Years ago, at the beginning of every year, I would always start my new diaries with grand sweeping proclamations.
I will stop biting my nails.
I will stop throwing my sister across the room when she calls me goofy.
I will never kiss a boy.
I WILL SAVE PANDAS.
A week later I would have forgotten whichever promise I had written (far too neatly for it ever to be real), and the diary would be thrust under an unloved teddy never to be written in again.
I had sort of forgotten about new year’s resolutions until a young wide-eyed girl asked me last week what my resolutions are for 2014. I stared at her a bit. I was about to fob her off with “eat better and drink less”, but being as hungover as a fat man’s belt buckle I didn’t have the energy to lie.
As I shook off my haze I found myself pondering resolutions and the nature of making promises to ourselves. New year, new start, we say. Perhaps the act of making a resolution makes us feel that we have a degree of control over an unknowable future.
Sometimes we don’t wait til the end of a year to resolve to change things. Some crazy kooks mix it up a bit and start a new thing, perchance, in April, or September. Our impetus to change things can happen at any point, and those are perhaps the better promises – the resolutions that rise up from deep inside irrespective of what time of year it is. Maybe those are the ones we stick to.
I once, after a long relationship ended, changed almost completely overnight. I didn’t make a promise to myself. I didn’t write a list of things I would or wouldn’t do, but every day I would quite unintentionally, in the process of adapting to my new life, find something I was now no longer happy doing or not doing or putting up with. I began to establish a new, brave, ramshackly codified way of living – a life I was now open to, not afraid of. Every day seemed to have a fresh happy thought or sunburst of realisation or skip in the heart as I looked around me and saw that life was beautiful. I always knew it – but I hadn’t felt it for a long time. You can know a lot of stuff to be true but unless you actually feel it the theory all counts for diddlysquat.
To help me remember to try and always live that way, I did a thing I never thought I’d do. I got a tattoo. Freedom birds. I could have got a nice little book of Dalai Lama quotes or taken up yoga or something that probably would have done the trick, but when you’re drunk on free gin in the first class carriage of a train to Edinburgh you make some peculiar choices. And thank goodness. Thank goodness for peculiar choices in the spirit of the moment, in defiance at the protracted bad choices you have made in more sensible unhappy times.
I have stuck to that collection of wordless promises; they still shape my days. Others I have failed at. I still chew my nails. I have not saved the pandas. And I have kissed a lot of boys, some girls, and one I can’t be sure of but the club was dark and I left soon afterwards so that’s all fine.
We can make the best of ourselves at all sorts of times, and new beginnings can be found in any month, if we are open and honest and brave enough. We don’t need the new year to restart ourselves, but it’s a good place to start in the meantime.