This morning Lucy Martin, sensing that I might have a hard time scaring up a Listening Post essay, sent me a list of New Year’s resolutions–or “rulin’s” as he called them–written by Woody Guthrie into his notebook at the start of 1943. It was an ambitious year for him–he listed 33. Here is a picture of his notebook page, complete with doodles.
A bunch of them relate to the trials of keeping together a nomadic life: “Wash teeth (if any), shave, take bath, change socks, send Mary and kids money.” Another batch related to his work as a musician and performer: “Work by a schedule, write a song every day, play and sing good.”
And self-improvement made the list: “dance better, read lots good books, learn people better.” Woody included mental and physical health: “Don’t get lonesome, stay glad, keep hoping machine running, eat good, dream good, love everybody.” This last might have been in conflict with his activist rulin’s: “Help win war–beat fascism, make up your mind, wake up and fight.” And of course, he reminded himself to “Listen to radio a lot.”
I have mixed feelings about New Year’s resolutions, as I outlined in a poem “Loose Ends,” broadcast at the end of 2007 on the program Open Studio. As I said in the introduction, “there isn’t enough room in a year to accomplish any of the real goals in life.” Jessica Lamb-Shapiro, writing a few days ago in Time in an article “New Year’s Resolutions are Bad for You ” said:
“The statistics are bleak: only 8% of people who make New Year’s resolutions stick to them, and those who don’t usually abandon them after just one week.”
“When you tie your behavioral change to a specific date, you rob yourself of an opportunity to fail and recover, to “fail better.” If you believe that you can only change on the New Year — the inherent message of New Year’s resolutions — you will have to wait a whole year before you get another shot.”
She says the Babylonians were the first to make promises for the New Year–to the gods, not to themselves. Presumably the gods had a stronger enforcement mechanism than personal will-power. So she recommends that we keep it simple and concrete.
You know, like “change socks,” rather than “achieve satori.”
Happy New Year everyone! Share your own resolutions and reflections in a comment below.