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This year, when January came around I noticed an odd paralysis going on — I was afraid to make lists. My notepads remained blank. Even the iPad the family gave me as a Christmas gift, the ultimate list-making tool, glowed blankly, waiting for prioritized catalogs of future activities, lined up in neat, blinking digital rows ready for deletion upon completion.
Nothing but a blank glow.
I’m a prolific list maker, from the smallest detail to the largest. Instead of keeping a journal, I file away marked off lists to record the passage of time. I can pull out a list from January 2006 or March 2008 — wrinkled, faded, and filed away — and remember precisely where I was and how I felt the day that list was made.
• Prepare for upcoming class – check.
• Buy airline ticket – check.
• Cook vegetarian lasagna – check.
Lists reveal what we aspire to, the nature of our daily lives, what we’ve accomplished and, in many cases, what we’ve failed to address with unrelenting regularity. Want an honest assessment of your eating and drinking habits? Consult the past lists that have urged you to partake of less or more and follow the path of progress, or the endless Groundhog Day cycle of procrastination.
I have items that have been moved forward from one list to another for six months, some for as long as a year, some for more:
• Complete book proposal.
• Plant fruit tree in back garden.
• Lose 20 pounds.
January 1, 2012 came and with it no resolution beyond a profound desire for more napping. The bustle and jumble of the Thanksgiving to Christmas season had passed and I needed time to stoke the fires before plunging into ill-considered goal making. This year I wanted time to consider what I really wanted to accomplish in a brief, sweeping year and I wanted to make the list count. Maybe it’s about aging, reaching the far middle distance from where it is apparent there are fewer years stretching ahead than behind in which to achieve a lifetime’s dreams, still unfulfilled.
I eavesdropped on a post-New Year’s conversation the other day in a coffee shop. The woman in question, who looked to be about my age but notably thinner, calmly explained to a friend her method for setting new year’s goals. On a written list, every January 1, she writes out her sales goals for the coming year in specific detail, including percentages of increase and categories of sales. Judging from her looks — put together, beautifully groomed, healthy — I assumed the rest of her life goals were approached in an equally orderly fashion.
I tried to think which goals of my own could be so neatly enumerated and realized the ones I care about aren’t so easily measured.
• Read the pile of books next to my bed that I’ve always wanted to read but have put off.
• Write a chapter of my novel that marches forward with such feeling and precision that the reader never comes up for air.
• Discover the vast possibilities of love.
• Try to understand why people are spiritually moved by the desert.
Last Saturday, December 31, I spent some time at my sister’s house here on Galveston Island where I’ve been visiting for the past few weeks. Just before sunset, I pulled onto Seawall Boulevard for the short drive to my mother’s house and pulled over and parked next to the ocean as thick, winter fog rolled in. The air churned and swirled in wet drafts and melded with the indistinguishable sea just a few hundred yards out. Early partygoers zoomed by, cars rocking with revelers and loud music and determined gaiety.
I crept home on back streets, high beams shining through the thickening fog, and parked on a quiet side street. Inside, my mother’s overheated house glowed golden and brown, the Christmas tree lights still glittering, the bedroom television volume turned up high enough for her to hear her Saturday evening movie.
I settled on the couch with a book and read until 2011 passed to 2012.
Thoughts of resolutions came and went. A text mail from one of my sons wished me happy new year and declared “This is our year.”
A week later, I still have no resolutions except to take it slow and make my list when I’m ready.
“Do not hurry; do not rest,” said Goethe. Next week I’ll drive a thousand miles home from Texas to Colorado, scanning the open plains for wishes and dreams. 2012 will be the year I remember what I really wanted.
Kathryn Eastburn is the author of A Sacred Feast: Reflections of Sacred Harp Singing and Dinner on the Ground, and Simon Says: A True Story of Boys, Guns and Murder in the Rocky Mountain West. You can comment and read or listen to this column again at The Big Something at KRCC.org. “The Middle Distance” is published every Friday on The Big Something and airs each Saturday at 1 p.m. right after This American Life.