Thursday, January 1, 2015


As we begin a new year, we often pause to reflect and remember the year past, the many years past.

Where have we been?  What have we seen and heard and experienced?
Who has entered our lives and who has exited from our present and our future?

Where are we going in the new year?  As we look forward, what do we hope to see?

Each year for many years, I reread all of my journals on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day.

I  no longer do that.
For one thing, it seemed that all I had ever written was sad-- I had not recorded my happier, higher moments-- and I, indeed, had them.  I guess I was too busy living them. So crying through old journals and memories each year was my cathartic practice then.

But more practically, there are now  far too many journals and writings and poems at this point to reread, to relive.   I have made more of an effort to be inclusive in the nature of the moments I choose to record.

I do, however, from time to time, still review what I have written in the past, reflecting on what I have experienced, and remembering both the good, the bad, and the ugly. This week I reread selected posts from my blog over the past two years--rereading words I had forgotten I had written, reliving feelings and thoughts I had forgotten I had experienced, cringing at some paragraphs and smiling satisfactorily at others.

It seems that we  think about the new and now in the context of  then, what has been, what used to be.
As the New Year approaches, I have begun to think more intentionally about the whole notion of new. What does new mean?

Commercials on our TVs, computers, and other electronic devices entice us.  Colorful two -page spreads in our magazines,  newspapers, and other print materials beckon to us.

New and improved!
The Latest Thing!
The hottest ....from... wherever!

Is new really better?

We would think so if we believe the barrage of images rushing at us from media.
Is the latest meant to replace and erase, or obliterate the old?

Have they really made changes that will make a difference in my experiences with the product?
Or are these just marketing words designed to  trick me into thinking I am getting something dramatically better?

TVTropes humorously explores the linguistic entanglements of  "new and improved."

Comedian George Carlin observed that the phrase is perfectly meaningless in the first place. Which is it, a new product, or an old one which has been improved? Logically it cannot be both "new" and "improved"...
 Click here to read the complete " New and Improved" article.

Laying humor aside,  new may not be always better-- no matter how shiny or technologically advanced.

 And instinctively, we know that to be true.

We have always cherished the classic (think cars, think songs, think literature).
We have always venerated the vintage (think clothes, think jewelry, think dishes).
We have always appreciated and treasured the ancient (think scrolls, think artifacts and art, think everything archaeologists discover and dig up).

 Still, we eternally search for the new and improved.

We traditionally approach each new year like a shiny penny ready to be spent on new things.

What will I do new in this year?
We proceed yearly listing our resolutions, our goals--new habits we wish to begin or end, new activities, relationships and we will usher in or from which we will exit, new actions... all new... (or maybe new again-- the same as last year because we failed by  January 6 or 7 or February 12... or whenever it was we quit being our new and improved selves.)

But I am offering a different approach as we enter this new year.
I am proposing a different, "new and improved"  new year question.

What went well in the  past year (s) and what will I keep as I enter the coming year?

What well worn, familiar habits served me well in 2014 or back beyond in the past?
What memories and experiences will I bring forward to inspire me, remind me, lift me on a bad day?
What relationships supported me and forced me to be the best me?

What do I want to keep and repeat in 2015?

As I think about this year and ask myself this new question and the subsequent questions that it suggests, I am reminded of,  sustained by, and propelled forward by several poems.

 I must celebrate and critically examine myself and my past year.

Vaclav Havel reminds me that It Is I Who Must Begin.
It is I who must begin.
Once I begin, once I try --
here and now,
right where I am,
not excusing myself...

-- as soon as I begin that,
I suddenly discover,
to my surprise, that
I am neither the only one,
nor the first,
nor the most important one
to have set out
upon that road.

Read Havel's entire poem here. 

 In Deciding, William Stafford reminds me to make decisions intentionally, carefully considering the consequences.

 Stafford, likewise, reminds me in Next Timeto notice that which is in front of me-- each moment, each person, each " leaf and feather". 

Next time what I'd do is look at
the earth before saying anything. I'd stop
just before going into a house
and be an emperor for a minute
and listen better to the wind
      or to the air being still.

Then anyone who talked to me, whether
blame or praise or just passing time,
I'd watch the face, how the mouth
has to work, and see any strain, any
sign of what lifted the voice....
 Read the entire poem, Next Time here.

Wislawa Szymborska, in Life While-You Wait, reminds me that sometimes life just happens -- we can't rehearse, we can't premeditate, we can not always know the role we play...

Life While-You-Wait. 
Performance without rehearsal. 
Body without alterations. 
Head without premeditation.
I know nothing of the role I play. 
I only know it's mine. I can't exchange it.
I have to guess on the spot 
just what this play's all about....
 Read the entire poem, Life While-You-Wait here.

And finally, as I enter 2015, William Stafford echoes my thoughts and  encourages me to keep the old that has served me well.

In The Way It Is, he urges me to continue to follow that thread woven through my life that holds me to me.

There’s a thread you follow.It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.....
Tragedies happen: people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

Read the entire poem, The Way It Is here.

Yes, this new year, I will ask a new question:

What went well in the  past year (s) and what will I keep as I enter the coming year?

 The above poems can also be found in two of my favorite collections.

It Is I Who Must Begin
The Way It Is
Life While-You-Wait
The Way It Is
 For more about these essential collections, read my previous post, Teaching With Fire, Teaching With Courage.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

 Reflect on the past year, or more years past.

What went well in the  past year (s) and what will you keep as you enter the coming year?

What well worn, familiar habits served you well in 2014 or back beyond in the past?
What memories and experiences will you  bring forward to inspire you, remind you, to  lift you on a bad day?
What relationships supported you and forced you to be the best you?

How will you celebrate the you that  you have been and also critically analyze yourself, as well?

How will you make decisions as you move into the new year?

How will you face and accept  life as it happens to you- unpredicted, unrehearsed?

And how will you hold onto the thread that connects you to you?

What do you want to keep and repeat in 2015?

Write a poem capturing your reflections, intentions and questions.

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