In a simplistic mood, it's easy to divide people into two groups. There are the introverts and the extroverts. There are what I call "yes" people and "no" people: people who say yes to life's wayward invitations and people who politely decline. There are also people who make resolutions--like me, and people who don't-- like my husband Bill and my daughter. It's true that the New Year is an arbitrary marker for resolving to live differently. My daughter, Veronica, sensibly says "If it's not broken, don't fix it. If it's broken, don't wait until January first to fix it." While this makes sense to me, I like the arbitrariness of it; in the midst of holiday busy-ness, the invitation to reflect is welcome.
This year two of my resolutions are rebellions. First, I'm going to rebel against a culture that's become obsessed with speed, perhaps because many of us begin our day wishing that our computer would boot up more quickly. In a social context, I see this obsession most frequently on the roads and in public spaces like shopping malls where we really don't care whether we cut off the little old lady with the walker--after all, she's too slow for modern life anyway--because we've got to save thirty seconds. I'm also going to be a cooperative driver, trying to make the roads a little more civil. After all, why does moving through one's day need to become some kind of Darwinian test?
Along with my friend Jeanne Shami, I'm going to try to spend more time pursuing my own purposes--teaching and writing, nurturing my family and friends, knitting and quilting--rather than reacting to institutional and social pressures which often turn out to be false alarms. I'm chosing this rebellion because I think society as a whole has become too reactive--answering voicemail, email, texts, rather than being driven by purposes that we've thought about and believe to be good.
I'm going to give up multi-tasking. My friend and psychologist Katherine Arbuthnott says we don't multi-task very well as a species. Research also suggests that the people who multi-task most do it the worst. My version of multi-tasking usually involves doing one thing while worrying about not having time to do the next 5 things. I'll think about my priorities (while my computer is booting up and installing updates), make myself a list and just get on with doing the first thing on that list.
This fall was a frantic, sleepless nightmare. I need to return to living with joy and purpose. In the winter term, I want my students to write better, to think more critically about the historical moment and its relationship to literature, culture and society. What better, more joyful way to spend one's time?
My, my. I do sound like an old fart, don't I? Sometimes it's important, though, to embrace your inner old fart and resist a culture's unthinking reactions to circumstances, many of which are created by the available technology or someone else's priorities.
Then when my sabbatical begins this summer, I'll make a whole new set of resolutions. Who needs to wait for January?