I Resolve to be Irresolute!

Happy New Year, folks! Have you taken stock of the past year? Made your resolutions for 2011? It seems like almost everywhere I look and listen – TV, newspaper, magazines, blogs – everyone is resolving to eat better, exercise more, volunteer more, learn more, save more, read more. More, more, more and better, better, better.

So here is a radical, practically un-American admission: I don’t make resolutions for the new year. I just don’t. I’m just not a resolution kind of gal.

In fact, the last time I made official New Year’s resolutions, I was 13, in the full throes of puberty and adolescent angst. Of course I wanted to be a better person; what young teenager doesn’t? I wanted to feel good about myself at a time when I usually felt ugly and on the fringes of everything normal (again, what young teenager doesn’t feel this way, at least some of the time?). It seemed the only way to turn things around was to embark on a whole regime of self-improving actions.

I made several resolutions, ostensibly to help me become that “better person” I imagined I could be if only I tried hard enough. Not only did I write them down in order to formalize them and give them more authority over me, I also read my list into the microphone of my coolest Christmas gift, a tape recorder (in 1976, this was not quite iPad-cool, but it was still pretty cutting edge for me). I think I figured that hearing my own voice reminding me of my intentions would make them take hold. I’d play it back and listen again and again, like I was trying to brainwash myself. God, I sounded so earnest!

I won’t enumerate that recorded list, still seared in my brain, and still completely humiliating to recall all these years later. Let’s just say it had to do with having bad skin, bad habits, and a bad self-image. The truth is, beneath my desire to do better/look better/feel better was an undercurrent of everything I truly was, and everything I wasn’t and couldn’t be (yet). My list of resolutions turned out to be a cruel, self-inflicted reminder that I simply wasn’t good enough.

Oh, I made other tapes, too – recorded stories, interviewed my mother and sisters, fake commercials with my girlfriends. In fact, I had a lot of fun with that tape recorder. But every time I put in a tape to play it back, I was afraid others would hear my list of resolutions, as if that one private, condemning litany of my horrible-ness would suddenly, spontaneously come out of the little built-in speaker for all to hear.

I don’t know what ever happened to that tape. I don’t remember throwing it away or recording over it, despite my anxiety of anyone else ever hearing it. It simply vanished. And I can assure you that I broke every single one of those heartfelt resolutions. The whole exercise turned me off to making New Year’s resolutions altogether (and cured me of ever being so revealing on tape).

Listen, I understand the desire to be one’s highest and best self, and perhaps formal resolutions can help toward that end. And I totally get the idea of a “clean slate” that a new year seems to offer, at least symbolically. But it’s become such a commercialized cultural occurrence, this expectation that we all, collectively, must strive to improve ourselves starting with the first day of the new year.

We are encouraged, urged, prodded, and yes, expected to want to better ourselves, and to have the need to start on January 1. The last week of December, virtually every media outlet comes at us with “the best resolutions,” “the 10 most popular resolutions,” “the most realistic resolutions,” and “how to keep your resolutions.” It’s an awful lot of pressure, isn’t it?

And why that particular day? Why not reassess and make changes on the first day of spring, a natural time of renewal? Or on your birthday, another natural, and more personal, turning point. Or really, on any day when you finally say, “time for a change.”

Folks, I’m opting out. Or rather, I did a long time ago and I’m finally saying it out loud.

I’m not saying there’s no room for improvement. I’m eating better now because we finally finished all the Christmas cookies. I’m exercising because I ate way too many of those Christmas cookies. I’m more organized because, once we shoved the old Christmas tree out the door, I’m in the mood to keep shoveling out all the neglected corners and closets. These aren’t resolutions. This is just me getting back on track.

So whether you aspire to be a better person (whatever that means to you), or whether you’re getting back on your own personal track, I wish you a new year filled with health, happiness, and a good bit of fun!

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