In the last days of 2022, I read four books in the Steve Haines/Sophie Standing “…is Really Strange” graphic nonfiction series. I was struck by Haines’ discussions of reframing, of how we can often transform our experience of emotions, trauma, and pain by the way we think and talk about it.
My mom’s family can be superstitious about New Year’s Day. They say that what you do that day sets the tone for the whole year (which has always struck me as a lot of pressure to put on a single day).
One of our older cats is starting to have health challenges, including one that leads to him sometimes pooping outside the litter box. New Year’s Day, as I was cleaning up the latest mishap, I heard my mom’s voice as clear as day in my head saying, “Well, now you’re going to be cleaning up cat poop all year!”
My immediate response was Good! That’ll mean the cat’s alive all year for me to clean up after. Then, with Haines’ books on my mind, I thought, Or I could look at it like this: I saw a problem and am dealing with it right away, rather than putting it off for later or hoping someone else deals with it. “Cleaning up cat poop” may not sound like the best use of my year, but “dealing with challenges as they arise” feels pretty good.
I’m not trying to be a white-lighter or a power-of-positive-thought Pollyanna. Some things in life suck, no matter how we think about them. I’m not dismissing or downplaying that. But I can shape my experience of a lot of things.
My 2023 focus word is “Reframe.” By approaching non-objectively-sucky experiences (and maybe old memories) with curiosity instead of cynicism and taking a moment to consider whether I can find a more positive way to frame them, I hope to live a more joyful, present life and free up some energy to fight the things that are really just awful. It’ll take work, because many of my earliest experiences of the world taught me to brace for the worst—and sometimes to see the worst even when I get the best or the averagest. And it won’t be all the time, and I’m fine with that. To paraphrase something we used to say at work, if I can make things even 3% better for myself, that’s a success. Cat poop and all.
Happy 2023, everyone! May you find all the words you’re looking for.