Ah, January. The eggnog is gone, the presents are in use, the undecorated tree is waiting by the curb to be hauled away. Situated pleasantly apart from the mania that begins with Halloween and decelerates with Christmas, this first month of the year seems so peaceful, so serene.
So what do we do with this nice new month in the nice new year? Saddle it with Great Expectations, that’s what. Even though fresh starts seem to fit a lot better with autumn’s advent of a new school year, too many of us park ourselves at the kitchen table with a cup of black coffee, still nursing the New Year’s hangover, to compose yet another list of blindly optimistic resolutions.
I know, I’ve done it, far too many times. I even save these lists, in a file folder labeled, with great creativity, “Lists.” It’s a pretty thick file, because I’ve never limited myself to making grand compilations of Things To Do only on the first of the year. But it’s the January lists that are so hard to resist.
So what’s wrong with New Year’s resolutions? Let me count the ways. (Note: Embarrassing as it is to admit, all quotes are from actual lists in my file.)
- It’s hard to change course in the winter. It’s snowy, it’s cold, it’s hard enough to keep slogging between home and work, let alone make plans to “lose five pounds,” as my lists too often suggested. That I was trying to go from 97 to 92 pounds is a topic for another day.
- Resolutions accentuate the negative. Rare is the bullet point that calls for pleasant things. All too common are the grim vows to “Study for GREs,” “Patch jeans,” “Pay bills,” “Call about overdue books,” “Pick lettuce,” “Organize all my letters to Mom,” “Write, organize, & type thesis,” “Get an apartment,” and that perennial command, “Find job.” Where should I start? They all sound so fun!
- Many intentions are too large to begin, let alone finish, in one lifetime. Consider, for instance, “Raise bank balance,” “Organize time,” “Get some exercise,” “Sort through and store my things,” “Talk with people.” Really. Talk with people? Which people? How often? About what?
- Others are too nit-pickingly small, such as, “Xerox House Beautiful article,” “Color hair,” “Buy new soap dish,” “Write to Denny – Led Zeppelin ticket.” Easily achieved, but not the stuff of dreams.
- Some are simply ridiculous, e.g. “Write to Rolling Stone about Led Zeppelin symbols,” (I sense a trend here), “Move pockets on trench coat,” (only my mom could do that), “Express and freeze milk,” (use your imagination), “Sunbathe” (might as well say “Get skin cancer”).
- Many resolutions are just too pushy. I tend to be like that – my third grade teacher wrote on my report card, “Tends to be bossy” – but these directives from the sanctity of the New Year list are really annoying. “Eat well”! “Budget money for important things”! “Read Great Books”! “Practice flute, guitar”! Do this! Do that! I mean, really. In my spare time? Before I get a job? After I sunbathe?
- Too many of them require the acquisition of skills that can take decades. Among the scores of things I promised to learn were “Drive stick shift,” “Ride horses,” “Play piano,” “Fix tires on bike,” “Bind books,” “Dive,” and “Learn to crochet.” Sadly, one list tallied the skills I already possessed, many since forgotten, including “Embroider” and “Play flute.” Guess I should have heeded those commands to “Practice”!
- Once in a great while, I gave myself a break, resolving to do something pleasant, like “Clean less” (being my mother’s daughter, that could be a problem) and “Walk Zooey to Green, tie on rope & read.” Zooey was my Labrador retriever, and the Green was a park near my grad school apartment. Did I do that? Highly doubtful.
- Others are a complete mystery to me. Take, for example, “Sell bike and Volvo.” I’ve had lots of bikes in my life, but a Volvo? Really? Then there’s “Sew two latchhook pillows.” I do remember making one of these, when I was on bed rest in the hospital trying not to have my second baby too soon. My roommate taught me how. I was desperately bored.
- If you’re not careful, a list of New Year’s resolutions becomes a bucket list, a compilation of everything you hope to do before, well, you kick the bucket. Everybody knows you can’t do them all in one year, and yet the allure of planning can be hard to resist. I found one such list, dating from my early 20’s, that included all of the following: “See Nureyev dance; See Michelangelo’s David and Rodin’s Burghers of Calais; Ride a horse on a beach at sunrise; Go to Alaska; Learn to play ‘Moonlight Sonata’ on the piano; Raise a child; Condition my body into superb form (I told you this was embarrassing); Learn to water ski; Publish a book.” I can say with great relief that I’ve done a few of these, while some no longer hold any interest for me. (Water ski? Tried, failed, forgot to let go of the rope.) The prospect of raising a child seemed, at the time, highly unlikely, yet now I’ve done it, twice, and it’s been amazing. Others, I’m still looking forward to, but with much more confidence than on that long ago day when I committed them to paper. Publish a book? I believe I will. Go to Alaska? It’s the only state my husband hasn’t been to. Next summer? You bet.