It’s that time of year again, when many of us take stock and begin down the road of self-improvement. Some people do this on their birthdays, some may do a solstice self check-in and release of negative energies, but the one that gets the gym memberships flying through the roof is the beginning of the Gregorian calendar. Which is now.
For a while (during my 20s) I thought I was above resolutions. In hindsight it was more likely the fear of not achieving them that kept me from setting specific goals. So instead I set a goal each year that would encompass all goals, and called it “sharpening the knife.” This meant that I would try new things, open my mind to new ideas, and try to improve at everything I care about. (I’m aware that this isn’t something I made up: we’re all doing it all the time, I just need clever names to assign behaviors to help me focus). It led me to become the kind of person that has two backup sponges under the sink at all times, and enough toilet paper and paper towels to last months. I made a lot of disgusting meals on my way to making a half decent one, patiently refining and tweaking as I went. I told myself I like doing dishes, and after about a month I actually did. I started going to classical music concerts (and any other cultural event that offered a discount with a student ID). I did what I could to be a better family member, albeit from a thousand miles away. And I bought a good chef’s knife (as recommended by Cook’s Illustrated) which, yes, I practiced sharpening. And equally as important as keeping sponges under the sink, this mindset kept me photographing when motivation was lacking.
As with most things, I needed to switch it up after a while (when I hit 30), and I was ready to face “resolutions” head on. Now, every year I set very specific goals for each compartment (I’m a Gemini) of my life: work, family, friends, art, etc. Over the years I've found it best to sprinkle in an array of achievable goals with the more difficult ones, like keeping the bathroom floor clean or baking an amazing batch of chocolate chip cookies (which falls into the “goals that benefit others” category, a different but equally notable resolution classification). This full-spectrum approach to resolutions is helpful in softening the blow when those big ones—house, job, debt—don't exactly shift in the direction we might hope.
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In 2017 my wife and I moved across the country from Brooklyn, NY to Oakland, CA. The relocation momentum started in February so we didn’t really have the mind space to set resolutions last year. We’d both been in New York for a while (sixteen years for her, thirteen for me), and were ready for the next thing. She’s part Gemini (on the cusp) too and our sign tends to crave variety of experience. And while New York can seem to have an endless opportunity of new experiences, it lacks the mountains, redwoods, and fresh air that we craved. (Yes, the Catskills, Hudson Valley, and Adirondacks are beautiful places and a great escape from New York, but it’s like comparing apples to the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted that isn’t an apple). When we moved to the East Bay in June, we sort of made a mid-year resolution to explore the California landscape. We started with Tilden, and Redwood Regional in the east bay, then Marin and Point Reyes just up the coast. We spent a weekend in Monterey where we explored the beaches of Carmel and Point Lobos Nature Reserve, and a weekend in Yosemite in November. We wrapped up the year with a visit to Redwood National and State Parks over the holidays, which was nothing short of magical, inspiring, and humbling. It was just the sort of trip I needed going into a new year. I was able to focus on which areas of my life I’d like to see improve and which behaviors I’d be happy to let go of. Nature only abides its truth, and being in it I feel encouraged to live mine.
My list of resolutions for this year is about 20 deep, and most of them are uninteresting, but I can promise by the end of 2018 I will have made a lot of pictures and a fucking delicious chocolate truffle.