I started making New Year's resolutions when I spent some time teaching in Rockview Maximum Security Prison, outside State College, PA. While teaching an extension course for Penn State (back then I joked I was teaching at Penn State and the state pen), I read a lot of prison narratives and found one overwhelming commonality: the convicts who made it on the outside all made resolutions or goals that they strictly adhered to.
The first year I made all the rookie mistakes. I chose unmeasurable goals (Be the best person you can be) and unrealistic goals (Never lose your temper -- fine until I see a full shopping cart in the express lane). Writing goals are also easy to miscalculate. Don Murray borrowed Pliny's "Nulla Dies Sine Linea" (never a day without a line), but this is a goal I'd already have failed to achieve. I prefer something like Ben Franklin's "We must be on the right road because we are on the road of experimentation" -- something that I try to keep in front of me in order to keep my writing and my teaching from becoming too staid.
I'll never forget the ruminations of my father, a Galwayman, who told me, looking at the calendar one night on January 3rd, "Well, I guess that's another one shot to hell." Let me tell you: these are words that make a profound impact on a young boy! So, this year I'm choosing as my mantra, advice from a fellow Irishman, Samuel Beckett: "Fail better." I know it sounds bitter, but I think the underlying spirit of boldness (dream big he seems to be saying) even as he undercuts the sentiment sounds just about right for 2010.
John S. O'Connor's poems have appeared in places such as Poetry East and RHINO. He has written two books on teaching: This Time It's Personal: Teaching Academic Writing through Creative Nonfiction (2011) and Wordplaygrounds: Reading, Writing, and Performing Poetry in the English Classroom (2004). He earned his BA and MAT from the University of Chicago and his PhD from...