I'm not much for New Year's resolutions. It's hard enough living up to the world's expectations one day at a time.
Looking a year ahead and promising to lose weight, write a novel, stop swearing and quit sniffing glue is simply setting myself up for confidence-shattering failure. But it's hard not to look back this time of year. So here's my New Year's reminder, if you will.
While attending state dinners, toga parties or Girl Scout meetings, it occasionally slips out that I write. Upon hearing this, someone will ask, "Does blogging to your mother and Canadian agoraphobics pay the bills?"
But when I tell them I write a newspaper column, their posture straightens and they give me a serious look. Perhaps it's the credibility of that label — newspaper columnist — or the tape recorder I just shoved in their face. Or the nifty little card in the brim of my fedora that says "Press."
Alas, their newfound respect vanishes when they ask their next question — "What do you write about?" — and I have no ready answer.
Truth is, I don't know the answer.
I'll tell them I write about whatever I want — and my editors just cringed. Or that I write about daily life, family, local oddities; the squirrel in my backyard, the weather or something interesting I saw while riding my bike. At least I thought it was interesting.
To this verbal dodge-and-weave the questioner tells me, "I'm sure Steve Lopez knows what he writes about."
In case you haven't noticed, I'm not a journalist (pause for gasps of disbelief). And yet, last week was the two-year anniversary of this column; 23 months longer than I thought it would last.
When I met with the editors to start this little project, I don't think even they knew what to expect each week. After a 20-minute conversation, they sent me down the hall to have my picture taken and told me to write something interesting every week until further notice.
So what is this? What qualifies as a Small Wonder? And what makes a wonder small?
It's hard to define even now. Like romance, wisdom, passion, talent and other such ephemeras, the moment you brand it — capture that firefly in a jar — it dies just a little.
So I looked through everything I've written over two years to see if I could find some common thread. I don't know if it helped.
I've written about supermarket cashiers who are too kind for those of us they serve.
The sweet, silly and frustrating things my kids do — like all kids. And the head-scratching things I do in return — like all dads.
I've written about average members of our community, hoping to show why they are so above average.
About our culture, faith, marriage, Facebook, iPhones, celebrity status, our educational system and the American Dream.
The Dodgers, the Olympics in Vancouver and bobsledders in my front yard.
Sinners, saints and secretaries. Fires in our hills and in our hearts. Religion and politics, though these tend to leave a pasty film in my mouth.
Some weeks I try to enlighten and educate, other weeks to merely entertain. And occasionally try to simply find 800 semi-coherent words to string together until I can conjure something worthwhile to tell you next week.
I write about my hammock, my barbecue, my shoes, fridge and lawn chairs.
My opinions and beliefs; my particular view of the serious and mundane.
My fears, my anxieties, my mistakes and my struggles.
In fact, it appears that I am the most frequent subject of this column, which scares me. Am I that self-absorbed? I can only pray that you somehow see yourself, your trials and triumphs, in my autobiographical ramblings. My life is a poor example, but it's the best I've got.
Every week I expect the editors to tell me, "It's over. We don't want to hear about your dead goldfish or your sadly optimistic view of life anymore."
They haven't yet. Maybe this column will finally convince them.
So, what is "Small Wonders" about? Near as I can tell, it's about people; humans like you and me trying to find some peace and beauty in a world where that can be like a game of hot potato; gleaming rays of sunshine on cloudy days.
It's about the little things in life we may not notice because we're too busy, too scared or too blind. It's about finding meaningful moments to make the living worthwhile. It's about reminding ourselves that when life gets too big, we need to wonder small.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for believing. And Happy New Year.
PATRICK CANEDAY is author of the upcoming book "Crooked Little Birdhouse." Check it out at http://www.patrickcaneday.com. He may be reached on Facebook and at email@example.com.