Molly Fisk: Another Word for the New Year

We’ve arrived at the time of year when some of us begin looking for a word. Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, which can turn into a set-up for failed expectations and self-flagellation, we want a single word, or maybe a phrase, to explore during the next 12 months. It might be something to aspire to or use as a guide, like “compassion.” It might be a reminder, like “love.” It might be something we’re afraid of and want to be braver around, like “loneliness.” Since I’m not a religious person, I don’t turn to God or the idea of a deity. But I want to be open to something, and what works for me is to do this through language.

Sometimes you choose your own word, and that’s perfectly fine, although it’s never happened to me. In my experience, a word comes along that I don’t much like, and parks in front of my door, refusing to leave, playing its loud music all night until I say “Okay, fine, come in, you’re my darn word.”

The first year, it was “surrender.” I was not amused. Turned out to be a great year, though, and I did loosen up quite a bit and stop trying to be in charge of everything. Another time it was “austere.” This made me think at first of the political catch phrase “austerity measures” which usually means taking social benefits away from people who are already poor. That didn’t appeal to me at all. But then I researched the etymology — which is the best thing about this practice — and found that “austere” shared an early root with “simplicity,” and also with “sere,” S-E-R-E, which means very dry. Desert landscapes began to enter my imagination, and the beauty to be found there. That was a good year, too.

This year nothing has parked in front of my house yet, but I keep bumping into the word “intuition.” It’s showing up in books, in someone’s poem that I’m editing, in conversations I overhear in town. Its etymology contains references to spirituality, watching over, and consideration, all of which appeal to me. There’s also that idea of knowing something without having used logic to get there, which is kind of the way I live my writing life. Since it has so many plusses, I’m pretty sure it won’t be my word. Some dratted word I find irritating is going to come along and take over. You know when your word arrives, it’s almost always clear. Mine will end up being something charming like “disappointment” or “confusion.”

There’s plenty to be learned from words like this, but they often require, ahem, surrender and maybe even a little austerity to determine what it is. I’ll keep you posted. Have fun figuring out your own word, and looking up its roots. And definitely write it down!

The human brain likes to pretend, around mid-April, that it never heard of this ridiculous practice.

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  • Molly Fisk January 2, 2017 at 1:21 pm

    My word showed up this weekend… “gather.” Not half bad! I like the reference to gathering one’s wits as well as the physical idea of gathering things up that have been scattered around. Or the farming usage of harvesting, collecting. Good word. Anyone else have one?