It seems like tempting fate to make any resolutions for the new year. Didn’t 2020 just show us not to hold our plans too dear? But an intention is more like a guideline–something to fall back on when everything else is falling apart. In that sense, a pandemic is the best time to set an intention.
My one-word intention for 2020 was venture. I was feeling optimistic, strong, and ambitious; I wanted to make art and make change; I wanted to teach myself to take risks. I had some goals, such as adopting sustainable habits and getting published, which I was able to realize. I had other goals which seemed so obvious I didn’t need to state them, like taking trips (ha) to have new experiences (ha!) with my friends and my then-partner (oh, man). By spring I could barely venture down the street to buy groceries without having a full emotional breakdown.
Yet the idea of venturing helped me find my footing when I wasn’t sure what to do. I ventured out for long meandering walks; I took myself to the riverbanks, to every park within a couple miles of my house, once three miles north to bring a book and blankets for a friend’s baby. When my city walked to protest police violence, I walked; when my city danced to bring attention to the legal but lengthy ballot count, I danced. I did “gather my party and venture forth” (Dragon Age: Origins reference): scheduled video chats, virtual games, watch parties, readings, walks and park picnics when weather and case rate allowed. I took online classes–creative writing, climate science–and tuned in to virtual workshops and seminars and book discussions, probably even more than I would have done in a normal year. I volunteered to clean up parks, since I spend so much time in parks now, and ended up training to help plant and take care of city trees. I, a deeply risk-averse person, did some things that frightened me, like singing in “public” (in the context of online table reads of Shakespeare plays) and meeting new people to go on dates (virtual, or masked and distanced).
Of all my ventures this year, some of the ones that brought me the most satisfaction involved caring for plants and park grounds. Tending my little patio garden, attracting bees and butterflies, and one day finding fat stripy caterpillars feasting on my carrot tops. Working (at a distance) with a small team of neighbors to plant new sidewalk trees, and returning two weeks later to find the young trees producing leaf buds. Leaning over to pick trash out of the park brush and finding myself eye-level with a bird’s nest lined with Jolly Rancher wrappers.
In honor of those moments of beauty and discovery, my one-word intention for 2021 is cultivate. This is a promise to myself to continue to care for growing things, whether they are intended for my own enjoyment or others. But I like this word as a blanket intention, because all of my pursuits could use a little more patience. To cultivate is to take action with hope but without expectation. You lay groundwork, you set up favorable conditions, but accept that you cannot control the weather or any of the thousands of factors that influence growth. In addition to plants, I hope to cultivate friendships–old and new, the pandemic year has made me more open to the pleasure of connecting lightly to other human beings in the same struggle–and habits, so that cultivating favorable conditions for my own growth becomes second nature.
I have a lot of plans for the new year. But there’s no rush–sometimes the best thing you can do is to step back and wait.