The blank page, like the New Year, always seems so promising, full of possibility and goals and mental assurances that THIS will be the year one definitely learns Spanish. But also like the blank page, there is a certain anxiety about the New Year, a little cricket-like voice in the corner who says it just isn’t going to happen, that nothing can possibly happen that might fill the available space or replace the emptiness with something of meaning. Which is why so few people probably bother with writing or expecting anything from a year, especially on the almost entirely arbitrary day as New Year’s Day. Alas, I have both compulsions and then the matching compulsion of evaluating the results. So here we are after a few years absence, looking back at the past and thinking about the future.
I try to set goals for every year with explicit targets because once I read on the Internet that that was the key to success. Let me tell you, it isn’t. There is plenty of advice, also on the Internet because who reads the paper these days, on successful New Year’s Resolutions. Much of that advice says just don’t do it because you’re a loser and you aren’t going to change that in the coming year. The Internet is mostly filled with melancholy cynics and frauds though. Still, the slightly OCD neurotic in me likes to update my spreadsheets that I have developed over the years and see my progress update in the progress columns. Unfortunately, in 2018, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about what I wanted my goals to be and so mostly, they were an abysmal failure. I’m ok with that given my inattention to setting them and then consequential inattention in achieving them. But for the record, my noncommittal, numbers based goals in 2018 were:
- Spanish (120 hours)
- Writing (26 documents, artifacts, letters, essays, books, etc)
- Exercise (180 days, essentially every other day)
- Books (18, 1.5 a month)
- Movies watched (12)
Noble expectations all. Let’s start with the bad and move to the good. I worked on Spanish approximately 2 days out of 365 and since I didn’t spend all 24 hours those days on learning that particular Romantic language, it was essentially a zero. This was largely a conscious decision as my allotted time for both Spanish and reading books is limited by my time on the train. This isn’t entirely true but many times, extenuating circumstances like exhaustion or a couple of cocktails make it true. I really wanted to read more in 2018 and it quickly became apparent that I had to choose one or the other so Spanish got short shrift.
Movies: I didn’t watch a single one unless you count Fletch which I got sucked into one night in December when I was shutting off the TV and saw it running on HBO. Fletch is so awesome that it almost seems like 12 movies in one but still, this column is ending the year as a failure. I really like to watch movies when I do it but I never choose to do it intentionally. Also, it seems like most movies today, like most TV series, are designed to be anxiety inducing and I just prefer to skip those genres.
Writing: The 26 was chosen because that’s one thing every other week and seems totally doable when one starts setting goals. I did 11 so maybe it wasn’t so doable. The year ended with a flourish as I wrote 3 essays on these pages but mostly, I ignored it.
Exercise: 180 was chosen because that’s every other day. Science is starting to say that people who exercise between 120 and 150 minutes a week are much healthier and so I thought if I did 30-45 minutes every other day, I’d be good. Instead, I skipped almost the entire summer except for the 6 weeks in the height of July heat when we only had 1 car and I was riding my bike to the train station. Doing that resulted in 106 days of exercise or about 60% of the goal. I also track the minutes per week and ended up averaging 83 minutes per week. Those numbers seem mediocre but they are a massive increase over 2017 which had the same goals so maybe there is something to this goal setting stuff. Still, I ended the year in the worst shape of my life and running 2 miles yesterday felt like death. Much work to do here.
Books: The only real success (and it’s because I was totally focused on it for 2018) was the reading category and I finished with 18 books read. It would have been a great deal more as I had 9 read by 5/7/2018 and seemed ready to blow the goal out of the water. Then I started Metaphysics As A Guide To Morals which took over 4 months of steady reading to complete. It was worth it as I feel snobbishly smarter now but it also showed me that my concentration levels and ability to read philosophy has been seriously compromised by the lack of practice and ever present interruptions that I choose to allow into my life (looking at you Twitter and where I work). The webpage linked about goals above says if you link goals, you are more successful and you’d think if I had just written about the books I was reading, I could have hit that goal too but I managed to totally derail the science and divorce the goals from each other.
The books I did read were (in chronological order):
- The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch Wonderful book by Murdoch (you’ll see soon that 2018 was the year of Iris Murdoch for me). Her character development and stories are compelling.
- What I Talk About When I Talk About Running This was an audio book that I listened to while working out in the mornings. Great book for seeing what an obsessional focus can accomplish for anyone.
- Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom Compares the two men’s approach to fascism and the War.
- One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel García Márquez’ masterpiece of magical realism. He died in 2014 and this book made it onto my list. Took me 4 years to get there but a wonderful book that probably requires a reread with better focus.
- A Life Well Played Arnold Palmer’s final book on his life. I wrote about it in these pages.
- The Irony of American History Reinhold Niebuhr’s book on our country’s ironic existence, our inability to come to terms with our place in the world and the implications. This book definitely should have spawned some writing but didn’t. One of the downsides of reading on the train versus in a quiet corner at home is the difficulty of making notes and then following up on them.
- Drop Dead Healthy Jacobs is a neurotic but it makes for amusing books.
- Louis Brandeis: American Prophet Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows I strongly believe we have neglected our anti-trust beginnings and history by allowing companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook to grow to proportions that give them inordinate control over our lives. Brandeis was the forefather in America of these thoughts and this book gives a good overview of his life and academic and judicial reasonings.
- The Moviegoer One of Walker Percy’s best novels centered around our anxiety producing lives with their existential dread and alienation.
- Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals. The aforementioned philosophy book by Iris Murdoch who looks at our culture and belief system in an age that is increasingly secular and without the moral anchors of God and religion. It examines the main philosophical schools of her time, structuralism and existentialism, finds them lacking and returns to her personal beliefs in Plato and his philosophy where The Good is the key driver for happiness and moral behavior. A fascinating book for those who struggle with these same things.
- In A Narrow Grave Larry McMurtry’s book of essays on culture, his books, his family and a variety of other topics. Wonderful writing about Texas and its literary history. I could read John Graves and McMurtry over and over again.
- Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born An examination of the Jamaican genesis for Ian Fleming’s Bond. I wrote about it briefly in my Turks And Caicos review. Worth reading both for the history of Bond and for Fleming’s ambivalent interactions with a changing colonial world that has slight implications for America as she possibly begins to extract herself from wars around the world.
- The Man Within Graham Greene’s first novel.
- Dead Solid Perfect Dan Jenkins vulgar, hilarious novel about the PGA tour in its middle years. I loved it but I’m a golf nerd.
- The White Album Joan Didion’s book of essays. Incisive and wonderful, I love Didion’s writing.
- The Bell Murdoch’s first novel on religion and the struggle of the modern world with increasing secularism.
- The Fire Next Time Basically a book length essay by the premier chronicler of the Civil Rights movement. Baldwin is hard for white people to read but if more of us did so, perhaps this country would be better off.
- The Italian Girl Another Murdoch novel.
I’m pleased with that list and other than the very clear focus on Murdoch, it’s a wide array of topics, fashions and styles.
So what to expect from 2019? I’m bumping my books goal to 24. I actually have less reading time these days because my train ride has been cut by 75% but because the time itself is unchanged, I think I can achieve this by reading more at home, more in the mornings and at lunches.
Writing goal will remain the same at 26. Spanish is going away this year as I realize it just doesn’t seem to fit into my schedule. Exercise goals will remain the same and I’m hoping to find a race or event that will be an overall motivator for the daily goal of getting back into shape. I’m also dropping movies from the list. It’s clear they aren’t really a priority.
I’m going to try and do 6 woodworking projects. I know of 3 already on the list so this bar may be too low but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
On the ambiguous “resolutions not goals” side of things which probably immediately dooms it, I plan to spend less time on the activities that prevent me from living a well-examined life. The main culprits here are drinking and Twitter. Looking back at 2018, I can’t possibly even estimate how much time was wasted on those two things that could have been used instead to achieve things worth writing about here. They are both the simple carb that immediately pleases the lizard areas of my brain but provide no long-term benefits and probably actively destroy things that are good and useful.
This examination of 2018 hasn’t even begun to touch my Bullet Journal and the topics there like vacations and time spent with family. Suffice it to say, 2018 was tumultuous but good for the Bim family and if we could only sell that goofy Oak Cliff house, 2019 would be off to a fantastic start.