My family (well, really my mother) has established a New Year tradition for the last few calendar years: pick one word. Verbs are good; some nouns work too. Choosing your word is like setting your intention at the beginning of a yoga class: it’s the one thing you most want to find, or aspire to, or settle into for the coming year. Unlike a resolution, there’s not a pass/fail component. An intention is more open to interpretation than a goal.
The first year I participated, the word I chose was enjoy. The end of 2017 was a painful time: I was grieving a friend, burned out at my job, and still blindered with the emotional miserliness that I had established in order to finish my doctorate. My intention to enjoy things meant softening some of my hard edges and saying yes to precious time with friends and family. It also meant leaving my miserable job for a position that afforded a better work/life balance. I did enjoy 2018, as it turns out, and I like to think I formed some better habits of living.
When 2018 came to a close, I still hadn’t decided on a word until I was home for the holiday and my family asked. Create, I said. No, wait, practice. Ultimately I kept both words, because creativity is stimulated and supported by practice. I practiced ballet, taking several classes a week and building strength and stamina; by the end of the year, I had performed in a choreographed routine for a stage recital. I practiced writing creatively in the online courses I take for free at my university employer; it took me some time to find my way, but by the end of the year I was composing short pieces that felt original and true, that I enjoyed reading as well as writing. If you want to interpret the words broadly, I also continued my lifelong pursuit of creating nourishing food and practice of scheduling time with friends. I hope to carry these intentions forward with me, as they brought me a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction this year.
At the end of 2019, I feel more content and settled and enriched than I can ever remember feeling in my adult life. At the same time, I feel so fearful for the future: climate change anxiety is real, and like many people, I feel suffocated and helpless in the face of an absolute firehose of political mayhem. For the first time in a long time, I have two definite resolutions: one is to make concrete changes toward sustainable living, such as switching from single-use to reusable, durable materials whenever possible (e.g. switching from paper to cloth and plastic to glass; using rechargeable batteries and finding a new system for cat litter management now that Philly has banned plastic bags). The other resolution is, selfishly, to publish some of the writing I created this year.
It’s nice to have goals, but I still want to set an intention that will set the tone for my mood and pursuits this year. I created a LONG word list. I ran a few words by friends to solicit feedback (something I rarely do). I told myself to sleep on one or two words and see how I felt the next day. I think I have found a word that will do, although I reserve the right to change my mind.
My intention for 2020 is to venture. I intend to do things, even if I’m not sure they will work. Venture sounds more forward-moving to me than try, more sincere than act, more cautious than risk, more ebullient than undertake. Sure, there are one or two associations with the word venture that I don’t like (e.g. capitalism), but there are many more associations with the word that I do like (e.g. gather your party and venture forth). I asked my 7-year-old nephew what he thought the word meant, and he tentatively said “adventure?” which I think is a very fine intention too.
So this is the year that I venture to submit my writing for consideration, that I venture to establish environmentally sustainable practices in my home, and that I gather my party and venture toward memorable shared experiences. And if I reconsider my intentions partway through this arbitrary measurement of time we call a year, let it be in the spirit of challenging my tendency toward reserve and trying something new.