I went to the big box store early yesterday morning. It’s never the most inspiring place, but a week beyond Christmas it is especially bruising. Discounted poinsettias sit drooping behind 99 cent wrapping paper and stale candy canes. The W store was a depressing way to end the year, but I had to buy canned beans. At my house we eat black-eye peas on New Year’s Day. It’s a southern tradition and though I’m hardly southern, my grandmother was from Texas and in the panhandle black-eye peas bring good luck. We eat cornbread and green salsa with our peas and my mother always makes us swallow at least as many peas as we are old (a lot for me this year). We don’t make a ‘best-of’ list or share resolutions, but we always eat our peas.
The black-eye pea is actually a bean once reserved for cattle and sheep. On his way to burn Georgia, General Sherman left the “slave’s field peas” to grow and the beans fed the Confederate South. Black-eye peas are sometimes called mogette – the French word for nun because their black center looks a bit like a nun’s habit. The black-eye marks the spot where they were attached to the pod – the only evidence of the vivid purple flower that preceded the pea. It’s seems right that we might eat a simple legume for luck – a food once thought fit only for the most hungry.
As I paid for my peas, the checker asked me if I was planning to make any New Year’s resolutions. I smiled and shook my head. For years I have made writing resolutions – to write every day or every week or maybe just every month. I ate twenty and then thirty and then more black-eye peas hoping for luck and good writing fortune, but New Year’s resolutions seem too trite to hold. I need habits and deadlines. So a year ago, my colleagues and I created our own deadlines. The blog has held me accountable (more or less!). Every three weeks I force myself to write something that I let the world see. I have to finish a draft, find an ending, sit with an idea. It’s a good exercise and the first ‘resolution’ I think I’ve ever managed to keep – a lucky break.
No less than four of my cousins posted black-eye pea stories on-line this morning. Though we’re scatted around the country, we’ll all be eating our comfort food today – hoping for luck and connection to our distant southern roots. For me it’s a reminder to take stock and make plans. Maybe it’s a chance to recommit to habits and deadlines – okay, to resolve – to another year of writing and teaching and thinking. It’s a chance to plan on another year of being challenged by my students and my colleagues, of trying to work it out with words, of finding some small space to write. It’s not luck: it’s a gut check. Happy New Year!