Of Resolutions and Poetry

 Mark Twain

Mark Twain

 

“New Year’s Day: Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”            Mark Twain

 

Two months have passed since 2016 began, and most of us have paved hell: We still bite our fingernails and neglect vegetables. We look through dirty windows we vowed to wash every month and wear bedraggled bathrobes we swore to replace. Our cupboards and garages are not organized; the dog is not trained; and our bathroom scales continue to lie.

I win few victories when I make resolutions disguised as a rule: I’ll write 500 words every day. But when I dream about possibilities, my success rate improves: I’d like to write a book.

Shortly after I first contemplated the possibility of a book, I read an anonymous poem that captured my apprehension about trying to create one.

Before I share the verse, I’d like you to identify a consuming interest or passion you have: sketching, skiing, genealogy, calligraphy, hot air balloons, playing the trombone. Next, think about a personally-fulfilling accomplishment you’d like to pursue with that interest: making a cherry wood table, entering a photography contest, completing a half-marathon, starting a book club, crocheting an afghan for every grandchild.

Then substitute that ahievement for the poem’s title.

Writing a Book
It’s
impossible,”
said Pride. “It’s
risky,” said Experience. “It’s
pointless,” said Reason. “Give it
a try,” whispered the
Heart.”

As the unknown author knew, pursuing our dreams brings risk. We suffer from self-doubt, setbacks, and the skepticism of others. I feared I would not live up to my expectations or those of my friends and family. I cringed at my vulnerability when strangers critiqued the work I had poured my heart into. Sometimes, not attempting a book seemed easier to live with than trying to write one and faiIing to do so.

Another poem rescued me: “Berryman” by W.S. Merwin, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1997 and 2009. As a self-doubting college student, Merwin asked John Berryman, an established and important American poet, how writers know if what they write has any value. Later, Merwin recounted the advice he received in the following verse of his poem Berryman.

I asked how you can ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can’t
you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don’t write.
W.S. Merwin

I’d like to recommend a resolution to you for the rest of this year and for all the years to come: Follow your dream wherever it leads you; follow it because it will fulfill you, not because it will be perfect.

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82 thoughts on “Of Resolutions and Poetry

    • They are two of my favorite poets as well, but not until recently. You are fortunate if you have known their works for some time. Merwin’s “Berryman” in its entirety is a powerful, gripping poem. Actually, my thoughts in this post traced my thinking before I published my first book; but I am playing with the notion of doing another. I’m always happy to hear from you, Dawn.

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    • Funny, it’s almost like you read my mind. The other day, walking, I thought that if I do another book, I’ll need to delve into my first marriage more, including the Vietnam. Those were pivotal years in my life.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Those were important years for a lot of us boomers. Visiting Hanoi a couple of years ago was emotional, healing, eye-opening for me. I’m looking forward to your next book.

        Liked by 1 person

      • We came of age in interesting times; I’m not sure young people today understand the toll Vietnam took on our country. I’ve never visited Hanoi. How about I begin to take steps toward another book, and you write a post about your visit to Hanoi?

        Liked by 2 people

      • Yes, it still counts, and I owe you a story about being married to a Vietnam vet while at the same time questioning our mission there. I can’t promise when; but I do promise one.

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  1. Love this topic and message, Janet. The poems each are wonderful examples of why we must get out of our own way. A perfect life is not the life for me, I am glad to know there are others out there who feel able to let go of such a notion. I hope this implies that you are looking to write another book? I say YES to that 🙂

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    • For too many years, I tried for perfection, failed miserably, and thought, “Well, that was counter-productive,” then proceeded to disappoint myself again. I learned, but it was slowly. I like the strength in your sentence, “A perfect life is not the life for me,” and I can now say the same thing.

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      • I strive to continue to be curious, no perfect. My mother was/is a perfectionist. It has subsided as she has gotten older but I remember so many times as a girl seeing her disappointment, mostly in herself. I realized early on I didn’t need to hold myself to an impossible standard. Life is hard to live when you are constantly disappointed! Many failures make for the best stories too 🙂

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      • Now that I think about it, Carrie, some of my best stories are about the times I failed. I guess it’s a sign of my maturity that that I can see the humor in them now that I didn’t see at the time.

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  2. As you know, I set out to write rubbish, to annoy my co-workers who only ate seaweed, only talked of digestive enzymes and cats…now when anyone reads it, the heart warmses. I know a chap, a Shakespearen Actor- huge, brilliant, quite mad, “He wrote- “Never surrender, never give up, till you are back on that Stratford stage”. Indeed, one must dream, thanks Janet.

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    • I know the feeling when the “heart warmses.” It’s very pleasant isn’t it? I also like the way your actor friend described the importance of dreaming. What is it you dream of these days, my friend?

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  3. I don’t do resolutions because once broken, it’s over. I do goals. My goal this year was to get up each day and write 500 words for the day. Thus far, I have been successful. As far as poems are concerned, this one always gives me goose pimples. It’s that beautiful:

    Let Evening Come
    BY JANE KENYON
    Let the light of late afternoon
    shine through chinks in the barn, moving
    up the bales as the sun moves down.

    Let the cricket take up chafing
    as a woman takes up her needles
    and her yarn. Let evening come.

    Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
    in long grass. Let the stars appear
    and the moon disclose her silver horn.

    Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
    Let the wind die down. Let the shed
    go black inside. Let evening come.

    To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
    in the oats, to air in the lung
    let evening come.

    Let it come, as it will, and don’t
    be afraid. God does not leave us
    comfortless, so let evening come.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for giving me this poem today. I like it so much. I’ll keep a copy of it with the favorites that I return to again and again. It gives me such a feeling of peace and acceptance; and, as you say, it creates beauty from ordinary things. I share your reaction to it, Don. Again, thanks.

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  4. I don’t make New Year resolutions, mostly because waiting until the first of the calendar year to get started on tasks I want to see through sounds ludicrous. And with my short-term memory loss problems, I’ll forget what I wanted to accomplish. Again, ludicrous. When I was to complete something I feel passionate about, I try to start on it the moment it’s firmly in my thoughts. With things like chores I want to get out of the way, yes, I fidget a little but not for long. I want those things off my docket so I can get to the things I love without any nagging in the back of my mind.

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    • I, too, prefer to tackle the necessary quickly and first so I can concentrate on the things I enjoy doing. This morning I cleaned the laundry room, even scrubbing out its all-purpose sink, a task I hate because old stains prevent it from really looking clean; but then I had the rest of the day to blog and write. Wonderful.

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  5. Yep Aunt Beulah, your recommended resolution is a rippa!! I will keep that one for sure.
    My dear Mum wrote poetry, unpublished, just something she loved to do, some in proper english, some in Aussie slang and very funny.
    She used to say
    There will never be a perfect world
    But there is always a perfect dream
    Dare to dream, don’t dream to be perfect!
    She was the kindest lady, creative, clever, funny but lived her whole 77 years as a homemaker. Missed her calling, I am certain of that, I miss her so very very much.
    Your recommended resolution, sounded a bit familiar to me and made me think of my Budiful Mum’ Thankyou Aunt Beaulah
    From Annie in Australia 🌞 🌴 🌊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Why am I not surprised that we had similar mothers? Mine, too, never had the college education she wanted so much, but had children instead and took wonderful care of them. She, too, was creative, clever, funny, and the smartest person I have ever known. And like you, I miss my mother. I’m glad my post made you think of your Mum, Annie.

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      • Hi Aunt Beulah,
        Annie from Australia here, I wondered if I could ask you if you are able to read or even see my Table of Knowledge blogsite. I have been fiddling around blindly, tweaking here and there and have a feeling I may have wiped it clean into oblivion. Mind you thats perhaps where it belongs, I haven’t upgraded so perhaps my blogging days have been voided by WordPress. I am able to read other people’s sites and comment such as with you Aunt Beulah, that in itself will keep me happy. I love to read and wordpress discover is where I am finding people with stories of all sorts. I have so much to learn about blogging, I rather this word than writing because a writer I am not. I can talk under water with a mouthful of marbles Aunt Beulah, I would love to share stories with you over a nice cuppa one day. Sending you hugs across the miles from Annie in Australia 🌞 🌴 🌊

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      • I’m so glad you asked me if I can see your blog. Yes, Annie, I can. It’s fine; it’s as delightful as ever; you haven’t wiped anything out. The problem is that for some reason I quit getting notifications when you posted, so I’ve been absent for a week or so. So I’ve added you as a bookmark as I’ve done with others when notification has been iffy, and I won’t miss you again. You should never write, say, or think “a writer I am not,” because you are a writer. Your posts always make me smile and give me the feeling that I am getting to know a genuine, interesting person. A cuppa someday sounds wonderful. In the meantime, we’ll have to settle for electronic hugs.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Aunt Beulah,
        Somehow I missed your reply, assuring me all was well in my land of blogging. Oh dear you sure do lift my spirits Aunt Beulah, thankyou! I do feel so happy I have somehow connected with a wonderful kindred spirit oceans away on the other side of the world.
        Big electronic hugs heading your way
        From Annie in Australia 🌞 🌴 🌊

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  6. Janet, I’m sitting here eating my lunch and the tears are streaming down my cheeks….you always, always read my heart and then write about it….why is it that I “just met you”, but I feel like we’ve known each other for our entire lives? Looking forward to connecting with you….another beautiful piece. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, my dear, I think we both have that feeling of a shared lifetime between us. It makes me happy to think something I wrote may help you accomplish your writing dream. I can’t wait for next Tuesday. I was thinking today that it feels like too long since we last chatted.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Has been too long! Totally looking forward to connecting. I love Bailey White. Her humor is subtle and totally witty…..love, love, love her. Thx for the referral. My friend, Shawn, has been trying to “read you”, but can’t find you. I’m gonna try sending her a direct link…I know she’d like your writing. Anyway, chat with you, soon! Hugs! Lucie 🙂

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  7. I’d love to write a book, but I always lose my way part way through, I’m hoping that my course will help change that though. I think you’re right that this poem fits any dream, I hope people take the advice.

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      • It’s tougher than I expected (having my work critiqued hit me harder than I was expecting) but I’m determined to learn from.it and get everything I can out of it. I was reading through the comments above, I didn’t realize you already have a book published! I’d love to read it if it’s available over here ☺

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      • I remember being surprised, and disappointed in myself, when I had trouble accepting comments from my editor when I first tried writing columns. But I hung in there, and he taught me a lot. We are friends to this day. So I understand your reaction and also your determination to learn from the critiques. And, my impression of you from your blogs is that when you make up your mind to do something, you do so; and that you accept setbacks and disappointments and keep on going. So I think you’ll come out of the course feeling good about yourself and with new skills. Thanks for your interest in my book. It is available on Amazon, or if you prefer, directly from me. The details are on my blog page “About my book.” It would cost a little more from me ($12.95 plus postage), but that way I could inscribe it, and I would enjoy writing a message to you. Send me an email if you’d like to order one from me. It’s a quiet, gentle book, but I think you will enjoy it.

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  8. Good evening Janet- Ah, what do I dream of these waning days of winter- our egg lady today griped of mud on the farm, so I recited “Two Tramps in Mud Time”, which she was not expecting and had never heard. I dream of a world that rhymes, and of sailing someplace warm, via Ireland. I dream of the Common in England, it was so lovely in spring. Three elder women, friends for many years just won three million, I dream of that, but also know how money changes a person, do not want to change, just dream, yours in warm thoughts.

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    • I like you so much, Sheila. Your unique mind delights me. What wonderful dreams you have. I, too, dream of winning the lottery until reality sets in, and I realize I’m probably better off without the headache of all that money and the changes it would force on my life. Yup, let’s just keep on dreaming.

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  9. Yes, I share the dream of a book–one that’s good enough to share. I just hope I recognize when I’m done tinkering with it! I also know the value of habits that keep me on the path to that dream. Whatever our particular dream or passion, it requires weighing and deciding how we spend our time and energy and heart. It also requires us to be a little braver than we feel. Thanks for this encouraging post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was struck by the truth of your sentence, “It also requires us to be a little braver than we feel.” So true. I’ve no doubt you will finish your book and it will be happily received. And about the tinkering: John Steinbeck once wrote that when he dropped a manuscript into a mailbox, he had to stop himself from trying to reach in and retrieve it, so he could make one more change. So you’re in good company.

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  10. This post is a gem with so many pearls of wisdom!
    The poems are inspirational—so much meaning packed into so few words.

    There’s a saying in medicine: “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” It seems to me that perfectionism can be paralyzing, actually preventing us from accomplishing anything.

    As usual, Janet, your words have given me plenty to think about.
    I love your advice in the final paragraph.

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    • Thanks, Rita. I’m glad you liked the poems. And I very much like “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” I’d never thought of it that way, but it rings true to me, as does your statement that perfectionism can be paralyzing. I’ve experienced that for myself. I always like hearing from you.

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  11. Ah, diving into the abyss! I want to learn Spanish and French! There, I said it. The next step is terrifying-to start making it happen. We shall see. As for your book, I have no doubt that you will write a awesome one!

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    • Wow, Janice, I had no idea you wanted to learn other languages. But my next thought is that of course you do with the way you and JL love to travel and appreciate other cultures. I think now you’ve voiced the notion, sooner or later you’ll start to make this dream happen like you did with your art.

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    • I’m glad you relate to the poems, Marjorie. They both spoke tons to me when I find them. You might want to google Merwin’s poem Berryman and read the entire thing. It’s excellent.

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  12. I really agree with your recommendation, I’ve slowed down on my goal because I work and I have to admit that I hate the feeling. I’d rather be unemployed following my dream because I know that it’ll be worth it.

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    • Life and employment do interfere with our pursuit of our dreams. You’re advantage is that you realize what your dream is at an early age and have time to figure out how to be true to it and, at the same time, make your way in the world. I lost many years of writing as I taught school because I didn’t realize how much writing would fulfill me. On the other hand, teaching supported me and gave me loads of experiences to enrich my writing. And I’m writing as much as I want now. Something tells me that you will accomplish your dreams. It just might take longer than you would like.

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  13. No, I’ve joined a writer’s group and am writing, but not blogging, yet. It is tricky to know what to put on the net! I don’t follow many, but I do enjoy your blog, so thank you for keeping on…. xx

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  14. I love Mark Twain – he’s such a hoot! and he always manages to hit the nail right on the head! The 1st poem really spoke to me, as did the Berryman – I looked it up and read it in entirety as you recommended in one of your comments. I feel very inspired!

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  15. What a lovely resolution suggestion!

    No resolution, no dream, no aspiration will ever be perfect. We often hold ourselves to impossibly high standards, yet sometimes improvement is the furthest thing from perfect or glamorous.

    What a beautiful blog post! Thank you, Janet dear!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so happy to hear from you again, Tamara. So very happy. I’m glad you liked the post; and I knew you would understand the impossibility of perfection. I also like your additional thought that improvements isn’t necessarily perfect or glamorous.

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  16. Absolutely spot on. Perfectionism is much more of a hindrance than anything else. I aim, these days, for imperfection and it’s an interesting journey to be on.

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