New Year’s Resolutions

By Carrie Levesque

Is it too early to start thinking about New Year’s Resolutions?  It’s not something I usually get to until the holiday insanity is over and the next wave of media bombardment starts pushing gym memberships and Nutrisystem packages.   Though I filter out most of the blah blah blah, I do get to thinking about how to best use this gift of a new year.

While procrastinating online a few days ago, I came across an article, “Five lessons learned from living in Paris.”   I was struck by its epigraph, a quote from Hemingway’s letters, where he writes, “Paris is so very beautiful that it satisfies something in you that is always hungry in America.”   Hemingway’s quote and this article on Jennifer L Scott’s new book,”Lessons from Madame Chic: The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris” are both indirectly about Americans’ hunger for beauty and grace in a commerce-driven culture that sometimes doesn’t seem to have a lot of use for either.

Two of Scott’s ‘lessons’ resonate with me as I reevaluate my life and habits at year’s end.  First was her observation that “Parisians often turned mundane aspects of everyday life into something special.”  She recalls how her host father made an event of savoring a bit of his favorite cheese every night at the end of dinner; it was just routine enjoyment of a cheese course, but he was so passionate about it that it became a special ritual whose memory Scott savored after she returned to American life.  Meals tend to be something we rush through in the US, a pit-stop refueling on our way to getting done more of whatever it is we are always rushing to get done.  It seems if we’re looking for anywhere in our lives to slow down and satisfy a spiritual hunger along with our physical hunger, mealtime is a worthy candidate.

She also comments on the European tendency to take more pride and care in one’s dress while at the same time owning fewer clothes and accessories than Americans tend to, which simplifies the process of making oneself presentable each day.  This calls to mind web projects like Project 333, one of many movements today exploring the benefits of ‘voluntary simplicity.’   Owning fewer things doesn’t only save you money, it also frees you from having to care for and about heaps of stuff, so that you have more time and energy to indulge in things like Scott’s first point: really enjoying and being present for life’s smaller, even routine, pleasures.

OK, so none of this is anything new.  Oceans of ink have already been spilled on these topics (sorry, Ms. Scott).  And yet we still make New Year’s resolutions, and we still hunger and struggle, in all sorts of ways, to be better (whatever each of us decides that means), to improve the world around us.  Which is why at New Year’s I find myself looking to accounts I’ve come across of people closer to home who decided to devote their year to some sort of radical reevaluation of the way we live (like a New Year’s Resolution on steroids), and the lessons they learned from it.

Two of my favorites in the ‘less is more’ genre are Judith Levine’s “Not Buying It: My Year without Shopping” (fairly self-explanatory) and Colin Beavan’s “No Impact Man” (which became a movie in 2009- he and his family sought to live (in NYC, for a whole year) in a way that made no environmental impact).    For giving more consideration to the sacred place of food in our lives, I think of Barbara Kingsolver’s wonderful “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” her account of eating only in-season food produced by or close-by her Virginia mountain farm for one year.  Two other works I might get to this year are A.J. Jacobs’ “The Year of Living Biblically”(in which Jacobs, an agnostic, tries to take literal direction from the Good Book and considers the place of the sacred in our lives) and Sara Bongiorni’s “A Year Without ‘Made in China’: One Family’s True Life Adventure in the Global Economy“ (in which she walks the walk of the ‘Buy American’ talk).

While I don’t see myself devoting my year to anything requiring quite this level of discipline (baby steps!), it is inspiring to live vicariously through these authors and reflect on what they gained from their projects.  They and their families forged meaningful new traditions and found a new sense of community that arises when one disconnects a bit from the mainstream economy (potlucks instead of takeout, preparing a fresh meal as a family instead of popping a frozen meal in the microwave, sharing communal resources instead of everyone needing to own and maintain their own whoziwhatsits).   If you’ve got the money, it’s easy to escape to an exotic foreign locale to feed your need for beauty.  But it’s possible if we take them more to heart, these authors’ efforts can challenge us to find a beauty in our own communities that can leave us all a little less hungry in America.

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3 responses to “New Year’s Resolutions

  1. Dr. Levesque,
    What wonderful food for thought. I agree that Americans are insatiable, whether it be food or materials, we just can’t get enough of bigger and better. During the past two weeks off from the rigors of the MALS academic assignments, I took the time to ‘de-hoard’ my house, which is quite different from cleaning. I cleared out closets, drawers, bookshelves and bags full of ‘stuff’ that I had not touched in years, yet I literally had to make myself emotionally separate from some of the items. I am attempting to follow the rule that if I have not used it in the last two years, I need to get rid of it!

    It begs the question of what is truly valuable in our lives. 2011 has been such a life-changing year for me. At the age of 55, I graduated with my BLS degree and matriculated to the Masters program at UNCG. While that was certainly the highlight of my year, I also experienced two of the lowest points in my life as well. First, losing my job and longtime career at American Express who closed up shop in Greensboro and secondly, suffering a severe injury in March that left me debilitated for months.

    The ebb and flow of the year has elicited a great reflection on what I value, what I need and what it truly takes to just survive. Without my nice salary and sweet benefits, my perspective and lifestyle has changed. Suffering a temporary handicap caused me to reevaluate my life/health (which most of us take for granted) and how quickly everything can change. I have reached the point that I just don’t worry about money, a job, bills or having enough under the holiday tree. I refuse to let those external influences control me by causing me stress (which cost days off my life). I have discovered that no matter what the swift hand of fate deals to me, I simply have no reason to complain – for I have been blessed. Not only blessed in the sense of food, shelter and warmth, but truly fortunate to have the opportunity to be afforded a wonderful UNCG education, to have the loyalty of dedicated friends and lastly, to enjoy the love of a wonderful family who continue to make me proud of their lives and accomplishments. In the end, loving family and loyal friends are paramount, and if I have those, I can handle the rest!

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    Procera AVH

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