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Off the Grid: Resolutions of quality or quantity

By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

Approximately three days before the New Year, and 21 days into my diet of scones and self-pity, I awoke from a catatonia of COVID and realized I should probably take a shower.

On my way there, I had to navigate three floors of my home that had been largely neglected for several weeks. I discovered empty cups of tea with the bag crusted to the bottom, some dead flowers in a vase, some fresh flowers in a vase, enough wrapping paper and ribbon to offend even the least-committed environmentalist, and the general mayhem of a household lacking the proverbial “woman’s touch.” When you are cared for by a beard with a penchant for power tools and a teenager, plan to wake up to more hooks in all the things and history of cartoons. Also, you’ll probably be out of canned tuna and ketchup.

It may come as a surprise, but I happen to be rather Type A. I know, because my therapist told me so. And because I have a color-coded planner, graph my mileage, track my corona symptoms in a journal, and literally keep minutes for our weekly Family Meeting.

“B” requests two knocks before entering her room and notifies all members of the family that any knocking before 10 a.m. on a weekend will be met with teenage wrath.

So when it became evident that I was most likely not going to succumb to the deadly pandemic, I freaked out about the shoes not being lined up and the horrific reality that I had not even planned my New Year resolutions.

I usually dedicate most of December to this project. These, too, are color-coded, categorized, prioritized, then meticulously added to my planner with milestones in fine-tip markers.

  • When people tell me they don’t have resolutions or goals (or gasp a system of measuring and quantifying life progress), I wonder how they even get dressed in the morning and assume they still live with their mom. And that she tracks their goals for them. I also hold a dogged belief that every struggle in life is the result of not having a goal chart.

Without a resolution, or several, I would surely just waste an entire year playing billiards and drinking the kind of beer you get in pitchers. If I am not determinedly working toward some major achievement, resenting how much of my time it is taking up and stressing out about narrowly escaping failure, then what purpose does my life even have?

With only three days until New Year’s Day, I desperately attempted to figure out what my life was going to look like in 2021. Last year did not quite go as I had planned, despite the fact that I wrote those plans in permanent marker. I have long believed the difference between dreaming and doing is permanent ink. And sticker charts.

With time running out, I began imagining random tasks to which one might resolve, from learning banjo to a new language to running a million miles or being vegan (directly and firmly vetoed by the family who is still traumatized by the cashew fondue I made a few resolutions ago). How my self-worth became attached to checking off lists is still a mystery to me.

It occurred to me that having a goal is often just a way for me to dissociate and procrastinate with other life obligations. My family will tolerate weeks of my absence or neglect if I merely justify its association to my latest resolution. They’ve accepted it as part of my complexity of mental illness, I assume.

Also, they see what happens when I don’t have a goal. I might have told them that’s how I caught COVID.

Perhaps my resolutions should not be about what I am going to do in my life, but rather how I am going to do life. The word “discernment” came to mind. I spend an embarrassing amount of time on things that directly diminish my quality of life. Just checking the number of text messages I send in a week was an exercise in humility.

While some of my goals (run a bunch of miles, develop a meditation practice) might be quantifiable this year, my true intention is about improving the quality of my life.

That means making time for that which serves me, not taking time for that which does not, and knowing the difference.

Despite all the research that says drinking a gallon of water a day is the answer, life experience tells me the secret lies in the intentions of our daily practices and engagements. It’s in calling someone instead of texting; in waking up to a moment of mindful peace instead of scrolling; in moving our bodies as an act of kindness; in viewing fewer screens and more nature; in hugging a little longer; in rituals and poetry; and in meaningful relationships and loud laughter.

I suppose the water helps, too. But prioritize the hugs.

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