Janice Lynch Schuster

For all my years on the planet, 52, there are still times when experience is no teacher—or when futility seems to be my master. Nowhere is this more true than in my annual list of New Year’s resolutions. (It is a relief to know that I am not alone in this one.) Many of us share the idea that with an annual tick-tock-bank, we can fashion ourselves anew by resolving to achieve certain goals.

In some ways, my approach to making resolutions echoes the Lenten period of my Catholic girlhood: in those days, I could give up something for 40 days, and in doing so, would become closer to my faith.  Perhaps that early experience is still the force that leads me to making resolutions that are at once modest and narcissistic. My resolutions tend to contain some combination of activities that, if only I could achieve them, would lead to meaningful change.

Each year, I vow to make this the year when I will simultaneously change my appearance, my weight, my spirit, and my relationships. The theme to these has always been that if I could only be prettier/thinner/holier/kinder, I would better myself—and so improve the aspects of my self that interact with the rest of my life and so, with the larger world.

For years now, for as long as I can remember, my resolve fails. Depending on how unattainable they really are, my resolutions have lasted—at most—a few days or weeks. My reasons for coming up short are always plausible. But they are still excuses. And so while the idea behind a resolution is to begin anew, my approach to making them sets me up for failure.

A year ago, when we bumped along from 2013 to 2014, I tried something different. As a poet, I am given to symbolism and dramatic gestures. So on December 31, I wrote my sorrows, of which there had been many, on slips of paper that I burned in my wood stove. Go from me, I thought. Of course, I woke up the next morning, with many of the same issues as present as they had been the day before.

This year, a friend from a women’s group told me about a different strategy, one that involves choosing just one word for the year, a word to guide one’s actions and aspirations, to inspire and illuminate one’s life.  As a writer, how could I not love an approach grounded in language and meaning? I read a few essays about the word-resolution idea, and began to consider words that would inspire and motivate me for an entire year.

My first word was ‘healing’: I have developed a chronic pain problem that has had consequences in many areas of my life. Healing could encompass so much of what I would like to accomplish, particularly in terms of the pain problem. But another word kept muscling its way in: create. As a writer, it is the focus of everything I do.

Some of the one-word purists insist on a rule of one word per year. To think that a mere human life could require more than that, they say, is to presume too much. They suggest that those indecisive people who insist on two words give each word half the year.

In the end, I mentioned my dilemma to my mother, who immediately said, “Create healing.” I liked the two words together, the sense of potential and action and purpose. The phrase resonated with me far more than either word alone.

As a writer, I create something new almost every day. For several months now, I’ve been using photographs to inspire my writing of haiku, which I then share via social media. Others respond to these “word art” pieces, telling me that they find meaning and comfort in my daily ruminations. Knowing that language can reach others in this profound way is, to my ear, a step toward creating the kind of healing each of us needs at some point on our journey around the sun.

janice 1.14.15

But I don’t want to confine myself to the 17-syllable tradition of haiku! I have the good fortune to write about health and healthcare. I imagine that I might create a year in which I extend healing by telling the stories of issues that matter most in health and wellness, particularly in terms of access to good care that is not only affordable, but effective and safe. So for the coming year, as I pitch stories to editors, I’ll be sure to consider their potential to create healing in readers’ experiences.

Since March 2013, I have suffered from chronic neuropathic pain in my mouth and tongue. I have written at length about this, which has really drained me, but which has also taught me so much about what it means to live with and through pain. In sharing my story in various outlets, I’ve had a chance to experience a kind of creative healing as readers share their experiences with me. I learn from them, and I also feel great empathy with them. I can feel their empathy for me. As a result, I am in the process of working on a book proposal, and I hope that the energy of writing this manuscript leads me to create healing that reaches and touches others.

As a long-time Disruptive Woman, I am always seeking to promote healing – we so badly need it, not just in our own lives, but in our communities. We each have joys and blessings, to be sure, but we also contend with hard issues that will come with hard solutions. Just one look at the daily news can leave us feeling disheartened or broken. As Leonard Cohen famously sings, the cracks in the universe are where the light gets in. Indeed, our work as Disruptive Women helps to let that light in. So I challenge others to find a word or a phrase, and a way to use whatever light shines on your to promote healing, change, and progress this year.

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