Stranger than Fiction: Imbolc and lessons from winter

Today the Wiccan community celebrates Imbolc. Though we’re still in the midst of winter, with the potential for Nor’easters and cold days ahead, and though Punxsutawney Phil hasn’t emerged to peek at his shadow yet, we can still catch a glimpse of spring.

The cold days teach us to be grateful for the warm ones. The long nights teach us to be grateful for the sunrise. The days are steadily getting longer, preparing us once more for the equinox, with its equal day and equal night.

I’ve had one of those stranger-than-fiction weeks, a series of strange occurrences that I never could’ve imagined. As a journalist, I also call these moments “man bites dog.” (Because, when a dog bites a man, that is not news. But when a man bites a dog, that is news.)

Failure can be the foundation for success, and pain, the foundation for growth. In fact, as most of us know, we learn more from our failures than we do from our successes. As Jane Hirschfield writes in her poem “Waking the Morning Dreamless After Long Sleep”:

“But with the sentence: ‘Use your failures for paper.’ Meaning, I understood, the backs of failed poems, but also my life.”

Sometimes the winter seems too cold to bear. One lesson I’ve learned from the past week is that, as we walk through our days, we are often blind to how much pain the people around us are holding in. No one can carry that pain for them. No one can bear the winter’s cold but the person outside in the snow. But the flowers emerge following the spring’s thaw. Hirschfield goes on to say:

“I do not know where the words come from, what the millstones, where the turning may lead. I, a woman forty-five, beginning to gray at the temples, putting pages of ruined paper into a basket, pulling them out again.”

If we didn’t know winter, would we celebrate the spring? The best we can do with our failures is to learn from them, to build a better version of ourselves, to work toward recognizing that, despite pain, loss, and mistakes, we are still whole. I don’t believe we need to become whole. I think we need to realize we already are. The best we can do with the bad weather is to understand its place in the cycle of things and to smile when the sun rises. May your Imbolc hint of spring days to come, a reminder of light, healing, and the cycle of the seasons.

Life is a crazy journey. And you can quote me on that.

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Learning from Icarus: A Different Kind of New Year’s Resolution

In 2012, I’m taking a different approach to the ol’ New Year’s resolution. It’s not something concrete, as mine tend to be (write 200,000 words, do yoga twice a week, etc.). I’ve settled on something a little different, but far more practical.

For those of you who follow my blog regularly (an act that I truly appreciate, BTW), you know that I’ve made some changes in the last few months. The biggest change is that I quit my teaching gig to give more attention to other areas of my life, especially writing. I have to admit that I’m not always a risk-taker, and leaving a paying job for a non-paying one was certainly a risk.

It’s part of a new approach I’m taking to my life, one I should have taken a while ago. So please, use my tale as a cautionary one, if you’d like, and learn from my mistakes.

I don’t know why, but somewhere along the way, I developed a negative pattern: the inability to say no. Not “no” to drugs or bad ideas. But “no” to opportunities, to good ideas, to exciting chances. It doesn’t sound like a negative thing. How could drive, determination, and ambition be bad? How could saying yes to opportunities be negative? I learned the answer: when doing so pushes you further away from the path you want to take; when trying to do everything leads you to be overworked, uncreative, and burnt out. All work and no play really does make Janelle a dull girl.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a tendency to overreach. Like Icarus, who flew too close to the sun and plummeted into the ocean, I’ve tended to push myself too far. I stretched myself too thin, wanting to do and be everything: a PR gal, an editor, a writer, a blogger, a teacher, and so on.  I don’t think even Wonder Woman could pull that off.

As a result, my health began to suffer. I worked nonstop from morning until my head hit the pillow at night. I was doing things I liked, but I was too busy and worn out to actually enjoy them. And thus, I worked myself to the point that I burnt out.

Greetings from Hilton Head Island, S.C.

I spent the holiday season in gorgeous Hilton Head Island, S.C., combing the beaches, eating at great restaurants, snuggling up with my hubby, flipping through magazines (my dirty little addiction), and getting some much-needed R&R. And after toying with a number of New Year’s resolutions, I came to this conclusion: My resolution? Treat myself better. Say no. No to overdoing it. No to pushing myself to go jogging when I’m already exhausted. No to working around the clock. I don’t have to accept every opportunity that comes my way. So I’m going to say yes to what I really want out of life: a writing life, a life well-lived, happiness, art and creativity, time with family and friends.

Writing books isn’t just what I want to do; it’s my purpose, my calling, and my dharma. I won’t be truly happy unless I make room for storytelling. This blog is part of that journey, because storytelling isn’t something we do in solitude. It’s a collective journey. We have to listen to ourselves, our characters, and each other.

So 2012 is the year of drawing the line, a year of boundaries. I’m not working at 10 o’clock at night. I’m not working through lunch. I’m not neglecting myself, whether that means nurturing my body or my creativity. So a word to the wise: Just because you can push yourself further doesn’t mean you should. Save the cheetah speed for the big deadlines, not the everyday.

Ultimately, New Year’s resolutions only work if they are part of our larger journey. We have to weave our resolution into our overarching goals. And my resolution is to make time for me—mind, body, and soul. So when you make your resolution, whatever it may be, make sure you’re thinking about what you really want, what you really need in life. What’s most important to you? As my father-in-law recently reminded me, we only get one life. We can choose how we live it. Make a resolution that suits you and where you want to be and go.

Author Louise Behiel offers a list of questions that can help you tailor your resolution and make it a perfect fit this year. Check out her tips here. And Martha Beck, life coach, author, and frequent contributor to O, The Oprah Magazine, gives her advice for how to finally keep that resolution.

Do you have a New Year’s Resolution? What are your goals for 2012? And how does your resolution fit into the bigger picture of your life and your journey?

Mine: Own Your Body, Stand up for Your Sisters.

My LJ pal silk_noir roused my inner feminist with a recent post challenging supporters of women’s rights to “claim” their bodies. She urged us “to raise awareness of the sliding status of women’s reproductive health, the increasing lack of agency our representatives are willing to allow us, just the damn reminder that our bodies belong to ourselves–and we are the ones who must suffer the consequences of the future if we don’t act.”

I couldn’t help but accept the challenge:

mine.

Yes, that's my belly. And yes, that is red lipstick--Revlon's "Rum Raisin," if you're wondering.

That’s right. It’s my life, and it’s my body.

As a writer, I try not to use my blog as a political forum. My readers will come from many different backgrounds, and I will always respect that. But my body is mine (as you can see), and I’d like people to leave it alone. I don’t want to tell others what to do with their lives. I’d like the same respect. It is possible to hold true to your own beliefs while respecting those of others.

Women deserve the right to make decisions about their bodies. We deserve the right to have access to birth control. We deserve choices. We shouldn’t have to write “mine” across our bellies to remind the world that, as my friend Em once put it, “women are people, too.” I’m saying it for anyone who needs reminding.

So what about you? Are you in? Take the challenge; claim your body.

Own it, sisters. Take. A. Stand.