Celebrating the Two-Headed Beast: A Toast to Time

New Year’s Eve…one foot in the past, one in the future. We watch a ball drop, twine arms and sip champagne and the months of the old year wind out behind us like a scroll. January…weather alerts and bowl games. February…does he/she love me, does he  not? March…the winds blow, carrying the faint aroma of rebirth before the cold clamps down again. April, T.S. Eliot’s cruelest month…but you get the picture. Twelve months gone. Our past is written, at times in lyric poetry, often in doggerel, but it is known. Notice I don’t say knowable, for hidden within those 365 finished days are secret troves of revelation and understanding, of growth and wisdom. We just need time to discover them all.  And time is what the new year brings us.

At midnight, that most arbitrary of moments arrives. One tick of the clock and we begin a new set of days, each one linked in a chain of events as yet a mystery. The future becomes a red carpet rolled out before us. A golden doorway beckons. One glance backward and we forge ahead, at once timid and bold. Who among us knows what to expect? Nothing is guaranteed, not even the next minute. Stepping into the unknown is an act of courage. No wonder we fortify ourselves for the journey.

On my writing desk, I keep a calendar, one with large blocks in which to record the mundanities of my day to day life. At the end of each year, I catalog the trips to the dentists, the days I pay bills, flight arrangements and meetings. Then, I go back through the pages, remembering the lunch dates with friends, the theatre excursions, the books I have read, all my walks in the wild. I total those precious hours when joy, not obligation, visited my life. And in the summing up of days gone past, I set a pattern for the days to come.

The Romans had a god for this, Janus, whose two-headed likeness dwelt in both realms. Past and future were not disconnected but merged, their gift to us double- faceted. The coins of our lives bind us to past and future, to what was and what shall be. We cannot have all work or all play, all joy or all sorrow. Life, in all its complexity, demands our attention. Yet we do have choices, to be positive or negative, to strive for the mountaintop or dwell in the cellar. The past may be etched in stone, but the future is a blank canvas.

This new year, I intend to borrow an activity from a writer friend and create a poster board on which I will paste a collection of items that represent my future, a visual representation of the goals, activities and paths I wish to pursue. Then I will hang it above my work desk, a reminder of the road I wish to take. Why such a project? Because before I can reach those goals, before I can walk those paths, I must dream them.Seeing them hanging there will serve as a tangible reminder of the year to come.

In the aftermath of the New Year’s Eve mania, I will lay me down to dream the future into being, welcoming as much of life as I can, facing the storms and the rainbows to come with as much strength as I can, thankful for the opportunity to go forward one more time.

Happy New Year!

Heads Or Tails: Choosing to Stay in the Moment

The steamy days and cool nights of August whisper that football is coming. Practice fields echo with the rumble of young men wearing cleats, helmets and shoulder pads as they struggle through two-a-days and learn new play routes. Newspapers devote a significant amount of daily sports coverage to the antics of players, on and off the field. August stretches closer to September. Suddenly it’s game time. Then the choosing starts.

Each contest begins with a coin toss. Heads or tails. Kick or receive. With the wind or against it. A coach or a quarterback orders up a play and the seesaw battle for success erupts. The simple act of choosing a run or a pass may lead to victory or defeat. This game of football is all about choice. So is writing. So is life.

Writers, accept the handoff. Spy an opening. Head downfield. This passion for shaping words into meaning compels us, like a fire in the blood, a curse, an undeniable need. Gearing up for my battle with story, I decide on the game plan, select the narrator, the plot, the setting, the pace. My opponent is the fuzzy creative, that stew pot of voices clamoring to be shaped  into coherence. Each sentence becomes a choice. Each paragraph demands a direction. Often the end line is unclear. Going ten yards is a slog through any number of linemen just waiting to stop my progress: time, family commitments, health worries, jobs, time. On the football field, a sack, an interception, a score by the opposing team can end your game. In writing, all those obstacles do is send me back to the huddle. Time to come up with a new plan. I’m always in the act of decision.

Life presents us with the same metaphor. More unexpected moments that threaten to derail the choices we have made, propel us on a different course. If football is not the metaphor for all, perhaps Bob Seger’s country/bluesy angst will do: we are ever moving forward and “running against the wind.” If we stop, resistance builds. If we fade into old memories, live too much on past hurts or regret, we miss the moment, lose the momentum, let the other ‘team’ take charge.

Every moment offers us a choice: to be fully present. Each of us is the quarterback for our own writing, our own life. We have the responsibility to read the play, adapt, adjust, try an end run or power our way up the middle. Keep moving. Keep the pen or the cursor skipping across the page. Keep our legs and our hearts pumping against the turbulence that life sends our way. Do not allow fear – of failure, of death – to stop our progress. If life tosses you a football, tuck it close to your heart  and run with it.

P.S. For those who sent positive thoughts re my brain surgery, all went well and recovery is underway. Thank you.