Backwards and forwards

We’re back in Amsterdam! Our holiday break in the U.S. was both relaxing and exhausting – who knew that spending time with family and friends (and at Target) would wipe us out so completely? Thankfully we had a weekend to recover before jumping back into the routine of commuting, working, and day-to-day life, and we’ve already survived the first week of the new year.

I’ve also survived the endless, annual parade of articles, lists, and listicles (whatever the hell those are) touting the “Best [Books/Films/Moments] of 2015″, or the “Year in Review”.  No sooner do I get through those stories than I’m on to, “What’s Hot in the New Year” or “Ones to Watch in 2016”.

The reality is that when it comes to books, news, films, and life in general, I’ll never be able to stay on top of what’s new and – more importantly – what’s good. And by “good” I really mean: what’s worth my time? What will challenge, trouble, motivate, console or enliven me?

I’ve become somewhat addicted to brainpickings.org, a consistently inspiring and well-curated offering of poetry, art, and philosophy about things that matter: love, aging, work, dying. How to have a well-lived life. Most of what I’ve read this year I found thanks to that site. A few years ago, the author of the site, Maria Popova, started a “side project” pairing quotes from favorite books with songs. She calls it the Literary Jukebox, and it is worth your time.

Anyway, a while back, thanks to the Literary Jukebox, I found this quote from Debbie Millman, from her book Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design.

…what keeps me up late at night, and constantly gives me reason to fret, is this: I don’t know what I don’t know. There are universes of things out there — ideas, philosophies, songs, subtleties, facts, emotions — that exist but of which I am totally and thoroughly unaware. This makes me very uncomfortable.

Amen, sister. For some reason, the start of a new year brings this fretting into sharper focus. It’s like I’m staring down this year and the universes – universes!! – of things I am ignorant of, and don’t know where to start.

But I have to start somewhere, right?  I look to some trusted sources.  And I look around. There’s no shortage of inspiration in Amsterdam. And there’s so much that I don’t understand: art, history, modern politics, language, cultural practices. With our first year in the Netherlands behind us, it feels like it’s time to get serious as we go forward. We’ve had a year to adapt, get our feet wet, learn a little. Now we need to dig deeper.  Figure out what we don’t know.  Look for guides to discovery, but also leave room for chance and inspiration.

Bold goals for the new year, especially for someone who doesn’t generally make resolutions. Turning back to Debbie Millman, we’re reminded that this – and “this” is, really, all of it, all of live – is an experiment.

Lives are shaped by chance encounters and by discovering things that we don’t know that we don’t know. The arc of a life is a circuitous one. … In the grand scheme of things, everything we do is an experiment, the outcome of which is unknown.

You never know when a typical life will be anything but, and you won’t know if you are rewriting history, or rewriting the future, until the writing is complete.

This, just this, I am comfortable not knowing.

So here’s a final new year’s toast to 2016: to all that is unknown, and all there is to discover. Cheers!

 

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My New Year’s Resolution

I’m not big on New Year’s Eve, or the idea of making resolutions. At least not at the turn of the year. The memory of new shoes and unsullied notebooks at the start of a school year never quite fades. And even though I’m years removed from the first day of school, September always seems like the right time to start fresh. These bleak mid-winter days of January – dark, short, cold – are a time for cuddling up with our old habits and lazy ways. It’s a terrible time to start exercising or dieting, or resolving to do anything other than read, watch old movies, maybe write a letter or two.

That said, I do have one New Year’s tradition, which is to read and to share a New Year’s poem. The same poem, every year, since I always need to hear what the poet is telling me. It’s called, simply, “New Year’s Resolution”, by Phillip Appleman. Some of the references are to American sporting traditions on New Year’s Day, specifically the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, but the message is universal. We all end a year with some regret, and we start a year with the promise to do better.

Regardless of where this finds you, may you enter 2016 with a joyful heart and a resolution to break your losing streak. Happy New Year!

Well, I did it again, bringing in
that infant Purity across the land,
welcoming Innocence with gin
in New York, waiting up
to help Chicago,
Denver, L.A., Fairbanks, Honolulu–and now
the high school bands are alienating Dallas
and girls in gold and tangerine
have lost touch with Pasadena,
and young men with biceps and missing teeth
are dreaming of personal fouls,
and it’s all beginning again, just like
those other Januaries in
instant replay …
But I’ve had enough
of turning to look back, the old
post-morteming of defeat:
people I loved but didn’t touch,
friends I haven’t seen for years,
strangers who smiled but didn’t speak–failures,
failures. No,
I refuse to leave it at that–because
somewhere, off camera,
January is coming like Venus
up from the murk of December, re-
virginized, as innocent
of loss as any dawn. Resolved: this year
I’m going to break my losing streak,
I’m going to stay alert, reach out,
speak when not spoken to,
read the minds of people in the streets,
I’m going to practice every day,
stay in training and be moderate
in all things.
All things but love.
 

 

 

Catching up

Catching up: that’s what this post – and this whole week – is about. We’ve been in the U.S. since last Tuesday. We’re a bit displaced in our own home, living out of suitcases and digging through boxes that we packed away months ago. We’ve had 60 degree weather and now, our first snow of the season (which is quickly turning into a slushy mess).  Our schedule has been full with holidays, and lunches and dinners with family and friends.  We still have a few days and a few more celebrations before we return to Amsterdam.

It has been wonderful to spend time with people we love and get caught up. Even with all of the available technologies for staying in touch, there’s no substitute for being present with people, face to face. For a long-overdue hug. For a slice of Dad’s famous cheesecake. For sharing a memory and a good laugh.

In the days before our visit to the U.S., we spent a weekend in Paris. To catch you up on that adventure, it was great. Since we’d been to Paris before, and since this trip was so short, we didn’t feel any pressure to see the sights or do anything in particular. Happily, Paris is perfectly willing to accommodate the desire to stroll and eat. And repeat.

I’m proud to say that I did stick to my resolution to speak French while in Paris. And for the most part, the French went along with me. Once, the concierge at the hotel switched into English but I just barreled along in French. No surrender!

The weekend in Paris helped put me in the holiday mood – the city was alight and festive, even though it was unseasonably warm. We didn’t put up a Christmas tree in Amsterdam and we don’t have a tree here in Boston, either. I didn’t do my usual shopping or cookie-baking – many of the markers of the holiday were missing this year. But the spirit in Paris was contagious and made it, finally, feel like Christmas.

And so here we are, on the brink of another new year. The time has gone by so quickly – the year itself and this short stay in the U.S. With any luck, I’ll use the flight home to do some more reflection on all that’s been and all that’s to come in the new year.

To all of you, a happy and healthy new year. May 2016 bring you the best of all things…