I Still Believe in New Year's Resolutions.
I still believe in New Year's resolutions. My rational mind isn't a fan, but my heart is still in them. I think it's the new beginnings aspect. I love change. It's why I love the seasons in Maine and even the crazy swings within the seasons. For example, as I write this, it is 14 degrees F with a wind chill of 3 in Paris, Maine. Saturday is forecast to hit 51 degrees and Sunday we may have an ice storm. While I am not happy that some of the weirder weather is likely the result of man-made climate change, the variability that Maine weather has always dished out is something that has been cherished (or not...) by generations of Mainers.
It's not just the need for change that drives my advocacy for New Year's resolutions though. It's more about making promises to myself and others and committing to keeping them. I do this with inconsistent success, but the successes that I have in keeping some of them make my life better and often make life better for the people who have to interact with me.
What better time to seek change than at the turn of a decade? I know, I know...some would argue that the decade does not turn until January of 2021. I'm not on that train. I'm writing 2020 on my checks now so it's a new decade. Case closed.
I do a major reassessment and make adjustments three times a year: on my birthday in June, on the first day of fall, and in January. These are not evenly spaced and I claim no special logic here. It's just how I do it. This year's January reassessment is somewhat major. I feel a big shift coming in 2020, not only for me but for the world. I sense a real fatigue among those around me. I saw a lot of social media posts about 2019 that amounted to, "Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out." Part of my reassessment this year is based on the following question: "What can I do to position myself, my life, and my business better to assist in helping out where I can in this new decade?"
It turns out, the corny old adage is true: you can't offer water to others from an empty cup. Or to put it really bluntly, if you don't have your own shit together, there's no helping anyone else, at least not in the most significant ways possible.
With that in mind, here are my resolutions for 2020. They are not particularly unique. These involve the fundamentals of life, which are not unique. They are universal. If you don't have your mental and physical health, your finances, and your creative life where you want them, there's room to grow. I am not happy to admit that at almost 55 years old, I still need to work quite a bit on all of these fundamentals, but here we are, and while these are my resolutions I am hoping that what I have written may help some of you with yours.
Travel more/see more people I care about.
This holiday season I was so fortunate to have almost all of my people home for a visit. My four sons, my niece, and all of their significant others except one were home. We are able to get everyone together about every two years. I am now coping with the post-holiday amplification of missing them, so this year I'll be planning trips to visit them. That will mean trips to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Canada, Connecticut, Texas, Massachusetts, and possibly North Carolina.
Dog-friendly Airbnbs are our go-to accommodations and, as Airbnb Superhosts ourselves, we enjoy meeting other hosts. We have often put off travel because it was "too expensive" or "we can't get the time off," but this year we are making a major effort to make it work.
Hook/make art/be creative every day.
I've told the story of Deanne Fitzpatrick admonishing me to hook every day several times before on the blog and in our social media. I have never forgotten it. I have also never heeded her sage advice, although I've recommended it to others. Until now.
The retail side of Parris House Wool Works has been all consuming for a long time. It's a major income stream for the overall venture and it has taken a herculean effort to get it where it is now, which is not even a fraction of where it needs to be. Ergo, I barely hook anymore, and most of my hooking is - you guessed it - for retail clients either through my own shop or Beekman 1802. What has changed significantly is that I now have considerable help with the retail end of things and I need to channel time freed by that in to actually making.
In 2020, the daily hooking commences for real. This has been my first resolution in 2017, 2018, and 2019 and it hasn't happened. It gets real now because, honestly, I'm getting kind of angry at myself and the world about not doing it. Hooking every day will get me through my backlog of customer projects and then I can get started on some heart and art projects. Some of these pieces may be challenging to look at or process. Look for those after March (yes, I'm that backlogged on customer pieces).
Write every day.
Today I'm writing this blog, tomorrow it will be the weekly newsletter, next week it will be some finishing elements of my book and also some work I'm doing as a contributor to another artist's book. I also have an open invitation to write for a couple of creative publications, including one that has also asked me to pitch a book. If the daily writing isn't any of those things, it's going to be the morning pages as prescribed by Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way or I might...I just might...start on another book idea I have. I should probably check in with my current editor on that one, right?
Writing daily can also include sending letters to the editors of newspapers, emails to our Senators and Representatives, or a handwritten note to someone we've lost contact with. Writing daily can be an act of resistance in a world that needs to hear the cumulative voices of dissent every single day.
But writing daily, even if it's in a journal that no one else will ever see, keeps us in contact with our language and with ourselves. It helps refine and focus our thoughts and, in the most fundamental way, it makes us better writers through the timeless principle of practice. Practice will never make perfect, but it sure does make whatever we're doing better.
Develop a more consistent meditation/prayer practice.
I recently loaded the Headspace app on my phone and it's highly effective. I can understand why so many people are using this app and are willing to pay for it. I have been using it almost every morning for three months and I have noticed a change in my ability to focus, stay calm, and maintain important boundaries. I also am more aware of when I am not able to do those things and can more quickly recover from a lapse.
The app is by far not my first exposure to a meditation or prayer practice; it simply makes it more of a habit. I have a long history of reading about/studying/attempting the practice of meditation. Some authors I've found helpful as a modern, western person are Thich Nhat Hanh, Howard Kabat-Zinn, and, Dan Harris. Dan Harris is a modern meditator, self described "fidgety skeptic," and also has a fantastic podcast called 10% Happier. It's all well and fine to educate oneself about the scientifically supported benefits of meditation, but if you're not doing it, it's not that helpful. So recently, I starting making myself actually do it.
The nice thing about meditation is that it's a practice open to athiests and "believers" alike. I am not an atheist, although I have absolutely no issue with those who are and deeply respect their reasons for being so. My own belief structure is complicated and humble enough that I totally get other humans being atheists.
My own faith tradition is Roman Catholicism and I have found, in the past year, the only Jesuit parish in Maine down in Portland. Part of my resolution that falls under meditation/prayer is to attend Mass more often at this parish and possibly become more involved in the substantial community outreach they provide. Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, created a meditative practice known as the Daily Examen which I am also working on incorporating in to my every day life. I have always regarded the Jesuits as the hippy radicals of the Catholic world, often leading progressive change and causes within the faith and forsaking the pressures of local and national politics for the more revolutionary, and sometimes uncomfortable, message of their Christ. I hope to include some ancient Christian iconography in some of my art pieces in the future.
Take care of my health.
Some of you may recall that in November I sustained a debilitating back injury packing out the Paris Hill Hook In. I was almost completely incapacitated. My very wise doctor said, "You're going to need strength training and yoga from here on out if you want to try to prevent this in the future." So, after a couple of months of healing and a lot of holiday over-indulgence, I have begun.
My current practice includes strength training at the gym 3 times a week, walking/running 4 times a week, and yoga once a week. This is more than do-able for me. In fact, in a past life, decades ago when I lived in New Jersey, I went to the gym six days a week and had a personal trainer certification. I was pretty strong and never had to worry about whether or not my pants were going to fit or I was going to incapacitate myself with a random injury doing normal tasks. It would be easy to say that I'm too busy to do this, until I have a flashback of being completely bed-bound in November by an injury caused by not doing these things.
Hand in hand with this is the truth that eating junk doesn't fuel a good workout or good overall health. So, I'm paying even closer attention to what I eat and how it benefits, or doesn't, my health goals. I have been using the Weight Watchers app as a tool for this for nearly two years and it is highly effective, but there is also a food tracking component to my Fitbit app that's pretty good as well. I have observed, in myself and others, that most modern Americans have no idea how many excess and/or empty calories they are consuming in a day, and most have no idea what a healthy portion size looks like. I was among these and food tracking has helped me to gain that knowledge.
It's easy to make up excuses. So very easy. I have a great imagination so I'm the best excuse maker ever on this stuff. But even without a great imagination. the reality is that I have Hashimoto's disease and a cardiac nerve path defect that manifests in ways that sometimes end with electrocardioversion. (Good times in the ER, those.) I also have an ankle and a shoulder that are cranky and weak from previous injuries and a family history of heart disease and diabetes. I know that every possible physical vulnerability I have is made worse by inaction, so in 2020, I'm taking better action. And before anyone calls out my age, age is no excuse. I met a woman several years older than I am in the gym yesterday who is built like iron and told me she runs up and down Paris Hill at 4:30 in the morning. That's a 7 mile round trip with insane inclines. How does she do it? She put the work in. I have to also.
Caveat: some people have legit physical or mental health differences that might prevent a resolution like this one from being realistic. Most of us don't. We just have excuses.
Reduce waste at the Parris House.
I was given a great zero waste living book for Christmas this year, Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson. I'll be mentioning it and showing it off in the newsletter this week. (To subscribe, click here.) I had put it on my holiday wish list because I have been increasingly interested in zero waste living, which I regard as a bit of a misnomer. I'm not sure anyone can get to zero waste living, but I think many of us can get to low waste living.
Here at the Parris House we have already made some inroads on this in previous years. I have long purchased used clothing at thrift shops, sometimes with the tags still on, and I generally only have clothing I wear on a regular basis. We compost food scraps and also give them to our chickens. We grow a lot of our own vegetables in the growing season, which cuts down on the considerable packaging grocery store foods come with. We often make our own soap and laundry detergent and try to buy some things in bulk to reduce individual packaging impacts. We are slowly but surely getting the food storage here to all reusable glass containers instead of plastics that wear out and end up in the landfill. And there's more, but we are not nearly where we need to be.
As a result, those of you who may stay at the Parris House during our upcoming retreats may notice that we do not provide individually wrapped tiny bars of soap or shampoo and lotion in little single-use plastic bottles, but rather provide dispensers in the showers/baths instead. You may notice a stainless steel bowl on the kitchen counter in to which all the food scraps go. You may also notice where we fall short of minimizing waste and we invite you to make suggestions. One place I know we fall short is in our packing and shipping materials and I will be looking at fixing that this year.
Take better care of my business/financial life.
Starting and growing a business requires a huge amount of resources. Parris House Wool Works has been bootstrapped, meaning there have been no outside investors or outside capital-bearing angels. There have been no massive loans. There are no get-rich-quick schemes in a business based primarily on a heritage craft. In fact, I am aware of a few out there that have never turned a profit and are run strictly out of love and devotion for our art. I am not in a position to do that. And in case anyone is wondering, there are also no get-rich-quick schemes to be had from those annoying spam calls we get on our phones, no matter how insistent the robo-caller.
In 2020 I will be getting even more serious than ever (which is saying something) about growing this enterprise in to something that can not only properly pay its own bills but have enough left over to do more significant charitable giving. I do not expect the growth I am looking for to occur in 2020, however, my target for some of its financial goals is 2025 with the major groundwork laid this year.
Often we don't want to look at, talk about, let alone write a blog post about the financial side of what we do, especially when what we do is largely a labor of love as well. But we have to. I believe the more transparent and honest we are about needing to cover our expenses and then some, the more we embolden others to take up important projects too. In doing so, we are saying that yes, you can be successful while being nice, but you may not be successful if you are "nice" in ways that sacrifice your own well being.
When an enterprise starts to take better care of itself financially, it may look like the following: no longer giving away massive amounts of goods and services "to be nice," pricing products and services with an adequate profit margin on them instead of racing to the bottom to "be competitive," cutting some products and services completely out of the line or adding new ones, not being willing to take on debt or additional debt on unstable demand for whatever the requested product is, managing inventory in a way that may not satisfy everyone external to the business, not giving away the owner's time for free, saying "no" in the short term to be able to say "yes" more often in the future, vetting new ideas carefully using measurable standards, and more.
That's it, but it's more than enough to work on.
Identifying what isn't optimal in your life isn't being negative or "tempting the universe to give you more of the same." It's the very foundation of making your life better. That's why I do these sometimes harsh reassessments several times a year and each time I create a resolution, even if I fulfill it only part way and part of the time, I notice growth for the better in my own life. I have a lot to work on this year. Feel free to share your own hopes, dreams, and resolutions (those things that make hopes and dreams come true) in the comment thread.
Happy new year and happy hooking! - Beth
- Elizabeth Miller