Back in November 2011, I saw this poster taped up in the windows of several art supply stores in my neighborhood. It was an entry call for a calligraphy contest geared toward high school and college age students. I thought it was just brilliant—most posters of this sort would highlight a few lines of calligraphy, but instead this one focused on the process. Not only did it do that, it zoned in on what might make this very ancient art form appeal to teens and young adults. In fact, it captures the appeal of partaking in any craft or art that requires intense focus and repetition—that wonderful, blissed out feeling you get when you stop struggling for perfection and just let the practice take you away.
I have to admit that it took me a long time to see the appeal of Chinese calligraphy. When I was a child, it was just something that hung on the walls of my relatives’ houses, and it wasn’t until I was introduced to the work of Tong Yang-tze (董陽孜) that I truly understood how beautiful, expressive and perfect each individual stroke can be. But I’ve been knitting and sketching since I was very little, so I immediately understood the message this poster was trying to convey. I know how appealing it is to shut yourself off from the world, with your brushes, pen or needles, some loud music, and just indulge yourself by trying to master that one patch of shading on a drawing or a very complex repeat in a lace shawl.
But in 2012, I came to realize that I tend to shut myself away a bit too much when I’m stressed out. I always deal with challenges by turning inward, both as a way of sorting out my reactions and as a refuge. This tendency has helped me a lot in the past, but last year I realized that if I’m not careful, it can also make me passive. While I’m off fine-tuning the most picayune details in my internal life, things are happening around me that I ignore. There were a lot of difficult decisions, both personal and professional, that I needed to make last year. I did eventually make them, but it was only after all the signs and signals that had been throwing themselves at me for a long time were screaming at maximum, deafening decibel levels.
This year, I’m participating in One Little Word, a journaling activity and class by Ali Edwards that’s popular among scrapbookers. My word for 2013 is “listen.” I didn’t have a word for 2012, but in retrospect, it would have been “responsibility”: taking responsibility for my career, my relationships and my health. Listening goes hand in hand with that. I still plan to have plenty of moments with my headphones perched over my years, but I also need to keep my ears wide open.
That’s my one thing on the first, and I hope it guides me toward wise decisions through the next 12 months: listen.