Mark Twain once famously said that the difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the difference between “lightning” and a “lightning bug”.
So is it with the title of this post, Why I Resolve to Be Childlike in 2015. There is a big difference between “childlike” and the word some may have thought I meant: “childish”.
This year, I have been no stranger to heavy responsibility. My wife and I separated in March, I had to learn how to be a single parent 50 percent of the time, I had to become more versatile in the kitchen, I had to be responsible for all household chores that my wife and I used to share, and I had to spend a good part of what free time I had left managing a new, turbulent financial situation and getting through the legal aspects of the separation. I had no immediate family in the area and I had to remain productive at work.
None of this could be described as either childish or childlike.
What Childlike in 2015 Actually Means
So when I say I resolve to be childlike in 2015, it means I commit to doing more of what brings me simple, transparent pleasure. What makes me smile or be content, what I have long enjoyed doing–that is what I resolve to do. Children like to play with toys–toy trucks and Dr. Seuss books and blocks and Play-Doh.
Adults have their toys as well–whatever personal passions, in other words, continue to roar within their souls despite their obligations. For me, that means more reading, more writing, more exercise, more prayer and, most importantly, more peace of mind.
Most of the legal aspects of the separation for which I needed to commit my time have passed. I have established “a new normal” in my new household and I am comfortable if not entirely joyful regarding the situation. I can cook healthy meals for myself and my son; filling the weekend with activities for both of us (including occasional play dates) is not as challenging as it was last spring. In other words, I am getting a handle on what I need to during this transition.
This is also now a year when, for the first time ever, I decided to make new year’s resolutions. I’m typically not a fan. I have always believed self-improvement should be a perpetual process, not a once-a-year commitment. And yet, with my son in California right now, my days (and my to-do list) have slowed somewhat, providing a greater ability to reflect. I opted to spend Christmas Day alone for this reason. Society usually feels sorry for individuals who spend the holidays by themselves, but I tend to think it’s actually an underrated opportunity to look deep within for the spiritual seeds of rebirth.
There are shortcomings I need to overcome in 2015. A gym in my office building is free for tenants, but I have not taken advantage of it. Largely that is the outcome of lunch breaks glutted with errands–related to the separation and with trying to keep a well-oiled and operating household. My situation should improve and, in fact, already has to some degree, in the near term. As I write these words my arms and shoulders are still stiff from Tuesday’s rigorous workout. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t, in 2015, be able to invest more lunch hours in breaking a sweat.
But some shortcomings are self-inflicted, and this is where I resolve to become more childlike and less a creature of bad habits. I have not read as much fiction as I should. I credit that to spending too much time on social networks. Networks allow friends to connect over long distances and build new friendships–I believe in the power of social networks for this reason–but I also feel these networks can become a kind of addiction.
This Is What I Will Do
So one of my new year’s resolutions is to read at least 90 minutes of fiction a week. That may not seem like a lot but it’s a good start for two reasons. First of all, I don’t even want to think about how many good hours of reading I have lost because I spent them scrolling through my addictive mobile device. Back in the day, before mobile devices, I would often read 90 minutes in one or two days! Of course, all the logistics related to the separation took their toll too, and that affected my reading. So I won’t beat myself up too much.
The second reason I commit myself to reading 90 minutes of fiction every week is because new resolutions are easier to keep if you start small. I would ultimately like to read more than 90 minutes of fiction a week but because I’m coming back to life in a sense, I will start with a reasonable target. If, by the second quarter of the year, I am doing well, I will push for two hours weekly.
Already, I am pursuing my childlike pursuit of reading more fiction. I am 175 pages into You Can’t Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe and loving every minute of it. Wolfe’s first novel, Look Homeward, Angel, was the primary inspiration for my first novel, the 900+ page coming-of-age story, Journeying Away. Wolfe is often criticized for his use of highly romanticized language. Readers (in particular, male readers) are encouraged to read Wolfe when they’re younger because it is easy to get impatient with his purple prose when you grow older and “know better”.
This opinion is complete nonsense. I find Wolfe’s prose electrifying despite the fact that I am just north of 40 years old, certainly old enough to “know better”. But despite the title of Wolfe’s novel, You Can’t Go Home Again, I find you can go home again. Getting back to childlike behavior is like returning to my past before responsibility and all the new personal challenges of 2014 hit me like a gale-force wind. The more time I can spend sprawled sideways on an armchair, reading fiction, the better.
This brings me to what I hope will be my most childlike behavior in 2015: more writing. In a post published a few weeks ago, I articulated a five-step plan that incorporated more writing, more querying agents for my completed novel, Billy Maddox Takes His Shot, and the development of a website to start a side business.
Well, the e-book I am writing to encourage website visitors to subscribe to my emails (“subscribe and receive this free e-book”) is almost done. I expect I’m within a month or so of reaching out to my developer and starting to build the website. This is part of the ambitious plan I laid out in that earlier post that balances writing with the business.
Ambition and 2015
I have never been afraid of ambition. When, as a young man, I wanted to see the world, I moved to Alaska for a summer and Sri Lanka for a year. For adventure, I have thrown myself out of an airplane twice (um, with a parachute). I even have the video to prove it. When I thought I wasn’t getting enough exercise in the early 2000s, I started a physically intense martial arts program and, five years later, had earned my black belt.
So in 2015, I will be childlike AND ambitious. I commit to writing more and if I have to go through other tasks and activities to get there, I will do it.
But again, I must distinguish between Twain’s right word and his nearly right word. There may be a lot of childlike behavior in my future, but there will be nothing childish about any of it. Childishness implies freedom from responsibility. That is not me.
It is, in fact, possible to be both responsible and childlike. One should actually feel committed to both. The kind of passionate behavior that energizes and excites you, that makes you feel innocent and reborn is how one should generally live life. It keeps one young despite advancing years and healthy. This has been a tough year for me so it’s worth actively making this commitment to myself.
Do what you need to do to care for yourself and your loved ones (for me that’s not hard as I have a great and beautiful son), and then do what personally excites you. If you manage your time and cut out frivolous nonsense, you may have more free time than you think.
That’s what I look forward to in 2015. I hope it turns out to be a great and childlike year.
Happy holidays and happy new year!