I’m not a believer in New Year’s resolutions. Frankly, I find them a little silly, driven by group think and peer pressure rather than genuine self-awareness. False promises only halfway made, and less than halfway kept, they perpetuate something even worse – the devaluation of our own voice. When we do something because we are following the crowd or are more worried about what other people think rather than committed to our own desires and principles, we create crazy noise in our mind that is pointless and defeating instead of improving. Reminds me a little bit of the challenges we face as writers.
But I do like the word resolution. Being resolute. Even better, to resolve. Any conversation about New Orleans inevitably circles back to what is wrong with our city, set up in opposition to what makes her great and unique, and to me, the two need to be blended together. The problem is we keep coming up with solutions, we troubleshoot, we raise money, we start projects and small businesses and elect officials who will bring “change,” only to be able to celebrate a few patched streets and repaired lights instead of whole scale reform.
We are a city constantly solving our problems. And re-solving the problems that result from the last set of solutions. This cycle used to keep me despondent and frustrated. But I’ve come around to decide that maybe these little resolutions, these little things being solved are not setbacks, and will someday add up to a greater evolution. We aren’t a town that does anything quickly, after all. We are a city of great potential, but little completion, and it would rarely be appropriate to coin anything here as resolved, closed, done. Covenants are rarely honored. Grudges last for generations. Our neighborhoods cannot be promised safety, vibrancy, or community, despite the investments made in them. But they can be given ripe conditions to enhance their potential and the energy to keep re-solving their issues, to keep trying. A lot like being a writer.
And so in keeping with the traditions of my town, I make some “promises” to my writing time here at Nola Studiola, with a glimmer in my eye and my fingers crossed behind my back:
1) I promise not to complain about my bartending job, nor to use this website as a platform for service industry reform rants.
I feel pretty good about this one, actually. I am loyal to my regulars and co-workers, and thus, you are safe to come join me for a drink and tell me what you think about living here, loving here, and losing here, and I assure you confidentiality. My work as a barkeep is strangely satisfying in ways I hope to be able to explain, especially since I long ago sloughed off any needs for upward social mobility that would be inhibited by my blue-collar status. I work with a fascinating group of artists, parents, thinkers, and partiers, who have life figured out in all the ways I don’t. They are truly inspiring, incredible people on both sides of the bar.
2) I promise not to steal the ideas of those inspiring, incredible people and pass them as my own.
I will attribute credit whenever possible. And then when you disagree you can come in and yell at them instead of me.
3) I will not blow off steam from my classroom experience as an adjunct professor of English.
…of which I actually have very little. However, my experience at Xavier has been fascinating in many ways as my first post-graduate teaching job. I learn just as much, if not more, from my students than they learn from me. As my time at Nola Studiola will be spent thinking about how one belongs to this town, the undergraduate petri dish is a perfect example of observing this. There are plenty of local students, plenty who don’t live on campus, plenty who moved here from somewhere else for the great pre-med program and have to adjust. What it means to be African American in this town is a whole other bag of conversations, and my students are having those too.
4) I promise to be optimistic. I do. My general ethos is that of love, compassion, and community. My managerial experience tells me that just complaining without offering suggestions for solution is rather pointless. I will not be negative. I will not be negative. I will not be negative.
When discussing promises or contracts in the context of New Orleans, it is not a far stretch to think of back rooms, closed doors, and handshakes. It is how things are done, or stereotyped to get done, in this town. And that secrecy, those moments of inclusion and exclusion, are exactly what I’m trying to get to. I don’t wish to penetrate the places themselves – instead I’m looking at how the common denizen here is confronted with belonging or not belonging, being an insider or an outsider, often confusingly at the same time. As my husband says, even the most privileged among us are disenfranchised by some other representative group in this town.
We’ve made it part of our culture here, needing to be understood in order to be properly loved. But just as with any relationship, the more one understands, the more complex the love and promises become, the more rules there are to follow – contradictory for a city that sells itself as the town that care forgot, or the place where we “laissez les bons temps roulez.” Actually living here is not that big and easy.
So the personal issue of New Year’s resolutions – is my cynicism of them justified, or is it a time of year we give ourselves permission to confront the secrets in the back rooms of our mind? Do we make promises that are too easy to keep so we can easily publicize them and not have to feel failure?
Have you ever made a resolution you were truly afraid you couldn’t keep, but knew you needed to? Have you made changes at the New Year resulting in a permanent impact on your life?
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