A Writer’s Notebook: someone else’s writing exercise

I posted a blank page two weeks ago and, still exhausted from national events and from finishing a school year, I missed last week’s entry entirely. And with a whole new year just days away, I had thought about skipping this week’s entry, too, and starting fresh in January.

But then this happened.

A year ago we were on the rocks and over iced whiskey at midnight we made a resolution to stick together into the future. But we didn’t look to the future — we started looking to the past, back through the history of our four years, all the fights and the sex and candlelight dinners and the flirting and uncertainty — how would this ever work out? We looked back through the history of our respective families — all the divorces, all the long miserable great-grandparents, all the separations beyond trial, and, on one side, three suicides and on the other an old murder, strychnine in a bowl of soup. We looked back through the history of our respective hometowns (Indian treaties broken; feuds through generations), back through the history of our ancestors (three trade agreements violated, an assassination, two accounts of piracy or privateering depending on which side you took — about which we argued for days — and more civil wars than we could count), and finally through the history of words. “Love” comes from the German for joy and the Dutch for praise, but in tennis it comes from the French for egg, as in goose-egg, as in zero. That empty shape, hollow as a spent shell. For most of its history “sex” wasn’t about love or even fucking — it was just a way to keep the genders apart, something about a Latin word for dividing, cutting in half. “Happiness” comes from hap, meaning chance or fortune — good luck with that. And “resolution,” it turns out, is really just about the math, not a promise at all but “a breaking into parts.” So tonight, fresh whiskey and the bells chiming, we resolved.

The other day, my super-secret online writing group (which contains some very awesome and hard-working writers as well as artists, videographers, musicians….) threw out the timely prompt of “the resolution.” I haven’t written anything for that group in some time, which is my bad, but this prompt got me thinking about my own complicated relationship with resolutions. I like them as an impetus for renewed discipline, on the one hand, but I also know from habit that they’re more an excuse for failure, because I suck at discipline. Then this morning, over coffee with one of my Buddhism teachers, we got to talking about a book on discipline she was reading and she mentioned how science is showing us that we human beings seem to have limited resources for discipline. In other words, you take up the challenge of one thing, you’ll probably wind up slacking off in another. Which is why it’s probably not a good idea to start meditating and exercising at the same time, for example — you try to do too much, and you’ll just fail at one or both things.

When I got home this morning, I checked in with my writing group and noticed that important word “the” — we’re not talking about a list of New Year’s Resolutions, we’re talking about THE resolution.

So I’m thinking about resolution and my own lack of discipline and how those lists of resolutions are almost always lists of future disappointments, and then I do something I usually resort to, out of nerd-habit, when thinking about big ideas: I started thinking about the original meaning of the word “resolution.” Why do we use it? Where does it come from? How have we abused it or helped it evolve over the centuries?

Which is what this little piece of fiction is: a looking back, a re-solving, a kind of relationship algebra in which we try to solve for x and, even though we arrive at our answer in a long and awkward way, at least we showed our work.

For whatever that’s worth.

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One thought on “A Writer’s Notebook: someone else’s writing exercise

  1. I seem to remember that in Plato’s ‘Symposium’, Aristophanes relates how human beings used to have two sets of genitalia, one set male and one set female, facing in opposite directions. Zeus – to punish humankind for some misdeed – decided to slice each human down the middle, tying their skin at the navel, thus creating distinct sexes which thereafter spent a great deal of energy trying to get back together again.

    Greek myths migrated to Roman culture, and thence comes the etymological possibility that the word ‘sex’ comes from the same root as a Latin word meaning to cut.

    Here’s a little more speculation. ‘Sex’ is also Lating for ‘6’, which marks the mid-point, the cutting-point, of a dozen. I can’t recall how important the figure 12 was to the Romans. They appeared to have a decimal system of counting, but did divide the year into twelve months.

    Resolution: I find it better not to have resolution or make resolutions. I prefer to work like a bitch loosed in a field. It allows for a good deal of lying down with my tongue hanging out.

    M

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