When Your Pen Takes Over Your New Year’s Resolution

I asked myself the question: What’s the most important thing that I can focus on this year?, and I thought that I already knew the answer. I thought that my New Year’s Resolution would look like a pared-down version of my daily to-do list:

Write every day.

Exercise more.

But I was writing with a pen and paper, which is a little dangerous because sometimes my hand takes control of the prompt, and ignores what my brain has been planning to say all along, and instead of the sentence “I need to find time to write, if not every day, then as much as possible,” my hand wrote:

The most important thing I can do is to experience joy in my body, and bear witness to joy when people close to me experience it.

Shit. Why did my hand write that? I thought that writing every day was a challenging priority, but making room for JOY in my body and my life? That might require me to become a different person, one who can write joy in capital letters without wincing. One who can relax for for more than ten minutes without listing my to-do list in my head, without feeling like my body is tightening around me.

At the moment, it feels kind of like standing in the middle of a forest with no trail, only a compass and a destination. And I don’t really know how to use a compass. But I may know enough to orient myself. I know enough to start.

I’ll start, when I remember, by taking breaths, by imagining my lungs, my belly, my capillaries opening and making room for for this somewhat foreign and suspicious feeling.

I’ll start, when I remember, by slowing down and searching for whatever small joy might be found in the task I’m doing. The feeling of my fingers stretching across the keyboard, the one perfect sentence in the paper I’m grading, the moment halfway through a class I’m teaching when I notice (sometimes) that things are going well.

This sounds like work to me.

I’ll start, when I remember, by engaging more deeply with Stump and his world, by letting him run through the house in his diaper, by mirroring his happy dance when his brother comes home or when I offer him a piece of chocolate.

I’ll start, when I remember, by saying Yes instead of Later to Smoke’s bids for more time and attention. Yes, let’s open your science kit Now, and Yes, you can pour all of the colored sugar on top of the cookies.

I’ll start, when I remember, by holding the word between my fingers and coming to know it. Such a small word for something so sweeping and grand, (joy, joy, joy).



  1. Loved this so much I shared on Facebook. You’ve reminded me not only what’s important for writing (pen and paper), but also how writing helps us make room for joy–and isn’t just an item on a to-do list!

  2. This is a beautiful piece. I think that this is the major struggle for all people who are sensitive and thoughtful. I have to periodically give myself a talking to about enjoying the moment, but it is well worth the effort. Again…so well said.

  3. Last night in the first few hours of the new year, two kids spiking fevers (is 104.4 even humanly possible? Apparently so…) Tim asked me what my New Years resolutions were. I thought I’d say write more, run more, make more art, get my creative things noticed/published/shown. Instead I said, “Be more patient. Get out of my head. Find joy.”
    You’ve described it so beautifully here, the incessant to-do list that makes me lose sight of the actual world happening around me. Thank you. You must be the most amazing teacher. Your posts always make me want to make the time to write.
    (I might just use this comment as a jumping off point for my own New Years post. Thank you for that.)

    • Our parallel lives continue…maybe we even live at the same latitude. It’s taken me so long to reply to comments that I’m sure you’re kids are better by now but, whew! 104.4 is a temp that could make you worry!

  4. “The most important thing I can do is to experience joy in my body, and bear witness to joy when people close to me experience it.” Love all of this. As they say, the body and heart want what they want. No logic but so much wisdom. Sounds like you are setting yourself up for a wonderful new year. Love your writing, in case you hadn’t noticed 🙂

  5. Hm. Oddly enough, when I thought about my priorities for my teaching this term, I came up with the same answer: I need to bring as much joy as possible into the classroom, and to find joy in my work. The voices in my head would tell me this is a cop-out, flimsy, totally unacademic, etc. but in my heart I know it’s true. That’s how I can be a better teacher this year–and be a more whole person. It’s not flimsy, it’s elemental and fundamental and vital.

  6. ” . . . by slowing down and searching for whatever small joy might be found in the task I’m doing.” I like the image this evokes. It’s certainly something I’ll be doing to make my life more meaningful. Thanks.

  7. I have issues with the capital letters, too. But right after I type this I’m going to put away my computer and pick up a pen, to see what it makes me say. And then maybe go sit in the sun for a while.

Leave a Reply to Rain, Rain Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s