New year resolutions aren’t really my thing, beyond preparing a list of what I’d like to achieve in writing – read better, write better, submit more, do more creative journalism, make sure to enjoy it all, that kind of thing, which I say to myself every year. However, on a recent drive south, good music on the car-stereo, a hot hot hot sky and landscape and potentially catastrophic summer conditions all around, it came to me quickly, a list, three words: simple, good, imaginative – that’s the kind of life I want to live.
Life, given half the chance, will always complicate itself, because it is random, chaotic, and formless. Being someone who likes a bit of routine and order, I find that keeping things simple helps to keep me on the straight and narrow. So, simple finances, simple goals and expectations, even simple house-furnishings. Of course, this is often easier said than done, because to reach a point of great simplicity takes a brain that can traverse great complexity. Consider the Sydney Opera House: a simple idea, a simple structure; but what extraordinary technical skill to make it all a reality. Still, a simple life is the one for me. If I can manage it.
What is good? Something that enhances life? Or perhaps simply (huh!) doesn’t diminish life? Is good nice? Not necessarily, and probably not. Is it generous, honourable, thoughtful, loving? Yes, it may well be all these things. Is living a good life the same as writing a good story? I’m not so sure – is it good that Brett Easton Ellis gave us American Psycho (1991), a novel that’s about how not to be good? Yes, it’s good that we have that work in our world, but not in the way we think. Perhaps a good life is one in which that person and the people are around that person feel more able? I’ll run with that.
At first, the word on my list was ‘creative’, but a creative life can be nothing more than making handmade birthday cards, which is inherently a good thing, but it’s not quite what I’m looking for. Imagination seems to me to be more all-encompassing. It is an imaginative act to write a story – in every possible way. But it also requires imagination to solve a particularly complex household maintenance issue. Or to resolve a financial matter. Or to mend a broken friendship. Imagination may also be required to approach the design of one’s life in new and exciting ways. In an interview I did this week with literary blog Whispering Gums, I referred to something Ben Okri wrote in his magnificent collection of essays A Way of Being Free (1997): ‘The imagination is one of the highest gifts we have’. He really is right.
What are the key words for you this year?