It is late in the Christmas season when we finally put up our tree; late to most people but really only the third week of Advent — Gaudete Sunday. On January 1, while the majority of trees are being returned to boxes in the basement or hauled to the curb, ours lingers a quiet twinkly beacon of Christmas. With a wild pack of boys still running underfoot most days, I am reluctant to decorate with glass ornaments so our tree is graced with plastic ones, candy canes and construction paper. There is a beauty in its meagerness — a spare witness to Christmas joy.

Spare simplicity is my hope. One day, when all the children have grown up and moved away, when my husband and I are alone, I will be able to clear out the piles of accumulated stuff from the corners of my home: clothes, books, broken toys, papers, plastic sippy cups, half-completed projects abandoned, nerf darts.

Last time I finished a 365 photo project, I swore it would be the last. Instead of spending so much energy searching for the day’s photo, I would take that time to develop a more complex body of work. I began the studies in abstracts, multiple exposure and blur. Removing the discipline of the daily photo exercise, however, didn’t lead to more time for complex projects, it led to no projects. Without the urgency of a daily goal to be checked off, things tended to slide to “tomorrow.” Tomorrow had it’s own set of problems that took all of tomorrow’s time. Photographing anything quickly degraded to photographing nothing.

So here I am, doing another 365. This time I’m pairing it with writing however to try and improve my skills. 365 photos (or actually since it’s a leap year, 366) and an essay every week — 52 themes.

That’s just such an American thing to do, though, isn’t it? The articles start trickling in around the beginning of December — “5 Things Every Super-Productive and Crazy-Creative Does While You are Still Sleeping You Pathetic Slob!” Outrageous click-bait titles scream at you from every social media outlet, TV and grocery check-out lane. By New Year’s Day the roar is absolutely deafening.

Escaping from “efficiency” and “productivity” and “one word for the year” sent me back to “what’s your creative project for the year?” Thoughts like that always make me a little sad. I don’t own my time — there are many demands on it from people who have a legitimate right to demand it: children, spouse, students. So the goal is really to use what I have not with an eye to cold efficiency or maximum productivity but with joy and love. Without love, it’s all noise.