The pristine nature of a fresh calendar is not unlike the allure of an April field before tillage. So much potential, so many hopes, such endless possibilities. And so our minds slide effortlessly into the thought-track of what wonderful new things could be. Or better yet, what a wonderful new thing we could be.
I recall having that exact same feeling each new quarter in college. In fact, I secretly rejoiced that my school gave me three fresh starts a year, unlike the inferior—albeit spring-break-maximizing—semester system. Each of those 12 scholastic at-bats began with the bracing conviction that not only was I not behind yet, but there was still time to trash old habits and reinvent my student persona into a winner.
This charming bit of self-deception has now become my most abiding habit. All I need, it seems clear, are a few articulate resolutions on Jan. 1 to ensure my development into a higher life form. And yes, I do make them every year.
For example, 17 years ago I resolved to submit a humor article to Farm Journal just to see what happened. Urged on by an ag journalist friend who was trying to keep a straight face, I scribbled three essays and mailed them in.
Time passed. I felt a slight sense of disappointment for the first few weeks. Then, around June, I received a check(!) and a letter asking for more. I later discovered that this constitutes a pretty snappy response in the publishing biz. We work at a different pace than other industries. (This article, for example, was written in 2007.)
And the rest, as we say, is history. I mention this because, to the best of my remembrance, it is my most successful resolution to date. As in gambling, it takes only one modest jackpot to keep you at the table, so my annual promise-making continues despite a completion percentage lower than Mike Phipps’ (no relation).
The remarkable truth is that I still honestly believe I can change. It’s not like I make outlandish resolutions like losing 3 lb. or picking up my socks. I keep to the ones that are possible: stubbing at least 50% of the checks I write when I actually write them, for example, or checking the oil in Jan’s car every year. But somehow the New Year always starts before I do, and, as often as not, by 7 a.m. on Jan. 1 my list is already decimated.
Still, the urge for self-improvement frolics hand-in-hand with the power of self-delusion. The secret, perhaps, is to scale back even further my admittedly modest goals of years past. So for 2011, you can count these resolutions (after some judicial editing, of course) as slam dunks:
- I will not make noises, such as sighing, grunting or moaning, when sitting down or rising.
I will seriously consider a new hairstyle. (Whoa—crazy talk!)
- I will deposit and report all the odd little checks below $600 that don’t come with a 1099 tattletale.
- I will wash my coffee cup at the office and clean the bathroom in the shop.
- I will remember my anniversary, June 12 or 19 or ...
- I will stop telling wildly exaggerated stories to my grandson. (This does not preclude enhancements that are necessary for plot development, of course.)
- I will volunteer for a committee at my church.
- Except the membership committee.
- And the board of trustees.
- I will faithfully meet all of my writing deadlines at least one full week/day/hour in advance.
- I will tell the truth about my flossing to my dentist.
- I will not check my e-mail during my speeches.
I will stop using "retained earnings" as the category of last resort when making ledger entries I don’t understand.
- I will stop trying to use "dude" in conversations with my son Aaron.
If it is true that the path to perdition is paved with principled promises, I have built a thoroughfare of breathtaking dimensions. But from my estimate of the probable route, with a little luck it will take me several decades to get around the traffic at Atlanta.