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With the finale of 2015 now behind us and the promise and potential of a shiny new year just commencing, the winter air is heavy with the scent of hope and optimism and the universal premises that anything we can dream and profess is possible and that our unaltered, unbroken purpose still awaits fulfillment.

While 2014 was, for me, a culmination of personal and academic achievement and “lasts,” 2015 was a strange year of stunted beginnings and false starts.  Liberated from the rigors of graduate school on top of a full-time career after six years of arduous, albeit exhilarating, study, I ran at full speed toward a multitude of other ventures and goals that had been put on hold for so long, giddy with freedom and plans.  But soon after, I would falter from uncertainty about the overall objectives or simply drop from the sheer exhaustion of ceaseless dream-chasing.  Finally, somewhere around summer, I conceded to slowing down, recalibrating, and becoming acquainted with Downton Abbey.

Alas, I discovered the pleasures of a cushy sofa.  So this is where I imagined the sane basked while I was wittingly cloistered in freezing classrooms until all hours of weeknights, eating stale bagels and drinking scorched coffee from a wax cup and making thematic comparisons between Ralph Ellison and Dostoyevsky and trying to make sense of Bakhtin’s abstruse theories and reading with envy about Gertrude Stein’s Paris salon on Rue de Fleurus until my over-stimulated brain and heart felt as if they would implode from heady longing.  Ah, yes…this sofa is actually quite nice, I thought.  Quite.  Nice.  

Famartin

A few months later when the fog lifted (nonsense—I yanked the afghan from my legs and waved it wildly to clear out the haze and regain consciousness), I climbed the stairs to my office and surveyed the piles of mostly New Projects on the floor.  The GRE study guides, flash cards, and practice exams; how-to manuals on establishing a freelance writing career; grammar and curriculum materials for a writing class I proposed to create; maps of Europe and travel books on England, Germany, and Russia; Mount Whitney climbing guides, and my crate of marked-up manuscript pages and notes for my developing novel—the lone lingering project—all looked up at me with expectation and hope.  I felt dizzy and sank to the carpet amid the heaps.  I hadn’t a clue how or where to start.  I had been so focused on finishing in-progress endeavors and on endings, I had forgotten how to begin anything new, regardless of its magnetism.

In “Little Gidding” (the fourth and final poem in Four Quartets), T. S. Eliot writes of endings as beginnings and of routes that start from the place to which you just came.  It conveys exactly how I felt, surveying those piles and recalling that I had embarked on previous journeys from much the same cluttered and overwhelming point.

 

If you came this way,

Taking the route you would be likely to take

From the place you would be likely to come from,

If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges

White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.

It would be the same at the end of the journey,

If you came at night like a broken king,

If you came by day not knowing what you came for,

It would be the same…

 

Before beginning any endeavor, there is a dream, desire, or calling.  Then there is the evaluation stage; this is when feasibility and cost-benefit correlations are assessed.  (Many of my aspirations are dashed at this point, once I realize the impracticality of, say, climbing Mount Everest or buying a castle in Edinburgh.)  Lastly, at least for me, there is a critical alignment phase, during which I have to decide if the pursuit is consistent with my core values and believed purpose and is, beyond a good, long, sometimes painful stretch, still within reach.  Because, at the end of the day, nothing turns a dream into a nightmare faster than inner conflict, an incongruous or unintended outcome, or impossibility.

 

When you leave the rough road

And turn behind the pigsty to the dull façade

And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for

Is only a shell, a husk of meaning

From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled

If at all. Either you had no purpose

Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured

And is altered in fulfillment.

 

So here I am, facing another January.  It is my month once again.  This year, too, I begin a new decade, having reached a birthday milestone.  All that has come before has brought me here, but I’ll need to forge new paths and follow unexpected detours to arrive at new destinations.  There is more to the story ahead, much more, and it begs to be written.

 

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language

And next year’s words await another voice.

 

And so a new narrative begins.  Welcome, 2016!

 

"La neige à Louveciennes (Snow at Louveciennes)" by Alfred Sisley, 1878

“La neige à Louveciennes (Snow at Louveciennes)” by Alfred Sisley, 1878

New Millennium Writings is accepting submissions for its forty-first consecutive Awards for Fiction, Nonfiction, Short-Short Fiction, and Poetry between now and midnight on January 31, 2016.

Fiction and nonfiction pieces should not exceed 6,000 words.  Short-short fiction entries should not exceed 1,000 words.  Poetry submissions may include up to three poems, not to exceed five pages total per entry.  Simultaneous and multiple submissions are welcome.  Previously published work will also be considered, provided circulation did not exceed 5,000 or the piece was published online only.

Winners in each category of fiction, nonfiction, short-short fiction, and poetry will receive $1,000 and publication in the journal and on the NMW website.  For more information and detailed submission guidelines, visit the website at http://submit.newmillenniumwritings.org.

 

nmwv2i1-med

As my Scotch, spared the water, blondly sloshes

About its tumbler, and gay manic flame

Is snapping in the fireplace, I grow youthful:

I realize that calendars aren’t truthful

And that for all of my grand unsuccesses

External causes are to blame.

 

And if at present somewhat destitute,

I plan to alter, prove myself more able,

And suavely stroll into the coming years

As into rooms with thick rugs, chandeliers,

And colorfully pyramided fruit

On linened lengths of table.

 

At times I fear the future won’t reward

My failures with sufficient compensation,

But dump me, aging, in a garret room

Appointed with twilit, slant-ceilinged gloom

And a lone bulb depending from a cord

Suggestive of self-strangulation.

 

Then, too, I have bad dreams, in one of which

A cowled, scythe-bearing figure beckons me.

Dark plains glow at his back: it seems I’ve died,

And my soul, weighed and judged, has qualified

For an extended, hyper-sultry hitch

Down in eternity.

 

Such fears and dreams, however, always pass.

And gazing from my window at the dark,

My drink in hand, I’m jauntily unbowed.

The sky’s tiered, windy galleries stream with cloud,

And higher still, the dazed stars thickly mass

In their long Ptolemaic arc.

 

What constellated powers, unkind or kind,

Sway me, what far preposterous ghosts of air?

Whoever they are, whatever our connection,

I toast them (toasting also my reflection),

Not minding that the words which come to mind

Make the toast less toast than prayer:

 

Here’s to the next year, to the best year yet;

To mixed joys, to my harum-scarum prime;

To auguries reliable and spacious;

To times to come, such times being precious,

If only for the reason that they get

Shorter all the time.

 

                                    ~ Timothy Steele

 

"Au Moulin de la Galette" by Ramon Casas i Carbó, 1892

“Au Moulin de la Galette” by Ramon Casas i Carbó, 1892

Year’s End

Now the seasons are closing their files

on each of us, the heavy drawers

full of certificates rolling back

into the tree trunks, a few old papers

flocking away. Someone we loved

has fallen from our thoughts,

making a little, glittering splash

like a bicycle pushed by a breeze.

Otherwise, not much has happened;

we fell in love again, finding

that one red feather on the wind.

 

~ Ted Kooser

 

Poul Friis Nybo, 1929

Poul Friis Nybo, 1929

Mild is the parting year, and sweet

     The odour of the falling spray;

Life passes on more rudely fleet,

     And balmless is its closing day.

 

I wait its close, I court its gloom,

     But mourn that never must there fall

Or on my breast or on my tomb

     The tear that would have soothed it all.

 

                  ~ Walter Savage Landor

 

"Pensive" by Władysław Czachórski, 1883

“Pensive” by Władysław Czachórski, 1883

Mistletoe

Sitting under the mistletoe

(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),

One last candle burning low,

All the sleepy dancers gone,

Just one candle burning on,

Shadows lurking everywhere:

Some one came, and kissed me there.

 

Tired I was; my head would go

Nodding under the mistletoe

(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),

No footsteps came, no voice, but only,

Just as I sat there, sleepy, lonely,

Stooped in the still and shadowy air

Lips unseen – and kissed me there.

 

~ Walter de la Mare

 

"The End of a Dream" by Giuseppe Pennasilico, circa 1908

“The End of a Dream” by Giuseppe Pennasilico, circa 1908

Vines, leaves, roots of darkness, growing,

now you are uncurled and cover our eyes

with the edge of winter sky

leaning over us in icy stars.

Vines, leaves, roots of darkness, growing,

come with your seasons, your fullness, your end.

 

                             ~ Annie Finch

 

"The Skater" by Prince Pierre Troubetskoy, 1895

“The Skater” by Prince Pierre Troubetskoy, 1895

 

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