I’ve never much liked January 1 as a time for starting new ventures. As I’ve noted in past columns, I don’t see the sense in calling upon extraordinary reserves of energy and self-discipline at this time of the natural year.
After all, even in these high-tech days, our stubborn mammalian selves - evolved over millions of years - still respond powerfully to such natural stimuli as short days and cold nights, which tell us we should eat more, pack on a few pounds of insulation, go to sleep early, and rise late.
Beginning a new diet or a demanding workout regimen comes hard at a season when our bodies’ natural energies are low. In winter, it’s often tough enough just to haul yourself out of bed, scrape off the windshield, and get to work. Where people find the extra psychic energy to hit the gym or go out for a cold, pre-dawn run is beyond me.
And it’s not like the tenth day after winter solstice was divinely decreed as the beginning of a new year. Our modern calendar is basically an historical accident, resulting from the Romans’ uncharacteristic incompetence in devising a calendar which didn’t migrate over the centuries.
Most ancient societies had more sense, deeming the first day of spring to be the beginning of the new year. Human beings respond naturally to longer, warmer days and the first blossoms of spring - usually with a re-awakening of their natural energies, including their amorous propensities. Thus, it has always seemed to me that the best time to tackle high-energy “new year’s resolutions” is March 21, the vernal equinox.
Still, this year, I seem to be making a partial exception. Unusual circumstances can trump nature’s rhythms. In my life, New Year’s weekend meant moving to an apartment in Carytown. I’d found the place months ago, but one of Steven Spielberg’s minions was staying there during the shooting of the Lincoln movie, so I found temporary quarters until the Hollywood folks headed back to California.
Anyway, now I’m living within blocks of the Byrd Theater, and I’m quite content. Carytown absolutely invites walking, so I’ve started taking a healthy stroll every day. I now have a convenient kitchen, which will allow me to get back to cooking - and with Ellwood Thompson’s close by, I’ll be buying healthy ingredients. So perhaps I’ll drop a few more pounds without actually declaring myself on a diet.
Resolutions or not, these changes - new place, more walking, better diet - are part of a process which began when my sister took over Mom’s day-to-day care last May. Caring for an elderly parent - or anyone who requires a lot of attention - has definite rewards, but over time, it can also lead to a mental state which is probably, technically, mild depression. I do know this: In my last year living at home, I gained twenty pounds, almost stopped writing, and found it increasingly difficult to read.
In the past seven months, all of those processes have reversed themselves. I’ve dropped most of the new weight. I’m starting to write again. And I’m plowing through several books at a time - all of them at least moderately challenging.
I’ve even acquired a Kindle, which is ideal for reading great old novels without having to lug them about. As a new Kindle user, I’ve discovered a surprising affection for Charles Dickens, whose work - aside from the incomparable Christmas Carol - had always struck me as overly long and tedious. Of course, that impression was gained in the ninth grade, when I involuntarily spent about a month in the company of David Copperfield. But thanks to my Kindle - and more mature tastes - I’ve now read several of Dickens’ shorter novels, and I look forward to tackling another in the near future.
I’ve even begun to consider recruiting some Dickens fans - assuming I can find them - to join me in a public reading of one of his novels on the great author’s 200th birthday - February 7, 2012. If anyone is interested, I’d be delighted to hear from them.
I’m also looking forward to rejoining the book club I helped to start - through this column - five years ago this month. It’s a non-fiction book club, dedicated to reading ten books a year - mostly on topics related to history, current events, health, environmental issues, and other serious subjects. The club still meets on the second Saturday morning of each month - and this January, the members have the option of reading any book on the subject of the Supreme Court. I’ve chosen Noah Feldman’s Scorpions.
Please note: None of these changes constitutes a formal “New Year’s Resolution”. I’ll save those for March 21. I do have my principles, after all.
Still change, at any season, can be invigorating. Even if it’s January, it seems that, in 2012, I can’t help making a few changes of my own.