How do you “reckon with reckoning?”
Dictionary.com (funny that we used to quote Webster’s or other “books” and now we quote online sources, isn’t it?) defines “reckoning” as:
Noun: 1. count; computation; calculation. 2. the settlement of accounts, as between two companies. 3. a statement of an amount due; bill. 4. an accounting, as for things received or done. 5. an appraisal or judgment.
This morning, my husband Chris and I stayed late in bed remembering his birthday from August. We were on a cruise. I asked the waiter to do something special for him. On the other side of the restaurant, Happy Birthday rang out. He leaned over and whispered, “I hope that doesn’t happen to us.” I agreed, nodding sheepishly, as the crew trotted over singing… not Happy Birthday but doubly embarrassing Happy Anniversary.
I started writing this post earlier this month, maybe even late December, thinking about the nature of turning of the calendar and social/emotional implications of New Year celebrations. The nature of memories. The nature of that reckoning with memories achieved and plans unfulfilled.
The month itself—January—is named for the god Janus, the guardian of the gates of Heaven, ruler of time. When men prayed they were to have prayed to Janus first regardless of the god they hoped to entreat since he was the initiator of human life. He is depicted as two-faced, one facing the front and the other facing the back. To Julius Caesar, who presumably chose Janus and was the first to pick January as the first day of the new year, this symbolized the transition from one year to another. (It is also why Janus is the god of bridges, doors, and gates—because he can see to both sides and all beginnings and ends.)
In the days before my birthday, I worried over the idea of reckoning. What had I learned over the past year? What had I accomplished? (For those of you who don’t know, Cathy O’Hare and I share the same birthday. We are both Capricorns, joined over the span of time–and careers, and hobbies, and love of poetry as well–by the day of our birth.)
Some of you may have read my blog “Reflections on Mackerel Cove.” If you did, then you’d know what a failure it was. I was so excited to begin that project at the turn of 2012. I believed it would re-energize me and my writing.
But blogging lasted most of January, some of February. It came sparsely in March and ended in April. I kept taking photos. Many of which I am proud of. But I never did hand anyone one of my “business” card, never interviewed anyone.
The closest I came was introducing myself to Hannah, a curly-haired blonde who wears big sunglasses and rides her bike to work at Montessori up by Endicott College in Beverly. She reminds me of sunshine even when I think of her now. But otherwise nothing.
I never finished helping my friend Cindy Zelman, a terrific non-fiction writer, with her manuscript. I had trouble keeping up with my email poetry circle and almost never got around to submitting new poems.
I never did floss every day.
I never did take my vitamins every day.
I stopped walking every day, too.
Although, I can’t say that I never lost a pound. I did. I lost one, then I found one, then I lost five and found five. A year ago, I weighed 165. Today, I weigh 160.
Yet… I took an exquisite cruise to the Bahamas with the man I love.
I had my first mammogram.
I took my father to his first Red Sox game. Took him on his first ferry ride into Boston, his first Boston taxi-cab ride, his first train ride. He lived 20 minutes away from the city his entire life and never did those things. I will cherish those memories as long as possible.
This year, I bought a new car. My dream car. A 2004 Ford Mustang convertible with 42,000 miles. It leaks water or collects water but I love it. It drives like a dream. I can’t wait until summer.
Is there more I can do? Of course.
In 2012, I visited my nieces Jessica and Marie. I reconnected with my niece Emily, met her new son.
In 2012, I visited my aunt Ida who wasn’t expected to survive the year. A few days ago, we celebrated her 96th birthday.
I will strive to do more in 2013 but more than that I will strive not to lose faith and not to look for too much more than I already have because I have so much.
Will I make more resolutions to diet and eat better and take my vitamins and floss my teeth and walk more and make good on last year’s promise to take more photos and meet my neighbors and fellow walkers on Lothrop Street? Of course.
I’ve already got my eye on a new juicer.
How do you reckon with reckoning? You don’t. You just keep on enjoying every moment this world, this life, has to give. Forget about reckoning, write and enjoy.
Happy (belated) New Year.
Here are a few New Years’ poems I thought you might enjoy and that I thought were apropos:
- I feel a bit like Kim Addinazzio. Perhaps it’s the line where she states her age as “close to 40” as I am close to my 39th birthday which is so close to the New Year as to be entwined in its wishes.
- Others perhaps get two attempts at New Year’s efforts. They get the option to refresh at the date of their birth, a true new year from their own arrival on the planet and also to revel with the majority in a cultural reboot. This poem by W.S. Merwin recalls the “Janus” face of old.
Here are a few writing exercises that I thought might be fun for us North Shore Poets’ Forum members to try as we start 2013.
- List poem: Think about your resolutions of years’ past. Write out as much of that list as possible (when possible see if you can’t add a date to that list) for me it would be quit smoking, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004. lose weight, every year/infinity. When you’ve emptied your memory. Take a separate sheet and list out resolutions for 2013. Now review the list with a poetic eye toward composing a “list poem.”
The list poem is just that, a list. It itemizes things, events, and thoughts. It is an easy form of poetry to teach, with one caveat. Yes, a list poem is a list, but the list should be resonant and compelling, driving the reader through the poem.
- Changing perspectives: Ask a friend or relative to share their list of New Year’s resolutions with you. Ask them to be honest.
Write a paragraph (keep it private however) about how you feel about your friend and their list. Take a break and get a cup of water or wine.
When you come back write a paragraph about what your life would have to be like for you to have written that same list of resolutions.
Take another break.
When you come back write a paragraph about how you would plan to achieve those resolutions if you were in your friend’s place. When you’re done review your material.
Now write a letter poem (Epistolary poem) either from your own point of view or from your friend offering advice about the new year.
- Lyric poem: The perfect day changes your perspective. Creating New Year intentions rather than resolutions frees the mind, enabling you to be creative and flexible. Imagine what your perfect day would look like from beginning to end and be as descriptive as possible. 
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