What with one thing and another, I’ve spent a bit of time in waiting rooms recently. In my experience, waiting rooms mean the following: bored and sometimes tetchy people, out-of-date magazines (three-year-old Cleo, anybody?) and daytime television.
Daytime television is infuriatingly compelling: almost impossible to turn away from despite the mute cry of the book, or journal, in my bag. It also tends to be fairly repetitive. Recently – as is the case every year – many of the daytime television programmes have had features on new year’s resolutions. Why we need to make them. How they will make us happy, fulfilled, shiny. Why we break them. How to make them properly (for the record, new year’s resolutions should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-limited – SMART goals. I know this because a, I work with people to set goals for a living, and b, social workers love acronyms).
Now I can make SMART goals with the best of them – most of my plans and the things I hope to achieve would fit neatly into that pro forma – because, much as I disparage nice neat acronyms, it works. And I tend to think that, if something’s important enough to be mapping out a goal around it, then it probably shouldn’t wait for the new year. I need to cut sugar from my diet? Ok, why not start tomorrow? I want to do more writing? There’s an hour or so to go until bedtime, get going. Why do I need to wait until the first of January if something’s important enough to do on the thirtieth of December? Or the thirtieth of April, for that matter.
We talk about a new year as being a new start. A fresh start, a line in the sand. And in many ways it is. A new diary, a new calendar. A new set of numbers to remember every time we write the date. A marker in the expanse of a life that invites us to re-assess, to reflect, to make changes or to celebrate how far we’ve come.
But it’s also not a new start – really, there’s no such thing. Because the first of January follows the thirty-first of December and there’s no such thing as a clean slate. I don’t know that I want there to be, much as I’d dearly love to rub some of the marks and scars away. But there isn’t, and so all we can do is take the opportunity for reflection that the new year offers and try to build on some of the marks we value, and try to make some of the uglier marks more beautiful.
But I don’t think I’ll be bothered with new year’s resolutions.