Euonymus in ice

New Year’s Eve is traditionally a time for taking stock. Looking back on the wins and losses of the previous year, folks with a penchant for self-improvement typically use the occasion of the New Year to make resolutions. Although I’m a sucker for self-help books, I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I’ve seen enough New Years come and go to know that well-intentioned resolutions are often broken and forgotten by February, so setting grand goals for the New Year sounds like a guaranteed recipe for disappointment.

Ice-etched

That being said, I’m a big fan of small, attainable goals. This past year, for instance, I set a goal to meditate at least five minutes every day, so although I didn’t go to the Zen Center as often as I would have liked, I am happy to say I meditated at home every single day. I also met my yearly goal to read fifty books in 2017, a goal I reached by reading a little bit every day.

Iced

The other thing I managed to do in 2017 was take and post to Flickr one photo every day. In any given year, I take far more than 365 photos: on days when I go somewhere or do something visually interesting, I might take and post dozens of photos. But on otherwise ordinary, unremarkable days, I need a nudge to take photos, and a 365-day photo challenge provides that motivation. Even in the gray days of February or the busiest days of the semester, I knew I had to snap and post a photo of something, no matter how boring or inane.

Icy aftermath

Over time, a daily photo challenge starts to feel like a personal scavenger hunt or visual gratitude journal: no matter how uninspired or bland a particular day might have felt, you have to find at least one image worth sharing. This year as always, I posted lots of pictures of pets; this year for the first time, I also posted lots of pictures of postcards. Scrolling through my photoset of “365 in 2017” photos, I see a visual time capsule of the entire year.

Icy

Because noticing is contagious, once you push yourself to take at least one picture a day, it becomes easier to take two, three, or more images. Over the course of the year, you hone your eye so it is perpetually on the lookout for Today’s Picture, and you prove to yourself day after day after day that there is always something interesting and share-worthy going on: you just have to capture it when it happens.

Reaching

So on this New Year’s Eve, I’ve decided to continue into the New Year the three habits I honed over the course of the Old. I’ll keep meditating, reading, and snapping at least one photo a day, everyday. I hope what worked in 2017 will continue to work in 2018.

Click here to see my “2017 Year in Books” on Goodreads, or click here to see my “365 in 2017” photoset. Enjoy, and happy New Year!

Wreath

I always feel like I should say Something Profound at the turn of a new year, a time when so many folks look back before looking ahead. Try as I might to convince myself that New Year’s Eve is somehow different and more magical than any other winter evening, however, I can’t seem to pull it off. Year-round, I’m fairly contemplative; year-round, I’m fascinated by the incessant flow of time. Why, then, should this night be any different from any other?

Entryway

Heavy drinkers refer to New Year’s Eve as “amateur night”: one night a year when merely casual drinkers decide to tie one on. I’ve already described how I feel something similar about Thanksgiving, that one day a year when everyone makes a conscious effort to Be Grateful. The older I get, the more befuddled I find myself at these enforced periods of frivolity: why should I be more grateful, more merry, or more happy this day rather than that? I’m all for gratitude, happiness, and celebration…but what if one’s emotional compass isn’t precisely aligned to those red-letter days when everyone else insists on merry-making?

74 1/2 with wreath

I have to admit I look forward to January 1st mainly because it marks a return to ordinary time: the period after the expected elation of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. J and I don’t do much out of the ordinary to mark the holiday season, and this leaves me feeling out-of-step with friends and colleagues who are more intentional when it comes to their annual merry-making. If you’re happy all year round, why should it be so extraordinary that you don’t go out of your way to be Extra Happy during the months of November and December? On Christmas, I was overjoyed simply to turn off my laptop for a much-appreciated day off spent walking around Beacon Hill with J, taking pictures. Forcing myself to do something more on Christmas would have felt arbitrary and artificial, like sitting for those portrait photographers who carefully arrange you into some stilted pose and then urge you to “Act natural!” The contentment I feel year-round is candid and unsolicited: it arises naturally on any given day, not just the red-letter ones.

Complementary

On January 2nd, my emotions become my own again, free from the external input of holiday hoopla. New Year’s Eve offers the once-a-year opportunity to see one year transform into another…but every day offers the opportunity to see one moment dissolve into the next. Tonight is a night when amateur clock-watchers try to compete with those of us who are perpetually obsessed with time’s passage: who cares about the passage of one year when you can spend your days hearkening to every passing minute?

True-blue sports fans have to chuckle at the scoreboard noise-meters that “remind” spectators when they should cheer: if you’re a true-blue sports fan, you don’t need to be prompted to “get loud” at the critical juncture of a game, and it seems to me that happiness is something similar. If you’re genuinely content with your everyday life, you don’t need the extra stimulus of the holidays to remind you of that fact; without streamers, noise-makers, and party hats to tell you when to be happy, you can simply pay attention to your life and respond appropriately.

Knock here

Tonight, J and I are staying in for New Year’s Eve; tomorrow, we’ll do our usual Friday routine, tending to the pets and taking time in the afternoon to watch the Winter Classic on TV, an understated nod to annual festivities. It isn’t every night that a New Year comes knocking, but every night you choose how you live your life, with every year like every life being nothing but an endless sequence of moments. At each critical juncture, you decide what to do with this moment and the next and the next, your New Year’s resolve continuing ad infinitum, This Present Moment reflecting the practice of every other.

Click here for a photo-set of images from Christmas on Boston’s Beacon Hill: enjoy, and happy New Year!

Noisemakers & souvenirs for sale

In a previous lifetime when I first moved to New England, my ex-husband and I went to First Night several years in a row. Neither one of us was much into the party scene, so the thought of a large, largely alcohol-free, G-rated pedestrian party appealed to us. And when we lived underground in Beacon Hill, First Night was a party that happened almost literally on our doorstep, so it was only natural we’d partake.

Noisemakers for sale

As years passed, though, my ex-husband and I stopped attending First Night. One year, the weather was too cold; another year, we were invited to a private party. And when we moved into the Cambridge Zen Center, we (or make that I) started doing Midnight Practice on New Year’s Eve: an even more alcohol-free, G-rated way, and significantly warmer way to ring in the New Year.

Red Sox on ice

First my ex-husband and I moved into the Zen Center, then we moved further away from the city, then we moved out of the state entirely. All of these moves–individual pulses in the passage of time–marked incremental steps away from Boston, away from the pedestrian party that is First Night, and closer to the isolated ideal of individual citizens in front of TVs watching other people in far-off cities celebrating for them.

Ice sculptures in progress

I remember New Year’s Eve 2000, when the world feared the computer glitch of Y2K would bring civilization (or at least our machines) to a screeching halt. My ex-husband and I lived in a house in Hillsboro, NH even though he was still working (and thus commuting to and from) Boston. Our neighbors in Hillsboro were far-flung strangers, and I was lonely living an entire state away from any of my friends.

Celtics on ice

On New Year’s Eve 2000, my ex-husband and I stayed in rather than driving a half-hour or more to the nearest big city; because of Y2K, he had to stay huddled in front of his computer screen, checking that the code he oversaw didn’t succumb to bugs. Upstairs, I watched TV alone, convinced I needed to stay awake to see in the New Year, even if alone.  At midnight, I went downstairs to my ex’s basement office, where he barely looked up from his screen to acknowledge me.

Ice ram, Suffolk University

This New Year’s Eve, J and I rode the T into Boston for an afternoon Bruins game. Afternoon hockey games are popular with families, and we sat surrounded by parents with children in a section that was largely alcohol-free and G-rated. “At least he’s not swearing,” one usher remarked to no one in particular after asking a particularly rambunctious fan to sit down. “Although I don’t have kids,” J remarked, “I like the calm, chaos-free atmosphere of family events.”

Church & State

After spending our afternoon rooting for the Bruins, J and I headed home to tuck in our own “children”: in a house with three dogs and nine cats, you can’t party late after an afternoon game. Thus this year’s taste of First Night was necessarily pedestrian and brief as we passed through Boston Common on our way to catch the T at Copley Square: a detour to avoid post-game crowds that afforded a passing glimpse of ice sculptures and party-prep before dark.

Bruins on ice

On the T ride home, J and I were surrounded by parents shepherding small flocks of face-painted children home by bedtime: definitely G-rated. We ourselves got home not long after dark, in time to let the dogs out, fix and eat dinner, and get sleepy before folks on TV counted down the seconds to a New Year.

Festive holiday tree

This year, eight years after that lonely Y2K in a previous lifetime, I’m realizing a happy New Year has nothing to do with whether to go out or stay in. Regardless of when you get home or who counts down the seconds to New Year, are you with the ones you love, human or otherwise? All those years ago, all I wanted was a sense of connection: when I walk into a room on New Year’s Eve or otherwise, will you acknowledge me? This year, heading home before dark and leaving First Night to revelers more rambunctious than I was a perfectly appropriate way to mark the passage of time that is a New Near.

This is my belated submission for this past week’s Photo Friday theme, Passage of Time. I started this post several days ago, but appropriately enough it took some…time…passing before I got around to finishing it.