Thursday, January 1, 2009

Random Thoughts on Resolutions

For more than two decades, my wife and I have lived in a wonderfully secluded neighborhood. All the neighbors know each other and we are seldom bothered by outsiders. The downside to this bucolic serenity is that the service sectors of the county and municipal governments don’t take much notice of us either. We are technically under the jurisdiction of Prince George’s County but literally surrounded by the City of Bowie, which has annexed every new subdivision built around us. This puts us in a bit of a no man’s land.

So last fall (2007), when I saw some bright ground level signs in the neighborhood indicating that county trucks would be coming by to vacuum any fall foliage raked up and piled to the curb, I was skeptical to say the least. For two decades I had gone through the arduous task of gathering and stuffing leaves into non-environmentally friendly plastic bags to be hauled to the county landfill. But skepticism notwithstanding when the signs went up in 2007, I decided to pile the leaves onto the curb. And lo and behold, I was not disappointed. The trucks came, albeit a few weeks later than promised. So when the signs went up again this past fall, I expected pretty much the same.

Well, it’s New Year’s Day 2009 and the leaves are still at the curb. To be precise, many of them have blown back into the yard. I am not a happy camper. The irony is that I never really expected this service in the first place. I would have been much happier if they never promised anything than for them to promise and not deliver.

It reminds me a little of New Year’s Resolutions: made with the best of intentions and even kept for a period of time, but they don’t last very long. That’s one reason I don’t make resolutions or certainly don’t announce my intentions publicly. Out of curiosity I Googled “New Years Resolutions” and got several hits listing some of the most popular resolutions. Most of them were predictable, and my feelings about their otherwise noble aspirations are decidedly mixed. For example:

1. Exercise: I can always do better, but I can’t say I am doing badly in the area of physical fitness. Weather permitting, I enjoy running (Indoor treadmills drive me insane.). I ought to spend a little more time doing some anaerobic and upper body exercises in the gym, but that isn’t much fun. The advantage of outdoor running is that, however far you run, you have to run the same distance back. With treadmills and fitness equipment, you can quit anytime you like, and chances are you will sooner rather than later. As I said, I can do better, but the running is somewhat enjoyable and it keeps me from turning into a blimp, which leads me to the next typical resolution.

2. Lose Weight or Improve Diet: One of the most popular (and most ridiculous) diets is the Atkins diet, which consists of a delusional deprivation of carbohydrates. I am Italian for crying out loud, which means that you might as well shoot me before you try to deprive me of bread or pasta. About five years ago I was a corpulent 200 pounds before I went on an extended regimen of eating less and exercising more, which brought my weight down to a respectable 180. I have since nudged back up to a comfortable 190, which is overweight according to most medical charts, but I am pretty comfortable. So as long as I don’t get too comfortable, losing weight is not high on my list either.

3. Drink Less Alcohol: That ain’t gonna happen! Not that I imbibe alcohol in great quantities, but I do have a beverage of choice: any food-friendly Italian red wine, such as a Barbera d’Alba from the north, a decent Chianti from Tuscany, a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from the heel of Italy, or a good Sicilian Nero d’Avola. I generally limit myself to a glass a day, usually in conjunction with a good meal (See my comments on “Lose Weight or Improve Diet”.) It’s one of life’s little pleasures that I fully intend to enjoy as long as I can limit the quantities to current levels. Besides, I am told that red wine in those quantities is actually good for you.

4. Quit Smoking: Thankfully, this is something I have never had to consider. I’ve abhorred tobacco ever since I was a kid and mercilessly berated my parents for their smoking habits. For a very brief period as a teenager I hypocritically sneaked a few puffs, perhaps out of curiosity as to why they were so attracted to nicotine. And of course in my college days I did a few tokes of the illegal stuff, but mercifully all that is behind me now. Actually, I can’t think of anything I ought or would even like to quit doing (negative resolutions), though I am deliberately not thinking too hard lest I actually think of something I should give up. Now as for positive things I ought to start doing, that’s another matter.

5. Get Out of Debt or Save Money: With utter gratefulness and a healthy dose of humility I can happily report that I am not in debt. I pay off my credit cards every month, my home equity line of credit balance is at zero, and I am within striking distance of paying off my mortgage. I could probably stand to save more money. If I have any resolution at all in this area, it is to stay on pace to pay off my mortgage this year and then start saving money hand over fist and never have to borrow money for anything again. I think people everywhere are starting to realize that the credit-crazy consumerism that has sustained our economic growth (particularly in the housing market, but really all across the economy) has been a house of cards that was bound to come crashing down. It will be difficult as the economy adjusts to people doing what they should have been doing all along (living within their means), but in the long run we will be much better off both individually and as a nation.

6 Take a Class or Learn Something New: When I was in my mid forties with two decades under my belt as a government bureaucrat, I began to realize that my brains were turning to jelly. Gone were my youthful high school and college days when this geek could pick up and memorize facts and figures and they would stick to me like belly-button lint. I realized I needed to do something to stretch and challenge the noggin. Because I had always had a knack for foreign languages, one year I decided to try to learn Russian. That didn’t last too long! A couple years ago I took two semesters of basic accounting because (1) the course content was somewhat related to my job and (2) I again felt like I needed to stretch my brain. I actually enjoyed the courses and did well in them, but I have since forgotten all but the basics. I guess I am at an age where the “use it or lose it” principle kicks in with a vengeance. When I consider the things I used to master and have utterly forgotten, and the things I have never learned or studied in the first place, I realize anew how pathetically ignorant and unlearned I am. So I have “kinda sort of” told myself that I want to do a lot more reading, learn some new things and even re-learn some old things.

7. Do Volunteer Work or Help Others: Hmmm, this one is interesting. I suppose I do some stuff along these lines within a church context, but I have often been intrigued and inspired by folks who do regular and consistent volunteer work, especially at the local community level. I might need to think about this one.

8. Spend More Time with Family & Friends: Late last year I resumed communication with a cousin with whom I have had little or no contact over the past two decades, We hooked up again… via the blogosphere! Isn’t that all too typical these days? In an email exchange, we both lamented how our schedules and individual situations have caused so many in our family to lose contact, and we only see each other at weddings and funerals. In a terrible irony, I got to see her very recently at the funeral of her 24 year old daughter, whose life was tragically taken in an auto accident. The tribute she wrote for her daughter is well worth reading. It was a poignant reminder of how life is so fragile and precious, and all the more reason why this should be a year-round resolution.
9. Get Organized: Maybe if I gave this one some serious thought I would have more time to work on numbers six, seven and eight!
10. Enjoy Life More: Truth be told, and all of the above notwithstanding, I’m already having a blast.

In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t precisely made any new resolutions this year, though I have acknowledged some areas where I can stand to do better and, Lord willing, I will. But I won’t repeat the mistake of the Prince George’s County government by posting brightly colored signs in the form of actual promises or resolutions. That way if I don’t come through, no one will be terribly disappointed, least of all me.

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