Writing a weekly column is a privilege. It’s also sometimes a pain in the patoot. Imagine having to come up with topics that might interest someone other than yourself. I sit in my office chair daydreaming, staring out the window, hoping for crows to visit our fountain. I am dithering, barely writing.
My window lets me admire our indestructible garden of drought-tolerant plants. I walk out to see if I can smell petrichor, a scent that is a reliable indicator of rain coming. We still have vegetation “trash” I’ve collected in the front of the yard. To Hugel, or not to Hugel? We also stash our tree detritus out by the fence to deter the dogs from getting through. That’s important, as outside the garden’s boundaries is the almost freeway-like traffic of Altadena Drive.
I’ve written this column for 30 years and I never run out of ideas. That said, let me remind you of a T-shirt I saw years ago: “Watch what you say: I’m a writer.” There’s also Anne Lamott’s invaluable wisdom: “If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
It’s de rigueur to do a 2022 round-up, but I barely have the strength. That in and of itself is a ringing indictment of the year we’ve just had. It’s also customary to make a list of New Year’s resolutions. I can’t do that either, since my 2022 resolution was to never make another resolution as long as I live. Resolutions are like candles. They shine bright until the wax melts onto your favorite antique table, causing you to curse the candle and vow to not light one again … until you forget and do it again. Do not be tempted!
I have also promised myself that I will refrain from giving unsolicited advice to people … except in my column! If you are reading my unsolicited advice, consider it a solicitation of what I think. Here goes:
Instead of resolutions, make promises and manufacture some “No kidding” consequences if you don’t keep them … then tell someone who can hold you to account. For example, “I promise to eat healthily for six months, and if I break my promise, I will eat 10 spiders.”
Making promises is far more powerful than namby-pamby resolutions. Resolutions are typically obliterated when said “resolver” misses one gym visit, eats one slice of pie, or picks their nose in their car. This is especially true if there are no consequences for breaking the resolution.
However, if you make a promise to another person to never pick your nose in the car, and you vow that if you break it, you have to stand on the corner of Lake and Colorado and pick your nose every time a car goes by? Hoo-boy, now you’ve got some real “skin” in the game! Or, in this case, boogers in the game.
I’ve intentionally built my promise-making and promise-keeping muscles over the years so that, usually, promising another person I’ll do something is enough. I also get some added oomph by giving myself a star that I paste onto my progress board. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I work for stars! Enough of my Lutheran Sunday School goody-goody two-shoes legacy remains intact that affixing metallic stars on a prominently displayed sheet still does it for me.
Digital companies have also figured this out. Services like Wordle and Duolingo keep tabs on their users’ “streaks” and provide bragging rights and rewards to keep you going. My Duolingo Norwegian streak is now at 1,105 days straight — woo-hoo!
Speaking of Duolingo, I have an image of their staff somewhere in digital land laughing their asses off. Or, in Norwegian, “ler ræva av seg.” Really, Duolingo? You’ve taught me to say phrases in Norwegian like, “I do not eat spiders,” “I am the cheese,” and “pull my finger,” but you haven’t yet taught me how to say the days of the week or the months or even weather conditions? Really? I suspect that Duolingo subscriptions skyrocketed during The Great Lockdown, and they had to hire a bunch of out-of-work Norwegian comics to fill in for actual linguists. Although it’s possible that “Norwegian comic” is an oxymoron.
I am skittish about wishing you a better year in 2023. During 2022, every time I said, or even thought, “It can’t get any worse,” it did. Although there were also glimmers of hope, such as Sen. Warnock eventually triumphing over what was a dead heat against a barely sentient Herschel Walker.
For a bigger dose of hope, I’ll end with the shimmering image of Drumpf finally facing consequences. Maybe he could take a jet out of the country and beg for asylum with the Russians. Or maybe all the MAGA maniacs could get hit by a lightning bolt of common sense. Frankly, I hunger to see Drumpf in shackles, wearing an orange outfit that goes nicely with his face. That idea just yanked me away from staring out my window, wondering what I’ll write about today. A gal can dream, can’t she?
Happy New Year!
2023 marks the 30th year that Ellen Snortland has written this column. She also teaches creative writing online. She can be reached at email@example.com. Her award-winning film “Beauty Bites Beast” is available for download or streaming at vimeo.com/ondemand/beautybitesbeast.