San Francisco
I’m sitting here on Christmas Eve in snowy Minnesota watching Die Hard. Bruce Willis has killed a few German terrorists and is plotting to blow up a skyscraper. The surface-level plot of the movie is about good vs. evil, wayward American heroes vs. meticulous international villains. But the deeper plot is about a man’s inability to accept change in his life. The popularity of this film is largely about the action scenes and classic one-liners (“Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker”), but the enduring affection for the film is due to Willis’ character: a man who can’t bring himself to reconcile with his estranged wife, too stubborn to change his perspective until he is pushed to the edge.
Every year around this time I write up a few basic things I want to improve on. Maybe I decide to quit drinking. Maybe I promise to eat more salads. But inevitably, after a few weeks, the old habits start creeping back into my life. So what’s the point of New Year’s? Why do we promise ourselves improvements when we know the resolutions won’t stick? I think in many ways resolutions are less about superficial contracts and more about a desire to change. We want a license to do something radical, to “change your life,” as the poet Rilke says.
So this year, in the spirit of Die Hard, instead of listing ways to improve, I want to think of ways I can accept more change in my life. I want to be willing to take more risks. I want to allow myself to be open to new people, to empathize more deeply with strangers. I want to pay more attention to symbols and vague interactions with fate. I want to quit worrying about my ideal self, and start thinking about the direction my soul is evolving. I want to get down with this existential stuff, because, honestly, I’m tired of trying to be better. In a year that has been so full of violence and superficial chaos, I want my New Year’s Resolution to be more about making mistakes, writing some weird shit, f-cking up, and allowing myself transformation. Not in a machine-gun glory kind of way, but in real way that pushes me to risk being honest, to love the world more deeply, and to welcome the change.
Kai Carlson-Wee’s first book of poems ‘Rail‘ is out from BOA Editions in April 2018.
Zahra Noorbakhsh, Oakland
My New Year’s Resolution is to go on a ten-minute walk three times a day, no matter what. This is harder than it should be. I’ve learned that the more concrete, actionable, and specific the resolution, the harder it is to rationalize excuses. I’ve spent ten minutes wondering about Facebook posts, scrolling Twitter, or in a bathrobe staring at a wall — so I knew I had three opportunities in a day for ten-minute walks. I picked three because I wanted an action that would require my mind to visualize my day in three chunks. I also wanted to create a new normal for movement. As a writer and comedian, I spend most of my day in a chair: in airplanes, in cars, on BART, at my desk. I don’t want hemorrhoids; I heard they’re painful. It’s not just for fear of hemorrhoids, though. Ten minutes of intentional movement is terrifying to me. I can’t bear my thoughts: travel ban, refugees, war, internment. I resolved that if I can breathe through my fears for ten minutes a day, my heart will pump happy. Plus, I don’t want to die from reading headlines, each cortisol inducing quote from an orange buffoon eroding my ventricles. No thank you, I already have plans. I want to die by tsunami, taking my last breath staring up at its magnificent crest, birthed by the collision of tectonic plates, crashing in a rage against humanity. So, I resolve to walk for ten-minutes, three times a day, no matter what.
Zahra Noorbakhsh is the co-host of the brilliant Good Muslim Bad Muslim. Give her a listen.
Kim Shuck, San Francisco
I never got into the habit of making New Year’s resolutions, but I do make plans. I think that as a teacher, I often feel like a bottle rocket when I finish my grading. Without plans, I zoom around and don’t get much done. This year, I want to support more young people who write by inviting them to read and hopefully revitalizing a youth laureate program. At the same time, I need to find more time for the kind of investigation that I need in order to write. The last few months have been overwhelming and really good, but it’s been difficult to get a pen on paper. I’ve wound up with piles of poem rubble, but nothing cohesive. Maybe it’s the political situation, maybe it’s my personal circumstances, but if I am going to be actively poeting, I need to make a change of some kind. I’m spending time in the Presidio with my nose into their project to restore and protect Mountain Lake and the creek daylighting. Systems are systems and it’s fun to watch this system come back together. The symbolism of that is encouraging, what with the cultural work that needs to happen. What’s a poet? What do poets need to know/pay attention to? The answer may be that a poet needs to know everything. So maybe my resolution now and in other years is to make time to have a peek at more of the everything that I hope to know.
Kim Shuck is San Francisco’s poet laureate. Catch her reading on January 18th at Moe’s Books (2476 Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley) at 7:30 p.m.
Nayomi Munaweera, Oakland
My New Year’s resolution for 2018 is the same as it’s been every other year: write more, write better. I think I’ve had this resolution for the past ten years, at least. I also promise myself that I’ll meditate, do yoga, excercise, etc. — all the stuff to counteract the effects of spending a life hunched over a table writing a thing. But I’ll be happy if just the first part of this comes true. I’m working on a third novel and would love to have most of it done the coming year, but who knows! Books never do what their writers want them to do. So as with all previous years, we shall see. I’d also like to be a nicer, more joyful and loving person but again that’s also secondary to the writing. I suspect every writer I know is making a similar resolution. We are a ridiculous and obsessive tribe of people. Thank God other people love us and occasionally take us outside to enjoy the sunshine and trees!
Nayomi Munaweera is the author of ‘Island of Mirrors’ and more recently, ‘What Lies Between Us.’
Michael David Lukas, Oakland
For the past few years, I’ve been making New Year’s resolutions twice a year — once in the fall during the Jewish high holidays and again in the winter at the end of the Gregorian year — which I like because it gives me the chance to recommit to resolutions I’ve already broken. Plus, it’s always nice to get a head start on the Goyim.
This year, almost all my resolutions had something to do with attention. Don’t check your email while walking down the street. Don’t look at the news when you wake up middle of the night to pee. Don’t convince your toddler to watch YouTube videos of baby pigs so that you can check Facebook. Don’t pretend to go to the bathroom in the middle of dinner so that you can look at Politico.
Of course, none of these resolutions lasted more than a few days. And so, for my Gregorian New Year’s resolutions I tried a different tack. Instead of giving myself a list of prohibitions, I want to try to nudge my attention into the world around me. I want to look at trees more (because trees understand), I want to sit on more benches, go on more hikes, and spend at least 10 minutes a day thinking about nothing. Because, when it comes down to it, the thing I want most of all is more nothing.
Michael David Lukas is the author of ‘The Oracle of Stamboul’. His second novel ‘The Last Watchman of Old Cairo‘ is forthcoming from Spiegel & Grau in March.
MK Chavez, Oakland
I have a particular fondness for New Year’s Eve. There is nothing like a spirited review of the previous year, a reckoning of sorts, followed by the practice of resolution. Sometimes it’s the act of recommitting for the sake of repetition because some part of me believes that you just don’t give up, or starting something new because another part of me is a hopeless romantic, always looking for a new passion. I already know this next year will be the year of the lyric essay. I’m smitten beyond belief. For me, this process of reflection, analysis, and recommitment is a sacred practice. I suppose that writing is all about beginnings endings too. My first resolution: Say goodbye to 2017 while on the Coastal Starlight in transit from Portland, Oregon to Oakland, California. And my second: to begin 2018 in motion, traveling through the darkness but moving forward.
MK Chavez is the recipient of the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award. She is the author of ‘Dear Animal.’
The Spine is a biweekly column. Check us back here in two weeks.