The Year in Review

by Paul Mathers

Of course, I’m proudest of finishing an unpublished manuscript to a full length novel which, if I were to die suddenly, would not be far from ready for publication. Barring sudden death, however, I’m still tinkering with it before I go shop it around. Also, this year, I’ve nearly completed one novella manuscript and started another of undetermined length (although I suspect it will be another novella). I am proud of the epic poem I wrote about Glenn Gould this year, the goblin wedding poem, and the poem about playing Santa Claus. I think those were all pretty darned good poems. I think this was my most prolific year in writing since my early 20s, possibly in my life so far. I intend to keep up the pace.

I read some of the greatest books I’ve ever read this year, and I’m a better man for it. At this time one year ago I was beginning The Divine Comedy. I am currently reading Crime and Punishment. I feel it’s good to start the year with a great deal of existential weight.

I am much less of a man of fear than I was a year ago. I am a man who takes his faith a lot more seriously than I was a year ago. I think I’m happier and kinder than I did a year ago. All of which make for a great year. We were blessed with some opportunity to do some good this year and we, by the grace of God, rose to the occasion. I hope in the next year we have more such opportunities.

My step-daughter moved into the house across the street from us. Laurie and I had a vacation in which we were able to help my parents out a bit (a drop in the ocean of how much they’ve helped us over the years). I got to have lunch with my grandmother at one of our favorite restaurants. I got to visit my alma mater and take a lot of pictures of the campus. I was able to make a pilgrimage to see a Warhol Campbell Soup Can. I taught a seven week course on the history of the Reformation. I built a box garden and grew an abundance of vegetables. Nothing short of miraculous, we kept our house for another year. We have received devastating financial news that is a bit of a Sword of Damocles over our home. Still, there is no constant aside from change and circumstances could swing in another direction. Also, our hope is not in this world, so losing our home would only sting to an extent. And it hasn’t happened yet. But still, I hope that it doesn’t. I like my house.

As increases exponentially with age, we lost some people this year. Laurie and I both had people we loved very dearly pass away suddenly.

I would also mention that I still feel the sting that the world lost one of its great men this year.

In the upcoming year, I resolve to read James Joyce’s Ulysses, Native Son by Richard Wright, Lolita, and The Jungle Book. That should get me through to about March and then I’ll have to think of other things to read. Aside from those specifics, this year I have two groups I would like to focus on reading: The Russians and the Early Church Fathers.

I have an idea for a much larger and much more ambitious novel, as well as completing the two smaller pieces. In this next year, I intend to start shopping at least one of these pieces (the novel that I’ve already finished, most likely) for publication.

But I should probably save the comprehensive list of resolutions until after the first of the year. Instead, I think I’ll recap this past January’s resolutions with commentary on how I did:

Finish the Harvard Classics. Instead I hit indefinite pause on that project because I was losing my joy in reading. I have no regrets.

Write more poetry. 2013 was a great year for my body of work and I intend to keep this habit up.

Be softer, less judging, more compassionate. I realized how much the bullying I received in my childhood lead to me 1) tending towards reclusiveness, and 2) attempting to harden my heart. Neither of which is good or helpful. I feel like, at 35, my armor is my most major stumbling block. Mixed. I feel like I have succeeded in cultivating a softer heart and forced myself kicking and screaming away from reclusiveness. Some of that remains, but I also, in the process, have found that I no longer think of introversion as a vice. Experience has also led me to the hard truth that, contrary to popular belief, unfettered compassion is not always wisdom or called for. Discernment and a heart seeking goodness and truth are the qualities to be coveted.

Imitate Christ and Socrates. Modesty forbids!

Replace fear/anxiety/worry as my chief character traits with thankfulness/blessing/compassion. I think I’ve had some great success with eliminating the first part of the clause and I doubt I could ever achieve the extent of the second part of the clause that I would like to. Two major game-changers helped me in this pursuit this year. One is the teaching that all sin is rooted in unbelief and that unbelief is, in fact, the worst sin. Realizing this, I have found that working on my faith and the fruits thereof has been an antidote to the great failures of my character. This is a lifelong project.

The second great help came from Theodore Roosevelt who had the courage to admit that he had fears, but that he found that the best way to eliminate them was to act as though he were not afraid. By so doing, he would soon find that he was in actuality not afraid. This worked (and works!) Not to overstate, but I have found that “WWTRD?” has been a helpful mantra for me.

For this New Year, we have champagne and we have a jar of blessings written down that we’ve been adding to over the year. I wish you all a happy New Year’s celebration and I wish you all efficacious self-reflection, as befits the season.