A tangle of fairy lights, the chaotic rush of last-minute presents, piles of unwritten cards, cardboard boxes waiting to be broken down ready for the recycling bin.
Along with the endless to-do lists of Christmas, last year is finally over and the roller coaster that was 2021 is well and truly behind us. New Year’s Day is bathed in the serene light of a new dawn, so it’s time for a fresh start and some new ways of thinking.
A few years ago, I vowed to read everything ever written by James Joyce. It was around page 30 of Finnegans Wake that I realised I needed a long lie down and ever since I’ve somewhat lowered the ambitions of my New Year’s resolutions.
There’s nothing like a spot of cannibalism to have you reaching for the Cadbury chocolate, another thing we vow to give up on this most auspicious day. So much self-punishment; why give up alcohol, carbs, and whatever else tickles your wicket, in January of all months?
We’re going about this New Year’s Day thing all wrong. Instead of removing treats and little crutches that help us through the day, month and year, why not consider some thoughtful additions rather than donning a hair shirt?
The high bar has been lowered since the Joyce escapade, but I’ve still managed to craft a fairly robust list of resolutions, or, as they are now known in these woke times, “intentions”.
My intentions aren’t particularly literary or arduous. For one, I intend to continue my pledge to give up dating apps, which should be really interesting considering I write a weekly dating column. Where will the cliffhanger content come from now!? Guess it’s back to the real world, or as near to it as we can get, what with everything that’s going on.
I remember, some time ago, a stranger messaging on Instagram. It had been her intention to send a message of hope, and I remember feeling at the time it was much appreciated.
Like me, she’d broken up with her husband just before lockdown. The divorce had been acrimonious leaving her anxious and depressed, and so, all alone in her house, with only her dog for company, she attempted to create some semblance of normality by establishing daily routines.
One such routine involved walking the dog at the same time each day. She lived in the countryside, and the dog walk involved a stride up a hill with not many surrounding houses. As the days progressed, she noticed another lone walker; he too walked his dog at the same time each day.
Soon enough, they nodded “Hello”. The nod developed into an actual spoken “Hello”, which then evolved into a conversation – I think you may know where this is headed, go grab some popcorn – which eventually turned into the pair exchanging numbers and walking their dogs together.
By the end of lockdown, they were in love. In LOVE! (The humans, not the dogs, although the dogs may have liked each other too, who knows and who cares, frankly).
I think of her hopeful message often, either while out walking the dog or en route home from yet another digital dating mishap. How generous she was to share her story with me, a total stranger.
Dog walks, or just walks generally, can provide fitness, mental headspace, and, it turns out, new relationships. Intention two is to walk more.
Last New Year’s Eve, I went to bed at 10pm choosing to ignore the whole thing unfolding outside my window; I placed a loud fan in my room so as not to hear far-off cheers or fireworks. I wasn’t miserable, far from it; it felt like the perfect ending to the roller coaster year that was 2020.
With the previous year behind me, I awoke gloriously hangover-free. Alone the next morning, no kids in the house, I plonked myself in front of the TV and ate toast. I poured myself a drink around mid-afternoon thereby zapping all hopes of going on an “intended” run.
However, I did make one lasting intention, an idea jotted down on a loose piece of paper and kept in a jewellery box in my bathroom: do less, enjoy more.
Drained from leaving the family home and moving house twice in three months, not to mention the wider cultural effects and emotional impact of Covid-19, I remember feeling wrung out. So intention three is to continue to do less, enjoy more.
For years I’ve carried in my head a list of things to do in retirement, things that feel impossible to achieve at the moment what with kids, work, etc.
I decided a few years back to go back to art school in retirement, but by doing less and enjoying more, by the end of last year I began working with a mentor, the artist Tony Hull.
At some point in November, we began meeting once a week. The sessions started with an inkling of an idea, a project I’ve wanted to pursue for a long time. By the time the year closed, although I am still none the wiser as to where my fine art project will take me, in just a few weeks I’d amassed a sketchbook full of work and several ideas for paintings. Intention four is to continue to make things, to create art, to draw and paint.
For many women, our late 40s and 50s can be a complex time of transition – careers in peak, menopause, divorce, the ever-growing worry of the fragility of parents. Layer on the increased emotional needs of growing children (and puppies – why did I get one?) it’s no wonder we are in a state of emotional turmoil. This incessant need to achieve has plagued me and many women I know our entire lives.
One of the things on the list of stuff I planned to do in retirement is gardening. However, this month I shall (fingers crossed) exchange and complete on the house I’ve been trying to buy since last October.
The house, which was built in 1927, hasn’t been touched and is full of original features. The garden, which is the biggest I will have owned since living in London, is a barren, empty patch of land; a 70ft blank canvas. Intention five is to tackle my fear of gardening head-on.
I intend to research flowers and trees and will swap shoe purchases for spades! A total novice, I plan to apply my head, heart and soul to the garden project, hoping that all will be OK when things don’t quite turn out to plan. I fully intend to watch the garden grow, spying on every little detail as nature puts on its best show.
Walk more, do less and enjoy more, make art, embrace gardening and stay off dating apps – simple intentions for a chaotic world.
I’m already wondering who I’ll bump into at the garden centre…