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Suszynski: A breaking into parts

These past few columns, I have been writing with a flurry of human activity around me. As I write now, it is New Year’s Eve. A hand has slipped a glass of Champagne next to me and I listen to Peter Cat Recording Co. The smooth cymbals of “Portrait of a Time” fill the room; the beginning rhythm, happy — full of promise. But this New Year’s, the song seems urgent. The bounce is dragging me by the tips of my fingers, almost in false jubilation. The lyrics, too, leading me away: “Look darling, I suggest we hurry.”

I come back to my surroundings. My Champagne glass is still close to full on the table. I have printed out a copy of the short story “What I have Been Doing Lately” by Jamaica Kincaid and it is also on the table. This story contains something useful that I am trying to extract and it has to do with the very peculiar word “resolution.”

The story begins like this: “What I have been doing lately: I was lying in bed and the doorbell rang. I ran down-stairs. Quick. I opened the door. There was no one there. I stepped outside. Either it was drizzling or there was a lot of dust in the air and the dust was damp.”



Kincaid writes in a stream-of-conscious style, as if you are the voice in her head, accompanying her on this walk: “I walked for I don’t know how long before I came up to a big body of water. I wanted to get across it but I couldn’t swim. I wanted to get across it but it would take me I didn’t know how long to build a bridge. Years passed and then one day, feeling like it, I got into my boat and rowed across.”

Both “Portrait of a Time” and Kincaid’s story have an intriguing quality of muddiness, which makes the moments of resolution even more clarifying.



Resolution most likely stems from Old French meaning: “a breaking into parts,” and also from the Latin resolutionem: “process of reducing things into simpler forms.” This is related to the past participle resolvere, “loosen.” I like these definitions better than the New Year’s resolution. I’ve never been one to keep my New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps, because I let them “loosen,” and they slip through my fingers.

My favorite moment in the Kincaid story is after she has been walking for quite some time: “I walked and I walked but I couldn’t tell if I walked a long time because my feet didn’t feel as if they would drop off. I turned around to see what I had left behind me but nothing was familiar. Instead of the straight path, I saw hills.”

Looking back always seems easier than looking forward. We often remark on the path forward, whether it is thorny, whether it is less traveled. Resolutions are a pact with the future, yet its old roots, a breaking into parts, suggests otherwise. In order to break something, one must already have a whole. Maybe, instead of making resolutions, we should break our old year into simpler forms.

In the 1540s, resolution evolved to mean “a solving” in relation to solving mathematical problems. Around the same time, resolute also emerged, “power of holding firmly:” as in, if you have solved your issues, you are resolute. The New Year’s resolution, as we know it, appeared around 1780. In the face of these new definitions, I find it funny that I don’t hold on firmly to my pledges to better myself in the new year. Instead of feeling guilty, maybe I should be solving the complex problems I have made of my life in the year past. We cannot move on without solving for x.

There are several instances in Kincaid’s story when she decides that she does not like something, and makes the resolution to change it: “I looked up and saw that the sky seemed far away and nothing I could stand on would make me able to touch it with my fingertips. I thought, If only I could get out of this, so I started to walk,” Kincaid says. “… I said, I don’t like this. I don’t want to do this anymore. And I went back to lying in bed, just before the doorbell rang.”

What have I been doing lately? The countdown is getting close. Now my glass is empty of Champagne, and so is the bottle. In order to return to the time just before the doorbell rang, I play “Portrait of a Time” again and again leading up to when the clock strikes 12.

There is a moment in the song when jazz gives way to an ambient bridge. The urgency dissipates; the music bends into a psychedelic warp, dragging you in low keys through the mud. This is the resolution. The solving of the urgency, breaking the song into its most baseline part.

Every New Year’s, instead of making resolutions, I burn a few things. On scraps of paper, I write down people I want to forget, ideas I want to move on from, mistakes, things that I should have done but did not. I need to resolve a few things and break them into their simpler parts. In its youngest definition of the word, I enter the new year resolute.


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