The Only Useful Retrospective Operates on a Pivot

If examining history–on a grand scale or on a very tiny personal one–doesn’t ultimately result in turning around to move forward from that study, it is of no use. I find the obsession at the end of a calendar year with reviews, retrospectives and rehashes sometimes entertaining and even intermittently informative, but at the end of the day (or year) what I want is to know: where do I go from here?

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What lies in the past remains in its ghostlike remembered forms . . .

There are plenty of fine reasons to revisit what has gone before. It’s meaningful to honor those things, events and especially people we hold dear when they are no longer part of our lives. We can recognize past mistakes, uncover gaps in our experience or behavior or education. We take inventory of what we have accomplished, what we have gained, how our world has expanded, and those valuable objects and attributes that have accrued to our accounts over the past part of our lives. But if it stops there, it can serve no great purpose in the long term, I think.

The deeper honor for recognizing losses must lie not only in coming to terms with them–acceptance, if possible, but if not, then some sort of détente that makes us able to separate that grief and pain from the necessity of not only continuing to live but to grow and thrive. It is no gift to those causes and persons we have loved if we do not continue in our own new ways to seek and become those things we admired in them, to share them with the rest of the world that missed the chance to know them in their own right. If we dwell on mistakes and do not seek amends for them, no one is made better, least of all ourselves. Failure that leads to learning, improvement, reconciliation or higher goals for the future is in fact a beautiful and curable disease. Real progress–growth–almost never comes without the forerunner of Failure. Most of us miraculously able to accomplish something grand on the first try can’t replicate such an accomplishment or even ‘get’ how to achieve the next one, because there has been no passage through the great human experiment of trial and error, of practice and repetition to drive us to the point where we can deliberately and even repeatedly do such fine things.

Certainly, recognizing the great and good things that have been granted us in the past is given its true value and meaning both by our showing appropriate gratitude and then by our turning to the task of making wise and joyful use of whatever wealth we have, whether it’s a piece of bread we can share or it’s the Nobel Prize that sets a foundation for a whole new field of research or it’s a solid investment that paid off well so that we can afford to reinvest in the company or it’s being experienced enough to teach a kid how to ride a bike. Having something of value isn’t really all that impressive if it sits and collects dust while we too sit and collect dust. Unless, perhaps, one is a connoisseur of actual Dust. That is another Issue altogether.

Meanwhile, here I am at the end of another calendar year, taking inventory with everybody else and wondering what it means for my future. What, after all of that, do I want to do with my baggage, good and bad? There are some specifics, I suppose.

I have been a slug, growing more and more sedentary and finding more and more plausible (to me, at least) excuses for doing so, and I intend to get fitter. Not as fit as in my days of hefting a 60-pound bag of Quikrete on my shoulder or scrambling up a scaffold three stories to haul five gallon buckets full of paint up for work. That Me is long gone. But I am going to find a much fitter 50+ me, and that will be satisfying work. As I’ve grown more dedicated to writing in the last year or so, I’ve shelved my previous commitment to practicing drawing regularly that was satisfying as a process and led to some equally pleasing improvement in agility and technique and even end product. So I’m going to re-balance my work to engage in creating more visual art again, whatever the mode or medium.

There, I’ve said all of that out loud, in public, in front of all of you grand people whom I admire for so many attributes that I won’t be able to replicate, and I know you’ll hold me to my promises, because you’re that kind of encouraging and inspiring folk and, yes, a little bit intimidating in your gifts. And the more so in your accomplishments, because after all, that’s what I’m really talking about here: not what we already are, but what we strive to become, however gradually and through whatever study and practice and love of progress it takes to close in on those horizons.

A bit of challenge? Oh, YESSSSS. So it will always be. Mysterious, sometimes frightening, certainly adventure-filled in many ways. But that’s what the past should be teaching us to do. Today was made possible by all of the yesterdays that shaped me, coupled with the will to move forward from them. Tomorrow will be made that much more possible by adding what I’ve learned and accomplished today and letting it help to push me another notch onward. If looking backward thoughtfully can do that, I can barely imagine what looking forward will do. But I’m going to lean into it and see.

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The way ahead is always somewhat unclear; that can be part of the joy if I let it be . . .

29 thoughts on “The Only Useful Retrospective Operates on a Pivot

    • And a very Happy New Year to you too, my darling Nia! I’m still trying hard to figure out how to get my Following of your blogs to register with my email; for some reason my link just hasn’t worked yet, but I am NOT going to give up!!! I love your work and your presence far too much. 🙂

    • Dearest ‘Nessa, you are a gem. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am working on an awards-note post for tomorrow, thanks to your already having given me the heads-up for the Versatile Blogger Award, so I will add this into that post!

      I look forward greatly to carrying our conversations forward into the new year as well! All best to you, with hugs!

  1. A very nice year end post, something we all can think about for our own lives. I share your view as our past has a purpose for us to learn and grow from – not stay stuck in! As a 50+ woman I too will continue in this new year to keep myself flexible and strong in both body and mind. Happy New Years to you and all you love!

    • What, is your gravatar a picture of your youngest daughter, then??? 🙂

      Yes, I think the turning over of the year is a great time to recommit to taking care of ourselves as well as others. And I do wish you and yours a glorious year of such good things, too!

  2. Such valuable thoughts! And those images (paintings?) are wonderful. Good luck to us all in the new year toward small milestones and subtle stretches toward our excellence. Speaking of, have you thought of joining a yoga class? Perhaps you’re already a yogi (I wouldn’t be surprised)–I find my weekly yoga class to be the perfect exercise, slowly building core strength and flexiblity, not to mention its calming influence on the mind.

    Happy Happy New Year!

    • I’m glad you enjoy the images. They’re heavily Photoshopped photographs (the first, from Edmonton AB, the second from Boston MA. I *have* taken yoga for a few months several years ago. It was Bikram and I was trying to learn the practice at a time when I didn’t know I was descending into crisis with clinical depression, so the difficulty of it defeated me. Once I got help with the mental health issues I actually wanted to try yoga again (possibly not something *quite* so rigorous as Bikram, at least to begin with 🙂 !)–but haven’t gotten around to it. Maybe this is my cue at last! So I’ll check around. I’ve heard at least one of the studios in town is very good.

      Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to a great year and wish you the happiest of New Years too!

    • A blessed, blissful year to you, lovely Bella, in 2012! Thank you for your always gracious support. It always cheers me up immediately when I even see your smiling gravatar appear! 🙂

    • All of the best to you, too, dear lady! I hope and expect that this is going to be an especially fine year, and I am so delighted to have a number of great new friends and colleagues in the blogging world to share it with now! Can’t wait to see where it all takes us. 🙂

    • Thank you, Sweet Caroline. If you can snag the photo and print it, you’re welcome to do so. That one was used for the graphic materials promoting and accompanying a literary festival in Edmonton (where I shot the original photo) a couple of years ago.

      A very, very happy 2012 to you as well!

    • My dear Marie, looking forward to the year ahead is a pleasure greatly multiplied by having connected to great and inspiring friends like you! You bring me great joy both in your beautiful and wise and funny and touching posts and in the same kind of generous commentary over here on my side of the fence. What a perfect neighbor you are, my lovely! Give Chloe and Niko each a good squeeze for me, won’t you? 🙂

  3. What we strive to become? Oh, HELL yes, Kathryn! Here’s to the journey from where we’ve been to where we’re going and all that we learn along the way. All my best to you for a truly inspired 2012! Cheers, sweet lady 🙂

    • Desi, darling, so great to have you back! I see there’s news on your blog and will pop by shortly to get updated. Hope you and Mike and the small superheroes have had a truly magical time over the break. We had a dandy pre-Christmas and Christmas Eve full of overwhelming and beautiful busyness and music followed by the most excellent Christmas Day: just us 2, sleeping in until nearly noon, staying in our jammies most of the day, eating dinner in the living room by the fire, and watching TV while sipping the port a friend gave us the day before.

      With you around to inspire me and keep me company in all your fabulousness, I am looking forward to a really outstanding 2012!! Cheers to us both!

  4. A great post, Kathryn, beautifully expressed. I must admit, though, how excited I am to read you’re returning to the visual arts. I’ve enjoyed what little work of yours that I’ve seen and cannot wait to see where this resolve will take us … um … You are taking us with you, aren’t you?

  5. Your work is remarkable, Kathryn. I’m so glad I fell down the rabbit hole into this world of blog to find artists and writers like you. And I love that first picture and the caption “What lies in the past remains in its ghostlike remembered forms . . .” We are creating the past; let’s make it beautiful.

    • Thank you, dearest. Picture #1 is from Edmonton AB and in fact *does* hold beloved ghost memories for me. And yes, let’s all pitch in on the beauty-production whenever and however we can. You are already way ahead in that game, my friend!

  6. I’ve always thought that those who pass on leave little bits of themselves imprinted in all whom they touched.. your line: “It is no gift to those causes and persons we have loved if we do not continue in our own new ways to seek and become those things we admired in them, to share them with the rest of the world that missed the chance to know them in their own right.” really held an important lesson for me. Thank you for this…
    xo Smidge
    ps looking forward to that art… I’ve been thinking the same thing for a while now!!

    • I carry that idea of ‘bits left behind’ to the extreme, being struck rather often by the thought that every atom we are, touch, experience, breath and move has been used and left behind by others or is even *made of* others from their ages past–it strikes me as such a beautiful, miraculous continuity.

      Let’s pledge to make 2012 a return to art year together. 🙂

  7. I don’t do any year end retrospective, personally or publicly; I have a tendency to do that in my head enough every single day, that I don’t have any desire to beat myself up any further!

    “The deeper honor for recognizing losses must lie not only in coming to terms with them–acceptance, if possible, but if not, then some sort of détente that makes us able to separate that grief and pain from the necessity of not only continuing to live but to grow and thrive. ” This line spoke volumes to me; I felt almost as if you were speaking to me personally, Kathryn. I am always thankful when December ends and the weight of remembrance and grief can be put to rest.
    One more thought before I go: I had grand plans of doing one resolution, much like yours, to practice my drawing more this year. But I can’t lie to myself – I am much to lazy to keep that promise and would begin paving the road to hell with that promise almost as soon as it was made. I did pick up a pencil for the first time in years and actually drew for an hour, much to the amazement and delight of my daughter. I should do that more often, shouldn’t I?

    • I am so THRILLED at your hour of drawing! Join with me and Barbara in our quest to make more art this year than last, and put no unbearable parameters on it, and we’ll all have ourselves some real fun. Okay?

      As for the ‘detente’ statement, it’s meant for all of us. I really do understand your grief over your father. My reference in ‘Thought Becomes Deed’ to the too-soon-lost improvisateur is to R’s and my deeply beloved “brother”-friend who was murdered over ten years ago and, while the wound has become generally bearable over time and we don’t live obsessively in his shadow we both still find the grief as fresh as its first moment from time to time, most of all around anniversaries of course. I suppose nearly everyone experiences such profound losses in life one way or another, but it’s only our own microcosm of pain that matters when we’re in the midst of it, the reason I think it so incredibly crucial to find a way to at least compartmentalize and remove ourselves from it to allow life to continue properly outside of that insurmountable frame of reference. I do deeply understand why the loss of your father looms so large. Love to you. 🙂

      • You have given me that proverbial kick in the seat of the pants and I WILL join you and Barbara in this quest to make more art. But I am going to have to rely on you to push me a bit because I tend to let everything else get in the way.
        I have not picked up a paint brush, other than to paint a back drop for a Grinch event at the library since before the kids were born, over 13 (!) years and I am sorely missing it. The camera has been a nice substitute, but I think it really is time to get back to my roots.

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