Loves and Resolutions

I don’t normally make New Year’s resolutions, but if there was one lesson that 2013 taught me, it is to be intentional in all things. On this first day of the new year, I have a few thoughts about how to apply that. I’m hopeful.

One way to start is to frame those resolutions in terms of things I love. I learned this from Paul Gilmartin, who concludes every episode of his Mental Illness Happy Hour podcast by playing a round of loves-and-fears tennis with his guest. Each of them share something they fear until they run out, then switch to things they love. It may sound corny, but you probably won’t think that after having heard it for yourself. I’m always encouraged and challenged. But I’ve yet to actually do this exercise myself. So what better way to do it than while thinking intentionally about how I want to live this next 365 days?

Here goes (in no particular order)…

  • I love the textures of the city. Specifically, I love walking my dog early in the morning and finding new textures and surfaces to photograph. There’s a patina to the city — a sense of constant change and forward momentum that builds, layer upon layer. It’s beautiful. So, a resolution: to spend more time at home, observing.
  • I love arriving home from a trip. I love seeing the beauty of this place from 10,000 feet and closing in on it, slowly. An airplane descent can be a ritual of gratitude if you allow it. A resolution: to find more rituals of gratitude in daily life.
  • I love text. I love both the aesthetic of it — simply how text looks on a page or screen, regardless of its content — and the sound of words. Last year, I created a text document on my computer’s desktop called, “Words to Use More” in which I’d put words I came across in my reading that were just special to me. Words that sounded beautiful. Words that had an aesthetic edge over synonyms I probably used far more often. Here are just a few of them: curious, perform, gloomy, scrutiny, cherish, intrude, balance, placid, landscape. No theme. Just the sound. Anyway, a resolution: to write more. In past years, I’ve written a ton. Last year I kept up with my basic writing commitments, but wasn’t really writing as an outlet — a creative act. Instead, I gave a talk every other month. I’m probably not going to do that in 2014, so I intend to take the enormous amount of energy that went into those presentations and put it toward the written word. That begins, I guess, with this site. I clean-slated it and it lay empty and dormant for a year. I’m ready to get back into it.
  • I love movies. It’s a little-known fact that I studied filmmaking in college, and though I find myself in a vocation that is (at best) adjacent to what I studied, I still maintain a deep love for that art form. But I haven’t been very intentional about nurturing it — I mean with good food, not junk. As for junk, I watched more television in 2013 than I should have or intend to this coming year. I even wasted seven hours on Breaking Bad’s season one (yup, I said wasted)! My resolution: to watch more films in 2014. As with most commitments that matter, I’m going to be creating and leaning on community to make this happen. I set up a DIY (that’s what they call our little district in Durham) Film Friends group and a monthly screening schedule. I invited people I love to spend time with who also love movies. We’re just under 30 people and currently voting on January’s film. I’m excited to see where this goes!
  • I love books. Sometimes, it’s just about looking at them — visually taking them in as an art form. When I was six years old, my Dad made a video tour of the Brookline apartment we lived in. Just after the screen showed his one free hand opening the front door, he walked through to where I, runty and shy, stood in front of one of his bookcases that lined the main hallway. He said, “Oh, here’s Chris. He’s suddenly interested in the books.” That always made me wince (that video has been watched many times since) because I certainly didn’t read many of those books. I just wanted to look at them. At their colors, their text, their pages. It was a visual curiosity that put me there — one I much better understand now than I did 27 years ago! This visual thing is so powerful that it probably has everything to do with why I struggle to read books on screens. I care about how the book was designed, and how those decisions enhance the reading experience. I don’t tend to find retrofitting of those decisions for small screens very compelling. I also care about how reading books causes time to slow down for me. I’m a rusher — an anxious busy-body that rarely slows down. But I want to slow down. And my tendency to prefer to drink from the water-hose of web content doesn’t help with that. At all. My resolution: to read more books and less web. I’m going to have to be choosy about what I click to “read later,” but more importantly, I’m going to have to be intentional about shutting down my screens in the evening and letting the page work its temporal therapy on me. Wish me good luck.
  • I love cooking. Michael Pollan has been on a roll lately, calling our culture out for not cooking enough and he’s right. I cook a lot already, but I want to cook more. Just like my desire to read more books, it’s about what cooking does to time. It takes time, yes, but it also slows it down. I love that. I love taking the time to craft a meal and enjoy every step along the way. To be wrapped in the smells and the heat of it in the kitchen. A simple resolution, then: to cook more.
  • I love to exercise. Actually, I love that feeling toward the end of a workout, when you feel both a full-body exhaustion and a replenishing of energy. I’ll be honest, I’m addicted to it. I’ve been committed to very regular workouts since 2002 and I realized recently that since then, the longest span of time I went without following my exercise regimen was four days. FOUR. In the last twelve years, I’ve certainly changed what I do, but even with the thousands of tweaks I’ve made, it’s gotten a little boring. I’m not sure how yet, but my resolution: to evolve my workout. Maybe that will just mean a bunch more tweaks. Maybe it will mean the introduction of something entirely new. We’ll see.
  • I love the experience of showing someone else their own strengths and talents and watching that encouragement catalyze a renewed sense of confidence or determination. I spend a lot of time coaching other people in my work, and this is truly one of the best things about it. My resolution: I want more. The only thing that gets in the way of this is me — my own stress or negativity, usually. So I want to find ways to prevent my own angst from getting in the way of the thing I know I can do well that benefits the people around me — whom I care about deeply. I want to be better about giving away what I have, and prioritizing that over rushing to empty my inbox, or whatever other mundane, rote tasks that nag at my type-A tendencies. (Notice how time is a recurring theme here?)
  • Finally, one last love. I love the NPR All Things Considered theme. I’ve been hearing it through car speakers since I was a little boy. Even today, when I hear it as I drive home from work, I am instantly transported back to the many cold, 5AM drives to the airport my Dad and I would make at the end of my Christmas visits to where he lived in Michigan (somehow this particular scenario stands out). Something about that tune and its consistency over decades evokes a feeling that all is right with the world, which is ironic simply because it introduces the news and its litany of reminders that all is not right with the world. It’s a bittersweet paradox, I suppose. No resolution, really. Just noting this love for what it is.

Now on to 2014. May it be slower, richer, tastier, and more intentional than any other before it.

Written by Christopher Butler on January 1, 2014,   In Essays

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