Changing the Resolution Rut


          Many years ago, a woman came up to me after I spoke to her book club and asked if would like to read the journal of her distant great-great-great aunt, a lady who lived during the Civil War. Reading the journal, I was struck by the how similar the daily concerns of this woman's life were to mine. She didn’t talk about wars, elections, or the comings and goings of the great figures of her day. She spoke of marriage and courtship, sick or unruly children, local gossip, organdy dresses, servants, weather, crops and dinner parties. 

          One of the things that began to interfere with my reading was that on every other page, this woman was making the same resolution. Starting at the age of seventeen, she was resolving every other day to "improve the shining hour". Someone must have told her to make the most of her time, I suppose, and she really took it to heart. 

          It was discouraging to see that resolution repeated throughout her life. When she was fifty-two, when she was eighty, she was resolving to "improve the shining hour." Then she died. 

          I've kept a journal, on and off, since I was twelve, and I confess that there is not much in my journals either about elections, wars, or the comings and goings of politicians. I began to wonder if I too was as stuck in my resolutions as this long-ago lady. 

          Looking back, I realized that I had been. At twelve, I resolved to lose weight, let my fingernails grow, and get a tan. When I was fifteen, I wrote that I wanted to let my fingernails grow, lose weight, and get a tan. My resolutions were the same when I was twenty. So, all those years ago, after reading the southern lady's journal, I decided I did not want to be an eighty year old woman resolving to let my fingernails grow, lose weight, and get a tan. I let go of my resolve to get a tan. It was a start. 

          Three years ago, weary of the daily food resolution rut, I decided to let go of trying to lose weight. Diets had increased my size and frayed my temper. I estimated that I spent 80% of my time planning what I was going to eat, thinking what I'd really rather be eating, being mad at myself for what I just ate, and planning how I was going to do better tomorrow. I've made peace with it now, pretty much, and now I spend probably 2% of my mind time thinking about food. With the energy I saved, I wrote two novels. 

          Now I make one resolution a year, and they're more inward-looking. The first one was "tell the truth."  I thought it would be easy, since I already told the truth most of the time. I found out how many times I “fibbed” to smooth things over, to spare people’s feelings, or for other innocent-feeling reasons. I had to stop all of that. Mostly, though, I found I was lying to myself. “Oh, that little thing didn’t bother me,” or “I’m not mad, I’m hurt,” or “I was doing my best.” I had to stop that too. 

 "Be quiet" was the next one. That one was hard. I have something to say about everything. Not shy, I’m often what they call “early dominant” in group discussions. That whole year I discovered that I didn’t, in fact, have to say everything that came to mind. I could sit and hold my tongue, giving other people the space to speak.  The year after that, it was “enjoy life.” That was hard too. I was raised in a Presbyterian family with a deep ambivalence toward enjoyment. 

          I feel happier now, less stuck. I am grateful to that long- ago Southern lady for showing me a path I did not want to travel. I'm still trying to let my nails grow so I'll look calm and well groomed, and so that I can let them be red and shiny on special occasions. When my nails get long, though, they bump into things, and it's hard to play the piano or the guitar; then they break and split and make nuisances of themselves. Who can be bothered? Maybe it's time to give that last one up. I think I will! Free at last! I've got to go, I feel another novel coming on.

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