{reflections on a grid of blank squares}

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.” ~ T.S. Eliot

‘Tis the season of the giant reset button.

We do the countdown, and push – and abracadabra, everything Old is New.

A new year is always so strange to me – to be honest, it’s usually disappointing. After the late night celebration and the sleep deprivation hangover subsides, it’s pretty much a day much like the previous day, minus bad TV and people counting backwards loudly enough to be heard outside of their houses.

Yes, I know I’m cynical, but I thought I’d start the year out by being honest.

Sometimes, this thing called “possibility” seems to be only a wavering mist. It’s not something you can get a grip on, it’s not something you can sink your teeth into – it’s just amorphous theory. Though people herald a new year as a time of erasing old records, when the champagne foam clears and the confetti settles, you’re still you, with all of your collection of hesitations and regrets, bad habits and late papers.

But, you knew that.

For me, the trick to being able to look at a new year with hope and an upwelling of enthusiasm is… not to look. Really: don’t. If you stand “at the gate of the year,” as the old poem says, and look down all three hundred and sixty-five days before you, surely, at some point, your enthusiasm will wane. Sure, you can look forward to summer – in about one hundred and ninety days – or Spring, in roughly a hundred days – but there’s a lot of living to get through before those moments. There’s a lot of one-foot-in-front-of-the-other plodding, there’s a lot of stubbed toes, allergies, arguments and sleepless nights. Looking at the entire year leaves me overwhelmed and exhausted, ready to throw up my white flag and surrender before it even starts.

The Year

~ Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1910)

What can be said in New Year rhymes,
That’s not been said a thousand times?

The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.

We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.

We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.

We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our brides, we sheet our dead.

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that’s the burden of the year.

She’s a tad cynical too, isn’t she? I’d say I don’t think that it’s so much the burden of the year as the cycle of said – but maybe it is the burden of the year. …Although, perhaps that’s the reason behind the drinking culture of New Year’s – people are bracing themselves more than celebrating. Looking down the unmarked calendar pages stretched out before us, we will indeed have all of the laughter and tears and weddings and funerals foretold, but trying to see that far will only give you eyestrain. Better, perhaps, to step back from the details, and simply rest in the idea of a “big picture.” Not to take refuge in easy catchphrases, but the AA people have it right: one day at a time.

I love how Walt Whitman kind of breaks it down: we’re always obsessing about ourselves, and at New Year, it’s no different. We remember. We review. We reflect. We resolve that somehow we will make a change. We’re positive we can figure out a way to do everything differently than last year. We’re going to be different — this time, everything will be. We’ll find some way to make it right.

Maybe that’s not really key.

O Me! O Life!

~by Walt Whitman

O Me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?


That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.

This is the hope: One day, I will contribute something – I don’t have to know what just yet.

So. 2011 recedes in the rearview mirror, and 2012 approaches apace. I can’t say that I’ve resolved to do anything except survive – here in Scotland, we’re still in the Deep Dark, and when I have more than seven hours of “daylight,” I’ll be able to think more clearly, I’m sure. Meanwhile, I continue to muse upon Stanley Kunitz’s poem, The Layers. “Every stone on the road is precious to me,” he says, as every step in a day must be. Not the long view, of looking down the blank corridors of a whole new year, but just the up-front and present view of the Now: the decisions I’m going to make today that will affect this week, the words I will get down on paper and view with some (limited) satisfaction, the colors I will wear in defiance of the endless gray, the rest I will take on fuzzy flannels. Just… settling into the now with a sense of contentment and only thinking briefly of the days before me —

…Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

Here’s to all of the changes to come, the chances, the gambles, the failures, and the flings. Here’s to tomorrow morning. And the next day. And the next.

Carpe diem. And, I suppose, Happy New Year.

Hayford Mills 216

Poetry Friday is actually over at The Drift Record. Funny – I forgot it was Friday when I started this, but for once, I am in step with things. That’s a good sign for a new day, yes? Yes.

6 Replies to “{reflections on a grid of blank squares}”

  1. For once I’m glad I am late reading the PF roundup. This was the perfect post to read on New Year’s morning. Thank you for Wilcox and Whitman and Kunitz…and YOU.

    Carpe diem, indeed.

  2. I’m still reading “The Layers” regularly and finding some comfort and strength in it.

    I have never understood all the hoopla over New Year’s and have never felt the urge to make anything but flip resolutions for the year to come. When I was at the gym the other day, though, and waiting for a weight bench to free up (the New Year’s Exercisers are already crowding everything up), it occurred to me that something I believe about life is that it can change anytime, any day, and that is amazing. I saw none of the most significant things that happened to me in 2011 coming when I celebrated the New Year last December 31, and I’m glad I didn’t. I am glad that I took things as they came, reacted, lived, and learned. It was a challenging year in a lot of ways, but a really good year, too. I wouldn’t change it. (I have never been into the idea of fortunetelling, either. I cannot understand why anyone would want to know her future.) My biggest goal for 2012 is to live well and be open to what the days have to give me and to attempt to take the bad surprises with some grace (I am so bad at that!), but that’s my goal for every day, already.

  3. Beautiful post; enjoyed the poems. I tend to ignore the whole January as the new start because August (as the kick-off to the new school year) has been the reset button for me. Much easier to be hopeful when surrounded by the scent of new paper and pencils and bright sunshine, than in the post-Christmas doldrums.

    Here’s to daily living and singing the burden between the verses!

  4. I kind of like deadlines, so these next few days will see me making a push toward Order, fighting back against darkness and chaos….already I have celebrted the Burning of the Bills of 2006, and today, excitingly, I’m going to do a Cleansing of my office at work.

    Perhaps Ella is using burden as in chorus/refrain, which makes more sense…as in The Jolly Miller of Dee.

    I hope your sun comes back soon!

    1. Also, it’s not that I don’t like deadlines necessarily – but yours are a short deadline – getting the bills up to date by Jan. 1 is totally doable. Getting the entire office organized for the entire year — um. Maybe not, since it didn’t get organized within the last three hundred and sixty-five days. Maybe I’m trying to say that we shouldn’t expect so much of a new year… maybe we should relish one moment at a time. But, I fear I said it badly. It really has been dark lately… my brain is a bit slushy.

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