There’s something about the start of a new year that always induces a collective existential crisis. We’ve all been allowed to indulge ourselves for about a nanosecond, and now it’s time to overhaul our creaking ship of a life and become better people. TODAY! At this very moment, people are being mowed down by MAMIL’s (middle-aged men in lycra) and virgin cyclists, trying to atone for their yuletide gluttony. What is it with our obsession over deadlines and dates, meaning that new beginnings always have to begin, well…. at the beginning of something? Want to change your life? Well, best time to start is the beginning of the year, right? When it’s cold and miserable and dark and depressing A.F. Has to be Monday, beginning of the week and usually first thing in the morning, to start the day out right. To me, this seems like a recipe for failure. What if you miss the beginning? Does that mean you have to wait until the following week or the following year to get started again? And why is investing in yourself made to feel like a competition, or worse, a punishment?
As you may or may not know readers, I am at best headstrong and at worst, recalcitrant when it comes to these matters. I can’t bear to be told what to do or when to do it. Conforming is just not in my nature (and believe me, I’ve tried). So when the rest of the world wakes up on January 1st with a list of things they are going to give up, I start writing a list of things I’m going to take up, or simply do more of. I try to think of all the things that made me happy the year before and vow to do more of them. But that doesn’t mean I have to complete the challenge during the first week of January. Why rush when you’ve got all year?!
The wonderful thing is, every day can be the first of January. You can choose to begin at any point in your life and the most important thing to remember is that it’s never too late. Back in 2004, I began reading a book called The Artist’s Way, a kind of workbook on the subject of creativity. I would highly recommend this book to everyone, as it teaches you that every journey begins with one small but very significant step: giving yourself permission. This quote always makes me smile:
“But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano/act/paint/write a decent play?” Yes … the same age you will be if you don’t. So let’s start.”
― Julia Cameron
Let’s face it, when you tell people you want to be a writer or an artist, the response isn’t always encouraging. ‘There’s no money in that,’ is the usual refrain. Or ‘Aren’t you a little old for hobbies?’ Becoming an adult can really suck the fun out of life and as for dreams? They have no place in a world where everything is valued in monetary terms. But honestly, what are we here for if not to explore our talents and express ourselves? Why waste your creativity because it seems silly or ‘childish’ or worst of all, selfish? You don’t have to become a concert pianist or win the Man Booker to justify your passion. People are writing, singing, acting, painting and all manner of things right now, even if they’re not making a living out of it, and their lives would be the poorer without it. So I guess its up to you to decide where the value lies.
For some bizarre reason, when 1st January rolls around every year, people don’t bat an eyelid at you if you decide to start training for marathons or triathlons. Somehow we’ve decided that physical activity is a ‘worthy’ pursuit. But compare this to the reaction you would get if you started taking singing lessons or announced your intention to write a novel – it’s somehow seen as self-indulgent or in layman’s terms, a futile exercise. Well I’m sorry, but I think running is futile, but I wouldn’t stand in anyone’s way (for obvious reasons). I have read so many blogs and articles where writers were afraid to tell their family and friends that they were writing out of some kind of misplaced embarrassment. I’m not sure why we view the arts in this way, but my wish for anyone of a creative disposition this year is to explore it, enjoy it and see what happens!
I think Neil Gaiman says it best in his New Year’s Wish.
May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.
You can decide to follow your heart any damn day you please. I know this blog post risks sounding a little bit trite or like something you might find on a kitty poster, but my heart is in the right place. I began my creative journey in Spring 2004, taking art classes and writing the draft for my first book. Things didn’t change overnight, but I stayed on my path and this year I had my first solo exhibition and typed the words ‘The End’ on the manuscript of my third novel. I’m making some money (at last!) and it’s possible that one day, I could make a living. But these last 12 years have been about so much more than that. I got to pursue the things I love doing and for me, there’s no greater reward. (Well, maybe a favourable review in The Times). The point is, once I decided what I wanted to do, I had lots of gentle nudges along the way; coincidences that encouraged me to keep going and confirmed that I was doing the right thing. For me. So I suppose this is my way of paying it forward.
Life isn’t about big dramatic changes (I mean, it can be, but they’re rarely sustainable). It is the small steps you take every day that will, over time, take you in the direction you want to go. Every day is a chance to begin something new and the only thing that matters is how badly you want it. Happy 2017 everybody!
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
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