O Angelina

A Girl and Her Dog: Living, Loving, & Enjoying the Little Things

2017: Resolutions for the New Year

From My Writing Desk, Living Well, ThankfulAngelina OberdanComment

I’ve been telling everyone lately that it takes me a long time to process, which is why I’m just now writing about the new year and my goals for it. 

Over winter break, my mom and I were walking through the Missouri Botanical Gardens, and we discussed our new year’s resolutions.  

We were both in puffy coats, and the St. Louis sky threatened rain. We’d gone to the Botanical Gardens anyway, because we’ve been going there together since my mother was pregnant with me, literally before I was born. The holiday lights were out, and we wanted to come back in the dark, but I had to fly back to North Carolina that night. (Another year, we promised.) The coy in the Japanese garden were under ice, and I couldn’t run my hands through the herbs like I did as a kid, picking out my favorite scents. I still wanted to walk down every path, and we took as many silly pictures/selfies as possible, laughing like girls at our wrinkles. 

My mom asked what my resolutions for 2017 were going to be, what I wanted for myself this year. I took a minute, but the answer I found wasn’t anything new. In 2017, I wanted to keep my rhythm and keep trying to be kind. 

On Kindness

Before the election I loved George Saunders’s commencement speech on kindness. (This recording isn't too bad. The speech is also available on Amazon as a book; click the image of the book.)  After the election, a good friend reminded me that she asks her daughters every day, not whether or not their days were good, but what the kindest thing they did was; she made the point that however askew the world seems, she will keep doing this, every day. So when I walked in my classroom the day after the election, I turned back to Saunders. All I could talk to my students about, the only sense I could muster, was that we just have to be kind. Saunders writes, 

Do all the other things, the ambitious things — travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers […] – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality — your soul, if you will — is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.

And so this year, I’m going to try to be kinder. It’s hard. Like Saunders writes, it’s not all “puppies and rainbows”; that’s why it’s something I, we, have to do every day: try to be kinder. 

In writing this, I was reminded of this wonderful article in The Atlantic--"Masters of Love"--  about being kind to your spouse and partner; when I first moved in with Dan, I actually had to learn how to do. My family is not so good at saying kind things to each other. In fact, one of my aunts confused that her family's resolution was to try and say fewer mean things to each other. 

There were actually a lot of moments between the time I started writing this and I posted it here that made me think about how important kindness is. One of those moments was when something very unkind came out of my mouth; exasperated in the moment I just let my feeling slip, and what I said wasn’t kind. How many times has this happened? Probably too many.

So kindness is hard. We have to try to be kind to the ones we love the most and to the people we don’t know at all. Every. Day.

On Mindfulness

In the same sort of idea of keeping something going all year, something that I accept is going to be hard every day—something that isn’t going to be done or not but hopefully finished well—is my second resolution is to keep my rhythm.

Rhythm is important; I am a poet after all. But what I mean by rhythm here is the rhythm of my days. When those rhythms get off, I get stressed, although stress is often what causes my rhythms to alter, which turns my life into a horrible cacophony of stress. Now, I do balance a lot: teaching, writing, exercising, walking the dogs, and sometimes that balance goes cattywampus.  What I want for this year is to be more mindful of it, to acknowledge when my rhythm is discordant, to accept it, and then to get back in step as soon as possible. 

Also, I know that this year is going to be a year of new rhythms. If last year we bought a house, we’ve just about had all the seasons in the Blue House; we’re just getting into the rhythms of the yard and even of turning the heat on early enough in the morning to want to get out of bed. I also accepted new responsibilities at work, and we adopted a third dog (more on that later). I need to forgive myself as I find those rhythms, as I get out of step, but also be mindful to get back into the ones that are working (and amend the ones that aren’t). 

Okay. I have to take a Clemson football moment. In the National Championship game, DeShaun Watson was off his rhythm at the beginning; he went a little cattywampus after getting hit really hard in the first quarter. However, he found his rhythm, and in the final seconds of the game, he put aside all the buzzing in his head and focused. I can’t imagine how amazing it would be to be that focused in a moment that big. Okay, I do imagine it’s like when in The Perfect Game: the camera zooms in to Kevin Costner’s face, and the crowd drops back as does the sound of their cheers. But how awesome (actually awesome, not the overused kind) would that be? I don’t want to be mindful a big, huge National Championship moment; I want to be able to find my rhythm, so that I can be that present in all the moments of my life. 

If you’ve read my blog more than once, you know I try to remember that, as Annie Dillard wrote, “The way we live our days is the way we live our lives.” I want to focus on those days this year, even more than I have in the past.

In doing this, even in my blog, I’m going to turn my attention to those two ideas: kindness and mindfulness.

I hope you enjoy!