Last night I opened a file on my desktop that I look at only once, or at a stretch twice, each year. Not because it’s unimportant or I’m avoiding it, but because it contains a list I know by heart. You may ask , if this is the case, why do I need a file? The reason is threefold.
- It’s a personal record that I hope to look back on some day with nostalgia, insight and, hopefully, a sense of accomplishment.
- It formalises my goals for the year.
- I like lists.
I’m not a superstitious person. That said, I’ve anecdotally noticed over the years that if I announce an aspiration to the world I generally fail to achieve said goal with a swiftness and style that can popularly be described as a face-plant. Those websites that tout traits common to successful people (which of course I never read) generally recommend public pronouncements of goals as a means of making yourself accountable and thus less likely to fail. I’ve found the opposite to be true. I announce an intention and within a month I’m actively avoiding social engagements with those who heard my (usually drunken) proclamations about running marathons or finishing manuscripts.
Which brings me back to my list. It’s a document modestly labelled “Goals” and each year I update it. To be honest, there’s usually a lot more copying and pasting from the previous year than ticking off of items.
2013 was a productive year. I managed to tick off two items – have a full-length manuscript accepted for publication and contact my biological father. Only one of those items bore fruit and I now have a bouncing baby poetry collection, The Sixth Creek.
2014’s list also earned two ticks – run a 10km race and complete the City to Bay. Check and check.
What I’ve neglected to mention is that the elephant on the lists for both those years was just one item that remained steadfastly beyond me. Complete my PhD.
Now that the year is almost at a close I feel I can safely reveal the goals harboured for 2015 since I’ve already failed at most of them.
- Finish the PhD
- Have my next full-length poetry collection accepted for publication
- Finish the ambo stories manuscript
- Run a half marathon
- Drink less
- Write every day
- Win or be shortlisted in a major poetry prize
There. That wasn’t so hard. I’m not claiming all these to be modest or easily achievable goals since that’s not the point. Writing these down, formalising them as what I desire to achieve is meant to give me direction and drive more than mark out what I think is practicably within my grasp. Item 1 – yes. Item 8 – ha! In my dreams.
Regardless of their potential achievability, by the 16th of December I could not put a tick next to anything on that list. My collection had been rejected by Puncher & Wattman (albeit with a very lovely and “close but no cigar” rejection). The ambo manuscript was still languishing. I trained hard for that half marathon, regularly running 10-12 km several times a week, then dealt very badly with negative feedback, fell in a messy heap of confidencelessness (I doubt that is actually a word) and barely left the house for a month. I drank. A lot. For the first time in many years the furthest I travelled from home was the Blue Mountains. And, needless to say, I didn’t win any prizes.
Then the calendar turned over to December 17. It was in the middle of one of the most severe heatwaves in Adelaide’s history with a ridiculous number of days in a row over 40°C. To me, that 42°C day was beautiful. The sky was an unblemished azure bowl. Wherever I walked in the city, people were smiling. Pigeons seemed to acknowledge my nodded greetings. My heart was helium-light in my chest. I handed my PhD over the counter and with a complete lack of ceremony five years of my life drew to a close.
There were many, many times when I didn’t believe this day would come. Ever. It was a test of endurance and mental stability. I can’t say I passed with flying colours. To be honest, I gave up on the idea of this being my best work several years ago. At this point in time I’m aiming for the black and gold, home-brand PhD. I went home, opened “Goals” and put a tick next to item 1. It was enough. Item 1 had been identical since I created the document in 2013. This wasn’t just a what-shall-I-do-this-year achievement – this was a tick next to a life goal. Microsoft Word doesn’t have a tick icon commensurate with the personal significance of this accomplishment.
I closed the document. One tick for the year felt fine since it was this particular tick. Then on the 22nd of December I opened an official-looking letter from the government. My poetry collection Vintage Rain had been shortlisted in the 2016 Adelaide Festival Literary Awards for an unpublished manuscript.
This was amazing. This prize was for unpublished work in any genre, so my manuscript had been chosen from a field containing not just poetry but literary fiction, play-writing, young adult, crime – the works. In the history of this prize a poetry manuscript has never won so I’m definitely not holding my breath, but being shortlisted is an incredible honour, so I’m taking it and running.
I opened “Goals”. No. 8 – tick. Then with a copy and paste of the remaining items my goals for 2016 were set. I’ll let you know whether the face-plant jinx applies to blog posts. Let’s consider this a psychological experiment.