January 8, 2012
|“||The longer I live, the more I read, the more patiently I think, and the more anxiously I inquire, the less I seem to know. . . . Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. This is enough. . .||”|
|— John Adams|
I know I’m a few days late for New Year’s resolutions, but the spring semester beginning tomorrow seems more like a point of a new beginning than an arbitrary day on a calendar. So, with that, I propose the following as resolutions.
I don't really have much to add to the last two times I attempted such an exercise. They are very similar, but perhaps with a slightly different emphasis.
- Eat right. This has been my single biggest challenge over the last ten years, and I'm not certain why. I know exactly what I need to eat, but it’s a struggle to do so for longer than a couple of weeks at a time. I often don't even make it that long. I really don't even need to take off that much weight—maybe 10-15 pounds—to feel more comfortable in my clothes and when exercising. This is a priority.
- Be nicer. A perennial challenge, though I do think I've gotten better. I lack the patience that I really need much of the time. I think it’s genetic, but I will not use that as an excuse. I know I'm not superior to anyone, and my attitude should be much more humble. I also need to treat better those closest to me.
- Write. I still have aspirations to be a published (science) fiction writer. Recently, Jack McDevitt asked me how my writing was progressing, and I told him that it just wasn’t—too much else has to take priority. He said that my profession is not one that’s conducive to fiction writing. I have to agree. Therefore, my resolution is not to write more fiction (though I certainly will if I get the opportunity), but to get at least one article published. I'd also like to come up with a book idea—monograph or edited collection—but I won’t be too optimistic.
That’s about it.
In many ways, 2011 was a trying year. Three deaths affected me in different ways—Apollo, Steve Jobs, and Christopher Hitchens. Each died of cancer—the latter of the same pernicious variety that killed my cousin Dale Knack. McEwan’s tribute to Hitchens was both beautiful and difficult; we know the latter is what death is, but what makes it beautiful? Death is not beautiful—only life. It takes a good life to make death less dreadful. As Hemingway said: "Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another."
I finally watched the HBO miniseries John Adams over the break, and the last episode of this series illustrates this point. It is a difficult episode to watch. Throughout the series, Adams—and those around him—age. Aging in the late-eighteenth, early-nineteenth centuries was much more noticeable—especially the teeth. I remember reading that George Washington suffered his whole life from bad teeth, and that likely he had not a one left when he became president. In fact, even some of his portraits—like Gilbert Stuart’s to the right—show his swollen mouth and the obvious discomfort he must have endured much of his life. This seems an apt metaphor for life at this time.
One of the problems with biographies is you know how they all end. The final episode, “Peacefield,” is about not only Adams’ death, but the deaths of those most dear to him, especially his wife Abigail’s and Thomas Jefferson’s. Adams lived a long life—he was nearly 91 when he died—and he had been an observer and participant in the birth of the US. OK, this is getting morbid; I'll have more to say about Adams in a future post.
2011 was great in many ways. I taught in London in the summer again, and Autumn and I traveled to Greece. Fantastic. I am healthy and happy. I have a wife who loves me—I’m still trying to figure out my luck there. My family and I are closer than we have been in recent years, and I hope that trend continues.
Happy New Year, everyone. I hope 2012 is even better.