I used to call these pesky ideas now running around in my head New Year’s “resolutions.” However, it seems there’s a better word for the goals we set when the calendar flips to January 1st. The writer and psychologist Diana Raab, whom I am lucky enough to count among my friends, has suggested that the word “intention” is more accurate than “resolution.” We “resolve” problems and difficulties, while we “set an intention” to challenge ourselves with new situations.
Here I sit at the foot of New Year’s Eve, and my “intention” for 2019 is both banal and difficult: when we moved from California to Maryland, I allowed something unfortunate to happen. I did not find enough discipline to join a new gym or to put the Haagen-Dazs in my freezer down the Disposal. I slipped into sloth. I am now paying the price in the form of a new wardrobe in a larger size. (Okay, I’ll admit that for a shop-a-holic maybe that’s not totally disastrous news.) The real difficulty is that I now avoid looking at myself in the mirror, huff and puff over our steep staircases, and find it harder and harder to stay limber, let alone fit or comfortable. I could possibly lay some of the blame for all this at the hands of my sister, who is my new neighbor and a cook extraordinaire; when she is wearing the apron it’s easy to eat like a glutton. But in reality, the stress of leaving my home of thirty years and transplanting myself somewhere unfamiliar created enough stress that I lost self-control. Back in 1998, when I relocated from New York to California, I did the very same thing, and then did not shed those extra pounds until I found a trainer who prescribed a strict diet and a lot of exercise. Setting a goal always helps me to make a change regardless of whatever I am struggling with; at this time of year, perhaps the introspective vibe encouraged by winter hibernation allows me to make my way toward those paths I’d like to find, or those I am trying to leave behind. As an eighteen year old, I stopped smoking by tossing my pack of Benson and Hedges into the fireplace in a dramatic gesture at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Despite the theatricality of the moment, once I’d committed myself to giving up the cancer sticks, I stuck to it.
Last year, after I moved and left behind so many good friends, loneliness made waking each day harder than I wanted it to be. When New Year’s Eve arrived, I decided I must forge ahead and make new ones–even though, as someone who works at home in isolation and without the contacts school-age children bring, this presents a true challenge. Where was I going to meet people? Forcing myself to overcome my innate shyness, I joined a philanthropic foundation that awards grant money to women’s causes and then volunteered for a committee. On our first meeting, I was lucky enough to sit beside a woman who was also a writer and free-lance editor. Fortuitously, she remembered what it was like to be new in a community. She invited me out to lunch, and over Maryland crab cakes and an iced tea, I began a friendship with someone who is a great listener, a sensitive soul, and a novelist to boot. At one of the foundation’s book club events, I met another author, one who had written a book about a loved one’s addiction to heroin; this shared experience joined us in important ways. She suggested I accompany her to an Al-Anon meeting and we “clicked,” moving far beyond our initial connection to discover many more similar experiences and interests. I even pursued the interior designer who had helped me to choose paint colors and curtains in my new home; though initially we had nothing in common save the state of my furnishings, over time we discovered we were aesthetically in tune and enjoyed spending time together. All this taught me something important: say “yes” to the opportunities life presents–and create your own, as well. Don’t wait for them to come knocking on your front door.
I hope you are able to set an intention for yourself in 2019, as everyone needs some kind of growth in his or her life. If you don’t aim high, you will always end up walking over a very low bar–and if you don’t aim at all, you’ll wind up on your backside eating ice cream. One of my favorite novelists, Elizabeth Berg, writes: “You take one step of pure and good intention and the universe accommodates.” For me, “one” equals “won” and that’s about all you need to make a change. So, go to town and do it!