Danielle Henderson writes about film, television, and pop culture for Vulture, Cosmopolitan, The Guardian, and other publications, where she sort of can’t help writing about race, gender, and class. She is a former editor and current staff writer for Rookie, and a book based on her popular website, Feminist Ryan Gosling, was released by Running Press in August 2012.
This past May when I was in China for work, I visited a few temples to step out of the busy streets and into some moments of calm. Incense cones the size of serving platters hung above me, sending off waves of smoke in the dark, cool buildings.
People stood and prayed at huge stone altars, and the only sound around me was the soft slipping of shoes on the concrete floor. I wanted to fill my head with the gentle energy all around me. I closed my eyes to meditate on the moment, and for 20 minutes the only thought that floated to the surface, no matter how much I tried to shoo it away, was “Fucking hell, the world is a pit of absolute garbage.”
The end of the year can be particularly tough in this way. Most of us are excited to get a calendar-mandated fresh start each year, but this year feels like it was on a specific mission to beat people up and steal their allowance. The New Year, our cultural restart button, could not get here fast enough.
Last week, I tried to make a list of things that made me excited in 2014, and it looked like a verse from Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” just filled to the brim with wave after wave of horrible memories—lost planes, corrupt political figures, Mike Brown’s murder in Ferguson, Ridley Scott saying inane things about Hollywood whitewashing, police officers outfitted like G.I. Joe cartoon characters, Benedict Cumberbatch getting engaged to not me…I’m completely exhausted. Even though the world currently feels like a terrible nightmare, I had a good year personally, which I owe entirely to lists and huge amounts of solitude.
Some people feel like they have to plan a week in the woods like Henry David Thoreau or The Unabomber to get clarity and focus, but sometimes it’s as easy as staying away from the internet for a few days.
It’s possible that I’m just defective, but I find that turning off social media for a bit quickly shakes me back to a place where my ideas come to the surface much easier. I take the social media apps off of my phone and allot myself 1-2 hours a day total to be online and check email news sites. Surprisingly, I really don’t need more time than that to stay current but I tend to drag it out over 8-10 hours a day like everyone else, so I revisit my fallow time by taking entire weekends offline throughout the year.
I like to start the year with good intentions, beginning with myself and branching out to how I fit into the rest of the world, and a little time away works wonders for knocking that into focus.
My life runs on lists, which is more exciting than it sounds. New Year’s resolutions are easy to break, since we tend to populate them with our biggest dreams without plotting any steps on how to attain them. Of course you’ll feel like a failure if you want to buy a house in 2015 and your savings account currently has $3.55 in it—it’s easy to forgive yourself for slacking if you couldn’t see a way to starting the task in the first place.
I like seeing marks of progress, so for the past 15 years I’ve made a giant list of 100 things I want to accomplish in that year alone. I fill the page with books I want to read, shows I intend to go to, work I want to accomplish, things I’ve been putting off that I will finally tackle. I grew up in New York but somehow never made it to the Guggenheim Museum until I put “Go to the Guggenheim” on my list.
There’s a heaviness to the end of a year, either in spite of or because we know there’s a fresh start around the corner. Shake it off willfully by crafting your next year purposefully. The point isn’t even to finish the entire list, but to start it.
You can keep your list private, or rope in a few friends to keep the encouragement going year round.
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