One Minute of Magical Thinking

11:30 p.m. Me, cross-legged on the floor of our terrible apartment in Cleveland, eating donuts until I made myself (very literally) sick. What happened in 2003 stayed in 2003. Fireworks in the parking lot. Fireworks or gun fire. At Harbor Crest, it was a toss-up.

We were living in Ohio the last time I made a formal New Year's Resolution. I quantified my goals. I made plans, people. I made plans for my plans. I reorganized my plans into hierarchies and timelines. I've always struggled with my weight and my relationship with food, and "lose weight" had made my resolution list since the early 1990s. I also needed to settle on a more stable life path, since working in an office wasn't satisfying and paid little. I needed to improve relationships with the people I loved. I had been married less than a year, and we were living in Section 8 housing in a very dangerous part of the city. We stepped over homeless people to get in the front doors of the complex. I was mugged. Twice. Directionless and drowning in bills, I hefted this anxiety onto the shoulders the people who cared the most.  If anyone needed resolutions, it was me.

I bought a planner WITH POCKETS FOR MY PLANS.

On December 31st, 2003, I  ate and drank my way across the city in a binge that would make Chris Farley proud. It's cool, I thought. Tomorrow's a clean slate. All fresh, with no mistakes in it. I hated Annie, but that line was my mantra for awhile.

The New Year's Resolution, constructed as it is in over-consumptive American culture, presumes blind optimism and magical thinking, all tied up in an arbitrary date and time. We can always be who we've always wanted to be next year, the next time, in the next week, because this time it's different. That's what I believed, at least. Just let me get through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's. I know I'll want to eat and drink, and denying myself these human pleasures is inhumane. You don't have to point out my disordered thinking there. I see it.

If the barrage of lose-weight-fast advertisements in my email is any indication, others fall into the same pit. Hop on Blogger and search for "New Year's Resolutions." It'll take until next New Year's to get through them all.

New Year's offers endless opportunities for renewal, a dangerous and solipsistic reset button, the thrill of the quick reversal. I was once lost, fat, tired, totally out of control, and unhappy. Tomorrow, nay TONIGHT AT MIDNIGHT, I will be found, rested, totally in control, and content. As if by thinking that New Year's Eve is magical, we become magical. 

There may be party hats to celebrate, but that doesn't make the new year significant to anyone but tax advisers. No seismic shift occurred between 11:59 and 12:00 on December 31st, 2003. The 10,000 calories I ate that day would still be there the next morning. So would the hangover. And the debt and disrupted relationships and lack of solid life plans.

I do put stock in reflection, however, and in continual self-improvement. Happiness is a sliding scale. Goals are useful when they're recognized as components of systemic thought and action. Motivation isn't as much of an extrinsic force as it is a fleeting glimpse of magic. 

Making self-improvement reliant on the calendar ties closely to corporate needs to recoup profits after low holiday sales, and it explains why I won't be able to access the gym in January but why everything's back to normal in February. Advertisers say, We know you've overindulged in many ways since November. Let us help you. We care. I'm singling out weight-loss and debt-reduction services here, but the applications are broader than that. And there's nothing magical about shilling pills.

Hope springs eternal, sure, but it does so today and last week and for all time. It does so without the advertisements, without fanfare, without party hats. Change relies on consistency, and while magical thinking offers us many exciting fantasies, it's not reliable. To thrill in the daily toil of the doing disregards email promises for a tighter this or flatter that in four weeks, but it's exciting in its nearly limitless horizon.

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