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Anita's Digest

Why I’m moving away from new year’s resolutions

Photo by Frame Harirak on Unsplash

The moment just before I fade into sleep is when I tend to have my best ideas. In the small window of opportunity between getting into bed and my mind running to catch up with the dream of the night, I am jolted awake by an idea for a sentence, title, pitch, and frantically stumble around for my phone to make a note. 

This has happened much more frequently over periods of lockdown, where my mind has wandered into spaces of unproductivity. Whilst I do the actual work in busy cafes or libraries, the initial ideas arrive in moments of absentmindedness, when I drift into the subconscious. This is perhaps because ideas are not the part of the creative process grounded in material reality, but are the initial steps that exist in imaginary space, eventually becoming concrete. 

A resolution on the other hand is a conscious, confident decision to do something. A resolution is a firm commitment, a determination to complete a task or take up something new, with the inevitable juxtaposition of a failed task, a broken self-promise. 

I definitely understand the desire to see off this awful year and hope for better things in the near future. Goals in themselves can be extremely helpful, setting targets for yourself can be a useful motivational tool, and can help you narrow down what is important to you. However, using January as an arbitrary measure for instantaneous change- especially now when time is framed by a discourse of indecisiveness in public policy- carves out an artificial goal that will likely be unfilled in the coming months. And so, this year I (ironically) resolve to move away from resolutions, and let things be a little all over the place for a while. 

The first lockdown was full of so much reflection, of bettering ourselves, and in itself this emphasis on looking inwards whilst sometimes helpful, was quietly exhausting. So, for Christmas this year I asked for books not that I thought I should read, but ones I really wanted to. Instead of trudging through the murky narratives of books by famous authors that made me feel like I was trekking through gum, I chose books that I couldn’t turn away from. 

Periods of retreat into restricted spaces create locations for ‘rediscovery’. As we are limited to repeated surroundings, people, and objects, we try to try again, to re-discover things that already exist. A quick google search results in an overwhelming number of ‘rediscover’ themed articles, showing how we have tried to imagine our relationships to creativity differently, have re-learned a love for walking. Focusing on things previously thought of as discarded certainly brings attention to hobbies and activities eclipsed by frantic work schedules and busy commutes. 

However, since we have engaged in so much reflective and re-discover discourse, I would now like to just exist as we enter this new year, to mould to the things that ease this difficult period. I want to move away from the idea of renewing what is lost: trying that meal plan that never worked again, hoping that that same form of exercise will suddenly excite me, wishing that if I just plug my ears and centre my eyes that the book with the woody style will suddenly inspire me. Katie da Cunha Lewin argues that ‘forgotten’ female artists have been relegated to the space of ‘rediscovery’ in the present day, through marketing techniques that situate the figure of the neglected woman artist as contemporarily empowering. As she states, ‘the language in which rediscovery is couched is often about reorienting the individual artist, assimilating her into the canon of greatness, rather than actually dismantling the structures of power’. In a similar mode, the posturing of certain activities as forgotten, neglected, and ultimately ‘re-discovered’, such as baking, playing music, being in nature, or reading, positions them as idyllic, and ultimately implies a kind of anthropocentric dominion over these projects.

“I would now like to just exist as we enter this new year, to mould to the things that ease this difficult period. I want to move away from the idea of renewing what is lost…”

I don’t want to engage in new year’s resolutions that are framed by these narratives of loss, because it is hard and hopeless work. Eloise Hendy discusses the trend of burnout fiction, that encourages readers to bemoan modern labour, but ultimately ‘replicate the sensations of apathy, exhaustion and futility they seek to describe’. These books tend to situate focusing on things you don’t like as an accepted state of the contemporary human condition. Through this lens, resolutions that focus on doing things that are hard and uncomfortable can feel like jobs that you fail at. For me, February tends to produce the familiar feeling of defeat when I realise again that I truly dislike going for runs, and I should just pick a sport or activity I like. 

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

The online world is awash with new year ‘challenges’ that challenge you to work on yourself. To get rid of things from your home, to leave negativity in the past, to be less this and less that, essentially to be less than. Especially in a time like now, I think it is okay to just exist in spaces of confusion and vulnerability, and maybe in this way ideas may be born out of rest. 

So, I suppose I’m not really doing away with resolutions, but I’m trying not to feel the yearly pressure placed on us to lose certain characteristics, or to gain new skills, or to ‘re-discover’ old pastimes. Instead, I want to allow myself to just ‘be’ in the new year. 

Anita is a writer of all sorts. She has a background in Sociology and Gender Studies. Her main creative pursuits include poetry, short fiction, and articles on social and cultural topics. She often likes to play with the boundaries of fiction and non-fiction, exploring the liminal spaces between these styles. She’ll be updating this column weekly, with fresh, topical discussions about what’s on her mind. Stay tuned!

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Anita's Digest

Lessons from Playfulness

Collection of Elyse and Lawrence B. Benenson

Last year, I had one of those unremarkable days. It was neither good nor bad, just unexceptionally dull. Back from university for a break and deflated after a rush of deadlines, I could not bring myself to occupy my time in any meaningful way at home. So, I ventured out to an exhibition at the Wellcome Collection. It was called ‘Play Well’, and it explored how the concept of play impacted our daily lives and how it had shifted over time. 

Wandering around the exhibition’s various stops; life-size soft toys, miniatures, digital games, I was exhilarated. I left inflated with ideas, the exhibition had added playfulness to my day, and had lifted me out of the static slump I was in. 

Thinking back to that exhibition, it got me wondering how the notion of play could clear the haze that has set in since restrictions began. It made me question, are we ever too old to act like children? I don’t think so, because I think aspects of being a child are lessons in critical thinking. Children are very good at imagining different worlds, making elaborate career plans to be clowns or astronauts, conquering climbing frames, building coin-sized villages. 

As you grow older imagining worlds becomes more about living and surviving in this one. And with tightened restrictions, being confined to domestic or localised spaces means getting through the day. As many of us stay in our childhood homes, the domestic space becomes uncanny, only partly familiar. The steam that used to escape hot milk and the blanket forts that acted as forests are exchanged for hot coffee steam and burrowing under duvets to work not play.  

Now we are limited to spaces of nostalgia, and I think it has confused what kinds of things we reclaim from childhood. Being young is associated with protection, ease, comfort. Yet, being a child is also mud-lined adventures, questioning how objects and spaces are organised, inventions made from unusual resources. Advice for the first lockdown was full of statements like ‘disconnect’, ‘slow down’, ‘relax’, to the point where I felt I entered a kind of zombified, protective stoop. Yet, this time around as we move through the wintery expanse, I want to take note of the playfulness with which children approach the world.

“Approaching the world through embracing irregularity can help us notice flaws in our current systems.”

In The Queer Art of Failure, Jack Halberstam exchanges typical associations of the child with innocence and traditionality, for notions of silliness, childishness, and playfulness. Approaching the world through embracing irregularity can help us notice flaws in our current systems. So, whilst we can’t be free in our usual ways right now, how can we engage in the playfulness of youth? Perhaps we can embrace muddy or rainy weather rather than shying away from it. Maybe we can take less pedestrian paths and look for unconventional routes instead of being isolated to benches and pavements. We can allow ourselves to feel all the kinds of emotions, good or bad, that come out of this time. Rather than feeling the pressure to ‘unplug’ altogether from technology, we can use it inventively, finding pages that spark creativity, organising online collaborations. 

As with everything, reclaiming playfulness is easier in theory than in practice. The other day when I took a walk in the park, a dog ran over and barked at a couple of kids that had built a twig-fort under a rain-soaked tree on the side of the concrete path. The owner approached the fort and apologised for her dog’s presence but explained in an accusatory that she didn’t expect anyone to be there. Defying expectation is something that children do really well, they shift how we see and use space.  

The above example is muted compared to two instances where teenagers were berated for experimenting with idle time. In the first lockdown a teenager was shouted at by a passer-by for using a scooter on a pavement, and just this week a teenager on a bicycle was stopped and surrounded by policemen because of an alleged minor cycling violation. I can only describe both of these instances as racially motivated. Policing young people’s movement calls into question where we expect them to occupy space and how. 

The racialised aspect of these occurrences calls further into question the intersectional nature of race and age, and how young people who seem like they have nothing to do are always framed as a nuisance, and ultimately criminalised. As writer, activist, and model Hélène Selam Kleih argues, “To be black, to be any ethnic minority, and to add to that, young, leads to suspicion”. The “false inclusiveness” of bustling city life implies there is a space for everyone, but is this really the case? 

With space more and more privatised, it has become less acceptable to simply ‘be’ in open spaces. Now in the context of heightened restrictions, space has become even more private as we are limited to domestic, familial zones. We need to rethink how we negotiate space through the framing of childhood wandering. This could be a step towards imagining spaces that expand physical and mental possibilities, instead of labelling young people as ‘out of place’.

Photo by Aila Müller on Unsplash

Approaching this stagnant time through a lens of childlike irregularity can help us break the polarisation of youthful ‘immaturity’ and adult ‘seriousness’. As I stand looking at the mist-covered rows of trees in my local park, I think of how ‘Play Well’ lifted my fog that day, and I start to look at the dusted trees differently.

About Anita

Anita is a writer of all sorts. She has a background in Sociology and Gender Studies. Her main creative pursuits include poetry, short fiction, and articles on social and cultural topics. She often likes to play with the boundaries of fiction and non-fiction, exploring the liminal spaces between these styles. She’ll be updating this column weekly, with fresh, topical discussions about what’s on her mind. Stay tuned!