One Word Madness

It’s that time again.

When people do a little dance with their gray matter and attempt to capture an entire year in a single word.

Okay, sometimes it’s two words.

Maybe even three.

Or a whole phrase.

But however many words are on the agenda, it always makes me tense up.

It feels reductive. Constrained.

And I can’t help wondering: is this ratcheting down of our lives just another way to give us the illusion of control?

Of course, I do get the one word madness. So please don’t take this personally if you’ve decided to encapsulate your year into one word.

I know how compelling it is to name things. An act of the inner magician. Because when we use words to access the power of naming we transform our view of ourselves and our lives. We reach for our potential, and shout it out to the world.

And hey, I’m all for that.

But one or two words? C’mon. I fail miserably when I try to describe anything in my life in one or two words. Apparently, I need a lot more than that.

Case in point: when my memory drifts back to last year, the words bump right up against the starting gate, like race horses before the bell rings. This jockey can barely contain them: love, chaos, kisses, play, grief, earth, water, waves, colors, gratitude, confusion, songs, tears, ideas, cantankerous, music, obsessions, flowers, dancing.

And one word for this unfolding year? About the best I can do is recite what I often say: Why. Not. Start. Now. Because isn’t that what we do at the dawning of a new year? We take a step. We begin.

Then life comes flying at us, with all its glorious eccentricities.

And I could probably write a thousand words about that alone. But don’t worry. I’m not going to.

Instead, I’ll tell you that I want you (and me) to have more than a few measly words. I want you to have as many as you need. A basket. A bushel. A bounty, if necessary.

So what’s it going to be for you? One word, or many?

23 thoughts on “One Word Madness

  1. Hi Patty! What an engaging post! I name my journals – yes, I know it sounds insane but it’s usually 6 months per journal and I always come up with a few to summarize that time period. But I name EVERYthing anyway, plants, my car, tools I use frequently etc. so to me its not weird at all. 2010 gets the word Renewal as a whole, perhaps Renewal WORK if I’m allowed two! My word (predictive of course) for 2011 is Debut. Details embryonic now but you’ll see!:)
    Happy New Year!

    • I never thought of naming my art journal, suZen. You do have clever ideas. I might be able to do that more easily than naming my entire year. It actually reminds me of an activity I do with clients, where we come up with chapter titles for past and future life stages. Hmm, you’ve given me something to ponder, and an idea for another post. thanks! hugs!

  2. Yes, it is difficult to reduce a life or a year or even a day or an hour into one word – and yet I have engaged in this activity more as a kind of intention or idea for the year that might shine a different light on things than in the past – so it is more a feeling that I want to infuse through the year over a means of describing it… if that makes any sense at all. So my word – is “Inspire” in all its forms. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be passionate and loving and adventuring and discovering/exploring and challenging and gracious and 8sigh* so many other things!

    I love your idea!!

    • Hi M – Yes, it does make sense. But my infernal skeptic wants to know…does it work? At the end of the year can you look back and say yes that word made that year inspirational? Forgive me if I seem to be a bit of a contrarian on this one. I suppose that’s why I need “cantankerous” as one of my words! Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Getting down to one word is certainly challenging. For me, it provides focus. I get very clear. Is this in alignment with my objective for the year? Yes, move forward. No, table it for consideration.

    It’s like a guiding light.

    • Hi Nneka – Welcome! Thanks for stopping by. Focus is definitely not one of my strong suits, so perhaps that’s why I have an aversion to this activity. But I do understand what you mean, and very much appreciate you sharing your thoughts on this.

  4. Good to read you again, Patty! Hope you had a relaxing and fulfilling break.
    I am drawn to the idea of picking a word for the year but my overthink-y and inconsistent mind revolts at the thought of being limited by it.
    I love your creative movie group idea combining your passion for stories and your talent for connecting and creating community. It encourages me to personalize more of my projects.
    Hugs to you,

    • Hi Belinda – “Overthink-y and inconsistent mind.” Well you’ve nailed me too with that one. But I’ve been thinking (overly perhaps) about that post you wrote about loving our wholeness, stains and all. To me that is the paradox of life, the bitter and the sweet, the pure acceptance of it all. So if I pick one word, let’s say “light” then I feel like something’s missing. I can guarantee my year won’t be all light but will inevitably have its share of darkness. But who ever heard of someone’s word for the year being light/dark? Thanks for stopping by and making me think!

  5. I can easily come up with ONE word [different] for the year that is yet to unfold but would have a hard time doing it for the one that’s ended. Well, it’s like everything else: we do what works for ourselves and let others do the same. 🙂
    HAPPY NEW YEAR to you and yours!

    • That made me laugh, Maryse. I could get behind the word “different” for this year. And yes, aren’t I just being awfully bossy about what works and what doesn’t? Thanks much for visiting.

  6. Hey Patty,

    You are a fantastic writer. What can I say? It’s always thougtful, thought provoking and thought expanding. The movie group sounds amazing. I’m going to check it out as I’m a huge movie buff. You may see me depending when it starts.

    I’m with you on the one word thingeys. It’s the rage and it can certainly be fun, but like you say it kinda boxes a person in – now I have to be X this year.

    My way is to just follow my enthusiasm wherever it goes. That’s what I need to spend more of my life rolling around in!

    Thanks! G.

    • Wow, G, you are working your muse magic with me by giving me all this validation. Thank you! And right now I’m playing with the image of rolling around in my enthusiasm, and I like that a lot. So free. So childlike. You’re amazing.

  7. you are a beautiful lucid writer, so glad to meet your world. We do one word at the Comfort Cafe but as intentions or focuses – mostly because so many of us seem to be ADHD! It’s like a still point to keep coming back to. And I loved seeing your art journals!

    • Hi Jennifer – Welcome, and thanks for your very kind words. Now, when you frame the word thing as an ADHD strategy, you remind me that a list with all the qualities of creatives looks an awful lot like a list of the challenges faced by people with ADHD. So maybe you’re on to something. I might be able to do one month at a time, kind of like a touchstone. But I’d still probably need more than one word!

  8. Patty,

    I must confess that I really want to do the one word challenge, but only because it is so difficult for me to say ANYTHING in just a few words. Like others, I think the challenge is meant as a reminder of intention. However, I’m struggling over which word I want to pick, so I may cheat and have more than one:~)

    I thought Jennifer’s comment was very interesting about ADHD and the value of using one word for focus. I have a good friend who has ADD and it is always a challenge for him to keep his focus on things.

    You come up with the most clever ideas for groups!!! I think this group is a wonderful idea and I like that you’re keeping it small. I think the participants will have a better chance to get to know each other and time to share:~)

    • Hi Sara – So you and me and more than a few others are struggling with the one word thing, and yes it might work as an intention or reminder. Yet, if it’s struggle, why bother? Why do we need to worry that we can’t say anything in just a few words? Perhaps that’s part of our gift? You wisely remind me of something I was pondering last month, about how we don’t need to fix ourselves. There’s something here that feels a little like “fixing,” I suppose. And frankly, I don’t want you to try to ratchet your words down. I love your words!

  9. Hi Patty,

    I get lost in your words, with each post, you wash over me like a gentle brook. Thank you for that. Ahh…

    You already know this, but I’m with you regarding the one word idea. And, you said it so well, why not a sound, a color, or a group of words? I thought of using indigo as my “color” for 2011, but, again, I don’t want to box myself in. Then, I considered using “mental nutrition” as my phrase for 2011, but I truly believe that’s just my way of life, not just for one year. (Mental Nutrition, meaning giving/showing love, respect, dignity, knowledge, and hope to others.)

    So, I’m back to just being me. Although, I do admit that I’ve grown to love Twitter because I have been wanting to develop my sense of brevity, and it’s truly helping me whittle down my ideas to the core nugget. (I digress…)

    I want to leave you on this note: I LOVE YOUR IDEA FOR A GROUP! I am so excited for you. I would join you in a heartbeat but can’t ‘process’ when more than one person is in a conversation. That said, I think this is an excellent idea and I can’t wait to see you soar with the participants. I’m sure this will be absolutely delightful. Please keep us informed, will you?

    Love to you, Patty.

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  11. Patti,
    I chose “love” for my one word this year. I’ve caught my self several times when I begin to speak, if it’s not loving, I don’t say it. I also sent cards to one person I’ve been in a conflict with just to show I have no hard feelings. In small ways I’m becoming more loving. I thing this will add up to one powerful year.
    Love the idea of your group. Fantastic!

    • Well, Tess, I have to say that you and others are making a pretty strong case for how the one word thing works. And yes, I am listening!

  12. Dear Patti,

    Last year I chose the word Focus. And I was focused. Focused on completing my 500 hour level certification to teach yoga. Focused on making memories with my husband before he deployed. Focused on my brother when his wife passed away. Focused on my sister when she lost her son in a tragic accident. Focused on my children – my oldest who moved to Spain, my youngest who moved to California. My stepdaughter who got married. My stepson who graduated high school (whew!) And finally, focused on testing for my first degree black belt.

    This year, I’m having a hard time finding one word. I thought abundance, but that doesn’t quite do it. I think I may need a few more words.

    Have a super awesome week!

    • Wow, Peggy, that’s amazing. Do you think you might have been that focused even if you’d chosen another word? I have a feeling there was no stopping you last year, no matter what word you chose.

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