It’s January. Most of New England is a frozen wasteland, slammed by a blizzard that was followed up immediately by a deep freeze. I live near Boston, where we got to see the consequences of climate change in the form of catastrophic flooding that froze over. The streets of Revere are an ice rink.
Why is that relevant?
The turning of the New Year is a time when many people choose to make resolutions. Many of us make resolutions we know we’re not going to keep. They’re unrealistic. Like so many other people, I make these resolutions, and then I get mad at myself when I don’t keep them.
There’s something about the time of year that inspires the desire to improve, the sensation of a clean slate. A lot of that is seasonal. Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, particularly in northern climates, are looking at a harsh and unforgiving but above all clean environment. When I look out at the backyard, I don’t see mud or broken fences or goose crap. I see blank canvas, waiting for a new season.
It’s a powerful feeling, when I look at it that way.
And, of course, there’s the flip side. It’s freezing out there. I had an asthma attack walking from the hockey rink to the car last night, just from the cold. The best thing we can all do is sit indoors in the warm (assuming, of course, we have a warm indoor place to do so) and contemplate all of the good things we’re going to do going forward.
You know, before the thaw allows us back out into the world and forces us to contemplate the reality of actually doing any of this.
As a reader, I have a few resolutions. My first resolution, and my biggest, is to read more. It’s something most people (or at least most people I know) say they want to do, but as I’ve gotten older it’s gotten more difficult to carve out the time to actually read.
It feels sinful, selfish, indulgent. Something I have to earn.
Here’s the thing, though. Reading teaches us. Sure, reading nonfiction teaches us whatever our nonfiction book teaches us about. It might teach us about a poisoning ring in sixteenth century Paris or about murder in twentieth century South Carolina, or it might teach us about knitting or about the history of Typhus. (All excellent books, for the record.)
Fiction teaches us, too. Fiction teaches us how to be better people. Most of us will never climb a mountain, survive a genocide, exact revenge on the people who harmed us, rescue orphaned sea creatures, defeat literal demons, et cetera. We can live vicariously through these characters and thus move outside our own narrow eat, sleep, work, argue on Facebook lives.
So it’s not really “selfish” to sit down and carve out time to read fiction. The book I’m reading right now may feel like fluffy indulgence, and it might seem frivolous in comparison to the real-life news stories I see every day. Reading fiction, and learning to see through someone else’s eyes, has taught me to empathize. Empathy has taught me to solve problems better than any ten classes on Organizational Behavior. So maybe my resolution should be “I will not feel guilty about reading eighteen books this year,” instead of “I will read eighteen books this year.”
Another resolution I’m making, as a reader, is to feel less shame about what I’m reading. Last year was kind of a big year for me, in terms of standing up and being myself. I personally feel like I should try to feel a little bit less shame about what I’m consuming, and what I’m not consuming. Within certain reasonable boundaries, there are no guilty pleasures.
I watch terrible ghostie television. It’s my go-to programming, when I’m too tired to think but too keyed up to sleep. It’s fun, it’s entertaining, and it does the trick. As a reader, it’s a little bit harder to point to something I enjoy and call it a “guilty” pleasure, unless its historical romances I know aren’t accurate but love anyway.
(As an aside, I’d love to see more historical queer romances. I just would.)
I like reading the same history books, over and over. I like reading supernatural romances, even though sometimes I roll my eyes. Yes, big scary vampire, it’s only been done eighty-seven times, yes, that’s me hitting one click, well I did say it’s been done eighty-seven times how did you think I knew that?
So as of now, there are no more guilty pleasures, especially as far as reading is concerned.
In the same vein, I resolve to be at peace with the things that don’t interest me.
As a writer, I have a few resolutions too.
I resolve to have something to submit at least every quarter of this year, under my own name. It’s easy to get sidetracked and to let The Day Job eat all of my energy. If I don’t want to let that happen, I need to make a conscious commitment to my own voice, and my own work.
I resolve to seek out the things that inspire me, even when they take time away from writing. Sometimes this means going outside of my comfort zone, to a concert or a party or even just sitting by a fire on a beach. It’s good to focus, and to have my butt in front of the computer, but the computer isn’t very inspirational.
And finally, I resolve to forgive myself. I think this is one of the most important resolutions people can make. Let’s face it, many of us make resolutions we know are ambitious at best. We need to be gentle with ourselves. We can’t keep all of them. We might be able to get part way on some of them. And at the end of the day, as long as we’ve been good to one another and true to ourselves, I think we’ll have done okay.
Happy 2018. May it bring us more justice, more peace, and more joy.