©2009 by Toni Piccinini
Is there a better launching off point for positive change than New Year’s Day? Nope, not much beats January 1st as the beginning of the new you. A whole new year awaits for the writer in you to make your mark. Fresh and unspoiled by editor rejections and by your own sketchy writing habits, that fat January is all about possibilities. All the excess of the holiday season, the “might as well wait ‘till the first of the year” procrastination, and the sludgy sloth are but a faint memory after midnight December 31st. You have improvement plans for this New Year. This year you will finish that novel, this year you will send out that stack of short stories languishing in the drawer; hell, this year you’re going to quit smoking, lose weight, get fit, and find your soul mate.
What’s that you say? Here it is the second week of January and already you’ve missed your sunrise yoga class for the third time and got lost reading a book instead of working on yours. You do this every year. You suck.
But don’t despair. The New Year, though powerful, is but one of many occasions you can use to identify the beginning of the new you. Chinese New Year comes soon enough in February, and if that passes you by there is always that fire starter, sun-moving-into-Aries first day of spring. Fresh starts crave a precise moment to mark the spot when old bad habits are shed like a crusty scab revealing the glowing newness underneath. Well, maybe that’s a microdermabrasion facial, but you get the picture.
More importantly though, why do we need this totem, a day on the calendar that captures our best selves? I have a theory.
I have a friend who believes in everything––no, wait a minute, that’s me––but let’s just say that everything in the universe is either yin or yang. You know, female/male, expansive/contractive, sweet pink vodka cosmopolitan/deep fried pork sausage. Surely we writers are expansive yin beings. (I’m surprised poets can keep their corporeal form and not just fly away in a beam of pure light.) Thus we need yang energy to balance us, to bring us down to earth. Self-imposed structure demonstrates our attempt to ground ourselves with powerful yang energy. Brilliant yin ideas need some butt-in-the-chair yang work ethic to reach fruition. Every day we seek balance. But if we were completely successful existing on steady sameness, brown rice, and goodness, where would the murder scenes come from? Or tales of the steamy sex of betrayal?
Today I decided to take an inventory of my accomplishments, to see how far I have come with all the personal and professional growth I set out to manufacture last January. I think I was on four diets last year, and I am happy to say that I weigh exactly the same as I did last January. Early in the year, as I channel surfed for the Australian Open (procrastinating on my book proposal) I landed on the best thing I ever saw. Good-looking, happy, sweaty people gyrated to a salsa beat. Exercise? How could it be exercise––it looked like so much fun? I ordered the Zumba tapes with the free Zumba sticks (an unbelievable offer) before the hard-bodied dancers were done dancing across my TV screen. Now, a year later, the unopened box sits on a shelf, a cluttered shelf. Oh yeah, that’s right, that was another thing I was planning on doing. “Clear the clutter” was high on the resolution list at the onset of 2008.
Why do we make these resolutions? Because we’re dreamers. And let’s just give it up to the creative universe for that! Writers are imaginers. We can see flesh and blood on a cold blank page. We can feel the pain of a life not lived or the joy of a mother’s love in people who don’t even exist. We can chronicle our lives and, maybe without realizing it, land on universal truths that resonate with our readers.
Last year at this time I had a few pages about many things, which was the start of my woman-coming-of-a-certain-age food memoir. I was flailing, trying to herd squirrels of thought with little success. I was yinned out. My story was so ethereal and all over the place it was on the verge of disappearing, taking my vision of me as a writer with it. And then the magic happened. The universe delivered someone to help me, a special editor/coach goddess, who incidentally has very tangy yang energy. This January I have three fat chapters and a real honest-to-goodness book proposal. The heft of it in my hand feels like a newborn baby. It feels like a miracle to me. That’s what creation is.
January is the month for fresh starts. That’s the generous, expansive yin of it. January is also a fallow winter month, a time of reflection and a time to draw together. That’s the tightening yang of it. What I learned in this last year is that positive change (the new year theme) doesn’t need to be directed by a judgmental taskmaster. That Zumba guy wasn’t bitching at anybody. That’s what drew me to him in the first place. He and his band of zumba-cisers were working hard, sweat beading up on their six-pack abs, but they were having fun. They were dialed in to their creative energy.
So this new year, instead of eliminating things that give you pleasure, make a list of resolutions to celebrate and savor the wonderful unique qualities that make you you. Take a deep breath of your divine essence, dear reader, and instead of starting the next to-do list, look at all that you have done. I think you will be surprised.
Toni Piccinini is a Marin-based writer and the creator and original owner of Mescolanza, a San Francisco Chronicle Top 100 Bay Area Restaurant. When Toni is not teaching Italian cooking classes, (email@example.com) or shaking her Zumba sticks, she is looking for an agent to represent her coming-of-age food memoir “A Simple Year”.