How are your New Year’s resolutions coming? Did you even make any? By now, most of them have been abandoned, according to experts. For the most part, I don’t usually make any — I figure that “do-overs” should begin as soon as the need becomes obvious.
This year, however, I was jolted into making a few by a note in a Christmas card I received from a former professor, for whom I was a T.A. in grad school. It read as follows: “Aside from the close relationship you have with your children, your life seems just so-so. You’re a fine person, and I think you deserve better.”
After the initial shock wore off, though, I realized that his ability to assess my life is seriously flawed. We communicate maybe twice a year and, having an aversion to the kind of year-end letters most people send — the ones where everything that year was fantastic and fun — I don’t tend to list a bunch of highlights for the consumption of people who are so peripheral that they’d have no idea what I left out. I also tend to avoid talking shop, so he undoubtedly has no idea where and with whom I’ve performed, or what great friends I have, or how many times I’ve written articles that made it into BSR.
He did get me thinking, though, about the possibility that he was right. After all, I’m still single, eight years after separating from my ex-husband. I drive a beat-up van, and while I own my home (or at least I will when I pay it off), it’s very modest. I’m respected as a musician by people who count, but I’m far from famous. I may be able to retire someday, but my default position has been to pray for continued good health as a way to avoid penury. None of this stuff is exactly what I’d call outstanding.
And yet, there’s the one thing he conceded — my relationship with my kids. Both are teens, so things may yet go horribly wrong, but at the moment, my former mentor is dismissing a whole lot. Mothers have been glorified and vilified, and there’s no way to do the job perfectly. Still, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with feeling rather good about having kids who like you, even though they realize you’re not going to endorse everything they say or do.
Still, what about the rest of it? It depends how one wants to assess things — the glass may be half full or half empty, to use the cliché — not three-quarters full, though, which might be his point.
“He’s jealous of you,” one of my friends commented. Nope, I doubt it. I could find many reasons to dismiss his assessment, rooted first and foremost in my ability to be grateful for what I have. Instead, though, I made a resolution, my first in many years, to look very hard at the aspects of my life that I’ve accepted, even though I could do better in those areas, and pick two or three — then to consciously work on improving them.
The first one was big: I left my literary agent, who is really nice, but hadn’t sold my novel in the two years she represented me and never seemed to have any concrete information when I asked for updates (like names of editors, how long they’d had my book, and what they thought of it). Scary and time-consuming to take that on myself (and time is one resource I definitely lack), but I decided to commit to being just a bit more about business rather than creativity. The creativity has to stay, of course, but rather than lamenting that marketing myself is part of the game, I’m going to embrace it.
I’ve also decided to address something at the opposite end of the spectrum: I almost never invite people to my house because aside from the area around my piano, where I teach, it never seems tidy enough. So this year, I’m going to have people over at least three times. I’m going to throw things in the basement until they leave, if I need to, but I’m going to do it because it gives me joy and will undoubtedly help to preserve my sanity. Which I’ll need, if I’m going to do a better job marketing myself, a prospect that I’ve always found to be the opposite of invigorating. (Maybe I need to add changing my attitude about marketing to the list.)
Ah, so that’s why people make New Year’s resolutions!