New Year’s Resolutions + Poetry of Old Dead White Guy

 In The Writing Life

In case you didn’t hear, I had a great time hanging out with Tracy Fort and Brandon Huddleston on Tracy’s radio show on Friday.  She asked me lots about my writing, lots about what I want to do for 2017 to contribute to the world.  (You can listen to the show here.)

That got me to thinking about New Year’s Resolutions, which got me thinking about the seventeenth century Welsh poet, George Herbert.  (Because I am a total nerd.)

For the most part, I don’t like Herbert’s poetry.  He was pretty religious — an Anglican priest, in fact — and although I respect everyone’s religion, Christianity is not my thing so much.

But there’s this one poem I was introduced to in college that still resonates with me, and I wanted to share it here:

So the meaning of the poem, at least as I interpret it, is basically this:

George Herbert is having a conversation with God.  And he says, look, I’m not a king or a warrior or a musician (though he was a musician); I can’t honor you that way.  And I ain’t ever gonna be rich and throw big fancy parties.  But listen, God, there is this one thing I can do, one thing that makes me feel closer to you, and that’s to write my poetry.

“And this has something to do with New Year’s Resolutions because…?  Wait, what are we even talking about?”

That poem resonated with me in college, because I related to what ol’ George was saying.  I can understand his sentiment about writing making him feel closer to God.  For me, writing has always been self-medication for mind & soul.

So what can I contribute to the world in 2017?  Not a crown or sword or lute.  (The “gay suit” might apply, though.)  I ain’t ever gonna be rich or famous or throw fancy parties.  But there is something I can do to help.  It’s not enormous and it won’t reach everyone, but I can write.  And I can try to make what I write meaningful.  I can try to improve the lesfic genre in some small way; I can give LGBTQ people some positive stories about themselves in a dark period in history; I can be a part of the community and give back.

I like Maya Angelou way more than George Herbert.

Maya Angelou gave my freshman convocation when I was an undergrad.  (Also, I accidentally shook her hand, but that’s another story for another time.)  There was one phrase she kept repeating during her address to our Class of 2000:

You have been paid for.

You have been paid for, not just in the sense that your parents are footing the bill for this college experience you’re about to have, but in the sense that someone else paved the way and opened doors for you so that you can be here today.  If you’re a woman, a person of color, or a LGBTQ person, that’s especially resonant.

You have been paid for, so what are you going to do with that?  Huh?  Twenty years later, I still think about that address.  And Maya Angelou’s conclusion?

Be a balm unto the world.

Yes, be a balm.  That’s my New Year’s resolution.

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