Notes from Candice Ransom

Flipping the Switch: 2017


I’m late putting up a New Year’s post, owing to the fact I had a book due, I was hospitalized, and there were all those holidays.  Being in the hospital for three days (and three mostly sleepless nights) gave me plenty of time to think about the coming year and change.  A new year usually generates resolutions, goals, or “word of the year.”

I have no resolutions because, like most people, hard resolves tend to shatter within a matter of weeks.  I’m too old to have goals:  it’s all I can do to keep moving forward with my writing career and teaching.

I used to have a “word of the year.”  I remember my first word of the year, claimed back in January 1987.  It was “onward” (stolen from my Mary Engelbreit calendar).  I was all ready to charge onward into a year of writing when, just after New Year’s Day doctors gave up on my ill stepfather and sent him home to die.  Not the kind of onward I’d hoped for.

The magazines I read while I was sick devoted whole articles to promoting “no” as word of the year, perfect sense for people who hurl themselves from one place, one activity, one day to the next.  I’ve felt that way myself this past year.  To me, “no” sounds strident.  I plan to practice saying “no,” but I don’t want to wave that banner for 2017.

If I had a word of the year, it would be “wonder,” a commodity we have precious little of when every question can be answered with a swipe.  Pull out a phone and curiosity is immediately smacked into fact.  Close on the heels of “wonder” is “pay attention.”  (Two words, so I cheat.)

All around me people chatter, multi-task on phones and laptops, drive while eating and drinking, walk with headphones, eyes straight ahead.  Everyone seems to have tunnel vision.  I’m the only one who stops in the Walmart parking lot to watch a flock of Canada geese fly low overhead.  It’s an astonishing sight, always, and deserves our attention.

The end of the year is also time for assessment.  Since I’m deep into my career, I’m not about to flit off in another direction (that too-old thing again).  I ponder why I’m doing what I do, and that inevitably leads me back to my childhood self.  At ten, I was so full of wonder, I could barely stand up.  Everything was fascinating:  dirt, birds, stars, rocks, dinosaurs, clouds, trees.  I couldn’t get enough of the world around me.

Annie Dillard talks about waking up in her book An American Childhood:

Who turned on the lights?  You did, by waking up.  You flipped a light switch, started up the wind machine, kicked on the flywheel that spins the years . . . Knowing you are alive is feeling the planet buck under you, rear, kick, and try to throw you . . . Do you remember, remember, remember?

I do remember. And I want some of that feeling back.  It’s still there, underneath the dailyness of cleaning toilets and buying milk and washing the sheets.  The planet ripples a little when I have to sit down to emails and go to appointments.  I’m older, not dead.

So here’s what I’m going to do this year.  Wake up.  Be wide-eyed with wonder.  Because I’m a grown-up, I’ll call it a project.  I’m keeping a nature journal, writing down what I see, what I’m paying attention to.  Even if I can’t go outside, I’ll observe from the window.  I’ll draw in it, maybe paint a little.  Use photos.  The important thing is that I’ll make note I was aware of this world, every day.

I’ll share some of what I see and hear and experience with you (which will be mercifully better than my endless whining).  You can come, too.

Flip the light switch again.  Pay attention with me.





10 thoughts on “Flipping the Switch: 2017”

  1. I always enjoy your stories of your childhood self. But I can barely relate to them because I don’t recall ever experiencing anything like the wonder you did. All I remember is the crushing responsibility that was heaped upon me, as though my childhood was diminished in every way. And so now, I am experiencing the childhood I never had – and wonder is my everyday companion. I pay attention to every little thing because I see what I missed. And I did choose No as my word of the year because I spent too many years saying Yes to the things that almost destroyed me. I’m so happy about this year for you and for me. I love a clean slate!

    • I’ve watched you this year, read your posts and was slapped almost senseless by your gorgeous photography. Yes, you are filled with wonder every day. How lucky you are that you have it now. Mary Poppins once told the Banks children that they can understand the starlings now, but they won’t always. I think we can understand the starlings if we stop and listen.

      I meant to say that I’m planning to practice saying “no” (for the same reason you are), and also taking a good hard look at my diet (resolution) and maybe writing something I’ve never tried before (goal). But all the “fixes” will come behind something more important, paying attention.

  2. This is a beautiful and inspirational post. In Shakespeare’s The Tempest the character Miranda embodies the quality of wonder. She is the one who says “Oh brave new world/ that has such people in it.” Her elderly father responds, “Tis new to thee.” We should all try harder to get back in touch with our inner Miranda. I am so sorry to hear that you have been ill. I am looking forward to taking your class this summer and having a wonder-filled time at Hollins.

    • Only you would give me Shakespeare! Being the “wonder-filled” child was not an attribute in my family. Day-dreaming and reading books on dinosaurs when I was supposed to be doing math cost me grades in elementary school. But it all evened out.

      So glad you’ll be in my class this summer. I’m planning some sort of “Pay Attention” class!

  3. I’m sorry that you had to go to hospital. I hope they were able to help you heal.

    I’ve given up on resolutions, but I am giving myself daily targets/goals which makes me feel much more accomplished.

    I’ve read about saying no to ‘wrong jobs’, now you got me thinking that sometimes I have to say ‘no’ to myself. I have tried so many different things, but now it is time to focus on a creative career that is not taking me on a zig zag.

    This year I want to get out of the house more often. Less indoor computer time in general, and more exploring with the girls and the camera. I’m thinking of whipping out my original SLR and taking old school photos.

    • Yes, to less computer time! We all strive to make that a goal, but it often gets lost because it’s our main form of communication. Somehow all of my writing dealings got shifted to email and the computer (all mss. are delivered via email, all contracts are sent to me via email files).

      Get out with those beautiful girls of yours and take pictures. You’re a wonderful photographer and already know how to use an SLR camera. The weather is gorgeous now where you are (not so much here).

      In your heart, you know which creative endeavor you want to pursue. If it’s writing, then write. If it’s art, keep doing art. The photography is a way to spend time outside with your family and . . . pay attention.

  4. I think this is a marvelous goal and you know I’ll enjoy following along! But why were you in hospital? Sending you lots of positive energy through the universe for 2017! Hugs, hugs, e

    • I don’t know if I want to call paying attention and writing it down a goal, or a practice, as much as part of daily life, though because it requires moving aside some time, I’ll call it a project even though that sounds too clinical.

      I’ll send you an email with the hospital stuff. xo

  5. I, too, glance up as soon as I hear honks–from geese…or cars. It’s a good word, wonder. I had chosen “defiance” as my 2017 word right after the first week in November. But while that certainly will be an accurate description of many of my projects in 2017, I decided that it wasn’t nourishing enough for my own soul. Instead, I have chosen a new year’s intention of mindfulness. I think “wonder” feels similar to me. And so I’m on this journey, too. Thanks for “whining” because you always make me laugh and appreciate that you’d take the time to express your thoughts. I hope you are healing and that your year is wonder-filled.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.