Outside a January rain is falling. A steady stream of cars passes down the boulevard, one after another in slow procession. From inside the coffeehouse where I sit, butt-in-chair, the rhythmic cadence of the rain is drowned out by the thump, thump, thumping from the stereo and the din of quiet New Year’s conversations. I haven’t written in over a month. Swept away in the end of the semester grading and the hustle and bustle of the holidays, a general malaise has settled in, I have not been able to put my butt in the chair, to come back to the blank page and begin again.
Every year, from Thanksgiving through the end of December, I struggle to maintain a rhythm. I mostly fail, abandoning the practices that anchor my daily life for the “other things” that must get done. For months I have mostly not eaten sugar, but in the past month or so, I have hardly eaten anything else. Since November I have become obsessed with the political world, following every sordid twist and turn, vacillating between anger and despair. A deep cold has settled in. My body feels heavy and lifeless. Is it Tuesday or Wednesday? I feel disoriented.
When I was a little girl I saw the years in linear fashion, the way credits roll at the end of a movie. January, in all its freshness, sits alone at the very tippy top. Reading left to right, top to bottom, along comes February, March and April and so it goes, all the way until December, the month at the very bottom, all gray and snowy, dressed up with red bows and tinsel and the promise of a baby’s birth. On December 31st we’d reset, climbing back up the ladder to start again.
Every year at this time I think about that image, the hard reset, the climb to the top to begin again. Seduced by the idea of a fresh start, I go to bed on the 31st of December and imagine waking up on January 1 a new me, a slimmer, more patient woman who speaks several languages fluently and spends her days living a carefree life abroad trying to decide whether to visit the Uffizi or just sit and have coffee near the Piazza della Signorina. I am Elizabeth Gilbert or Frances Mayes or a character in a film by Pedro Almodovar standing on a busy intersection in Barcelona looking up at the glorious Sagrada Familia. Surely this is the year.
When I joined the gym a couple of years ago I thought it would help me lose weight, reshape a middle-aged body that has born two ginormous children. I start doing yoga, imagining myself standing confidently in tree pose, one leg pressed comfortably against the other, my breath slow, my mind calm.
In 2012 I travelled to Barcelona. I took two weeks of language classes in Spain, convinced that with only a tune up that high school Spanish would come back. Four months later, eluded by the fluency I so desired, I came home, my tail between my legs, redoubling my commitment as the calendar turned. Surely 2013 would be the year. In 2014, still searching for the illusive fluency, I spent three weeks in Oaxaca with dozens of young people half my age conjugating verb tenses with gusto.
I too, have had my share of failed New Year’s Resolutions. I have started diets and subscribed to Weight Watchers one too many times. I’ve looked to Oprah to help me live my best life and vowed, more than once, to get better at managing my money. I’ve earnestly promised myself I’d be kinder. More patient. Less judgmental. I’d sever my love affair with cannoli in favor of kale, but then the page of the calendar turns, the sun comes up, and then, on January 1st, I face the mirror and there I am again.
For many of us, 2016 was not an easy year, one that has shaken our balance and trust in the world around us. In my darkest moments I have struggled to have hope in what lies ahead. I still lose my patience and choose cannoli over kale and I probably always will. Like that first attempt at tree pose, I teeter and wobble, trying to stand on one leg. I am not graceful. I cannot hold the pose for long. I lose my balance and topple, but only for a moment. I take a breath, center myself and start again.
It has taken a long time, but I think I have finally learned that there is no magic reset. No wiping the slate clean. No destination to get to. There are only the steps of a journey that started long ago. Each day begins anew, but the journey itself continues. Fluency still evades me but I haven’t given up. I may not have mastered tree pose, but I know that today I will pick up where I left off.
If I just show up and roll out my mat.
*Image from here: https://meghanbelyoga.com/wp/welcome-to-meghan-bel-yoga/