Word for the year

I can hardly think about a new year. I’m sitting on the sofa, typing on the laptop, the detritus of Christmas just past in front of me on the coffee table–the cardboard rolls of ribbon, the tape dispenser, the marking pens and little sticky gift tags staring at me defiantly, as if to say, “When are you going to put us away?” (I realize that I may be projecting just a teeny little bit. I suspect the ribbon is not nearly so bitchy.) Combine that with two female cats (both spayed) in the house battling one another because I had the nerve to bring in the newest one a couple of months ago, which still has the queen cat royally pissed. I’m recovering from a cold, my feet are never truly warm in winter, and I could use a nap. So really, a new year just around the corner? A fresh beginning?

Well, yes, actually. It’s what we do in the last gray days of the year, which, truthfully, have held some nice bits of sunshine in between the storms… not a bad metaphor for what we’ve lived through and what’s to come. We get to start anew every day, of course. But like many people, I am not a fan of new year’s resolutions. I heard a psychologist on the radio today say it helps if you have people on your team to periodically remind you of your resolution (“so how’s that daily yoga plan working out?”). But I hate being reminded of what I’m not doing. It makes me feel guilty and nervous, and no one needs that on cold, dark days.

Nevada City poet Molly Fisk agrees with me. “Trying to improve ourselves in January is just silly,” she posted on her Facebook page. “In January, we should be sitting in front of the fire reading books or dozing, like the big mammals we are. Attempting to change ingrained habits when our brains are sluggish and it’s snowing is a set-up for abject failure.”

This led to Molly’s friend Jane’s idea for the new year: one word. Just one simple word that sets your intention for the year.

“This is something you can ruminate on before the fire or curled under your blankets just before you fall asleep,” Molly writes. “You can even turn it over in your mind while stacking firewood or replacing those pipes under the house that burst in the last freeze. Choosing a word doesn’t go against the seasonal requirements of your inner Grizzly.”

I like the sound of that. So the search begins: What’s my word? One year, Molly writes, hers was “surrender.” Another year it was “austere”–not meaning poverty so much as self-containment. Molly recommends looking up a good dictionary definition of your word, one that really rings for you. Immediately I realize that even if I can choose one word–one single, meaningful word–it’s likely to disappear in a cloud of life stuff.

“Sometimes you’ll forget your word,” Molly writes, “and need to be reminded… But it’s working on you nonetheless, whether you pay careful attention or not. You’re in a relationship with it that will unfold, as opposed to a resolution, which is more of a chore to be done: It’s a finite idea with no room for movement; it chides you.”

So in considering 2012, I’m now searching for my word. I’ve had seven months away from teaching this year, a sabbatical from heaven, which is a possible word–“sabbatical” (“any extended period of leave from one’s customary work, especially for rest, to acquire new skills, or training, etc.,” says dictionary.com). It’s from the Greek sabbatikós, which I like the sound of, too, and, of course, it also refers to the Sabbath as a day of rest and religious observance. Which, truly, this has been. Each day has been holy–and not just because I didn’t have to grade papers. But because I’ve gotten to sleep a whole lot and travel and be in service to others, a perfect blend of “for you” and “all about me,” which I love. A new edition of my book of poetry, “Companion Spirit,” was published in the fall. An agent loves my young adult novel and will send it out to possible publishers early in  2013. I have spent wonderful hours with dear friends, old and new, and written with wonderful people in my writing groups when I’ve been in town, and read and read and read pretty much anything I wanted. OK, I worked a little, editing some friends’ manuscripts of their forthcoming books, but that was wonderful, enriching reading, too.

Honestly, I can’t think of anything I would have done differently on this sabbatical. I’ve pretty much checked off most things on my “to do” list, except clean out my home office and bring the books in boxes up from the basement. But there’s still time for that, and friends are lined up to help with that, too.

I say this all the time: I have lived a charmed life, and I am beyond grateful for it. To the ancestors who came before me and left me so much, to the companion spirits who make their voices heard and presences felt, to my colleagues at the college, to my writing group folks who show up for each other and for me, to my loved ones who take care of me so well on the planet. I am one lucky, lucky woman.

There’s my word for 2013: Lucky. “Having or marked by good luck; fortunate.” Yep, that’s me. Don’t hesitate to remind me should I get whiny or crabby in, say, March or October.

What’s your word?

About janishaag

Writer, writing teacher, editor
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7 Responses to Word for the year

  1. hilarywith1L says:



  2. What a wonderful blog. Made me think. My word, which is very much like your word, is grateful. As in grateful to have a BFF in you, and a needed daily reminder of all I have to be grateful for. Starting with this blog. Thanks, BFF

  3. ltownsdin says:

    As always, you inspire me!

  4. Cora Johnson says:

    Lots of food for thought here. Off the top of my head, I’d say “grateful” is my word, but I need to ruminate on that, let it stew and perhaps come up with a more inclusive word. Thank for the inspiration!

  5. Dorothy Haag says:

    I almost settled on “Light”, but just as I was writing this “Awareness” came to me. I think that’s the one.

    Thanks for the “prompt”.

    Love, Mom

  6. sonya says:

    Hi, Jan, thanks for that and looking back on all of your adventures, experiences, etc. over the last year. Still thinking of my word, perhaps “blessed” for dear friends and family and the experiences of 2012.

    Love, Sonya

  7. Jan, I love this piece. It’s so nice to read your honest, funny, thoughtful words. My word for the new year? Discipline? Rest? Still working on it. How about balance? Yes, balance. The balance between discipline and rest. I seem to always swing one way or the other. Balance. And a very happy new year to you.

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