The following is the second in the holiday Sydney special begun last week, an in-depth and personal look at the collective questions of the moment. It’s December, a time of great responsibility. Not only are many of us feeling swamped by the expectations of the holidays (a time when family dysfunction can become a living, breathing behemoth, there to swallow us whole), but the New Year looms before us. Enter stage left: the dreaded self-reflection and ensuing resolutions that must be grappled with for the remainder of January, if not beyond, depending on a combination of personal fortitude and commitment. Add to this the pressure of having something fun to do on Dec. 31, the obligation to suddenly come up with motivation and a social life (when before Dec. 31 it was not necessarily mandatory to have either) and the results can be emotionally crippling. How, then, are we to accommodate the New Year with grace and poise, is it even possible? Read on.
Dear Sydney, how come I never keep my New Year’s resolutions? Every year I make them, and every year, I break them again. Should I just give up?–Vow Breaker
Dear VB: New Year’s is an overrated event, located at the height of our most miserable time of year. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, January means long, dark and often bleak days that are cold. Very cold. What a ridiculous time to make vows or to swear abstinence from anything, be it personality foibles or external addictions.
Why January? New Years should be June 1, right at the beginning of summer vacation. In June, I will eat less, I will exercise more, I will relax, I may even take a short vacation. This is a perfect time to shed my miserable behavior problems, and to finally, at long last, begin to work on becoming a better person. June is my month. I get a little tan, start to feel a little better about myself, like maybe I don’t look like such a staggering corpse.
In fact, with the season in mind, it makes perfect sense to change the entire calendar. June 1 should become the new New Year. Sort of like 40 is the new 30. This would make January, originally the first month of the year, the sixth, which is just fine. What difference does it make? This could be nothing but a good change. What, ultimately, is the purpose of ending every year on the sour note of Dec. 31?
Now that I have determined that New Year’s, due to no fault of my own, is located at precisely the wrong time of year, it makes much more sense why resolutions can be so difficult to keep. Observe some fairly typical New Year’s resolutions: Why can’t I stop being such a self-destructive asshole? Why can’t I just be a stronger person, better, with no bad habits? More functional. I just want to be more functional, more of the time. In fact, I’m going to start doing everything I need to do in order to achieve this goal. Not now. I don’t want to do it now. I’m going to do it in January. After Christmas, before the credit card bills start to come in. You know, during the rainy season.
Come on, this isn’t the way to go about quitting anything. It’s not as if the early morning hours of Jan. 1 contain some magical salve to promote vigilance and commitment. Sure, it’s helpful to just take the time to think about “self.” Like, hey, if I behaved a little differently, then maybe my life wouldn’t be so fucked up. It’s good to consider these things. But there is only one time to quit, one time to make change. Right now. As in, right this second, I am resolving to not be such a self-destructive asshole. Right now. I quit. Throw the cigarettes in the garbage. Stop what you’re doing and go for a walk. Quit your job. Right now. Be nice to your lover. This second. Don’t yell at your kids, starting pronto. Pay your bills on time. Right now, pay them. Walk the dog more. Go, do it. Finally make a donation to KPFA, don’t even wait for the fund drive. Just donate. Quit drinking. There is no tomorrow. The point is, if you aren’t going to change today, then what makes you think you will next week?
This is why I recommend the blanket approach. Instead of resolving to do a set of prescribed things, be a little vague. A nice way to encompass everything, without actually having to commit, is to say: “My resolution is just to do a little better this year. You know, in general.” Or: “I’m going to try and cut back on the bad stuff.” These sorts of resolutions are safe, and much more realistically achievable by mid-January. By February, when the true bleakness of winter has really begun to cut into your psyche, you can start simplifying things even further, based on your initial attempts at minimizing. Your resolution, while still remaining true to the original, can become a little more freeform: “Screw this resolution shit, I’ll be less of a self-destructive asshole later, maybe in the spring.” By leaving your resolutions open-ended, it’s possible to maintain self-confidence without actually having to accomplish your goals.
My point, Vow Breaker, is this, just because you don’t succeed in improving your life based on a drunken, midnight, midwinter assertion, doesn’t mean that you should stop trying.
Change happens in this moment, not in any other. And as for me, I’m staying up all night, May 31, 2007. First day of the New Year, and it’s just about summer time. I will be a better, more accomplished person in June. I just know it.
No question too big, too small or too off-the-wall.