I resolve to be more resolute

I resolve to be more resolute

I don’t really do new year’s resolutions, because when I was young somebody told me that they never work, and when you’re young you’re very impressionable. For example, I once heard one of the robots on Mystery Science Theater declare, “No matter what the culture, folk dancing is stupid,” and that has been my attitude to that ever since.

I do periodically challenge/force myself to improve myself, or at least address some of my shortcomings. Like one time I resolved to turn myself into a Roxy Music fan. Another time I took up yoga. Because I can now touch my toes and sing all the words to “All I Want is You,” I would say that these challenges I give myself are generally worth the effort.

But they aren’t new year’s resolutions, because I learned when I was six that those never work. It just so happens that when I looked in the mirror and decided that I needed to fix some issues, it was New Year’s Eve. Totally unrelated, though. I would have made these resolutions in October if I’d felt lousy enough then.

First and foremost, I need to read something. After getting off to a great start in January (Moby Dick and The Goldfinch—loved the first, gradually came to hate the second) I didn’t really do much over the rest of the year. A few short novels, mostly read during the summer, and none of them especially memorable; two books on Russian history (a package deal on eBay); and some Shakespeare that I really should have read a long time ago: that was it. Oh, and I only made it through one of those Russian books because I was the only person in the office and there was literally nothing else to do.

So I need to fix that.

I also need to write more. I was doing an amazing (for me) job at the start of the year (that whole a-short-story-and-a personal-essay-every-week thing), but then work—my actual job, that is—finally got going and I didn’t have time to spend twenty hours a week writing. I understand that there are limits, of course, but the fact is that I could do a lot more than I’ve been doing. I could spend less time on Reddit, for example, or just staring at my chickens. Sometimes I just walk around in circles thinking about how I don’t have time to do anything except walk around in circles.

Oh, and in the fall I developed a weird obsession with a game called Fire Emblem, because it let me send a bunch of warriors into battle, and they could fall in love and have children, and those children were also warriors, and so I could send a whole warrior family into battle, which was violent but still kind of sweet. Somehow this was appealing to me, and consumed most of my evenings. And no, it doesn’t make any more sense if you actually play it. It’s just weird. And time-consuming. (And, yes, fun, but whatever.)

So I’ve put away Fire Emblem and taken books off my shelf and put them in a neat little stack so they can taunt me whenever I’m in my living room, and I’ve ordered a bunch of fresh books so I can have something new to look forward to. I can’t tell you what they are, because I’ve already forgotten, but tonight I’m going to start reading either a book of Chinese poetry that I found at a book market in Amsterdam, or a history of Mediterranean pirates that I’ve been lugging around for way too long. I’ll decide over a glass of wine.

And this morning I woke up at three-thirty for reasons that I cannot understand, and instead of poking around on the Internet until sunrise I poured myself some coffee and did a bit of writing. Only three hundred words, but three hundred good ones, I think. I am pleased.

Of course I should also work on being healthier, kinder and more generous, and maybe getting my car’s oil changed more regularly. But right now, learning again how to read and write seem like admirable enough goals, new year be damned.

Happy New Year from the source of the Nile

Happy New Year from the source of the Nile

I returned from the relative cold of Amsterdam to find Kampala gripped by an unpleasant heat wave. I guess it didn’t rain while I was gone, and without me to water them my poor plants have suffered. To think I was only gone four days!

The warm weather, especially after that little taste of cold, has switched my mind into a summer’s-almost-here mode, as if I were twelve years old and it was the last week of May and I couldn’t wait to get out of school. I was driving around town yesterday with my iPod on shuffle, and it seems my iPod agreed, because the playlist was all summer music, offering up reggae, some salsa, classic R&B, and a bunch of uptempo pop hits (a little Leonard Cohen snuck in, too, but it worked.) If Lake Victoria wasn’t infested with hippos and parasites, I would have made a beeline for the beach.

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New year, same me

New year, same me

I rang in the new year the same way I have done for the past three years or so: in my bed, sleeping. Though I did wake up at just a few minutes past midnight because I was thirsty, and I took the opportunity to change the calendar in the kitchen.

The holidays put serious stress on my self-imposed publishing schedule. I like to be alone when I write, but the holidays mean that there are a lot of people in my house who aren’t going anywhere, and who want to look over my shoulder and read out loud.

Somehow, though, I managed to get something out every day. And to figure out a way forward for the next few weeks. I insist on publishing fiction every week because I feel that writing is a muscle that needs to be exercised. A year and a half ago, when I resumed writing in earnest (at least partly to spite my boss), I was happy to put out five hundred words in an hour. Now I’m typically clocking in about two thousand words in that same amount of time. And the words themselves are, I think, getting better, or at least getting as good as I can get them more quickly.

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Around the year in a world 

Around the year in a world 

I started 2016 by getting into a car at four in the morning and driving from North Carolina to Florida. I’m going to ring the year out next week in my cute little house in Kampala, Uganda. In the twelve months in between I visited the Virgin Islands (British and American) and a resort in the Bahamas; I crossed Uzbekistan in a mix of planes, trains, and automobiles (not in that order but I couldn’t resist); left my wonderful apartment in Almaty, Kazakhstan (where I set an all-time record for the longest I’ve ever lived in one house in my life: three years, seven months, ten days); spent a fantastic summer bouncing up and down the East Coast (no real parenthetical to add here); and settled into my new life on a new continent.

In between there were a lot of good days, a small handful of bad days, quite a few great days, and some rather painful moments, most of them mercifully brief, that I will probably dwell on for years to come. Such is life.

The coming of a new year begs reflection. Something is ending, more substantive than an hour or a day, less complete than a life. Life goes on, essentially unchanged, but in a new book.

And after a year’s worth of churning and turning we’re right back at January, where we started. This time we can try to get it right, or at least better.