…A throwback to 20/Infinityyyyy!
The blog I used to have, 20/Infinity, was dedicated to the theme of time travel: I imagined having a time machine and the ability to travel back in time and change past events in order to adjust the present or the future; the title was a reference to infinite hindsight. It was a good blog while it lasted. And since this is New Year’s Eve, a time when we look back on the past, I thought that I had two options: either I could recount the events of 2016 (he says with a shudder), or I could re-post one of my essays from an old blog. And even though I agree with Cat Jones and others that 2016 was not the worst year on record — 2014 was so much shittier for me, I can’t even express it — I’d rather not rehash it right now.
So instead, here is one of the very first blogs I ever wrote, almost ten years ago today; explaining in greater detail how I feel about New Year’s Resolutions. My favorite thing about this one? The phrase “rut jump.” And it’s fun to see how I nerded out to words with two u’s together.
Enjoy! Happy New Year!
Happy new year! Tak a cup o’kindness, fer the sake of auld lang syne. Gather round and watch the Bowl Games. Drink champagne, watch the ball drop, kiss someone you love at midnight.
I hope that everyone got a chance to do any or all of those things on the last night of 2007, and the first day of 2008. But I also hope that nobody made a New Year’s Resolution. In fact, that will be my first use of the time machine: I will flirt with paradox and play footsie with the space-time continuum (How cool is it that there are words that have two u’s together? Continuum! Vacuum!) by going back to the same day, over and over and over again, doubling and trebling and quadrupling myself in order to catch everyone I can on New Year’s Eve, so that I can try to convince everyone: don’t.
Don’t promise to lose weight. Don’t swear off alcohol or cigarettes or chocolate. Don’t make that champagne-infused oath to be a nicer person, to be a meaner person, to work harder, to work less, to find a lover or to lose a dozen. That is, make any, all of those promises — just don’t do it on December 31.
The New Year is one of the more artificial demarcations there is — right up there with Leap Year and Daylight Savings Time. The old year vanishes, and there is a clean slate! We start fresh! Yeah, right: you go to sleep under a cloudy/rainy/snowy/sleety sky, and wake up under the same. The nights are still long, the days are still short; the air is still cold. Public school students are (generally speaking) returning to school still in the first semester, or halfway through the second trimester; university students are only halfway through their winter break. If you were 38 when 2007 ended, you are 38 when 2008 begins (Unless January 1 is your birthday, but that puts you into a different category. So siddown, nitpicker.). Tell me, please, other than your calendar (16-month calendars are hereby discounted — vile heresies they are.), what changes between December 31 and January 1?
When you make a life-changing resolution, when you decide that things are going to be different, it needs to feel like it. You need to feel as though things really are different, as though you have changed and now you are seeing the world through different eyes: now you are a non-smoker! An exerciser! A teetotaler! Things should not feel just as they did the night before — and a January 1 champagne hangover is not enough of a shift in perception. If you make a change in your basic daily routine, then the day after you make that change needs to be a new day — otherwise you will not feel the change, and as countless diet industry millionaires can attest, if you do not feel the change, you will not change. You may change for a little while, but slowly you will shift back into your former routine.
Life is a rut in the road. Most of the time, we run along in our little ruts, moving forward, pretty much content, occasionally jumping up to get a glimpse of what is outside the rut. Sometimes, when we decide we no longer enjoy this particular rut, we can try to jump out of the rut; this is what a resolution is, a rut jump. But if all you do is jump to the top of the rut and keep running along the edge of the same old rut, sooner or later you’re going to ooze right back in, and be right back where you started — probably just in time for New Year’s Eve, 2008, and a brand new, though equally futile, champagne-fueled guilt-charged rut jump. To get out of your rut and stay out, you have to find a new rut.
What this means is just that you have to change yourself before you can change your habits, and to change yourself takes real willpower. You have to want to be different, because if you don’t really want to be different, you’re not going to change. It seems so obvious, but vast self-improvement industries have been built on resolution recidivism, the tendency to change one’s life without really changing one’s self, an attempt that is almost always doomed to be repeated, over and over again, at great personal and financial cost.
If you want to change, then don’t wait for a new calendar. Change when the time feels right to you. Listen to your own will, your own heart and mind. Take that day, whatever day it is that you wake up feeling like a new person, and count from there; that is the beginning of your New Year, of your year as the person you want to be. The day that you choose, for yourself, is always more meaningful than the one that is chosen for you. Want proof? Think of the difference between Valentine’s Day, the artificially chosen Day To Prove Your Love (also known as Hallmark Day, also known as Day the Catholic Church Wanted to Take Away From Pagans Who Had Yet Another Fertility Festival That Week [cf. Roman feast of Lupercal and read the description from Plutarch], also known as Day To Be Jealous Of All the Kids With More Cards In Their Construction Paper Letter Box Than You, Those Jerkfaces) and your anniversary. Which day seems more precious? Which has more thought behind it, the heart-shaped box of chocolates or the anniversary gift? When do you feel a greater difference in your world view, on February 15 — or the day after your wedding night?
If you are one of those people who actually feel a difference between December 31 of one year and January 1 of the next, then please: ignore what I have said. Hold up a hand for silence, and point me back to my time machine: a New Year’s Resolution is perfectly valid for you. If your birthday falls on the first day of the New Year, then perhaps you, like millions of others, feel a real difference on the morning when your age officially rolls over to the next number; you, too, are free to resolve to change with the coming of the new year of your life. But for the rest of you, forget the New Year. Celebrate it, sure; reminisce about the old year, look forward to the new year. But don’t expect to change yourself as easily as you change the calendar. Pick your own first day, and look forward to your own chosen anniversary.
And by the way: if you picked February 14 as your wedding day, you need to get a life.