New Year’s Day, a Resolution, and Writing as ‘Stepping Back’

For some reason, my eyes flew open a little before 8 am this morning, even though I didn’t go to bed ’til 2. I was at a house party with good friends, and spent a good deal of it by the fire pit in the backyard, and my hair smells deliciously like smoke. Bryan’s still sleeping, the house is quiet, and I’m here on the sofa with my coffee, obeying the first of my New Year’s resolutions on my list: to write at least 500 words a day.

I love the New Year holiday, and as I rediscovered when I returned to college a three (or so) years ago, I love writing. So this is an excellent way to start the year!

I feel that I can express myself so much better, sometimes, through writing, even better than with my artwork, and I’m always trying to find a way to communicate better with people. I’m a social person, who needs the feel the love and companionship of others in order to feel happy and satisfied. In fact, I’m very needy in this way. (Funnily enough, even more so than Bryan, who’s perfectly happy and comfortable spending a lot of time alone; he’s very self-possessed. But in social situations, Bryan’s the one who’s most at ease, who can find a way to connect with everyone, so funny and entertaining in conversation, and everyone loves him!) But I’m also very shy, and within the last couple of years, I’ve let many of the good habits I built up in my early 20’s fall away. When I was a child and into my teens, I was extremely shy and awkward, and had few friends, since the strange circumstances of my upbringing kept me somewhat isolated. But when I went to junior college, I enjoyed the company of so many new people and craved it constantly, so I learned how to be social and agreeable, mostly by listening and asking a lot of questions (this was not mere politeness, I was really interested! People are especially fascinating when you’ve spent most of your life rarely getting to know anyone outside of your own family). But in the last couple of years, I’ve become much more introverted in my habits, and have discovered, to my dismay, that there are so many people I care about that I haven’t really talked to at all, or in depth, in a long time. I even find myself retreating into myself when the people I actually want to talk to are right there in the room with me! That will change, I am determined.

So many of my introverted habits, I think, come from trying to figure out who I am and why, and how to be the kind of person I want to be, the kind of person worthy of respect, admiration even. I’ve been immersed in the past couple of years one of those existential crises that fall upon so many in their thirties, when one suddenly finds that they are well on their way through adulthood and there’s just not longer an ocean of time left. While these crises are inevitable and provide a valuable opportunity to take stock, it’s also important not to let them go on too long, since they can lead to that internal, doubt-driven wheel-spinning that impedes action. It’s a time to get it together and pick some goals to pursue and things to excel at, but then the time comes where you need to just get out there and actually do something about it.

Writing is an excellent tool to that end, and a way to really get to know one’s self, what one’s core values are, what are the best uses of one’s time and energy. It’s reflection and action all at once. I often feel that I really don’t know myself that well in many ways, and suspect that, through writing, I’ll be able to discover more. I think it’s often hard to understand oneself, to know certain things about one’s own personality and motivations, because it’s so hard to judge one’s own actions objectively, to see patterns in behavior, to get the ‘big picture’ view. One’s just just too close of an observer, too immersed in the instincts and emotions of the moment, to really ‘get’ why one’s doing, or thinking, or saying, whatever it is, at the time. I think writing is a process very like the ‘stepping back’ I do when creating an artwork or a piece of craft: I take a moment, or a few, to take some steps back from the work, to look at the overall effect, and to see how everything is hanging together, what needs to be changed, and what is working well.

When I write down what I’m thinking, I can get that big-picture view in a way that I rarely can otherwise, except perhaps in depthy conversation. Yet, writing is very like good, depthy conversation, because you’re calling on yourself to explain and describe something to an audience, and you’re conscious of other minds and how they may be perceiving what you have to say. And, you’re calling to mind the things other people have written or said concerning whatever it is you’re writing about. So writing also helps me to figure out what I really think and believe about things out there in the world.

That’s because, through writing, you can put together all those elements to craft a bigger picture, a more complete story, as opposed to just experiencing the daily stream of reactions to what’s going on out there. These reactions are important in themselves, the emotional responses, the internal arguments, the stockpiling of information about the world. But when you write, as when you converse, you’re putting it all together for yourself as well as for the person you’re talking to. What writing has over conversation is that you can go back and look over what you’re saying, and revise it, and perfect it much more thoroughly, and it’s not subject to lapses of memory. You become accountable to the ideas you expressed before, much like politicians are now accountable for those things they do and those words they spout off, since everything’s recorded these days. The more you write, and share what you write, you become more accountable to yourself, and to your readers. It places you firmly on a path of regular self-discipline, and self-improvement, as you strive to improve the quality and cohesiveness of your ideas. This ‘stepping-back’ process can do for your mind what it can do for the things you create: it shows you what’s missing, what you need to do in order to complete a more perfect, more beautiful, more unified whole.

So on this New Year’s morning, I affirm my resolution to be a better writer, and, through that, a better thinker and a better person. And I thank you, dear reader, for participating in this endeavor with me.

 

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