Writers are intimately familiar with the tension between the fresh-start promise of a potential story and the perpetual pain of a blank page. But when the new year turns over, most of us feel the discomfort between productivity and paralysis, too.
The calendar may be a construct, but we’ve tacitly agreed it’s a construct that renews itself on January 1. The implication of renewal suggests a new opportunity to rewrite our beginnings and endings, making plain the latent tension between doing and dormancy.
While we frequently discharge this tension through resolutions—declaration helps to provoke the momentum we need to act—resolutions don’t really work. This may be because resolutions borne out of a desire to discharge discomfort miss the mark.
It’s uncomfortable to feel caught between possible action and perpetual paralysis. But we shouldn’t seek to relax this feeling. We should think instead about trying to heighten it.
The push-pull tautness of desire—I want to act; I don’t want to act; I want to act—is elemental. We rely on it, especially the uncomfortable friction it generates, to negotiate a generative balance between activity and rest.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s popular line suggests something similar: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
Reframing irresolution as generative orients it to the future, aligning it with action. Withstanding such tension mistakes the locus of power. When we foster such tension instead, we open wide the world of possibility: “One should,” Fitzgerald writes, “be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.”
This year, it might be worth resolving to work toward the generative balance that tension makes possible. In doing so, we sustain the conditions of imaginative possibility, which gives all action meaning.