The New World, Again

by Jeff Oaks

One of the ways we know we’re alive is by making resolutions. The dead don’t do it. They have no reason to change. Like the vast majority of politicians, they are what they are. They don’t think; therefore they are not. (Although how they manage to haunt so many people and make guest appearances on so many cable-related ghost-hunting shows is beyond me.)

It’s possible we have to make resolutions in order to live. We resolve after so much dissolving, after undergoing the depression-inducing losses of daylight in December, the draining kin-work of two or three holidays, the awful mall crowds, the terrors of wrapping and gift-giving, the fears of bankruptcy for months afterward. It might be a survival mechanism to say, I must change my life. Resolutions mean we want to live, that we still have direction, hope. It might be a way to reassert our weird individual selves in the face of so much pressure to be constantly inoffensive, which requires one has only generalized feelings, simplified good or evil/right or wrong imaginations, as well as frequent and ridiculous outrages about trifles as well as numbing silences about big problems. Resolutions might be a way of re-organizing a frightened self so it can reach out and engage with others, with a new way to see itself.

We will eat more fruits and vegetables and less, much, much less processed food.

We will make more dinners and sit down together at the table and talk instead of using GrubHub to get dinner delivered, and then eat said dinner out of plastic containers on separate TV tables while watching said TV and texting friends simultaneously.

We will watch less TV and read more books.

We will be online less and read more books and newspapers and magazines.

We will stop reading on our iPads at night before going to bed so we can sleep better.

We will stop saying yes to every request so we can sleep better.

We will work out more, drink more water, watch our weight. And guard our basic bodily responsibilities better.

We will save money for trips instead of wasting it on cigarettes or fast food or cafe au laits we could just as easily make at home.

We will save money for trips instead of spending it on impulse technology like Apple and Amazon and drive-throughs.

We will take buses more and the cars less.

We will lessen our exposure to distraction, debt, and depression.

We will click on fewer stupid headlines like The Ten Things Every Man Should Know About Women.

We will not comment on articles until we’ve actually read and thought about them for 24 hours.

We will not waste our energies on trolls online, at work, or in our families.

We will not believe any video clip is without a politics or that every poster knows about snopes.com.

We will not donate to what we don’t really care about. We will donate more to what we do.

We’ll be more charitable with our time if not our money.

And if the “will” in these resolutions so far is too hard to commit to, then resolve in a different mode:

We can resolve to learn to see doubt as a check and a balance on the brain’s executive functions and not act like a miniature version of our current stalled government. And its fears and cautions don’t have to keep us from taking executive action.

We might resolve not to take everything any voice or actual person personally.

We could might resolve not to dismiss any thing that happens just because it doesn’t happen to us personally.

We could resolve to listen better, without defending ourselves.

We can resolve to ask ourselves seriously what we’re afraid of when we find ourselves defending rather than listening.

We can resolve to study more science, psychology, sociology, anthropology, literature and art so that our interior lives are given the fullest range of human choice, voice, form.

Maybe this can be the year we will begin fewer sentences with “I feel that..” when what we mean is “It’s a fact that…” and we’re just trying not to hurt someone’s feelings.

We will finally find a good therapist. We will leave the situations we dread and resolve to search out alternatives.

We can resolve to find friends we can talk to regularly. We can resolve to find new friends if the old friends are only able to vent about their own problems.

We resolve to read more books by people who don’t look like us, who are from distant countries, or who lived more than a hundred years ago.

We resolve not to rely only on family and friends who can sabotage growth sometimes and to seek out unbiased advice.

We can even stop writing out resolutions in the form of simple sentences and embrace the complex, the compound, the compound-complex.

We can resolve to try to stop solving everything with simple sentences.

We resolve to commit to practicing some art-discipline, even if it’s only writing a pangram every day, even if it seems silly or useless for days on end, because one day an unexpected question might appear out of the zaniness and jerk you back awake.

We can resolve to ask the creatures we’re afraid of in our dreams for their true names. We can resolve to believe each one of them wants to be noticed. Each one is trying to protect its own dream of you.

It’s a new year, why not be plural with the strange instead of crowded with the same?

We can resolve to trust the strange, to travel, to read, to walk somewhere new.

We can resolve to head toward what we don’t know yet. Inside or outside of us.

With liberty and justice. We can resolve to not see those two things as separate.

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