I never used to be the kind of person who made New Year's resolutions. I think I thought that self-improvement was for losers, or something, or perhaps that I couldn't be improved - not that I was already perfect, but that I was so far from perfectible that it was useless even to try to work on one small thing. I stopped eating meat on the 1st of January 2006, but even that wasn't so much about self-improvement or about seeing if I could do something for an extended period of time as much as a growing distaste for flesh and disinclination to continue to eat it. The New Year's thing was more a culturally-sanctioned way of finally making a decision I'd wanted to make for some time than anything.
And then last year brought an explosion of resolutions. I think I was feeling particularly optimistic around Christmas and New Year - I had just come back from the US, I had a terrible job but was at least being paid money, things were looking pretty good. I'd done things in 2010 that I hadn't ever done before, including graduating, visiting a different continent and living in another country. The time felt ripe for self-improvement, and this is what I vowed I was going to do:
- Learn German
- Keep a journal
- Be more generous towards my friends with my time
- Learn to play the piano
- Finish my novel
- Be more polite in everyday situations
- Read 100 books
And here's how they went, in order:
2011 wasn't the first time I'd vowed to learn German, and you may not be surprised to learn that I still can't speak it for shit. The fact that I was visiting Germany for the first time in July looked like it would be sufficient motivation to finally crack out the books and make a go of it. And I utterly failed. Of all the things I was trying to cram into my life in the first part of the year, it was the one I was least committed to and the first one to be dropped. Of the BBC listening exercises I did, I can still remember a couple of them almost word-perfect, which says a lot more about the way my memory works than anything. Verdammt.
Again, this wasn't the first journal I'd ever vowed to keep, nor was it the first I failed at. Selected quotations include,"I rarely meet burritos I don't like" and, "Surrounded by businessmen. Slept v. badly last night." I think a journal is a very worthy thing to keep if a) you enjoy doing it and/or b) you write about interesting things. This exercise ticked neither box for me. I read over all of the entries from January 2011 the other day, and whilst they were very good at evoking some of the exact sensations and events I experienced during that month, the writing and subject matter was fundamentally uninteresting. I tend to feel that there's something more important or interesting that I could be writing if I'm going to be writing at all, and journals therefore seem like a waste of time. My grandmother has kept a diary for that last goodness-knows-how-many years, filled with entries along the lines of, "Charlotte came for tea. Weather mild." She recently said, "my diaries are up in the cupboard in the spare bedroom, so you can all have a good laugh when I'm dead." I don't want to leave a similar burden to my descendants after I'm gone.
Generosity with Time
By this I meant quite specifically that I would try to stop blowing my friends off whenever I didn't feel like being sociable. It was a more pressing thing when I was living 300 miles away from them, and I did it with the best intentions. I can be very selfish with my time if I don't feel particularly like seeing anyone or talking to anyone, and I was curious to see if this was something I could correct by keeping it in mind and trying to overcome it. This was not the case. It worked all right for a month or so, until the periodic desire to make a hermit of myself grew stronger than the feeling of duty I had to be less of a dick when my friends wanted to talk to me. In retrospect, I think the fact that I occasionally need a lot of downtime is more a fundamental part of my personality than anything, and thus this was never going to be an easy fix. I still think mindfulness of personal flaws is worthwhile, and attempting this did at least make me a bit more self-aware, which is probably not a bad thing.
This got off to a slow start, as we didn't get a piano until early May. As soon as we got one, I practised every day and made some reasonably decent progress. Then I moved back to Cambridge at the end of June, and that was kind of that. I'd still like to continue to learn to play, and will probably take lessons and buy either an electric piano with weighted keys or an acoustic as soon as I have money. And, coming home this Christmas, I found that I haven't become appreciably worse in spite of not having played for six months, which just shows how pervasive muscle memory is.
Finished Part I at the end of January and the whole thing in May, then spent the summer and autumn editing the hell out of it. It's not exactly a thing of beauty, but I did get a huge kick out of writing it and to that end have begun another.
This resolution came out of the fact that I have in the past been notoriously impolite, not so much out of any fundamental rudeness but because I found being publicly and vocally polite deeply embarrassing. I have no idea why I found it so blush-inducingly shameful to thank someone for having me or tell them what a lovely time I had or any of the other little social pleasantries that make everything go along a lot smoother. It wasn't that I wasn't grateful - often I'd be overflowing with gratitude but too awkward to express it. So I jumped in at the deep end and tried to be as courteous as I possibly could in all situations which called for it. And it worked - I got over my embarrassment, I'm now suitable to be received into semi-polite company and I actually really enjoy being polite. I haven't quite been able to stop swearing loudly in the street or in the presence of children (although I've curbed it quite a bit), but the rest of it is pretty much engrained now. An unexpected and happy side effect is that I now find it much easier to make small talk with (and tip!) people working in the service industry, when before I felt embarrassed for both of us that they were making me a coffee or driving me to the station or whatever. The only negative effect I've experienced is that I now notice when other people aren't polite much more than I ever did before, and it really grates on me.
This is going to get a blog post all to itself at the very end of the year/beginning of 2012, in part because I reckon I can squeeze at least another book in before Sunday. More on that story later, and a full list (possibly with short reviews of each) will follow.
I also took up blogging again in 2011, and whilst I haven't done it as often as I'd like, it seems to be going vaguely okay.
I've got a few things lined up that I'd like to work on in 2012 and will probably write them up fairly soon.