I assume that by now – mid-January – most of us have already forgotten/disregarded/discarded the resolutions we all made just three weeks ago.
My own sorry track record when it comes to resolutions was underscored during a recent “hoe-down” (this is what we call a cleaning/sorting binge in my family), when I stumbled across a quotidian and deeply sad document, scribbled on the back of a menu for a restaurant that has long been out of business.
I remember the New Years Eve, eleven years ago, when my husband and I (along with two of our daughters) shared a modest dinner and hastily jotted down our resolutions on the back of the takeaway menu.
I will only comment on my own promises to myself, made in 2010, although a quick glance at the others’ resolutions confirms this sad truth:
None of us kept them.
More important and depressing than that, however, is the deeply ordinary content of these promises that I was not inclined — or able — to keep:
Call a friend a day
Get more sleep
Kickstart the writing
Weight goal (circled) 115
Nope. Nope. Noppity no.
Here’s where I’m supposed to say that — it’s OK. And even if I don’t think it’s really that OK that I can’t even pick up the phone to call on rotation the few friends I still have — I can’t do much about those things I have left undone, other than to try not to make empty promises to myself in the future.
That HAS to be OK.
And so this year I resolved — not to resolve.
Whew! One less thing to fail at!
I really LOVE this recent story in The Atlantic, written by Amanda Mull. In it, she describes her father’s seemingly effortless ability to start — and stop — long-standing habits. One day he started running, and he has run every day for decades.
On another day, he decided to stop smoking (after 20 years of smoking), and he did. Boom. “I never looked back,” he said.
I have decided to hide behind the scholarship quoted in this article, which states that, basically — this ability to habit-form (known as ‘trait self-control’) is more or less baked in, and the ability to override these traits is more or less out of reach.
What a relief.
On a recent visit with my brother, he claimed to have stopped smoking abruptly and instantly. Our father made the same claim: after 40 years of chain smoking hand-rolled unfiltered down-to-the-nub cigarettes — he stopped overnight.
Maybe these men got the trait self-control genes, but I sincerely doubt it, given that I come from a long line of creative layabouts who also happen to be practiced truth-stretchers.
And anyway — stopping a bad habit might be easier than taking up a new, good habit, especially one that requires exertion (such as picking up the phone).
Which brings me to Woody Guthrie. My friend the musician Joe Newberry (@joenewberry) shared this photo of Woody Guthrie’s 1943 “New Years Rulin’s” on Twitter, and I find it absolutely enchanting.
What I like about this document is … everything. It is playful and basically provides a commentary on the utility and utter uselessness of New Years Rulin’s.
My personal favorite of Guthrie’s resolutions is #19:
Keep Hoping Machine Running
That’s a resolution I can really get behind.
[Running down the fascinating rabbit hole that of complicated and legendary artist Woody Guthrie, I came across this wonderful documentary produced by the BBC in 1988. It is absolutely worth watching.]
Railey Jane Savage’s JUNK FOOD: Stuff I Consume to Feel Better
Fury Road, or There and Back Again
“Every New Year’s Day we are encouraged to reassess our goals and priorities for the year to come. We are given the opportunity to pivot and reorient through our tabula rasa resolutions to perhaps, this time, resolve to become the people we’ve always wanted to be.
I saw Mad Max: Fury Road the night it came out in 2015. I was rapt throughout, but then bad-mouthed the movie all the way home. “It’s a two-hour car chase that ends where it started!” I shouted to my people, smug that I had stripped George Miller’s masterpiece to its core with one pithy dig.
To sum up the plot of Fury Road: It’s a two-hour car chase that ends where it started. Imperator Furiosa begrudgingly teams up with Max Rockatansky in search of a mythical ‘Green Place’ in their scorched, post-apocalyptic world. SPOILER ALERT: The Green Place no longer exists. So upon reaching their intended destination and finding it wanting — they grieve, and then pivot, and then return from whence they came to re/claim the space; the only way forward is back.
What seemed to me (at the time) to be a lazy, hemmed-in plot, has become one of my all-time favorite story arcs. A fierce woman tries to change her situation, encounters crushing disappointment, then reevaluates; she stops running and resolves to take up space where she is – to be at home in her home.
You’ll have surmised by now, dear readers, that I spend a lot of time ruminating and analyzing my thoughts and feelings. And historically I have, more often than not, used this analysis to impose distance between who I am, and who I want to be. It felt easier to wish that my brain worked differently and then beat myself up about it, than to embrace the chemistry I was born with.
I’ve spent a lot of years looking for something outside myself to make me feel at home.
About five years ago, though, I made a shift. A pivot. I resolved to stop spending my time working against my momentum, and instead embrace my noggin for all its glorious imperfections. I stopped trying to run from myself. SPOILER ALERT: I made this commitment to myself while sipping Furiosa Mimosas and watching Fury Road on New Year’s Eve.
And on January 1st I woke up resolved to be my own Green Place.
(RJ Savage is the author of: A Century of Swindles, now available from Lyons Press)
LAURA LIKES: Where my friend Laura recommends great stuff:
“Every year, I think "I have got to get better at keeping track of what is in this kitchen," since I'm one of those people who actually rotates their canned goods and spices, and I'm eternally finding things I'd forgotten about, or which look a bit like something else (lookin' at you, flour, rice flour, and potato flour). My resolution for 2021 was to keep a labelmaker handy specifically for the pantry. I already keep virtually everything in glass...such are the realities of life when you are surrounded by farmland, and various critters are desperate for food and warmth. I just needed a more consistent way to keep track of it all instead of just telling myself I'd remember.
Full disclosure: I did not purchase this fancy labelmaker. I won it in a raffle. I actually used an old-school rotary Dymo labelmaker for labeling things before this. This one is frankly nicer than I need...I don't need to have italic lettering and scrolled borders. I just need to know what's in the darn jars I use for storing grains and anything that might seem appealing to the occasional befuddled mouse.
It fits really nicely in my kitchen junk drawer. Oh, look, that's where that big peppermint stick I bought for making peppermint bark disappeared to. I wondered where that had gone.
Anyway, if you keep it right by the place you sort out your groceries, it's easy to just whip out an adhesive label and you're good to go.
It's a little thing, and honestly a pretty easy resolution to keep if you can just remember to buy the tape stuff that goes in the labelmaker. Sometimes just deciding to do something different is enough, when it comes to organization. It's also helpful to have things labeled like this so you can occasionally peek in the pantry and realize "huh, maybe I don't really need four different kinds of corn meal. I seem to have fine-ground, medium-ground, coarse-ground, and stone-ground. Were we on a cornbread kick? Did I commit to making polenta for 60 people? What was that all about?" I find that it helps me stop overbuying things I'm really not going to use very often.
In my case, this resolution turned out to be just a little thing that helps me feel like I know what I'm doing when it comes to stocking up on food. It was a good resolution, last year, one I obviously kept, and to me, that's really the key to resolutions -- if they fill a real need, they're not so tough to keep.”
EMILY MASON’S Targeted Upsell: What the Internet wants me to buy:
“I have just discovered VocApp, the language tool available in the app store!
(The logo is…terrifying!)
With this handy little free download, users can learn Spanish, German, or English.
From push notifications!
You know, those things that buzz on your phone? The ones that tell you when you’ve got a coupon? Or give you an update about your app?
(…. The ones you have to dig around in the app settings for ten minutes to turn off?)
Users of Vocapp get a word of the day and a daily sentence example and…something else maybe? It’s not clear.
Why Am I seeing this?
It’s a whole new year, a whole new me! At least, the internet seems to think so; I’ve been positively bombarded with about a million different products for self-improvement.
Did they sell me?
I think learning a language is a most worthy goal ( sorry — I mean: un objectif des plus louables), and I’m impressed with anyone who even attempts it, let alone masters a new language.
But this is — how you say? “CRAP.”
I’ll skip over the fact that they only teach Castilian Spanish with this app, which is only spoken in Spain, and that learning barely a phrase a day is ineffective at best, and that the app description is shockingly unclear about what features they offer, and the focus – the ENFOCAR, as it were – is most consistently on the price tag.
I know what you’re thinking: the app is free! Yes, that’s technically correct! However one need only skim the reviews to learn that users of VocApp have to pay a yearly subscription fee. Because of course they do.
So…users are basically paying to get bombarded with spam. But I guess it’s no problemo if it’s in another language!
I’ll skip Vocapp, and if I do want to learn a new language I’ll give Youtube a try first. Youtube is free!
I like free.”
Dear Readers — we’ve entered a new year together, and I thank you all for your “hearts” and thoughtful comments, and for recommending this newsletter, along with the weekly pricy one:
I hope we can move forward together, sharing our creative expression
And … because I like you so much, here’s a little bonus footage of my dog Molly, running in the snow.