The Etch A Sketch of life
Dec. 27, 2010
by Ivan Raconteur

Jan. 1 is no different than any other date on the calendar. Except maybe it is.

There is no reason we can’t make a fresh start whenever we wish, but somehow, there is some psychological significance attached to the first day of the calendar year.

It is a day when we can grab the giant Etch A Sketch of life, turn it upside down, and give it a good shake.

Having done so, we are faced with a pristine new screen; a fresh, unmarked slate.

All of the tracks, mis-steps, and mistakes of the past year can be erased and forgotten.

For anyone who may have been living under a stone for the past half-century, an Etch A Sketch is a drawing toy manufactured by the Ohio Art Company.

It is a flat, hollow device with a rectangular screen and two knobs that move an internal stylus vertically or horizontally.

The toy is filled with aluminum powder which coats the screen. Moving the stylus scrapes some of the powder off of the inside surface of the screen, creating lines.

To “erase” the lines, one simply turns the device upside down and shakes it vigorously, causing a bunch of polystyrene beads to redistribute the powder on the screen.

The result is a fresh, clean surface, rather like a Minnesota meadow just after a heavy snow.

All evidence of previous activity is covered up, revealing a landscape full of new possibilities.

Life can be like that on the first day of the year.

Although we can do this any time we want, Jan. 1 is symbolic, and I suppose it is as good a time as any to take stock of our lives and prepare for the year ahead.

For many people, this means adding things to their routine, which can include starting an exercise program, eating better, or doing some of the things they have been putting off.

I guess this is OK, and I commend those who quit talking about what they want to do and just go out and do it.

However, it seems to me that the start of a new year is also a good time to get rid of some things.

It may be a time to get rid of some mental baggage that has been cluttering up our minds.

This might be an old grudge, a feeling of frustration for things we have been unable to accomplish, or guilt over things we may regret.

As much as it pains me to quote an actress (although I am sure most of them are fine people), there is a quote attributed to the Canadian-born American actress of the silent film era, Mary Pickford that fits the occasion.

She said, “If you have made mistakes, there is always another chance for you. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.”

This is a good reminder that, whatever has happened in the past, we need to get up, dust ourselves off, and keep moving ahead.

The only people who don’t make mistakes are those who don’t do anything.

Regrets won’t accomplish much, so we should learn to let them go and make room for more positive thoughts.

Instead of just adding new things to our already crowded schedules, the new year may be the time to quit some of those activities that have been soaking up our time and energy, but which have no meaning for us.

We may wish to evaluate how we have been spending our time, and dedicate the new year to focusing on those things that really matter to us.

This could be as simple as spending more time with our family or friends, or it could be more complex, such as teaching a class, volunteering for an organization we admire, or taking up a new hobby.

The start of a new year reminds us how quickly the years pass (and every one is just a bit quicker than the one before).

If something really matters to us, we shouldn’t wait another day to give it the attention it deserves.

If we make mistakes along the way, all we have to do is grab life with both hands, give it a good shake, and make a fresh start.

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