A collection of short pieces written by Rumpus readers pertaining to the subject of “Resolutions.”
Edited by Susan Clements.
Getting laid is pretty big news in El Campo, Texas. Everyone knows everybody else’s business. A few years ago my sister Katie knew Harold Morris was gay before his parents knew. Everyone knew Harold Morris was a strange little boy. I don’t mean Harold was strange like Freddie Krueger or Jason were. I mean Harold was different than most of us. He could read earlier than any of his contemporaries in daycare. Most of us barely understood the things the daycare workers yelled at us. Harold understood “you twit” wasn’t a universal compliment. Every time one of those ladies yelled “you twit” at me, I would smile like a circus clown and giggle. We all sort of grew up together because our parents wanted us to live the country life. Also, most couldn’t find jobs in Houston. So we were forced to join the FFA as soon as we were age appropriate. My sister Katie and I raised chickens as our first livestock project. Boy were we surprised to discover that a chicken isn’t a livestock. Chickens are poultry! Harold was awarded first prize for his pig. Straight kids don’t raise pigs! To compensate for her own failures Katie started to date Harold. That caught all of us off guard. Some people thought Harold dated Katie because she was such a loser at everything she tried. Well no matter. They seemed to get along really well together. One night Katie came home late to find my mother was not really pleased with her. It was past midnight. My mother started to have a go at Harold. I think she used a few impolite words directed at Harold’s sexual persuasion. All that sex stuff goes over my head so I don’t recall much, other than Katie’s assertion that Harold wasn’t “Gay!” That’s when both my parents went berserk. They were convinced the only way Katie would know that would be if she was no longer a virgin. There was the mandatory shrieking and tearing of hair. My Dad pounded his hands on the table threatening castration and lynching. Then it was time for bed. Of course, the next day everyone in El Campo, Texas knew Harold Morris was no longer gay. Of course, they also believed Harold had been turned by my sister the slut.
I don’t make resolutions. I think they create too much pressure. Still, my secret resolution is to stop apologizing for myself so much.
I used to, I think, apologize for myself a normal amount. In the last few years though, I’ve learned to apologize for myself to an extreme. I get horribly anxious when I think I’ve fucked up, so I apologize unnecessarily at times. I worry I am being too much of a person, so I apologize. I worry when I take up too much space, in conversations, in general, so I apologize. I want to be kind and to show my concern for others’ feelings, so I apologize. I am Canadian, so I apologize. I am female, so I apologize.
The problems with my habit of apologizing are multiple.
First, when you apologize too often, it no longer seems genuine. I am almost always sorry when I say I am. Still, when it really counts I have no way of conveying just how sorry I am. There is no way to differentiate between degrees of sorry. As a solution, I just apologize more. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m really so sorry.
The second issue with my habit is that I am less often apologizing for things I’ve done, and more often apologizing for being. I have no issue with my desire to respond to issues I’ve caused or harm I’ve done. But that isn’t what I’m doing; I am responding to myself when I apologize for being. I am assuming you are cringing in response to me, so I’m sorry. I am assuming you are overwhelmed by me, so I’m sorry. I am assuming my voice is too loud, my excitement too strong, my response to you inappropriate, so I’m sorry. I am doubting myself, erasing my strength, not allowing myself to be big. I am shrinking when I apologize. I am being passive and tiny.
Third, I am being selfish. I am making you responsible for my self-doubt. I am forcing you to tell me that it is fine. That you accept my apology. That I don’t need to be sorry. That my apology is unnecessary.
Last year I learned to speak. I found strength in my voice, my opinions, and my politics. Last year I learned to surround myself with positive people. I cut the toxic out. This year, I will let myself be.
“Resolve, and thou art free,” says Prometheus in Longfellow’s “The Masque of Pandora.” On Facebook, half my friends post hopeful New Year’s resolutions to learn to play viola, to go camping, to eat more broccoli, to quit Facebook. The other half rails against resolutions because they are unrealistic and doomed to fail, and why pick only one time of year to focus on improving ourselves?
This New Year’s Eve I sit in a dive bar on Avenue A, wondering what it is about the night that appeals to me. Macabre murals of Edgar Allan Poe holding a bloody raven and Emily Dickinson as a half-ghost/half-zombie unfurl over the red walls. It’s dark with guttering candles on the tables and the vinyl benches ripped to tatters. The heat of human bodies warms the small space. We drink tallboys of cheap beer and step on sparkling confetti in every color of the spectrum. The jukebox plays “Debaser,” “Judy is a Punk,” “Search and Destroy.”
At midnight I kiss the one I love the most—it’s different this time, really, I’ve learned from my mistakes, and we are all optimism. Or we want to be, but we both have a bad feeling, like the hangover you sense long before morning comes.
We shoot flimsy confetti cannons into the air while our sloshed neighbors stumble and shatter pint glasses against the floor, and everyone is either hugging someone or wishing they were.
It’s the looks on their faces in those hours and minutes leading up to midnight. Their hope that another revolution around the sun will bring a chance to be a better person (whatever that means), resolving to drink less or love someone more or win a war against addiction or depression.
The word resolution means to reach a firm decision, but also to separate, break apart, disintegrate. A prism resolves sunlight into a spectrum of colors. The word comes from Latin—re plus solvere, meaning to loosen, untie, cast off, dissolve.
Revolution comes from the Latin revolvere, meaning to unroll but also to return, repeat, reenact. We are/are not new incarnations of ourselves. In four days I will lose the love I kissed when that glittering ball finally succumbed to gravity. We all start again and arrive at different versions of the same end. We keep casting off, untying the ropes, setting to sea.
After the triskaidekaphobia of 2013, everyone seems so done when it comes to 2014. I’ve seen my fair share of F— It lists and IDGAF lists, tweets and tumbles reading “no feelings 2k14.” There is a brazen sauciness I appreciate and enjoy to this, e.g. “Keep Lena Dunham off my dash 2k14” and “repeat after me: i am a sexy bitch and no one ruins my 2014.” Status updates, web articles and all things rebloggable confirm what we’ve already known for two-plus millennia: Resolutions don’t work. They’re more like wishes, ones that consistently fail to come true. May conventional notions of societal achievement be forgot.
I propose a redefinition of resolve in the general vernacular. I prefer the steely abstract noun over the whiny verb. Think Mount Rushmore, not Bambino. More Captain Picard, less daytime talk show. That’s the type of resolve, the type of resolution, I’d rather embody. I’ve found that when I make a resolution at a random point in the year rather than right at its nascence, I actually tend to stick to it. This year, I wanted to stop talking about my ex and keep a food diary. I have managed to get exactly one day down in the food diary, and, well, you can see how my other resolution is going.
Perhaps it’s healthy to set goals, maybe it’s organized to work within a timeline. But like I said, we all know the score, how resolutions really work. It’s less about gingerly not doing things that make us fat, drunk, stupid, lazy, mean, inconsiderate or useless, and more about just nutting up. January is the month when you hitch up those cajones, give ’em a good scratch, take a (not that) long look at your life and decide to keep trudging along on this crazy treadmill anyway—CNN bulletins, ads for dog food, and the ever-present crawl pulsating dimly in front of your weary eyes. Hashtags cornering your screen at every turn.
Resolution is an act of humanity. Resolution is, I live. I will not end. It’s a wish to travel through time. More accurately, it’s our recognition of that travel. Like how an essay shouldn’t uplift, cap off, explain away, or fix anything. No one really likes being left with a sense of finality. But how human is the need to confirm with language something that happens inevitably.
This is a modern-day Boom Town and the men that are here come to chase the dollars that go flying out of their bank accounts, hundreds of miles away. In this bar, they visit only after stopping in at the hotel, or at their fifth-wheel camper, to change into clean boots and a button-down. They have chosen the classy side of town for, maybe, a steak, but for sure, the beer.
When they choose this bar, where painted artwork hangs on the walls, as long and wide as a pickup bed, and the well liquor is brand-name, they are choosing to feel some of the cash they’ve made. They pay their tabs in hundred-dollar bills. They either brag about their earnings or leave big tips, but rarely both on the same night. They flirt with the waitresses. They watch the few women that are present and compare themselves to the lesser men that brought them in. Then they compare with each other, the wives they have at home, second wives, third wives, or maybe only the ex-wives already long gone.
Each man has the craziest ex-wife. Each man has the most beautiful current wife (or girlfriend). None of these men have seen their wives in weeks. For most of them, it’s been months. There is camaraderie in their collective loneliness. There is commiseration across the distances they share, far away from home. Each man loves his wife the most. Each man has a wife that spends the most of his hard-earned money.
They order another round of Bud Light. Tomorrow, they will go to the dive bar across town and try to keep some of the money in their pockets, instead of leaving it on the bar. Instead of showing off to each other, they will resolve to let their wives show off back home. The wives will show off with frivolous spending on expensive jewelry and clothing and cars and interior decorating. The wives will show off the love their husbands send to them, through a joint checking account.
And the men will wake up in the morning before the sun, heading out to the job site, resolving, this time, to keep the women they have, by making more money this month than they ever have before.
* * *
For the New Year, give up alcohol. It’ll feel a little like cutting off a limb. You’ll sit in the living room in your grandmother’s house crying as you plan your year of sobriety out, which is how you know that you really need to go through with it. It’s fucking scary to love anything as much as you love alcohol, to love it at the expense of every other thing that there is for you to love. Your kid sister swears that liquor is all you care about these days. You don’t bother to protest, because you know that she’s mostly right. You wish that she would acknowledge your ambition, at least. You’re only twenty-one, and already, a middle-stage alcoholic.
Once you quit drinking, your friends will divide themselves into two camps: the ones who are willing to go with you to church or laser tag or wherever it is that you say you need to go now that you’re sober, and the ones who won’t stick around to watch you become someone who turns down shots of vodka. For the most part, you could have predicted the outcome. There were, after all, friends with whom you shared nothing but an appreciation of your daily drunken stupors. Alcohol was your common ground, and it eliminated the need for spoken words. Still, there are a few surprises, people you’ve cared about forever, who, it turns out, don’t care all that much about you. Somehow, you don’t blame any of them for flaking on you. You claim no moral high ground. Last summer, there was even a day in the pool when, drunk off your ass on sangria, you pushed a little girl who couldn’t swim off your back. The way she kept pinching your skin was really fucking with the lightness you felt with the alcohol coursing through your veins. You pulled the little girl back up to the surface eventually, but there was a moment . . .
Your first week off booze is a hard one. You’ve never been in love really, unless you count your devotion to gin. It used to take a drink or two to get you fully functioning in the morning. Now, you find that it’s difficult to get out of bed. You shake nervously at dinner tables with your parents when no one offers you a drink, and at bars with friends as you try to control yourself. Staying sober takes all the willpower you have, and from time to time, help from those around you. There are headaches in the evening. You can’t fall asleep at night without pressing your face against the pillow. But there are moments when you can almost be certain that it will get better, that you will one day be able to sit next to a friend who is sipping a glass of wine without shedding a single tear.
As I remember it, it’s the eve of 2006, but we’re drinking a vintage from over ten years ago—a rare bottle my father plucked from his champagne stores that endured the weeks New Orleans rotted in a stagnant late-summer bath. He sweated through those days in our creaky Victorian home making repairs, protecting himself and his property, and generally pruning back so that my mother and I might return and begin to grow shoots of a new life. On the last night of the year the city sits quite still, but our home is lit and the crowd of us is bubbling.
Across the ocean, in the vineyards of the Champagne region, the vignerons struggle against the frost and the earth to cultivate their vines to yield for the local elixir. This environmental adversity blooms the patient and aromatic flavors of the pinot noir and meuniere and chardonnay grapes. In times when the conditions conspire to produce an exceptional cuvée, together the region proclaims the year a “vintage”: one worth producing champagne from that season’s grapes alone. We sip on the effervescence and taste the exuberance of a single harvest.
I clink glasses with my father, and we step over the sidewalk into the troubled Park—its grass embedded with tire tracks from the National Guard vehicles that were stationed here only weeks ago. The live oaks look skeletal and crouch in a stance of recoil. We wade through the fog deeper into the park and find a clearing; together we shoot off rockets from empty champagne bottles and the weight of the year seems fleeting like the curls of smoke in the fireworks’ wake. Away from the party and a few drinks in, the possibility of a rebirth feels imminent.
I nested a favorite quote of my father’s in his obituary this year when I wrote it: “Come quickly! I am drinking the stars!” The old monk Dom Perignon uttered the phrase when he first tasted a serendipitous second-fermentation in his wine, what a thrill. This New Year, the city is in an ebullient stage of new growth, and I open a bottle of my father’s champagne—one of the vintages that survived him—to sip and savor the flavors born of the grape’s own struggle to survive.
“Are you gonna be my New Year’s kiss?” she asks as you rise from the bed. Remnants of the crushed pill from moments before still sting your nostrils. This is why she came here. Her hands rubbed glitter over your face and lingered on your sweater as she walked into the party an hour ago. She asked if you wanted to paint your nails sparkle gold to match hers. She drove three hours north to come to this strange party playing pretentious slow jams that aren’t for dancing. She came here for you.
“I just want to dance!” she shouts and quickly someone changes the music. She uses her new fairy princess voice now. Soft, sexy and dangerous. You still remember her actual voice from before. From when she was still just your best friend’s kid sister you would pick up from middle school. From when you would lean close to her in the kitchen and smile and chat and ask her where she applied to college. From before she learned just how much power the upping of a few octaves could hold over men and women. You’ve even met a few of the now-jilted lovers and heard horror stories of the most desperate saps from her brother. Her scent intoxicates as you whisper plans in her ear on the dance floor and you know you’re next.
“What’s your New Year’s resolution?” you ask as you hold her hand under the bridge. The party has walked down to Lake Union to peer into the fog for fireworks. You can’t see anything but it’s okay because you’re rolling and she’s squeezing your hand tighter and her eyes twinkle in the dark. She glances sideways and down, saying in her old voice, “I’m trying to be nicer.” Your resolution is “to make better decisions.” The drunken strangers around you count down and cheers echo across the lake. You don’t notice your best friend staring in shock. His little sister’s kiss tastes too much like sweet cigarettes and good decisions to open your eyes.
“I forgot! I’m CJ now!” I declared to the table.
“Seee-Jaaay!” my Greek chorus of friends chanted, delighted. Others had wanted to live more mindfully and take care of their bodies and souls in the coming year. This was different! This was instant, results had already been delivered!
“Should we call you that now?” “Wait, you don’t like Corinne?”
No, no, I tried to explain. You’re grandfathered in, you can call me whatever you want; I like Corinne very much. But I’m introducing myself to new people as CJ. It’s easier.
The smiles faded and brows furrowed in unison. “Easier?”
“It’s like Hulu and Hulu Plus. After you get to know CJ, you have access to all the options. But nobody can pronounce or spell or remember Corinne –” I think of all the times a bureaucrat has seen my name without reading it, and called me Connie or Corn.
“I hate the mistakes. I want to be pronounced and spelled and remembered.”
The group was now disturbed. Change in deference to others was not an acceptable goal for the New Year. It’s not such an uncommon name. I should make people learn it properly.
These were friends whose opinions I value; people characterized by a love of spontaneity; and unlike me, these happened to be actors who adopted and tweaked personae professionally. One had told me that my commitment to glasses over contacts wouldn’t be acceptable for an actor. Another could do a legendary Scottish accent, which held up in front of real Scots. I couldn’t reconcile their disappointment with how brilliant and transformative I thought CJ would be.
But I’m doubling down. I would never deny anyone the dignity of being called by his or her or zir preferred name. I know that with some effort, I can train people to say and spell it properly. But—for me—my name is a signifier, not a blood oath. I genuinely like CJ as an optional, abbreviated, and extroverted version of myself. The West Wing allusion doesn’t hurt, either. So: I’m using 2014 to make a welcoming overture to new experiences. Where Corinne is obscure, CJ is open. Corinne is private, and CJ’s public. CJ belongs to my repertoire as much as Sasha Fierce belongs to Beyoncé’s. CJ is right. She usually is.
I smile at the patterns in the chocolate that lines the chipped bowl, which mere seconds ago held gooey cocoa-covered banana slices. Perhaps I should invest in a spork; it seems wasteful to dirty a spoon just to get to the last remnants of the melted chocolate.
My mind flits to the contents of my Facebook feed these past few weeks. Pictures of booze, pumpkin spice lattes, turkey, and cookies have been replaced by images of kale-wheatgrass-raspberry-apple-pomegranate juice (Sasha Tierney “LOVIN’ the detox! Thanks hubby for my beautiful new Cuisinart juicer! LOVE YOU. LOL”), smug peer pressure (Lauren Frank “@Bethany Davis-Brennan Will be in Portland Jan 28! Let’s hang? Doing dry January, would be great if you join too! Hugs!”) and frantic MapMyRuntastic-to-Facebook updates (Michelle Jefferson just ran 5 miles in 50 minutes “SOON BEYONCE’S BOOTY WILL BE MINE! #InMyDreams”).
Quite shamelessly, I’ve regressed to my four-year-old self and am now lapping up the last of the chocolate with my tongue. “Best of luck to them,” I think, and I mean it. I hope that my friends find whatever they hope these new activities will bring them. I know damn well how powerful properly executed resolutions can be. It’s why I’m still here. It’s why I’m currently licking this bowl. It’s why I spent last night running five miles, and the night before making out with that bearded bartender, and the night before that lost in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. It’s why I sing when I’m sad, why I dance when I’m tired, why I cook when I’m lost. I wash my dishes without complaint and assemble IKEA furniture without stroking out from rage, because it feels good. The weekends spent marathoning yet another TV show, the mornings whiled away with newspapers, the days off volunteering at the food bank: All of it comes from that one shining moment years ago, when I did not make a resolution. Instead, I resolved to do one single thing: take care of myself.
After rinsing the bowl, I log on to Facebook—@Michelle Jefferson “cheering you on from my couch. You are fantastic! Let’s go running together soon!”—and log off again. Years ago, her hopeful activities might have made me resentful, but not anymore. That’s the thing about taking care of yourself: It becomes so much easier to take care of others, too.
Eyes wide open, kissing you at midnight, I resolved to never write again. It felt right at the time, a way to dissolve any trace of our future existence. You knew not of this plan, that we were no longer to be a we in the new year. It would not be broadcasted into the ether, either, as that would be too easy. No, it was to be silently, literally without anything literal about it. I was to disappear until you would wonder if I had ever been there in the first place. No voicemail after the thirteenth ring. A text bounce alerting of recipient unknown. Email would remain silent. All social accounts gone underground.
The one that would bother you most, though, would be the hardest for me, too. Yet, I knew as I stared hard into your covered, dark eyes, it was the only way to kill this thing semi-alive. You held on to the veins that dangled from my virtual page, and why not, for was it not bloodletting of everything that brewed from this marrow? If that channel was not closed, I remained exposed, forever. This nakedness was no longer for your eyes to explore.
Seventeen days later, and these words pour forth in haste. Fingers attack the keyboard as one would a lost lover who returns to the sacred bed. You have not found me. How can you, for I cannot find myself in all this silence. The muse has been buried from you. Her funeral has left me dead.
Tonight, I write these words into the universe, to seed a new beginning under the fruitful moon. You remain the vortex that has frozen parts of me, but words have a lifeblood of their own. The red thread that encircles my left wrist reminds me of my secret resolution to you. I shall not break the circle, only the cycle. This is an obituary, but only of us. Of this, I am, resolute.
I’m sitting in a taqueria near 24th and Mission when I see a man walk in with a little girl. She’s wearing a Princess Jasmine backpack and playing with her father’s phone while he orders at the counter. When he pays, he takes a number and looks for a place for them to sit. It’s busy and the only spot available is the unbussed table next to mine. I watch as he gathers up someone else’s crumpled napkins and a basket of uneaten chips and tosses them into the trash. A half-finished Negra Modelo is also left on the table, but he hesitates and doesn’t throw it away—he pushes it to the side.
The food arrives and he eats with his daughter, and while she’s talking about her favorite teacher and a song she’s learning at school, the beer is next to him. He doesn’t glance at it longingly or fumble at the half-peeled gold foil with his fingers, but it’s there. When they finish, he helps his daughter put on her backpack and clears the table himself. The last thing he does is pick up the amber bottle and swirl the remaining liquid around inside, watching it in the light. It’s so gentle the way he finally places it in the bin, takes his daughter’s hand and walks out the door.
My uncle Terry, one of the all time great drunks in our family, well-known to local law enforcement and bar waitresses from here to Sacramento, lived with us through his first divorce. He was trying to dry out and had a collection of silver sobriety coins stacked precariously on his nightstand and scattered among old receipts and Lotto tickets that hadn’t delivered. He told me at a Christmas party when I was thirteen that being an alcoholic takes all the guesswork out of New Year’s resolutions.
“Don’t screw up,” he said. “Just over and over. Each day is a new year.”
The coins are lost now somewhere in my parents’ house and Terry didn’t stay clean. We watched him fall apart from a distance. Resolutions sound like decisions, but they’re more like hopes or prayers. Even if each day is a new year, each morning it’s the same you. But I think about that man and his daughter, about the way he took her hand, and maybe not. Maybe one day you wake up and it isn’t.
Rumpus original art by Christina Weidman.