Like a kajillion others out there on the planet, I sat down today thinking about New Year’s resolutions: the (in)famous list of things we optimistically hammer out about what we will or won’t do in the coming new year and then give up on around, oh, the Ides of March.
Pretty straightforward, these resolutions, right? A little self-reflection, a little existential freak out (2014! What in the?!?!) and then blam — I dash off my Top 10, and I’m on my way to finally reading Moby Dick and saving pennies for a trip to Italy and dusting the top of the refrigerator. Easy peasy — until I looked up resolution in my handy-dandy (if rudimentary) computer New Oxford American Dictionary, an old habit when I’m pondering what to write. Guess what I found in that little can of worms? 12 different meanings. 12! Like the months of the year! Coincidence? Yes, but stay with me.
Oh, Language. I’ve lived all the way to 2014 without really thinking about all of the meanings of resolution. How rarely do I think beyond the first meaning, a firm decision to do or not to do something, only occasionally making it to the second, the action of solving a problem. Of course, the word is connected strongly to narrative, too: traditionally, a plot’s resolution comes after the climax and denouement. Yet how surprising and lovely to see the expansiveness of one compact word, including connections to poetry (prosody: the substitution of two short syllables for one long one), music (the passing of a discord into a concord during the course of changing harmony), medicine (the disappearance of inflammation, or of any other symptom or condition), and photography/video (the degree of detail visible in a photographic or television image).
My favorite new understanding of the word, though, relates to its etymology: from Latin resolutio(n-), from resolvere ‘loosen, release.’ How strange that the root (a verb) creates a sense of letting go, but the most common sense of the noun connotes desiring control, of grabbing hold or wrestling with — a firm decision to do or not to do something.
In writing, my own usage usually relates only to the latter sense. I often resolve to write X number of words per week. I determine to finish drafts, to sit my butt in the chair for Y hours. I try to be adamant in my belief that my writing matters, even if there are no safe or easy outcomes. Some more synonyms for resolute: firm, unswerving, unwavering, steadfast, staunch, stalwart, unfaltering, unhesitating, persistent, indefatigable, tenacious, strong-willed, unshakable; stubborn, dogged, obstinate, obdurate, inflexible, intransigent, implacable, unyielding, unrelenting; spirited, brave, bold, courageous, plucky, indomitable; informal gutsy, gutty, spunky, feisty; formal pertinacious.
Oh yes, those senses of resolution are absolutely necessary in this writing life, where we get knocked around more than we get a hand up. We must be implacable, unyielding, gutsy, unswerving: we must square our shoulders in the face of rejection and envy and disappointment and blocks. We must keep working, keep on, keep on.
And yet: I love that early root, the sense of loosening or release, perhaps because my doggedness also can be a hindrance: I often find myself, in my writing especially, trying to fix or control things, to wrangle some cohesion amid the unsettling, unpredictable chaos of creation. But creation needs chaos; our writing needs to be released or loosened — untied, freed, unfettered, unleashed — from our intransigent grip. We need to remember to let go.
So, this year I will make but one resolution: to try to embrace those wonderfully contradictory states of resolve. To be both unrelenting and unfettered, unwavering and untied, unyielding and unleashed.
Wishing everyone a joyous, creative 2014,