Rebranding my resolution for 2024

A resolution I set for myself at the start of the year — a goal to read at least one novel a week...
A resolution I set for myself at the start of the year — a goal to read at least one novel a week, take better care of my health, write every day, drink less, I want to say "I love you" more often to those I love and take this column in a new direction. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
2023 has been a bit of a slog, all things considered. I struggled through one of the worst depressive periods of my life, uprooted myself and moved countries, gained twenty pounds, lost a few friends, contracted Covid three times, and was bereft by the sudden death of my father a few weeks ago. (Of course, it goes without saying that my troubles and woes pale in comparison to those felt by others less fortunate around the globe. I am not so conceited as to think I have a monopoly on misfortune.)

Amidst this chaos however, I found some solace in a resolution I set for myself at the start of the year — a goal to read at least one novel a week. I have never been any good at setting new year’s resolutions; I find myself scarfing down chocolate on January 1st, I am too lazy to floss regularly, and for the life of me, I can’t stick to a good bedtime schedule. But it has been an absolute joy to rediscover my love of reading.

I have traversed many an unknown land, I have voyaged with missionaries, astronauts and manic-depressives through wild imaginings, I have plunged myself into the past and seen glimpses of the future. That is to say, I have read deeply and widely; I have been at turns enthralled and disappointed, beguiled and bored, enchanted and angered. I hope to continue this habit into 2024.

And so, let us turn to this year’s resolutions. In addition to furthering my reading, I want to take better care of my health, especially in light of my father’s recent heart attack. I want to write every day, I want to drink less, I want to say "I love you" more often to those I love. I also want to narrow the focus of this column, and take it in a new direction.

I began ‘Tinker, Tailor, Student, Spy’ almost seven years ago and have written on an eclectic potpourri of topics — veganism, the merits of YA literature, suicide prevention, meme culture, euthanasia — fairly regularly since. I’ve outlasted at least five wonderful section editors, and one long-suffering editor-in-chief. And now it’s time that I decided on a real theme for my topic; a ‘re-branding’, if you will.

I have always been passionate about travelling, although I did not leave the country until I was 19. My parents were wonderful tour guides during my childhood, ferrying the whole busy lot of us children to the sunny climes of Mangōnui in the far north, the deliciously hot sands of the aptly-named Hot Water Beach, and the surprisingly delightful sights of Invercargill. We were fortunate enough to explore many secret gems of Aotearoa — we watched glass-blowers conjure vases and globes out of hot liquid glass, we helped steer the HMS Earnslaw across Lake Wakatipu, we marvelled at the sooty lumpiness of Franz Josef. Although my parents didn’t have much money, they bundled us up in our rusty white van and made sure we truly explored our beautiful country.

But I have always been fiercely independent. To the great chagrin of my parents, I have always wanted to forge my own way — even to the point of running away from home as an 11-year-old. And so, on the cusp of 30, I find that I have spent the majority of the last decade away from home, in far-flung countries, studying, travelling, trying to improve myself. I am so very grateful to everyone who has assisted me in this journey — the Rhodes Trust, my wonderful Aunt Elly and Uncle Ken and my dear dear friends.

Sylvia Plath once wrote in The Bell Jar, "I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery — air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy’." I find that even six years living away from home, I still find living abroad to be a delightful novelty. I am still enchanted by the unknown.

And so I propose a new thematic focus for my column — a narrative that intertwines the threads of my identity as a New Zealander living abroad in Scotland. I want to write about two lands that are vastly different yet surprisingly interconnected. I want to write about the beauty of diversity, the challenges of adapting to new environments and the unbreakable bonds that connect us to our roots. I want to learn more about my father’s childhood in Glasgow, navigate lesser-known streets of Edinburgh, explore the Scottish role in the British Empire, and delve into the magic of Highland folklore. I want to confront the inevitable pangs of homesickness that come with being a global citizen.

Thank you for the countless hours you’ve spent reading the motley array of my columns over the years. Thank you for engaging with my varied (although usually strident) opinions on topics ranging from cruise ships to vaccine passports. Thank you for your letters — even the grumpy ones — and the many conversations I’ve had with you. I’ve enjoyed being challenged by your responses and queries and I look forward to writing for you, with a new focus, in 2024.

I’ll see you in the new year.

 - Jean Balchin, a former English student at the University of Otago, has finished her studies at Oxford University after being awarded a Rhodes Scholarship.