I’ve never been one for New Years resolutions, but, then, I’ve never been a father before, either. That means up until now, the symptoms of my early onset Old Jewish Man Syndrome — anxiety, neurosis, self-hate and attendant gastrointestinal distress — mostly affected just me, and not a small child. So I figure if there’s a first time for everything, then 2013 is as good a year as any to come up with 10 resolutions that, if fulfilled, hold out the hope of making me a better and healthier dad, husband, writer and overall person.
Some of these will seem trivial, and others will seem more serious. My guess is that at least a few will ring true for you – and if they don’t, well, at least you can have a good laugh at my expense. Here they are in no specific order:
1. I will stop lying to my exercise machine: When it comes to my relationship with workout machines, I am nothing short of a pathological liar. Whether at home or on vacation, I tell the machines I meet that I weigh 173 pounds when I really weigh about 10 pounds more than that. In other words, when I program my workout, I tell the machine I’m the weight I want to be, but not the weight I actually am. Why do I do this and what the hell do I really think I’m getting away with?
Resolved: My exercise deceit must end.
2. Stop using emoticons: It’s completely humiliating to admit that I use emoticons, but, alas, I still do. Typically, I use them in email messages and text to connote tone – as in “Go f— yourself :)” to a buddy who got the day off or “I made a wrong turn :(” to make a pathetic excuse for being late. Beyond emoticons being just straight-up irritating, they imply both insecurity and poor writing skills. Essentially, they suggest that you are afraid someone will take something the wrong way and/or that you can’t come up with the right words that project precise meaning. The problem, though, is that at this point, using emoticons is just as bad as sending a message that gets taken the wrong way, because more and more people (rightly!) assume you are kinda pathetic for using an emoticon in the first place.
Resolved: I’m either assuming people will get my meaning, or I’ll improve my email and text-message prose.
3. Stop looking at my email box right after a column is published: If I wrote a column about the greatness of mom, apple pie and the American flag, I guarantee you I’d wake up to email attacking me as a dad-hater, criticizing my omission of pecan pie and slamming me for not showing enough respect to Old Glory. The point is that in my career as a writer, I’ve learned that no matter what I write about, I will find a cannon blast of angry responses in my email box the next day. And not just angry, but altogether deranged. I’m talking crazed missives fit for scripts for a to-camera rant from the old WWF — only the writers aren’t faking it.
Resolved: I’m not looking at my email box for at least 12 hours after an article is published, if only so that I can face the criticism in one short sitting, and then be done with it.
4. Stop expecting facts to make a difference to my opponents: In my job as a left-leaning host on an otherwise conservative radio station, I spend three hours a day reciting simple, verifiable facts to right-wing callers. I had initially believed this might change minds, or at minimum, create the conditions for civil conversations. I believed this because — call me crazy! — if you show me a set of facts that refutes my beliefs, I tend to change my beliefs. The craziness, of course, was my expectation that most conservatives have the same open-minded attitude. In fact, as recent peer-reviewed academic studies have proven (here and here), conservatives seem hardwired for a so-called “backfire effect.” Basically, they react to facts that contradict their beliefs by more strongly clinging to those inaccurate beliefs.
Resolved: For the sake of my sanity, I will no longer expect facts — no matter how demonstrably true — to matter at all to committed right wingers.
5. Stop believing there’s such a thing as “having it all”: Yes, I read Ann Marie Slaughter’s much-talked-about Atlantic magazine cover story. Yes, I agree with the premise that in a chauvinist society – which America most certainly is — it’s obviously more difficult for women to find a good balance between work and life pressures. And yes, I agree the fact that it is more difficult is not acceptable, and therefore should prompt a serious public policy discussion about more family friendly policies. However, there’s still one big problem with the way we talk about all this work-life stuff: simply put, there is no such thing as “having it all,” and that goes for women and men.
Here’s the truth: whether it is a choice or an economic necessity, working in most jobs means being away from your kids at times when you don’t want to be away from them. If “having it all” means never having to make a choice between work, income and career status on one side and family, kids and personal time on the other side, then almost nobody is able to “have it all.” Again, that’s not to say America can’t follow other countries and put policies in place that make this situation better, but it is to say that the whole “have it all” meme itself creates destructive pressure and unrealistic expectations. I feel it every day in the guilt I feel when I say goodbye to my son on the way out the door to the office, just as many parents who stay home with kids feel it when they worry about missing out on a fast-track career. The trouble is not that we think about these challenges (we should think about them!) – it is that thanks to the pervasive “have it all” idea, many are specifically telling themselves that life choices can come with no trade offs at all, when, by definition, some trade-offs will always be an inherent consequence of the work-family balance.
Resolved: I will remember that there’s no such thing as “having it all” – and not beat myself up about it.
6. Stop reading almost exclusively non-fiction: As a journalist, I write non-fiction. This requires me, not surprisingly, to read lots of non-fiction. And while I’m not ripping on the form, I have come to believe there can be too much of it in anyone’s life. This goes not just for reading, but for all content. I just meet way too many people who spend too much of their life exclusively plugged into non-fiction – whether books, magazines, blogs or cable news shows – and not enough of their life exposed to the fiction forms (literature, art, film, etc.) that work the creative side of the mind. This is going to get even worse, by the way, if so-called education “reformers” get their way and force schools to reduce literature requirements and increase non-fiction requirements.
Resolved: I will read more novels and watch more AMC shows..
7. Stop hating winter: For as long as I can remember, I’ve always hated the winter. I hate all the layers you have to wear; I hate that the sun rises late and sets early; and I hate being cold. Since I’ve never lived in a place without a real winter, this means I’ve doomed myself to at least three months – typically January through March – of relatively less happiness than normal. This leaves me with three options: 1) I can move to a more temperate climate 2) I can cheer on global warming in hopes that it accelerates to the point where winter no longer exists or 3) I can learn to love winter. Option one is out for the short term future because of my job. Option two is out because it seems a bit immoral to help doom the planet just because part of me wants an endless summer. So it’s Option three.
Resolved: I will try to make the best of a frigid season that I hate (which, come to think of it, shouldn’t be that hard because I live in one of the winter sports capitals of the world).
8. Stop paying for cable television: For four years now, I’ve told myself I’m going to get cable television out of my house. And for four years, I haven’t been one of the 2.6 million people who cut the cord. I kept paying that godforsaken monthly bill. I’m guessing I did so so both because I (stupidly) feared I would be cut off from content I wouldn’t otherwise be able to get and because I still liked the ease of just turning on the tube and watching whatever happens to be on. Now, though, I have no excuse to waste so much money paying for cable TV. Between Apple TV, Netflix and Hulu, I can get almost everything I want to watch in a la carte fashion through the Internet. Meanwhile, I no longer watch — much less want to pay to watch — live television news, because I now get that news content online (where it is in print format and therefore far more substantive). And as for the easiness/laziness appeal of being able to flip on the TV and have content already blasting at me – I agree with The Verge that at some point soon, you’ll be able to “simply flip on an Apple TV or a PS3 or a Roku box and it’s already playing something.”
Resolved: In the name of fiscal sanity, I’m cutting the cable TV cord in 2013.
9. Stop pretending Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Fox News are important: Right-wing media in general — and Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Fox News in specific — require reactions in order to maintain relevance. That is, they require many people to take their agitprop seriously, even if, on the merits, there’s no actual reason for it to be taken seriously. Without a reaction, their noise just dissipates into the ether, at best getting a relatively tiny handful of already-convinced zombies to nod along with them. That means when I react to them in any way – whether publicly in my writing, or privately in my interpersonal conversations — I’m not really doing a civic service, even if I am criticizing them and debunking their lies. On the contrary, no matter how I react, the act of reacting unto itself is actually giving them what they need — and yet what they most certainly do not deserve.
Resolved: I will not react to or treat as credible carnival barkers who have absolutely no credibility.
10. Stop being surprised that whenever I say anything in public about racism or white privilege, I get called a “kike” or a “race baiter”: After comments about white privilege that I made on MSNBC and CNN, and after the piece I wrote at Salon about Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” I was treated to a barrage of bigoted and anti-semitic Facebook posts and emails. For some bizarre reason, I was surprised by this. But here’s the thing: getting called a “kike” or a “race baiter” for daring to mention obvious truths about is gross, offensive and appalling. One thing it is not, though, is surprising in a country with such a persistent tradition of bigotry.
Resolved: I will keep speaking out, and will expect to face the wrath of those who want to preserve the status quo.
Now that I’ve committed these resolutions to paper (or bandwidth, as it were), it feels like I’m obligated to fulfill them. I’m sure I won’t meet them all, but here’s to trying — and to a Happy 2013.