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A Listing Frenzy

The tradition of New Year’s resolutions seems to be hard-wired into me. Despite the silliness of how the exercise turns out: absurdly high goals, almost always in the negative (“I’ll stop doing XYZ bad thing”) paired with such a strong assumption that they will be broken within weeks that actually sticking to one is the surest route to Goody Two Shoes-hood since giving an apple to the teacher. (Which isn’t to say that breaking bad habits isn’t both noble and possible—but it generally takes more than a New Year’s Resolution.)

But I still get to this time of year and feel an urge to make lists—whether it’s of people to get back in touch with, things around the house to fix, or Things I’ve Been Ignoring Long Enough To Start Making Me Increasingly Uncomfortable. I haven’t indulged in list-making for a little while: I’ve taken December as holiday downtime, a secularized version of the Wiccan in-between period between Samhain (the end of the old year, around Halloween) and Yule (the beginning of the new, at the winter solstice). No big decisions, no big projects, no major beginnings. Just lots of visiting, quiet time and cookies.

But the end of that is in sight, and presuming I’m over the ubiquitous cold that’s going around by then, I’ll be fully ready to leave 2004 behind and step out into new things. Luckily for me, a few years ago I was made aware of a different approach to New Year’s lists which has served me well as a replacement for the guilt-laden “resolutions.”

It works like this: make a really long list of things you’d like to do this year. I’m talking at least 50 things. They should be phrased in the positive whenever possible. (“Learn to cook three fully tasty meals without butter” and “Try out that new vegetarian restaurant” rather than “Eat less saturated fat.”) You should be able to tell when you’ve done them. (Not “Flirt more,” but “Flirt with five strangers.”) That which gets measured gets done, as the annoyingly overpaid management consultants say. Light-hearted, fun, easily accomplished items should be liberally sprinkled among the serious. Always include something to spice up your sex life. Work in a few goals that seem kinda daunting.

And here’s the key: Expect to achieve only about 30 percent of the list. Or set your own target—10 items, 50 percent. It’ll depend. My ratio for 2004 was a little lower than usual, but since one of the items was buy a house, I figure I’ve got good reason.

Come the end of the year, do sit down and pat yourself on the back for the ones you’ve done. If you want to leave yourself a week to do some last-minute checking off, go ahead, but only if that sounds like fun. Don’t carry all of the ones you didn’t do over on to the next list.

A good portion of my list for 2005 isn’t for public consumption for various reasons, but here’s a sampling:

End the year with less stuff stored in the attic than I started with.

Write twice as many poems as I did in 2004. Make at least half of them from a point of view other than my own. Try one in formal verse.

Take at least one long recreational bike ride out of the city.

Visit Great Aunt Lil and show her the old pictures of Axels that I scanned in from slides this December.

Explore at least one new place in each direction out of the city of Albany.

Look at the weather forecast at least three days/week. (What’s the point of owning an umbrella when it’s never where you are when it’s raining?)

Read three different books with wildly different perspectives on the craft of journalism.

Every month write a detailed journal entry about something that doesn’t seem at all momentous.

Find and learn three interesting recipes that use nuts as the only source of protein.

Learn to use a non-Microsoft, open-source word processor.

Notice when the mulberries in my neighborhood are ripe, and bake with them.

Sign up for automatic donations with two new causes—predictable for them, predictable for me.

Learn to do three things around the house that I would usually defer to someone else (power tools, anyone?).

Make time to carve a frickin’ jack o’lantern.

Try canning/freezing something from the farmers market this summer to eat the following April when I think it’s time for fresh vegetables and the climate disagrees.

Play frisbee once in every park in Albany.

Learn something about the qualities of wine besides “white,” “red,” “sweet,” and “dry.”

Make fewer lists and do more of the stuff on the ones I make.


Happy New Year.

—Miriam Axel-Lute

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