I have never taken New Year’s resolutions very seriously. I make them like everyone makes them but inevitably abandon them and don’t really feel very bad about it a few weeks in. That will almost certainly happen here, too, but “joy cometh in the morning,” says the bible as quoted by the West Wing in one episode. So here are my three resolutions for 2020. (Note: this list does not include perennial resolutions like “eat healthier,” “drink less,” “fall in love more,” and “be happy.”)
- Do not start smoking again when I run out of Juul. Good people can disagree about the net societal effects of Juul and flavored vaping. My colleague Kevin Drum has written many times about the negative effects it has potentially had on young people. I started smoking when I was 13—it was the 90s!—because a very pretty girl I had a crush on smoked. She never fell in love with me at acting camp and though I’m not sure I remember her name (it was Karen? I think it was Karen.) I do know she was a year older than me, and that they were Parliament Lights. I like to think that as that summer turned to fall, “Karen” quit smoking. I did not. I tried many times over the years. I used to remember this thing some idiot at that camp I knew told me. He said, “it takes a pack a day for twenty years to get cancer. So don’t worry about it until then.” That is not true. Do not take health advice from drama students at acting camp. That was 1999. Eyes Wide Shut was about to come out. Nineteen-years later, still a smoker, having through thick and thicket failed to kick the habit, I once again met a very pretty girl. This time she Juul’d. (It was 2018!). I bought one and immediately stopped smoking. It worked in a way that the patch and the gum never worked. That romantic relationship didn’t make it into 2019 but Juul did, at least my relationship with it. When the tide turned against the brand in autumn I bought a bunch of the flavored pods I have used to “stop up.” And since then have been trying to taper off. Once I run out, they are gone. I have two months left. I am fairly confident I will be able to do this without falling off the tobacco wagon. But I am also scared. But I would very much like not to get lung cancer and it is that preference that sustains me, except for a slight desire to be dead which I’m sure will pass. Anyway, I would also say that as I have been cutting back on Juul the last few months I must admit that I actually feel better and less anxious having reduced amounts of nicotine in me at all. So, please don’t read this as an endorsement of Juul or vaping at all.
- Vocalize pessimism less. A conversational trait that I find annoying in strangers and heartbreaking in loved ones is unrelenting pessimism. I’m not even talking mainly about the big things like the climate and the world and the future. I’m talking about if we’re going to find parking. And even if it is totally realistic to be pessimistic about the climate and the world and the future and parking, it makes me very sad, how sad it makes all of us. But I’m totally guilty of it too! I broke this resolution already in the intro above when I said I couldn’t stick to these! It’s very difficult in this day and age and time to not be gloomy about everything in every moment. I want to be wary of my privilege here, in terms of my identity, my class, and my geographic. I’m a straight white man, young, free, and alive, born with a silver spoon, in the west! In all of history, babies born luckier than me would be counted in thousands, not millions. So it’s a totally fair criticism to say that “be less pessimistic” is definitely a privileged statement. And I’m not saying that. I’m born of malady and prone to depression and I can’t change that by wishing it away, but I do think that there is something to be said for the idea that sharing that gloominess—relentlessly, in humor or in sorrow, all the time—is not good for me and not good for people around me. So I want to try to focus on the beautiful things and the nice things and the better things a bit more in 2020. If I can’t turn my frown upside down, I can hopefully try to hide the frown a bit more. And, it might be a bit underpants gnomes, but maybe that will lead to PROFIT!.
- Tweet less, blog more. Hence this navel-gazing post. My friend Taylor Lorenz deleted Twitter from her phone because she has turned on Twitter. Or Twitter has turned on her. I identify with it so much. Taylor is one of my best friends and like so many of my friends I met her in that wonderful wall-less chatroom. A lot of people smarter than me have written about how the internet has changed in the last decade. I owe my closest friendships, my most rewarding romantic relationships, and my entire career to Twitter. But when I look back on the last decade, so much of it is a blur. My tweets automatically delete now. Originally I started doing it because I was afraid of them coming back to haunt me. But I’ve learned a better reason now for it. When I was a teenager I was diagnosed bipolar. The faucet in my brain was broke and it dripped faster or slower and that rate was beyond my control. I was in and out of treatment for the next fifteen years. If you had asked me to describe the worst part of manic-depression, I would have told you that it is the constant shame and fear that comes with not recognizing yourself in your own actions. If you’ve ever been drunk, you know what I’m talking about. You look at your text messages and think, why did I say that? Why did I do that? I’m not that person. I didn’t need alcohol or text messages to feel that way. Just every day, memories of hours prior would flash in my mind that I couldn’t standby but was too ashamed to disavow. A few years ago, I had some stuff happen and I went and did a proper stay at the psychiatric hospital were Winona Ryder goes in Girl, Interrupted (I told you I have privilege!) and when I left they told me I actually probably am not technically bipolar, rather I just have deep-seated emotional issues. This is somehow both a better diagnosis and a much more terrible one. It is not the faucet that is broken; it is the sink, the drain, the kitchen, or the house itself that is wrong. But here is a sledgehammer and through a lot of painful, pricey, and plodding exploratory therapy you can wield it and do renovations on the house. But the good and the main takeaway is this: it is not only the mad who don’t recognize their own actions. It’s all of us. We’re all constantly changing and evolving and hoping beyond hope that that change is an improvement. And I promise I really do have a point! I have a copy of my tweets. All of them. I wrote a script that automatically downloads my twitter archive every day and keeps a local version updated. I can go back and look at them. They don’t mean anything. Even to me, they mean nothing without the context of the moment. And I’m not the boy from the USA Original Series Suits who remembers everything perfectly. The boy from Suits isn’t the boy from Suits! Photographic memory is, according to wikipedia, a total lie! We all need context clues to remind us of ours turns, our evolutions, our changes, and developments. So my New Year’s resolution is not “waste time on twitter sharing meaningless bullshit less.” Because it’s not meaningless. I’m friends with Taylor because of Twitter. I work in journalism because of Twitter. I am a better and more agile thinker because of Twitter. My resolution is to take the extra step and turn that bullshit into blog posts that include enough detail and context to mean something, if only to me, in the future. So I can look back and have the next decade not be such a blur.
Anyway, that’s that. I leave you with the trailer for the film “Eyes Wide Shut.”
Karen, if that is your name and you are reading this, hit me up! I’ve aged well.