03 January 2008

You Say You Want a Resolution

We light up our resolutions on New Year’s Eve as if they were sparklers. In their sputtering fires we write large with light against the nighttime sky. But the words don’t last, and we’re left with a truly disgusting-looking burnt-out stick of wire that stings to the touch.

Well you know, we all wanna change the world, but this is a lousy way to go about it.

Last year, my resolution was single and, I thought, apt: 2007 was going to be the Year of the Big Idea. It may yet turn out to be. Some time around spring I got an idea for a project that still seems promising. But it’s 2008 already, the Big Idea of 2007 is still only a project, and I find myself on the market for new resolutions.

I thought I’d be crafty this year, by resolving to do things at which I’d proven successful in the past. As no less an authority named Aristotle once said, “Anything that has been done must be considered possible and indeed probable.” Furthermore, hoping to avoid catastrophe, I focused on physical improvements, rather than confronting my bad character. This was a timely resolution, since the entire nation of France has resolved to give up smoking, at least in public. In similar fashion, therefore, I resolved to get back into shape, in every way. And then I caught a cold. Far from going to the gym, I can’t even bring myself to get a haircut.

I learned that it is no good resolving to follow a low-fat, mostly vegetarian diet when you made an enormous pot of boeuf bourgignon on December 30 and you are (here the bad character pops up) too cheap to throw out the leftovers, which are sufficient to feed a family of four for at least a couple more days.

I also have learned that you can’t dodge your character, in this business of making resolutions, and that is at once the most valuable, lasting, and depressing lesson. In this sense, our resolutions are not sparklers but cigarettes: we light them, we get a little rush, and then we get a foul butt and a filthy ashtray, and the prospect of lingering painful illness. For of course I tell myself that if I were possessed of a character more staunch, I would have kept all my resolutions for at least a few weeks. I have proven myself wrong, and I am stuck with myself.

I would like to resolve to make no more resolutions, but I know I would not keep it. For life keeps giving us opportunities to make more resolutions! Every time I fly home from a vacation, or even a business trip, I sit on the plane and make out ambitious lists of projects and goals that I fully intend to accomplish. And then jetlag sets in.

I better free my mind instead.

No — that’s another resolution. Dammit.