Adventures with Words, January 2023

Adventures with Words, January 2023

Adventures with Words, January 2023 – from CK Combs, Author

I used to do New Year’s Resolutions, back when I was younger and hadn’t learned to choose my battles well. I piled up goals and ambitions, listed anything I could think of that I believed would improve my life. And every year there would come a time, not far into the spring, when I’d surrender to the reality that I wasn’t doing the work necessary to lose the pounds, keep a regular exercise schedule, learn a new language, etc. I did this year after year into my late 20s. It was ritual, habit, a way to acknowledge the turning of the year-wheel. And ultimately futile.

And then I stopped. One year I was staring at a blank page, with a hundred and one ideas but none of them grabbing me enough to warrant putting pen to paper. I knew my track record. I knew the likelihood of accomplishing a list of goals that would all require attention, continued effort, determination and stamina was close to nil. So I stopped doing it. I didn’t write down resolutions that year or any year since and don’t miss it at all. And yet…

I still wanted to have a yearly ritual that meant something to me personally and wasn’t just a reflexive following of other lemmings pinned to the Julian New Year. Now I do some intention setting at Winter Solstice and save the bulk of my goal setting for my personal new year, my birthday.

Word Nerd Time

Have you ever wondered about the history and etymology of New Year’s resolutions? 

According to website, … the ”first recorded people to set new year pledges (later to become known as resolutions) are the Ancient Babylonians some 4,000 years ago. The Babylonians are also the first civilisation to hold recorded celebrations in honour of the new year.”  I’m sure they also had trouble making good on those pledges and their gyms were just as empty in February as ours are. The Romans had a new years tradition of resolutions, as well, though their original new year was March 15 – yes, the Ides of March. (a day after my birthday but I’m sure that’s a coincidence). Once the Julian calendar was adopted, by order of Julius Caesar, January 1st took its place at the head of the annual table. This placement honored the god Janus, the two-headed god who can see where he’s going and where he’s been. That’s a lot of what we do during those long dark days, isn’t it? We remember and process the year we’ve been through and consider what we’d like to see, or what we expect to see, in the coming year.

Further word nerdery: Resolution (n): late 14c., resolucioun, “a breaking or reducing into parts; process of breaking up, dissolution,” from Old French resolution (14c.) and directly from Latin resolutionem (nominative resolutio) “process of reducing things into simpler forms,” noun of action from past participle stem of resolvere “to loosen”

Resolution – re-solution – to resolve – to re-solve. To solve again? A solution is the answer to a problem or challenge and also a liquid mixture where the minor component is evenly distributed throughout. To be resolute is to be firm and steadfast, and the solute is the minor component of a solution – so re-solute is returning to the state of being a minor component. Is a resolution a process of re-solving a problem? Given the number of times I wrote down ‘get in shape’ or ‘lose weight’ on my lists, I was definitely trying to resolve my supposed problems. Again and again. Resolve is close to revolve. The Middle English ‘revolven’ meant the passing of time, wind round, roll. This was borrowed from Middle French (revolver – to turn, turn over in the mind) and Latin (revolvere – to roll back to a starting point). The way resolutions work in our culture, they are a yearly return to a starting point for most people as they re-attempt the goals they did not accomplish the year before. It could be said that to solve a problem is to roll something around in our minds until we have a solution.

I’ll stop now before I go after ‘evolve’ and how it fits into this picture.

Writer Stuff

I am happy to say that I successfully turned the corner and ran like hell so my writer’s block couldn’t follow me. I’ve created a revised* outline of the three acts of my novel and I’ve been writing almost every day. I’m doing individual scenes that are new or need major work. It’s liberating to not feel that I have to ‘write in order’.

 (* Since a vise is something that squeezes things, is re-vising the act of re-squeezing?)

Things are going so well that I’ve set an intention to have a completely written manuscript by the end of March. Things are going so well, I believe I’ll be sharing excerpts soon.  That’s right. You’ll get a pre-pre-preview of the novel I’ve been laboring over for years now. 

And now that I’ve said these things, put these intentions in print, I will feel even more beholden to the imagined expectations you all have. Thanks for being there for me 😉

With all this writing and thinking and plotting, I’ve completely forgotten to schedule the next Writer’s Chat, so I’m punting that into February. 

What I’m Reading

I’ve completed 5 books already this year… before you permanently dislocate your jaw, I started three of them in December. Do you enjoy historic fiction?  The Cursing Stone by Tom Sigafoos tells the story of Ireland in 1884 from the perspective of people who live on the small islands off the northern coast of Ireland, specifically people living on the very small island of Toraigh, County Donegal, Ireland.  At this point in history, the Irish are bucking against an oppressive system and society that doesn’t treat them as people (which was not new in 1884 and went on for far too long). Islands like Toraigh (Tory is the British spelling) have been home to Irish people back to the mythical times of gods and monsters, so imagine how they felt when rich men living in London decided they owned the islands and the residents were required to pay rent. Imagine further how they felt when that “landowner” sent the police, and sometimes Navy, to evict and burn the homes of those who don’t pay? It’s not a pretty picture, but it’s a very good story and well told. The characters were very well drawn – almost everyone has something they don’t want others to know, past actions they’d like to leave behind, insecurities and anxieties aplenty.  If you enjoy this kind of fiction, I highly recommend it. It’s well written and well researched. Also, some of you may recognize the writer’s last name. He is the brother of Nancy Sigafoos who was a long time resident of Olympia and a central part of our queer and artistic community for a long time.

I listened to The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson – I enjoyed it for the most part, though if I’d been reading it in print, I might/definitely would have skipped forward several times as he belabored his point in a lengthy way. If you do not like curse words, don’t read it. Especially in the first part of the book, the expletive in the title is so liberally sprinkled in the text that it became a little tedious. 

My first nonfiction book of the year was The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, by Mark Manson. Not a manual about writing, more of a thesis on storytelling as not just a commonality among human cultures over the ages but something necessary for our survival. He makes a lot of points and presents his research and it’s mostly interesting. 

One thing that has stuck with me is the tendency we have as humans to create stories to explain what we witness. Religions are great examples, philosophy, psychiatry, etc., though we utilize it in mundane ordinary life, too. Example: I’m sitting in a coffee shop idly people-watching, I see two people sitting across from each other at a small table, somewhat stiffly, shifting in their seats… He’s doing most of the talking. She’s nodding, looking down at her coffee cup, looking over his shoulder toward the counter or the door. Hoping for an interruption? Looking for the restroom? I might interpret this as a OKCupid first time meeting situation. And what about the stories we tell ourselves to explain where we are in life or why our coworker is being a jerk or why our partner seems to be avoiding us? I know for myself, these stories are running in a constant stream in my brain. Sometimes I take notice of them and do a little directing, and work on imagined dialog.  While not a bad thing for a writer, it can be a bit much for regular life.

I hope you are staying warm and dry and have plenty of foul weather activities to keep things interesting. The birds have been very active and chatty, which is lovely to hear after the relative quiet of deep winter. The cats look for opportunities to be outside, though they are definitely fair-weather felines. If it’s cold, windy and/or wet, I find them in their favorite spots, curled into balls, sleeping the day away. Until next time, remember to enjoy life amidst all the challenges. Eat dessert first!

Read books from small presses, buy from local book sellers, find your local authors and buy them coffee. Many of us run almost entirely on coffee.

Cheers and happy new year, CK

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