I usually wait until October to make my New Year's resolutions. There is a good reason: after all, how much could I possibly change in 90 days?
So when it turns out that I've turned out not to be slender, prolific, soft-spoken, adept at walking in four-inch heels, magnificently self-possessed, fluent in Italian, absurdly wealthy, with three books currently on the bestseller list, and often compared with photos of the young Jacqueline Kennedy, no one is surprised.
Of course, I'm unpleased. I would settle for one-tenth of one of the above.
And yet, there are big payoffs for very low standards. My chagrin is in direct proportion to my achievements. Don't get me wrong. I do not lack in steadfastness. For one whole year, gin did not pass my lips. (This was true of the previous 50 years as well.) And just last year, while I never went public with my vow to stop devoting so many hours to mastering the balalaika, I did manage to stop myself.
Truth is, unless you know The Secret, (or, like Rhonda Byrne, you wrote The Secret, which must have taken some real resolve) one needs extraordinary will — and sometimes extraordinary medication — to stick to resolutions. Usually, the old year rolls rather slumpishly into the new year, sort of like an old pillow, but a little fatter. (Don't get me started.)
Suffice it to say, if I had a nickel for every New Year's resolution I've kept, I'd have four cents.
So why do we do it? As Robert Frost wrote, "Something there is that doesn't love a wall" — be it a wall between ourselves and another, or a wall between ourselves and the selves of our dreams. And so, like marriage, childbirth and 401(k) plans, we continue to hope, and promise, and try. To be human is to resolve the irresolvable.
Still, at this point in our lives, although we're not old, we've seen enough auld lang syne to take a pass on absurdity. So let's not be the ones who, on New Year's Eve, decide:
1. That's it! You heard it here! I've had my last cocktail ever! Maybe a beer, at a picnic …
2. Imagine all those years I spent $5 a day on lattes. I just got a home milk foamer, and it was only $79!
3. OK. It's 12:03 a.m. and I am officially a nonsmoker!
4. Next year, when I pull up my shirt, friends, you will see a six pack just like Hugh Jackman's!
5. No more airport fiction! Every book I read this year is going to be a classic! Leo, Ernest, Virginia, Fyodor. Was it Fyodor? Or was it Theodore? Or Vladimir?
6. I'm getting organized. My sweaters will be color-coded. By this time next year, every photograph is going to have a caption, and be in an album devoted to that year, with the year inscribed on the binding, on the bookshelf in date order.
(This resolution is common among those who found rolls of film from their wedding as they were putting together the poster board for their son's high school graduation party.)
7. I'm going to write a novel! It's just a matter of making time. A novel is 300 pages. You write a page every day, and you still get nearly two months off!
8. When my in-laws call, I'm just going to let it go over to voice mail. No more acid indigestion.
9. I'll never nag my kid again. I'm not going to nag him to write down his appointment for ACT prep. He misses prep, he doesn't get into NHS. He doesn't get into NHS, he doesn't get a scholarship … uh, has anybody seen my cellphone?
10. I am so over rehabbing losers and commitment-phobes! Next time I say, "oh, he's not really like that when you get to know him," hit me? OK? Hit me!
11. You get older, you need to work on keeping hand and eye sharp. My juggling instructor is amazing. We begin with tomatoes and work up to bowling pins.
12. I've started meditating. I'm such a beginner. My friend Anne took it up during her divorce. She couldn't last five minutes. But now she can completely empty her mind of everything except her mantra — "Lizzy Borden took an ax …"
13. I bought that four-minute exercise machine. It was $7,000. But it's only four minutes a day, every day, including Thanksgiving. Maybe eight minutes on Thanksgiving.
14. I'm starting my Ph.D. in Eastern philosophy.
15. When I saw Jennifer Grey on Dancing with the Stars, I said, "Me. A beautiful woman. And the Paso Doble."
16. Singing lessons. By the time of the wedding, I'll be able to sing the theme from Titanic when my daughter walks down the aisle.
17. I'm going to start packing light. You wear the blazer on the plane. Two sets of underwear, a sweatshirt and tights for work and to use for pajamas and lip balm … that's it!
18. Quilting. First, I'll use the theme of the NHL. No, a separate quilt for every hockey team. Then, major traditions of architecture. Then Broadway …
19. Oil painting like Bob Ross. Happy little trees.
20. Surfing. Lots of guys in their 60s are surfers.
But there's one resolution that, difficult as it is to keep some days, is well worth the candle, and bears repeating:
21. There's an old saying — "to love another person is to see the face of God." Let's actually stick to that one, and remember it once at day, at the very least.
See you next year, at my wedding to Hugh Jackman.
Also of interest: Starting life over after age 50. >>
Jacquelyn Mitchard, the best-selling author of 20 books, lives near Madison, Wis., with her family. Her most recent novel, Second Nature: A Love Story, was published in September by Random House.