Thursday, December 31, 2015
“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.”
If you are like most folks you are probably considering your New Year’s Resolutions. You’ve got until midnight to declare your intentions. No pressure. Can you recall when you started making resolutions? Were you in college, high school, or the third grade? You probably made some resolutions because your parents made them. Mom wanted to quit smoking or Dad wanted to finally clean up his den.
Resolutions have been around a long time, and although nobody has proved it yet, I bet they popped up with the earliest agrarian societies, maybe even before. As far as records go, it is said that the ancient Babylonians were some of the earliest people on this mudball to make resolutions at the onset of the New Year. They did so, it is believed, to honor their gods by paying off their debts and returning their neighbors belongings. The Ancient Romans made promises to Janus so that he could absolve them of the previous year’s sins.
When I was in my teens, my resolutions were all about improving my down-the-line backhand and getting more zip on my second serve. Even to grow a few more inches. That’s long behind me now. Thank goodness. At least, I think it is. So maybe tennis has become a sideline for me, a way to blow off some steam on weekends. While I’m no longer gunning for Wimbledon anymore, my resolutions have kept the same germ. Mine are about goals. Smaller ones perhaps, but I’ve never been the type of person who is looking to shed: weight, smoking, gambling. I’ve got my fair of vices, but as I lope into the New Year I think of starting fresh, doing instead of denying.
I list places I’d like to visit, books I’m planning to read, journals I’m targeting to publish work. I also try to procrastinate less. This is one of those vices that has clung to me like a chummy barnacle. We’ve been living a symbiotic relationship for who knows how long. Benny Franklin said be at war with your vices. I say be chums.
When we make a formal resolution, we are said to be determined to follow a course of action with intended purpose. This word comes to us from Middle English (about 1350 – 1400). Merriam-Webster’s definition (a) states that it’s the act or analysis of a complex notion into a simpler one, and though this is not quite the specific definition we are homing in on when we make our annual pledge, I think this aspect nicely underscores the goal, which is to make our lives better, more focused.
Being a writer, I also cannot help thinking of the story definition of resolution which is the abatement of conflict. Some epiphany is achieved and the central tension has dissipated. While this is a great notion, the fact is that the New Year’s Resolution, in all likelihood will create gobs of tension. You’ve thrown down the gauntlet and are trying to change traits or characteristics that have been natural to you that have made you who you are for probably umpteen years if not longer.
No matter how hard it might be we still want to take another crack at our perceived shortcomings, and why not.
I remember a conversation my parents had when I was a kid, about seven if memory serves me correctly. Mom and Dad enjoyed their sparkling wine. I sipped my Canada Dry. The room still redolent of pine needles. We never got rid of the tree until after the Epiphany, Ukrainian Christmas. Mom kept pressing my Dad to share his resolutions with her, and, after a couple of flutes of sparkling wine, he finally did. “I plan to do next year what I didn’t get around to this.” He flashed her his smirky grin, and I remember liking the glibness of that response— its understated sagacity.
I’d like to think there’s a bit of that in me when I claw away at new things on the horizon: Underworld by Don DeLillo, the town of Chablis, and yes, publications in Narrative and Agni. I’m also hellbent on unearthing a real Trilobite fossil. No, keep the shovel. Can you lend me a small awl and a toothbrush? This requires a soft touch and patience.
Happy New You!