The old year ends, and the new year begins
Following the bear

The magic of beginnings

Sheepfield 1

I know people who find the ritual of New Year depressing, but I have a great affection for those moments in time that allow us to push the "re-set" buttons in our minds and make a fresh start: the start of a new year, the start of a new week, the start of a new morning or fresh endeavor. As L. M. Montgomery (author of Anne of Green Gables) once wrote, "“Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”

"Every man should be born again on the first day of January. Start with a fresh page," advised the American theologian and abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher. Some people, of course, find a blank page terrifying...but that's a feeling I've never quite understood. I love the feeling of potential inherent in an untouched notebook, a fresh white canvas, even a new computer folder waiting to be filled. It's the same sense of freedom to be found at the start of a journey, when all lies ahead and limits haven't yet been reached.

Fear of failure, of course, can dim the pleasure of new beginnings and cause creative paralysis at this crucial time. When such anxieties arise, I remember this useful advice from Helen Keller's mentor, Anne Sullivan: "Keep on beginning and failing," she said. "Each time you fail, start all over again, and you will grow stronger until you have accomplished a purpose -- not the one you began with perhaps, but one you’ll be glad to remember."


All beginnings, of course, are proceeded by endings, and as artists we must comfortable with both sides of the equation. “We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned," said mythologist Joseph Campbell, "so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come. ”

Winter solstice is now passed. The days are growing longer. Like bears in their dens and seeds in the ground, this deep, dark time of year enables our growth and renewal  in the months ahead; and I've come to see this slow, thoughtful season of hibernation as something precious, rich, and necessary.

The calendar turns, and a new year has begun."It's time to start something new," said Meister Eckhart, "and trust the magic of beginnings.”



Being an old pessimist I'm one of those people who find the New Year a daunting prospect. But I usually offset any bad thoughts with lots of alcohol and by spending the day indulging myself in a DVD box set of one sort or another. A couple of years ago myself and Clare spent many, many long hours in Middle Earth by watching the entire director's cut of 'The Lord of the Rings'; last year we invited Mr D'arcy over and watched the BBC's wonderful 'Pride and Prejudice', and this year we had an evening with M.R. James. Once again the BBC provided the DVDs with their deliciously creepy 'A Ghost Story for Christmas' series from the 1970's. The only downside to this was that I had to escort Clare to the loo many times throughout a long sleepless night, because she was scared something nasty was lurking in the shadows!

But now the New Year is well and truly established and I'm rushing to get artwork ready for an event, while waiting to hear if the publishers are happy with the latest rewrite. And I realise that the 'norm' has settled in nicely, without me really noticing...Thank Goodness. So let me end this unacceptably long post by saying may all of our norms be exactly what we want this year and for many, many more years to come.

Happy New year to you. I like to think of a New Year as a colouring book waiting to have the pages adorned.

Hello Old Snake

"The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come. ”
--Joseph Campbell

Hello, old snake, your year's skin shed;
how shiny sleek you look.
I'm ready to begin anew, with life,
with love, with book.
With characters who breathe new air,
with landscapes hot and cold.
Hello, old snake, your discard skin
now crackles with the old.

Hello, old snake, into the new
you slither with a grin;
all lips, no teeth, you ess your way
afar from that old skin.
But bits and bobs still cling, you know.
Dry memories inform.
We are both old and new, my friend--
both python and small worm.

©2014 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Beautiful poem, Jane.

I like the Anne Sullivan quote, which reminds me of Beckett's ('Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better'). But what I like best about Sillivan's is 'you will grow stronger until you have accomplished a purpose - not the one you began with perhaps, but one you’ll be glad to remember', which hit me with the force of revelation. That's been very true in my life.

One year our pastor used Judy Collins' "The Fallow Way" as a theme for these months. I always think of it at this time.

Our new year began a little early, on the 20th of December, when we arrived in our new town, and rolled into the driveway of our new (temporary) home, to begin our new and very different lives 400kms away from the city, in a small but vibrant town between the forest and the sea on the very bottom of Western Australia! I don't really have any resolutions other than to breathe deeply, and believe that we've actually, really, finally done it!

I too like the beginning of a new year - a new calendar full of blank squares into which I pen the knowns and dream about the unknowns of other days.

Congratulations, Christina!

Thank you for that. It's a beautiful song.

A wonderful wish, Stuart, thank you.

Yes, yes!

Indeed it is. Thank you, Pat, for sending me off to listen to it again after many years.

Just so you know, Terri--I have replaced "small worm" with "green worm."


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