The Year End Book

My collage for 2009

One of my favorite rituals of the year is my ritual of review. I reserve the time between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve as a time of reflection on the year past. (I share this ritual through my 12 Days of Christmas class and also a book I’ve put together that contains the ideas below and much more.)

I go over my records of the past year (my journals, my planners, the photos I’ve taken, my financial records) to get a sense of the year. My journals contain dreams, writing logs, kvetches, reviews of books read, and new ideas, all neatly indexed at the back of each notebook, so this is not as onerous a task it might be. I developed this indexing system to make this process easier. I make top ten lists, print financial reports, look for an image or title that describes the year (I’m currently playing around with the idea that it has been the Year of Hiding).

I know other people use different systems for conducting a year-end review. Chris Guillebeau uses metrics and a spreadsheet. (I love his system!). Several of my Facebook friends are currently posting their Status clouds (I get nervous when a FB application says it’s going to access all my information, including the names of my friends, so I haven’t tried this yet). I think you could come up with something similar on your own (just pull out the status reports you like, put them in a block with adjusted spacing and wing-dings between entries, and add some decorative elements).

I like to end up with something concrete, something that can symbolize the year. One year I invited all of my friends to a creativity party and asked them to bring something that symbolized the year past. People brought poems and collages, paintings and sculptures; one woman did an interpretive dance! It was pretty amazing and entertaining.

Last year I found a software program that helped me create a gorgeous little book that’s like a love letter to my year. I’ve been dancing a happy dance in my brain all year, just anticipating the pleasure of making another one this year.

The software is called BookSmart and I found it at a web site called Blurb. You download the software to your computer and use it to create your book. It does have a learning curve; it’s not terribly user friendly but it is intuitive. Basically you get your choice of different templates and you can pull your photos and text into them. It reminds me a little of the old design program we used to use to create The Beltane Papers. You choose templates (you can use a different one for every page) from the top left of the screen. You can also upload your pictures to a bar on the left and then just drag them into the screen.

This screen shot shows two sample pages from last year’s book. (if you click on it, you can see a larger version.) At the bottom of the page you can see the thumbnails of other pages in the book. That yellow triangle with the exclamation point is trying to tell me one of my pictures isn’t of high enough resolution to reproduce well. I just ignored it because this wasn’t for professional purposes, just for my own entertainment.

Of course, you could create your own book using a design program that you know well and then turn it into a PDF and then send it to a print-on-demand company like Lulu. I used them happily to publish my Slow Time book. But the advantage with BookSmart is that they’ve come up with a design template that is ideal for arty little books. The disadvantage is that they’re a little more pricey (per book) than other print-on-demand companies but since I’m only using them to make one precious, glossy, pretty copy for me, that doesn’t bother me. There are also options that allow you to share your book with your friends online, for instance, via Facebook.

I hope whatever rituals you employ to reflect upon and summarize your year are satisfying.

Waverly Fitzgerald is a writer, teacher and dancer. She founded School of the Seasons, edits Living in Season and is the author of Slow Time: Recovering the Natural Rhythm of Life.

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Review: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

The Sound of a Wild Snail EatingThe Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

The most soothing book I’ve ever read. It moves at a snail’s pace. Small in size, lyrical in language, precise in observation, delicate in articulation.

The author, Elizabeth Tova Bailey, is bedridden due to a mysterious auto-immune disease. A friend bringers her a flowerpot containing a wild violet from the nearby woods, and along with the plant, a snail. Bailey watches the snail and becomes fascinated by its journeys. Up and down the pot to sip the water that collects in the saucer. She figures out what to feed it (in the most dramatic moments of the book, the snail gluts on cornmeal and almost dies) and eventually moves it to a terrarium (a refurbished aquarium) where it settles in a lays eggs. The snail is mostly silent, although in the night, Bailey sometimes hears the tiny rasping sound of it eating. Bailey begins reading about snails and as she expands her knowledge of her quiet companion, her world begins to expand. By the end of the book she has recovered enough to move home and the snail and all 138 baby snails have been released in the woods from which the snail came.

But the true magic of this book is not that the snail healed the woman or that the woman recovered, but rather that loving attention to the smallest creature can open up a world of marvels. I felt refreshed after reading this book (which I read at an un-snail-like pace straight through in two hours) and also as if life had simultaneously slowed down and expanded.

Favorite Quote:

Inches from my bed and from each other stood the terrarium and a clock. While life in the terrarium flourished, time ticked away its seconds. But the relationship between time and the snail confused me. The snail would make its way through the terrarium while the hand of the clock barely moved—so I often thought the snail traveled faster than time. Then, absorbed in snail watching, I‘d find that time had flown by, unnoticed.

If you would like to hear a wild snail eating, Elizabeth Tova Bailey published a mp3 recording done by Lang Elliott and Marla Coppolino at her web site

You can also watch a slide slow which includes video of the snail in the terrarium.

I also published this review at Goodreads

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