Ah. New Year’s Day. The national holiday for optimistically setting oneself up for failure. Or at least, that’s pretty much how I’ve treated it. Still, there’s a little part of me, the second-grader that still hasn’t been jaded by school and starts the new school year with a bouquet of #2 pencils and a pristine box of Crayola Crayons in whatever cool rendition is available that year, and gets to school bright-eyed and bushy tailed ready to get all A’s.
Yeah. That second grader tends to emerge on January 1st and make me feel invincible long enough to resolve to lose weight, write more, whine less, and whatever else is ailing me that particular year and the self-help gurus suggest that I fix.
Wait. I’m not broken. Well, I don’t think I’m broken. I could use a little spackle here and there, but that’s the usual wear and tear on a middle-aged broad. Overall, I figure I’m about par for the course.
With that in mind, I turn a little introspective and wonder what this opportunity for resolutions and new habits and all that bunk really has to do with me and making me somehow a better version of myself. I’ve actually been thinking about it for a while, not so much inspired by the new year as by the events of the old year. Namely, 2009 was a bag of shit when it came to getting bad news.
Worry not, I haven’t suddenly developed Tourrette’s Syndrome, but I stand by my previous description. After a two-year period of testing, surmising, shots in the dark, all manner of tests, and wishful thinking, we were able to get a fairly definitive diagnosis for my husband’s chronic health problems: amyotrophic lateral schlerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease). The latter part of the year was spent trying to figure out what exactly that is, and what we need to do.
I’ve come to the conclusion that what we need to do is continue to live our lives in the same way that we were before the diagnosis. Part of me resents the intrusion of “the future” into our future. If you watch the new show, Flashforward, perhaps you can get an idea of my feelings here. The characters in the program have a glimpses of their futures, and then spend their days either avoiding it, or trying to second guess themselves in order to confirm their futures. Neither one of those makes any sense to me.
What we need to do is live, and that’s pretty much what we were doing anyway. And laugh. A lot.
And then, a close and dear friend got the news that his cancer has returned with a vengeance. Unfortunately that timeline is quite different. He is the inspiration for my non-resolution resolution. I don’t want to call it a new year’s resolution. I don’t even want to refer to it as a resolution at all. Perhaps challenge. Or attitude. Or … I don’t really know, but to lump it in with the other silly and unattainable goals I’ve set in the past is to do it a great injustice.
Let me explain.
I always wanted to be a writer — Philip Roth beat me to naming a book The Great American Novel, and the likelihood of my actually selling a novel, given the fact that I really am not at all drawn to writing novels, is pathetic when it isn’t funny. But I wanted to be another kind of writer. I gave a shot, twice, at journalism, and mostly have done about 25 years worth of technical writing, which evidently, I am fairly good at. It turns out, I’ve been a writer all along, just not the kind of writer I thought I wanted to be.
Cue my friend. He’s the kind of writer I want to be. He’s a journalist, which, if you want to get down to the crux of it, reports his observations of newsworthy stuff. Or, perhaps far more skillfully, makes the things he has observed newsworthy. Worth reading. Worth thinking about. Worth the time it takes to not just get the facts but understand the humanity of it.
This is a guy who looks like he could play on the defensive line of his beloved Pittsburgh Steeler’s and take them to yet another Super Bowl victory, but doesn’t look you in the eye to talk because he closes his own. I tease him about that, and anyone who knows him has certainly seen this quirky behavior. I’ve never asked him why he does that. Maybe it’s just a goofy tic. I’d like to think that he is just concentrating on the words he’s going to say because he understands the profound and immense power of them.
Anyway, we had a 30-second conversation once that he has surely forgotten about, but I always remember. We were standing in the breezeway outside the administration hall at church and I said something ridiculous designed to egg him into doing something he didn’t want to do. He refused to be sucked into the scheme and turned to me and effectively shut me up when he said, “If you’re not going to be brutally honest with your writing, what’s the point of writing?”
Damn. And he said it with his eyes wide open, looking straight at me.
So that’s my resolu plan for this year, and for the rest of my life. I’m going to endeavor to write as honestly as I can. I expect that it’s a heck of a lot harder than it looks. But I can do it. Because otherwise, what’s the point?