Ahhh…the last week of the year. That magic retrospective space for relaxing and recharging. And yet, the contradictory messages tossed about like confetti: Set intentions, create goals, make resolutions, plan for a New Year.

We plan for the future because the calendar—and employers, influencers, peers and life coaches, even our own overachieving selves—tell us we should.

Fail to plan, plan to fail: This was how I rolled for 25 years in my old life as a corporate sales VP, where 5-Year Business Plans and SMART goals fueled the last gasp of year-end planning.

But in these past six years of family caregiving, overlaid with a relentless pandemic, planning and goal setting feel beyond difficult, too vast. “Everything is just too big,” my mother used to say when she was writing on deadline.


So instead, I keep a mental list of what my former boss called the “Nice To Do’s,” those agenda items that never quite get done: Celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary in Hawaii; move home to Maine permanently; get a part-time job at the island general store. But it’s a little tough with two old guys in my life, especially one pushing 90 with a fractured hip, and I’m still mourning my mother’s passing earlier this year.

Watching the future collide with itself, as unreachable as the stars, yet close as a breath.

And once again, I embrace the unplanned, revel in the unfinished and celebrate the unresolved.

PS: If you can’t imagine a new year without plans and goals, here’s a detailed workbook shared by an Insta writing friend. Fair warning, it’s work.

The Process of Progress

Behold the “Work In Progress,” fondly known in the writing community as the WIP. A million ideas crammed into digital folders and old-school file drawers. Half-started, almost-finished stories and essays and collages and poems.

I have written before about unfinishing, about how we are all works-in-progress. And if my current WIP count is somewhere between 60 and 100, then I say: whatever. Rather than beat myself up over lack of completion, I choose to embrace the wellspring of inspiration that flows between places and moments, a yoga mat, the pen, a candle, the sea, the desert.

I used to believe the WIP folder was where dreams went to die, but now I see how works in progress lead to words in progress and eventually, words in print.

I have also come to appreciate the effervescence of these projects. My writing and art—completed or not—is a reflection of my real self. With a tug of my ancestral threads, I fashion a patchwork of the writers and artists who went before me: grandfathers, a grandmother; uncles and aunts; my mother, my father.

Excerpt from “This Demented Life” novella-in-flash

And as I occasionally share some of these creative scraps, I invite you to join me in celebrating the unfinished as we view progress through the imperfect lens of reality.

Grateful Dead?

Not the tie-dyed, acid-dropping, dancing-bear type of affair. An undertaking far more grave. A solemn, ponderous challenge: is it possible to be grateful about death?

Throughout my blurred twenties, I was a self-professed DeadHead. After attending twenty-plus concerts overlaid with as many years of hard drinking, I finally left the dead shows behind and went to the first 12-step meeting that would eventually become a way of life.

In that first meeting, in the flickering fluorescence of that dingy room at the back of a Dallas strip mall, an elderly woman with more wrinkles than a box of raisins told the group she was a grateful alcoholic.

Grateful? That she’s an alcoholic? How can that be? I asked the co-worker who had brought me to this cramped smoky space, with its rusty folding chairs scraping the chipped linoleum floor like nails on a chalkboard.

Stick around, she said, you’ll find out. And I have, for the past 23 years.

And over those years, I have grown to understand the incongruence of being grateful for things that at first seem horrible. Grateful that, in crossing over Rainbow Bridge, my 14-year-old golden retriever made space for two new rescue pups in the family. Grateful for the various running injuries that remind me to slow down and listen. Grateful to lose a steady paycheck but gain a deeper relationship with my mother, even as dementia slowly inhaled the life from her earlier this year.

These days, between waves of despair and grace, I am grateful for the quality of life and loving care my father—who penned a 700-page memoir entitled “Grateful Ned”—receives as he burrows deeper down the tunnels of assisted living and hospice.

Because in the end, I am grateful. For the life my parents gave me, and for the lessons I learn in death.