Taking and Making in 2018

Longtime readers will be aware that I usually don’t make New Year’s resolutions. It’s too easy to cloak “restrictive rules” in the guise of “goals,” and I’m wary of doing that to myself. But this year, I’ve decided to try one of those daily accountability projects that are so popular. I take in a lot of pop culture and politics, but in recent years I’ve been putting out a lot less of my own stuff — writing, singing, things like that. This year, I joined a small community choir, which has made me happy and reminded me that being creative takes many forms, and that I want to do more of it.

So for 2018, I’ll be keeping a daily record of what I take and what I make. I may take in an album or movie or book or comedy night or an essay or play, and so on; I may make a blog post or song or poem or a good dinner, or I might make someone laugh or make a mess of something. The idea is to pay attention to what I’m creating and consuming, and not get lost in social media scrolling and procrastination. I’m not setting specific goals for what to create, just asking myself to be more proactive about the act of creation; there are no rules for what I can consume, just that I be more conscious about what I take in.

Here we go!

January 1

I took in:
Jessie Ware’s album Glasshouse (I particularly love “Your Domino” and “Alone”)
Traci Brimhall’s poem “Love Poem Without a Drop of Hyperbole in It” (from The New Yorker)
a NYE dance mix from Spotify
the “Hang the DJ” episode of Black Mirror (I kind of want that system for my dating life, if that’s the ending it’s going to have!)
the movie Belle (an excellent period piece that provides the simmering passions you love in a Jane Austen and also thoughtful, nuanced discussions of race and class that work as well for today as they do for the 18th-century setting of the film).

I made:
this blog post
a goofy dance to the Spotify dance mix
no attempt to be productive on this holiday.

east lansing michigan winter


An Interlude Between Highlights: New Year’s and Queenstown

How do you top an end-of-year high note like climbing a glacier? You don’t. You stay inside and get a lot of reading and journaling done while it rains steadily for 48 straight hours. Yes, the rain that we’d had off and on for the last few days turned into a nonstop downpour that took out the hostel’s power for several minutes, not to mention the bridge on the main highway just north of us.

A hot tub featured prominently in recovering from the cold. Despite the sign, I ate a candy bar and opted to wear a swimsuit.

A hot tub featured prominently in recovering from the cold. Despite the sign, I ate a candy bar and opted to wear a swimsuit.

The last day of the year was also the last day of my travels with Liz. She was moving on at a faster pace, in order to make it to her Christchurch job on time in a few days. It was hard to say goodbye to such a fast friend and great road trip partner, so after her car crossed the horizon I ate my feelings in the form of some Tim Tams and planned out the next few days to cheer myself up.

The bees loved this plant--as did I

The bees loved this plant–as did I

I celebrated New Year’s with other guests at the hostel. We chatted in the warmth of the common area, and then foolishly decided to venture out in the rain to find a party. We went to a bar that promised retro tunes, but when we got there it was all LMFAO and overpriced drinks, so I went back into the inclement weather to see what was happening on the other side of town (a town consisting of five streets).

A wonderfully local event, that’s what. Taos (pronounced like “chaos”) was playing the local gym/auditorium/cavernous indoor gathering space. When I got there, it felt just like a school dance or church event–too much space for the number of people there, a few people enthusiastically dancing, older folks watching from the sidelines, a table in the back with a couple kegs of beer (ok that part was unlike either the school dances or church events I’ve attended). Most people were barefoot, and I soon abandoned my flip flops and danced along on the wet gym floor. Or I tried to dance, anyway; I find reggae inherently un-danceable. The band was so into their set that they only realized it was near midnight at the last minute. The lead singer held up his smartphone to lead us all in a countdown, and that seemed a fitting way to do things as we cheered in 2013.

We stopped by Thunder Creek Falls on the road to Queenstown. The heavy rains made for a spectacular falls.

We stopped by Thunder Creek Falls on the road to Queenstown. The heavy rains made for a spectacular falls.

On the second day of the new year, I went on a long bus ride down the coast and into the heart of the mountains, to Queenstown. I stayed with the friend of a friend, children’s singer Craig Smith. Craig is big on the Couchsurfing scene, and he invited CSers to his birthday party on my second night there, so I got to chat with travelers while admiring the breathtaking view from Craig’s porch.

The view from the Queenstown living room I slept in

The view from the Queenstown living room I slept in

I didn’t do any of the adventure activities that Queenstown is known for. Indeed, mine was probably one of the more sedate visits a Queenstown tourist has experienced. I walked around the gardens near the harbor and read in the shadow of a small stone church. I bought a new quick-dry towel to replace the one I’d accidentally left behind in Greymouth (the first of two things I’ve lost on this trip–so far). I booked the next portion of my trip. I enjoyed the sunshine while it lasted. I ordered a giant hot chocolate that missed some essential chocolatey-ness. After a couple days, I moved on to Te Anau, and from there to another magnificent stop, Milford Sound.

With Lake Wakatipu and a mountain behind me. Snow in January is unheard of down here, so all the locals were excited that I got to see the mountains dusted white with it. They were beautiful!

With Lake Wakatipu and a mountain behind me. Snow in January is unheard of down here, so all the locals were excited that I got to see the mountains dusted white with it. They were beautiful!

New Year’s Celebrations

It’s the end of the calendar year, which gym membership fliers and credit card mailers alike will tell you means it’s time to set self-improvement goals for the coming year. Time to start an exercise regimen, go on a strict diet, clip coupons, send homemade birthday cards, master the art of the soufflé, and take up yoga or knitting. New Year’s resolutions are almost always a socially acceptable form of self-flagellation. “I’m not thin enough! I’m not pretty enough! I’m not virtuous enough! I will fix all this! I will be Me, Version 2.0! I will implant a chip in my brain that feeds me whatever information I need at the moment and always knows the location of the nearest Starbucks! I will gain superhuman strength and shed the need for sleep, and thus will I be the best person I can be!” I think you can see where this is going — New Year’s resolutions lead to cyborg armies. So for the good of our collective happiness and the future of America, I suggest we ditch resolutions this year. Instead, let’s think up some New Year’s Celebrations!

make some noise!

New Year's Celebrations!

Okay, so there are non-cyborg goals that are totally worthy and wonderful, of course. This blog wouldn’t exist without goals, and I wouldn’t be traveling around the world in a couple years either, for that matter. But for all the goals that motivate, there are goals that make it difficult to appreciate who we are right now and the joy we could be experiencing at this moment. Those are the cyborg goals these celebrations go against.

My list of celebrations is made up of things I can do that I know will bring me happiness, so it can be something I’ve done before or something that’s totally new to me. It’s not something to work toward or achieve or feel burdened about completing. It’s just something that will enhance my life in some way. But lest we stray too close to New Age-y “light some scented candles” or positivist “smile on the outside to feel the smile on the inside” malarkey, I think the list of celebrations needs to be made up of concrete, specific things. (Like a paper for English class!) Instead of “laugh more,” it should be “see an iO show” or “hang out with hilarious friend Alf every month.”

Now to implement the best part, which is also the hardest part (you knew there was a catch). With New Year’s resolutions, or most goal-oriented projects, the whole system is set up as cause & effect, rewards & punishments. This makes sense when you are changing something; how else do you measure progress and ensure you stay on the right track? But it can really mess you up psychologically. Diets are an obvious example — “I had a cupcake at lunch so I’ll do an extra 20 minutes on the elliptical” or “I’m eating veggies only for three days straight so I can cheat and have pasta on Valentine’s Day.” But other New Year’s resolutions can be similar — rewarding yourself with new nail polish because you saved on not getting a manicure, or the like. Soon every decision becomes a negotiation, every moment a cost/benefit analysis. It’s mentally exhausting to live in a near-constant state of trade-offs.

Thus, New Year’s Celebrations are totally free of cause and effect. You don’t go see that iO show as a reward for going 30 days smoke-free; you go because you have a free night and $12 and it sounds like fun. These are no-strings-attached things to do. The list is just a reminder of all the ways you love to have fun, a handy reference for whenever you might have cause to use it and celebrate the fact that you are alive.

Here are some things on my list of New Year’s Celebrations for 2010:

  • Spend an entire day at the beach
  • Spend an entire day reading
  • Visit a museum I’ve never been to before, like the DuSable or the NMMA
  • Eat a peach (and play a good album)
  • Say “yes” to a random invitation when I have plans to do something more dull
  • Visit the Garfield Park Conservatory when it’s cold outside, all the better to enjoy the tropical interior
  • Drink a beer chosen by the bartender at Quenchers

And so on and so forth. What are some celebratory ideas you have?

Also, if you are looking for a beautifully written piece on the idea of appreciating smaller moments, check out my friend’s blog here.