Finding Resolve for Resolutions
By Victoria Fortune
At the end of a normal year, I contemplate New Year’s resolutions with a sense of resignation, compelled by the occasion to set goals, fully aware that I will approach them with zeal for a while, but eventually my commitment will wane. With spring fever, my best laid plans are often cast aside like my winter coat, forgotten until the autumn air turns brisk again, a reminder to get busy. But 2016 has not been a normal year. This year has brought a sea change.
In the past twelve months, I’ve seen my youngest turn double digits, and my middle child mature from a disorganized procrastinator into a focused and committed student. I have one year before she begins the college application process in earnest, a process that consumed much of my time last year, as I shepherded my oldest through it. Delivering him to school on the opposite side of the country marked the beginning of a new phase of his life, as well as my own. I am watching my children mature with a mix of pride and gratification and heartache, knowing that a joyful time in my life is entering its final stages. But I also feel an invigorating opening up of space in my life to pursue my own goals. . . with fewer excuses not to accomplish them.
I was deeply affected this year by the passing of so many icons of my childhood--Prince, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Harper Lee—whose music, movies and books evoke specific moments of my past in all their mood, scents, and scenery. Their deaths seemed a signal that the last vestiges of my youth have fallen away. After so many years of acting like a grown up, it’s finally hit home that I am one. And there is no time to waste.
Of course, looming over all these events was Donald Trump; his election a repudiation of all the values I hold dear. I lost my father as a small child, and being a voracious reader, it was in books that I found models of father figures. The ultimate one was Atticus Finch from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. He was everything that Donald Trump is not: a man of wisdom and dignity, of reason and compassion, a man of principle, who courageously stood up for the ideals of equality and justice. In a New York Times interview in July, Trump said that with all its transgressions, America can no longer be held up as a model of democracy. Unlike leaders such as Lincoln and Kennedy, who viewed our failure to live up to our ideals as impetus to fight harder for them, Trump sees our failings as an excuse to abandon our ideals. He cynically stoked fear and division for political gain, with no regard for the harm it inflicted on our country.
Since November, I’ve been contemplating how best to fight his debasement of democracy and civil rights, his undermining of the environment and education, his assault on language and truth. I’ve questioned whether writing fiction is the best use of my time. Should I return to education and teach civics and history? Should I turn to journalism and write about encroachments on the environment and public education that are clearly coming? But how can the media be heard when so many have been convinced not to listen, when facts and evidence are under siege? In such a climate, fiction seems the best medium to address truth. The power of story is more important than ever. In the words of Edward Albee, another great literary talent lost this year, “fiction is fact distilled into truth.”
Ironically, I have to give Trump credit: The divisions that he laid bare during the campaign—between black and white, urban and rural, educated and working class—are at the heart of the novel I am writing. Seeing just how deep they run has clarified my sense of purpose for the book and renewed my sense of urgency to finish it. My New Year’s resolution—to finish my book—is not new, but this year I approach it with newfound resolve.
A dear friend who recently completed her memoir noted that in order to finish it, she had to put aside everything else in her life and focus solely on writing. I am not at the point where I can manage that. I do still have a family to attend to, and I find that some of my other pursuits fuel my creative energies. But I have created a daily routine to carve out writing time and signed up for a workshop on project management techniques for writers. I plan to track my activities to determine which detract and distract from writing and which facilitate it (the subject of future blog posts). And to help maintain my resolve, I have put Neil Gaiman’s wise words on the wall in front of my desk:
“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.”