Sometimes our most satisfying triumphs are embarrassingly small. One weekend, I tackled our pantry floor, with its towering crates of jars and plastic storage containers. I had for years bemoaned the lack of an easy way to keep track of which lids went with which containers, to stack jars that didn’t nest, to find the container I wanted. I would periodically purge them and sort them and it didn’t last. It felt hopeless, and I felt foolish and like an incompetent adult whenever I looked at them.
It’s not like the specifics of what I finally did are particularly printworthy. I got some cheap sets of shelves and drawers. I decided to keep only a limited set of common types of jars and containers that take an even more limited set of types of lids so there aren’t any unique container-lid matches to lose track of. I issued an ultimatum that containers of other types went directly into the recycling, no matter how useful they look.
The important part about it is that it worked. By changing the way I thought about it and setting up a system that is sustainable without periodic purges or sorts or other behavior that isn’t likely to fit into a regular emptying the dishwasher routine, I took something that felt impossible and made it happen. It was by no stretch of the imagination the most important or exciting thing that happened to me in 2012. But on a per-effort basis it’s in the running for top five most successful and/or satisfying.
This is my New Year’s wish for us as a body politic, us as a country: That we reach a few critical moments where we shake our heads, look around, a decide to make one furious, clear-headed push to set ourselves on a right path, to set up a system that makes doing the right thing easier, more of a matter of course. That could be automatic voter registration, gun control, paid sick days, a higher minimum wage, investment in a good public transit system, or a carbon tax. That we neither castigate ourselves or get cynical about our failures to do things so far, but find a model or create an alternative and go for it.
Perhaps more conventionally in terms of New Year’s resolutions, last year was the year I finally fit exercising into my personal routine in a sustainable way. It took a few things coming together, including a conversation with my wife about alternating morning kid duty and the notion, inspired by some hokey self-improvement reading, that I might be having trouble getting up in the morning because I was sleeping too late, not too little, drifting back off after I had wakened naturally and then struggling to pull my brain out of the depths a half hour later with my alarm. For someone who has struggled with fatigue for years, this was a radical thought. And humbling when it turned out to be right.
It is my New Year’s wish that we—citizens, businesspeople, electeds, appointed public servants at all levels—find ways to usefully go off script. That liberals stop pretending that there is any reason to be hesitant or apologetic about protecting earned benefits like Social Security or taxing the rich progressively. That the media stop pretending they have to be evenhanded when presenting the opinions of lying nut jobs and those of people telling verifiable truths or speaking from near-unanimous scientific consensus. That we brush away terms intended to make us think a certain way, like “fiscal cliff.”
It is my New Year’s wish that we have more of those moments where we break through conventional wisdom to reach each other. More radical environmentalists and right-wing property-rights gun owners getting together to fight the expropriation of Texas lands for the Keystone XL pipeline, which will spell death for any attempt to rein in climate change if it isn’t halted. More NRA members speaking out after the Connecticut shootings saying their organization’s position had gone too far. More brave conversations I know are quietly happening among families every day as marriage rights spread.
Finally, in perhaps the most mundane move of all, a month ago I stopped railing against my perpetually, painfully cold toes, which I shouldn’t have, don’t you know, now that I’m exercising and all shouldn’t my circulation be fine? I have accepted that for the winter I need to wear leggings, wool socks, and slippers. All the time.
There are a lot of things out there that are not as they should be, not as we would want them to be, and never will get there. That doesn’t mean we are powerless against their consequences. Happy New Year.