you say you want a resolution


All this week (wait–it’s only Tuesday!) I have been reading different takes on resolutions for the year ahead. A couple of them stood out to me. One was this picture of Woody Guthrie’s “New Year’s Rulin’s” from 1943. My favorites were 17-20:

17. don’t get lonesome
18. stay glad
19. keep hoping machine alive
20. dream good

Another is a list of resolutions by Jacob Zweig from 2018, but it showed up in no less than five places for me. A couple that stood out:

Never try to get other people to change their minds without first trying to understand why they think the way they do. Never do that without being open to the possibility that the mind that might need to change the most could be your own.

Work harder at making the familiar strange. Walk or drive a different route than your daily routine; work away from your desk; read something flamboyantly irrelevant; call someone you don’t need to call; look up at the sky instead of the concrete. When you turn back to your routine, it will feel freshened.

Befriend someone at least 20 years younger than you, and someone at least 20 years older than you. Each of you will make the other smarter and better.

The deepest roots of the word resolution go back to the fourteenth century: “a breaking or reducing into parts; process of reducing things into simpler forms.” The word resolve breaks down into re (again) and solve (to loosen, untie, release, explain). The roots are interesting to me because when people talk about making New Year’s resolutions I can feel my body stiffen. They feel like extra pressure, extra complications, extra obligations–not breaking things into simpler forms.

My point here is not to trash resolutions as a practice. We all need moments to reset and re-solve our lives, figure out again who we are and who we hope to be in the world. If the beginning of a new year is a mark that works for you, then work it. What I am listening to is the invitation to to reduce things into simpler forms. I am an excellent complicator. I want to lose weight, get in shape, play my guitar more, write everyday, learn how to bake bread, and play pickle ball all at once.

All of those things need my attention. What is the simpler form? How can I live in a way that sets me free rather than binds me up?

Woody had a pretty good sense of it, I think. Look back at his list. It revolves around daily tasks, personal and professional habits, and, of course, fighting fascism. The prophet Micah pared it down to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly, though I don’t know that he had any sense of what New Year’s Day was about. I like Micah’s big brush alongside of Woody’s sense of the impact of little things and small measures. They make quite a team.

One draft of this post ended with a list of simple things for the year ahead, but I deleted it (from the post, not from my thoughts) because my reason for writing was not to post my intentions for the days to come. I’m still sorting out what life is going to look like for more reasons than the change of year, and, as I said, resolutions are not usually part of my practice.

Instead, I want to sit with the idea of making life simpler, breaking it down to its essence: How do I stay true to what matters most to me? That feels so simple that it will take a year to answer.



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