Posted in Life, Writing

7 Tips for Taking the Stress Out of New Year’s Resolutions

Resolutions

To Resolve or Not to Resolve, That is the Question 

It’s that time of year again, the time of looking ahead, writing lists, setting goals, making resolutions. At least for some people. For others, the mere mention of the R word brings them stress.

If you’re one of those reluctant resolvers, jaded from past experiences, you should know you’re not alone. The fear of not being able to put a checkmark next to each goal at the end of the year keeps many people from making a list at all.

But, despite the possibility of disappointment, I still say resolve. Setting goals and working toward positive changes in your life and your work is good for you. Just do it in a way that allows for success without setting yourself up for failure. Here are some things that have worked for me.

Tips for Taking the Stress Out of New Year’s Resolutions

Celebrate

1. Celebrate Your Accomplishments

Before you make plans for 2015, take some time to celebrate the good stuff from this year. Whether you made resolutions for 2014 or not, make a list of 10 things you accomplished during the year. Then go look at your goals (if you had any) and compare. Even if there aren’t many checkmarks on the initial list, you now have a new one to be proud of. Keep it next to the one you make for the new year.

Some of my 2014 accomplishments were…

* According to Goodreads, I read 80 books this year, a personal record.
* I finished the first draft of my novel and pitched it to agents at my first writing conference.
* I learned to cook six new vegetarian dishes, including Rumbledethumps.
* I started this blog. (Click here to read my first post.)

2. Use a Thesaurus

If you’ve had bad experiences in your past with New Year’s resolutions, then it’s possible the word itself makes your skin crawl. So don’t use it. Set goals instead. Or intentions. Or plans. Or wishes even. That’s not exactly the same thing, but who cares? Think about how psyched you’ll be at the end of 2015 if you can tell people that some of your wishes came true this year. Pretty cool, right?

3. Ignore the Calendar

There is no day of the year with more pressure on its poor shoulders than December 31st. Think about it: Christmas was just a few days ago and you’re still full of pecan pie and gingerbread cookies, so you’re trying to function through a sugar haze. It’s possible you’ve been traveling and have just arrived home to an empty fridge and a full laundry basket. Or maybe you’re still on vacation and just now realizing that you didn’t pack enough underwear. If you’re young and single, December 31st means figuring out which party to go to, determining what to wear, and wondering whom you might kiss. If you’re not so young and married like me, it means figuring out what movie to watch on Netflix, determining exactly how many minutes you have to stay up after midnight before you can go to bed, and wondering if it’s okay to put on your pjs before the ball drops in New York. And somewhere in this champagne-addled state, you’re supposed to be thinking about New Year’s resolutions.

It’s just too much.

So forget it. Enjoy your New Year’s Eve. Drink champagne and kiss people and watch bad movies and fall asleep on the couch and be merry and stay safe. The resolutions can wait. Make them whenever you want. There’s not really an expiration date. For a few years in a row I found January 8th to be an auspicious day for goal-setting. Last year I went traditional and made my list on the first, but then I added a few more things on the twelfth and lightning didn’t strike me down or anything. So take your time. It’s okay.

4. Stack the Deck in Your Favor

You may not accomplish all of your goals. It’s true, and it’s something you should accept from the start. If it happens, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure, just that you need more time or more practice or a more appropriate objective. But you can give yourself a better chance of succeeding by making your goals attainable.

For instance, if you’re a writer, don’t resolve to publish a certain number of poems or stories. That’s not really something you have control over. Instead, resolve to submit a certain number. That keeps the reins in your hands.

5. Balance the Scales

Let your resolutions (or intentions or wishes) reflect all aspects of your life. Don’t just set goals about your health or your work or your relationship. Your life is a combination of all of those things and more. If you’re a writer and your goal list is full of nothing but drafts and pages and submissions, then there’s a good chance that every time you do anything else, you’re going to feel guilty about it. Then again, if your resolutions are full of places you want to travel and exotic foods you want to eat, you may be setting yourself up for an unproductive year. Find a balance in your to-do list so that no matter what aspect of your life you’re focusing on at the moment, you can still be working toward your goals.

6. Give Yourself Some Space

Some people keep their resolutions in plain sight—on the fridge or over their workspace—as a constant reminder of their priorities. I do not. I don’t like my goals staring me in the face every day, making me feel guilty about taking a nap or checking Facebook. I need a little distance between my list and my life. But not too much. Sticking your resolutions on a shelf and ignoring them until next December won’t work either. I suggest keeping them at arm’s reach, literally. Mine are in a closed journal on my desk, so they’re not glaring at me when I first walk in the room, but they’re close enough for me to reach over and check on them anytime I want. They’re out of sight, but not out of mind.

7. Embrace the Present Moment

During all the looking forward and looking back that happens at this time of year, don’t forget to stop once in a while and just look around you. What are you doing? Who are you with? How do you feel?

Right now, it’s 11:45pm on December 30th. I’m drinking a cup of decaf coffee out of my new Christmas mug and listening to Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” while I type this blog post at my desk. My blinds are open despite the late hour and I can see the colored lights on the bushes outside, swaying slightly in the cold wind. My cat is taking a bath on the bed behind me and I know that any minute now he’s going to jump in my lap and try to edit what I’m writing. I just heard my husband sneeze. This is my present moment. No matter what I accomplished this year, no matter what might happen when I change the calendar to January, right now I’m at home and I’m writing and I’m happy.

What’s happening right now is just as important as anything on your list. After all, those goals won’t accomplish themselves. In order to earn some checkmarks at the end of the year, you’re going to have to spend some of your present moments working toward them. You can do it.

RightNow

Good Luck and Happy New Year!

Posted in Life, Writing

Letters From Santa

HolidayCards

These days kids can email Santa.

That makes sense, I guess. After all, handwritten letters have mostly gone the way of the passenger pigeon. But, while I certainly appreciate the convenience of modern forms of communication, I still really love “snail mail.” That’s one of the reasons why I cherish the holidays. It’s the only time of year when my mailbox is stuffed with more than bills and ads and the occasional postcard.

I know some say it’s a waste of paper and for many people sending a large stack of holiday cards is just too expensive. I also understand how silly it seems these days to send mail to someone who lives ten miles from you, someone who you’ll see at least three times on Facebook and maybe even in real life before the letter arrives. I don’t care. I love mail. I love hand-addressed envelopes and stamps and postmarks and the snick of the adhesive tearing free. And you know what? Some of those people who live ten miles from you and talk to you on Facebook all the time will say something completely new and unexpected in a card. There’s just something about slowing down and picking up a pen and putting a little distance between your words and the person who’ll read them that makes writing a letter different.

My love of mail comes from my dad, who worked for the post office for over thirty years. I remember visiting him at work when I was a kid, how I liked the smell of the building—ink and paper mostly—and how I enjoyed sitting at his desk and playing with all the colored pens in his drawer. My dad’s been retired for a long time now, but during his years at the post office he did almost every job there, from mail carrier to supervisor. For a few years, he even played the role of Santa. In the late sixties, when he was working as a Distribution/Window Clerk, he responded to thirty or forty Santa letters a year from the children in town.

My dad at the Richardson Post Office in 1968 and a letter to Santa from a little named Polly who wanted a tape recorder, a chemistry set, and a walkie talkie. No gender stereotypes on this Christmas list! :)
My dad at the Richardson Post Office in 1968 and a letter to Santa from a little girl named Polly who wanted a tape recorder, a chemistry set, and a walkie talkie. No gender stereotypes on this Christmas list! 

I love how in the letter above Polly tells Santa she’s going to keep his letters for her children because she knows he’ll “be even more famous then.” This girl is really thinking ahead. 🙂

No one at the post office had written Santa letters before. It was just something my dad decided to do. When I asked him what sorts of things he wrote to the kids, he said he’d tell them it was snowing and they were really busy at the workshop, that the sleigh was almost full and Mrs. Claus was baking Christmas cookies. He’d tell them to be good and mind their parents and try hard in school.

“If they had done something they were proud of,” my dad said, “like the little boy who didn’t wet the bed anymore, I told him he was doing great, and that I was real proud of him. I never promised them anything. To close out, I would usually say that old Donner or Blitzen or somebody was looking in through the window, and I had to get my boots and coat on, and go out to the barn and feed, or that it was about time to get the team hitched up.” He said he just did it because he liked it. His favorite letters were the repeats, the ones he got from the same kids multiple years, and the unselfish ones, where the sender asked for something for someone else.

That last comment gave me pause. I don’t think I ever considered asking for gifts for other people in my letters to Santa. It warms my heart to know there are kids that selfless in the world.

Santa letters are special. All personal letters are special. Opening up your mailbox and seeing a colored envelope addressed to you makes you feel good. Turning over a postcard to see who sent it and what they chose to write in that small space is exciting. When you think about it, it doesn’t take much to make someone’s day. Before the year is over, send someone you love a piece of mail that will make them smile. Don’t worry about sending a card to everybody you know. And who cares if you didn’t take a family holiday photo this year? It doesn’t even matter if the recipient is your next door neighbor. Write a short letter and stamp it and put it in the mail. You may find that it feels just as good to send mail as to receive.

As for me, I think I’ll write Santa an email. I owe him a thank you note that’s long overdue.

Merry Christmas, everyone! Lollypop Ornament Note: Speaking of chemistry sets, if you’d like to read my dad’s story, in his own words, of the time he blew up his fifth grade classroom, click on the links below. Part 1 is about my own (less explosive) experiences with science fair, so feel free to skip that part and move on to the good stuff in Parts 2 and 3. It’s a long story but, in my opinion, it’s worth the read. 🙂

* Science Fair (or The Time My Dad Blew Up the Fifth Grade), Part 1
* Science Fair (or The Time My Dad Blew Up the Fifth Grade), Part 2
* Science Fair (or The Time My Dad Blew Up the Fifth Grade), Part 3

Posted in Poetry

The Poetry Caravan Launches in Austin

APSLogo

Introducing THE POETRY CARAVAN!

I’m so excited to tell everyone about the Austin Poetry Society’s latest non-profit project and so honored to be a part of it. If you’re a poet in the Austin area, please read this and consider participating.

The purpose of The Poetry Caravan is to give free readings and workshops in retirement homes, hospitals, and shelters, taking poetry to people who can’t go to poetry. We will be launching the project in January 2015 with four venues offering one reading per month, but we hope to expand to include more locations and more types of presentations as more poets become involved.

Founded in White Plains, New York, by Usha Akella in 2003, the original chapter of the Caravan has held over 1,000 free readings, led workshops, and produced an anthology with a forward by former Poet Laureate Billy Collins. The Austin chapter will be led by APS board members Usha Akella, Barbara Gregg, and myself, Carie Juettner.

If you are a poet in the Austin area who would like to give a reading through The Poetry Caravan, please contact me (cariejuettner@gmail.com) or Usha Akella (poetrycaravanaustin@gmail.com) and we will give you more information about the readings and send you the sign-up schedule. And if you’re not a poet yourself, please share this information with your writer friends.

The Poetry Caravan will be a wonderful addition to Austin’s creative culture. I’m thrilled to be a part of it and can’t wait to get started. Join me!