Words for the New Year

For the past several years, around the turning of the year, I find that I’m encountering some particular phrase in all kinds of places. I feel like it’s Spirit offering me guidance, intention, and/0r challenge for the year to come.

It started in 2016, with the motto I inherited from Andy Clingempeel: “This year, I will not make art. I will let art make me.”

Over the years, they’ve rolled into my head around this time each year, sometimes showing up in song lyrics, sometimes just a quote that appears kind of everywhere. Sometimes it’s something somebody said to me that I find myself hearing, months later, with perfect clarity in a key moment.

The motto always does seem to shape or prefigure the year, each in its own way. It can be a word of comfort to hold onto, a reminder of purpose when I’m tempted to drift, or a call to action. Goodness knows, 2016 was a huge turning point in my artistic life.

Last year, it was a line from one of my favorite songs—”Grateful,” by May Erlewine: “When the world leaves me sleepless, then I’ll be awake.” I remember thinking, “Well that’s very cute for a person who struggles with insomnia.” I wanted to reject it. And hours after it came to me with such clarity, I saw a piece of art, with an eye that looked strikingly like my eye. Awake.

It has been a more or less average year for insomnia. I’ve had worse. But I’ve found myself awake and present, showing up in new ways. Keeping a vigil when there’s nothing else that I can do, and learning to accept that those watchful nights are a way of doing by being.

A few people who know me well have asked if I’ve “chosen next year’s motto.” Let’s be clear, I don’t choose them. If I did, they’d be things like, “But what about second breakfast?” or “Happiness is a warm puppy.”

But no. Spirit sends them, and arguing only makes it worse. This year’s is…Kind of A Lot.

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.

Joseph Campbell…yep.

I appreciate the full context Quote Investigator offers:

It is by going down into the abyss
that we recover the treasures of life.

Where you stumble,
there lies your treasure.

The very cave you are afraid to enter
turns out to be the source of
what you are looking for.
The damned thing in the cave
that was so dreaded
has become the center.

You find the jewel,
and it draws you off.

In loving the spiritual,
you cannot despise the earthly.

Campbell, quoted in Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion, by Diane Osbon

I guess I’d better buckle up. I’m too old to mess around with “refusal of the call,” although I wouldn’t turn up my nose at a little “supernatural aid” here and there. I’m curious, excited, and a bit scared of what 2024 has in store for me.


Aili Written by:

One Comment

  1. Noel
    December 31, 2023

    Many years ago I lived in fear that I would take my own life. The doldrums between creative endeavors were frequent and abysmal. A friend asked me about my wellspring; where my creativity issued from. She suggested that artists often envision that which has yet to come into being, and in order to access that void, we often look into the darkest places, wherein we create something that comes, by our energies, to light. As death is the darkest unknown, it is common that artists skirt that boundary because of the void from which our creative wellspring issues. May the darkness you engage offer up that which you may envision and bring to light.

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