Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

Rise from bed.                                       6:00              a.m.
Dumbbell exercise and wall scaling         6:15- 6:30     "
Study electricity etc.                               7:15-8:15      "
Work                                                     8:30-4:30     p.m.
Baseball and sports                                4:30-5          "
Practice elocution, poise, and
     how to attain it                                  5:00-6:00      "
Study needed inventions                         7:00-9:00      "

This is a heart-breaking passage found in the late pages of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.  The schedule is written on the back flyleaf of Hopalong Cassidy and found by Gatsby's estranged father after Gatsby's death; it's proof that Gatsby had the self-discipline to be great.  I often think of that passage toward New Year's, convinced that if I could just find the right schedule, I could be more productive.  But of course, there's no room for eating, trips to the loo, or a genial conversation with colleagues or students or lovers or partners.  There's no room for the accidents of life from which we learn so much.  
Twenty-seven percent of us do not make New Year's resolutions.  Here are my husband Bill's non-resolutions:

Resolutions: The flotsam of the year end brings to mind the choice to reflect on a life. My life, the lives of friends, the still life of words not spoken or dances not unwrapped. I choose not to make resolutions. I tend to dissolve into a puddle of anticipation.

I anticipate: love, being with someone in anger and hearing their voice, potential to be part of change for the better, being mindful of what my body needs, challenging those I love to challenge themselves and rise up from complacency, accept head spinning laughter and deep sadness as part of being human, not tolerating bullying by peers or anyone in a position of power or authority, making a difference by being me, breathing, accepting rigid ideas as the walls some choose to hide behind, recognizing all of my gifts, abide with Roger (that makes sense from a prior post- trust me, his life is very important), accepting that mistakes happen as I learn, beginning each day by being curious.

Quite a puddle ;)

Of course, if 27% don't make resolutions, that meant that 73% of us do.  Given our failure rate (I can see the failure rate in the drop in visits to the U of R FLC by the end of February), why do we do this?  The "On Fiction" blog suggests that the time between Christmas and New Year's prompts us to tell stories about our life:  about the past year and about the future we'd like to create.  I like to think of New Year's as a kind of tune-up of my life choices; it's an admittedly arbitrary time to consider what's working, what's satisfying, and to think about changing what I'm finding frustrating or unsatisfying.  I've made some really practical resolutions in the past, like never letting my cheque register get out of date, that I've kept for years.  Other resolutions, like changing the way I eat and the way I use my time, I need to revisit every year.  But I don't completely backslide.  Several years ago, I decided to stop worrying about whether I would have enough time to do everything I needed to do.  Because worrying it multi-tasking, and human brains don't do that very well; each time we switch tasks, there's a drop in productivity and energy.  So I'd make a list of priorities and simply work at them one at a time.  I'm still doing this, though I continue to feel as if there's always something else that I could have done.  That's what I'm giving up this year:  my dissatisfaction with how many (or how few) hours in the day there are.  I'm going to try to be more mindful about being at peace inside those limitations.  That, of course, makes me think about what's really important to me.  Guitar practice or appliquing a quilt I've been working on for several years?  I'll go with my gut, rather than trying to over-think it.  And perhaps I'll take Thoreau's advice about time as well as about things:  "Simplify! Simplify!"  And in the meantime, I'll remember that it takes about eight weeks to change a behaviour, so I won't simply throw up my hands and tell myself what a failure I am.

Craig and Mark Kielburger, the founders of the Canada-wide "We Day," made a great suggestion in last Monday's Globe and Mail.  Rather than making our resolutions about ourselves and then feeling a failure because we can't keep them, why don't we resolve to take some opportunities to help others.  Here's what they said:

"This year, consider resolving to make more socially conscious choices. Little ones and big ones. Often or occasionally. Instead of a better you, try aiming – modestly or boldly – for a better world, starting with you.

"Sounds intimidating? Try this: Choose organic meat or eggs next time you shop. Just one time and already you’re healthier, the animals are happier, and the environment is cleaner. Or turn down the thermostat and throw on an extra layer to compensate. You’ve saved money, fought climate change and made Grandma happy because you’re wearing the sweater she made.

"The more you do, the better you feel, and the more resolutions you keep.
"Otherwise, it’s the same as any other resolution: Start small, with concrete first steps, and gather your own momentum. The joy you feel from helping others – a scientifically proven rush of endorphins equal to vigorous exercise known as the “helper’s high” – feeds your next action, until you’re happier, healthier and “better” in whatever way you want to define it." 
I think we need to make some resolutions as a culture, though the various "Occupy" movements began this process for us.  But I'm a bit baffled:  how do we decide as a culture that change is necessary?  And how do we get ourselves moving in the same direction?  Perhaps that questions answers itself (and to some degree was answered by the de-centralized structure of the Occupy movement):  in a democracy, you don't worry about going in the same direction.  But we do need, at this historical moment, to think about going in some direction.  The status quo doesn't cut it.  I can think of two huge things we need to call into question.  First, that the good life is only available for some and that it involves lots of money and power.  Let's make 2012 the year of people who are creative and helpful in small ways.  Second, I'd like to change the way the political process now works and the vacuum in leadership that it produces.  Because everybody is worried primarily about getting re-elected, they're not thinking about providing leadership on the huge questions that face us:  social justice and the opportunity to live peaceful, productive lives for those who are marginalized, and the justice for the planet that supports us all.
Time Magazine made 2011 the year of the protester, analyzing the protests in Arab countries, continuing by exploring the situation of people living in Europe and Russia, ending with a discussion of the North American "Occupy" movement.  I'm going to do a riff on this observation.  Let's make 2012 the year we all protest in varying ways.  Call your MP or MLA about upcoming legislation.  Sign a Lead Now petition.  Refuse to submit to your need for the latest cool whatever. Volunteer and spend the year on "helper's high."  Or ask for help when you need it, rather than suggesting that we all need to be self-sufficient, self-made people, like Jay Gatsby.  Refuse to believe that someone who is different from you--someone whose sexual orientation is different, who lives with mental illness, whose values or circumstances are profoundly different--is "other."  If 73% of people think they need to consider their values and habits, perhaps whole cultures need to engage in asking questions about what matters. 


  1. Act, live a full life, contmplate the cost of our good life . . . be present with the 'other' around us. Great words to live by. Oh yes, and simplify. Thanks for the insight, as always.

  2. Very nice article, thanks for more information. reviewworldinspire