Joyce Carol Oates

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This article was prepared for the January 9, 2002 edition of U.S.

1 Newspaper. All rights


Fierce Resolutions & Simple Plans for 2002

Barbara Figge Fox

Fox is an editor at U.S. 1 Newspaper.

ALL AROUND ME, people are vowing to change their lives.

Some want to be more spiritual, but others are taking the Carpe Diem

approach, and I’m trying to put myself in the Seize the Day camp.

It’s not that I am giving up my faith — I just want to put a new,

more cheerful face on it. To put less focus on getting things done,

more focus on living in the moment and appreciating the Now.

It won’t be easy. The way I was raised, you were supposed to be busy

all the time. If you weren’t doing two things at once, preferably

three things, you weren’t making good use of your time. Are you


TV? Also be hemming a dress. Are you riding in a car? Also be reading

a book. Are you folding laundry? Also be memorizing your part in the

play. Never sleep late. Never just sit quietly. Never veg out.

All this comes from my mother, who married during the Depression and

can scrape a pot cleaner than you can imagine. Somehow she related

frugality in the kitchen with the thrifty use of time, because she

also set records on squeezing the most minutes out of every day. She

worked in my father’s cancer research laboratory, typed and edited

his books and papers, and drove us to a different lesson or activity

every weekday, plus three on Saturday.

I have inherited her work ethic and her high energy level, but it

has taken 60 years for me to realize that busy-ness is not next to


For those years I was lucky enough to find work that I love doing,

because unless it seemed like "work" I could not really enjoy

it. I love children, so I worked at raising a family. I like teaching,

so I taught church school and led Scout troops. I love dance, so I

endeavored to be a dance critic. I like to talk to people, so I found

a job as a reporter. Fun times and vacation times — they were

low on the priority list and had to be carefully worked into the


That trip to Paris, that trip to the Grand Canyon, that week with

the grandbabies — there would always be Next Year. But last fall,

all the world suddenly realized that Next Year might not always be


This is not a new concept to those who serve in the armed forces.

Early in our marriage, when my husband was an army officer, I lived

with the possibility that he might go off on a mission and not come

back. Later I heard a sermon entitled "Are Your Bags Packed?"

and earnestly tried to take that to heart. So I hope I’m prepared,

as far as my faith goes, for leaving this world.

But when it comes to enjoying God’s world, I need lots more practice.

I need to make an attitude shift, to admit that I like working

late when the writing is going well. I need to practice "living

in the moment," to remind myself that doing the dishes is not

just a chore to be gotten through but a satisfying task in and of

itself. Most of all, I need to unlace the corset into which I am


so there will be time to practice singing, "It’s a wonderful world

. . ." and saying "I’m lucky to be here."

Gina Zechiel

Zechiel is a freelance writer based in Lambertville.

1. I WILL BE a better person.

2. When I am better, I will (a) not snarl at my husband

when he doesn’t hear me the first time and (b) not snarl at my mother

when she says I am as nasty as ever.

3. I will buy the collected works of Nicolas Freeling

at two bucks a pop for used paperbacks on Amazon.

4. I will lose 10 pounds.

5. After we move, I will get a part-time job in a big

noisy office with lots of people, even if it’s making coffee and



6. I will not try and get Lily to go to sleep before


because when I am babysitting, she is the boss. And I am not her


And I will give her candy when she whines.

7. I will be nicer to my mother.

8. I will be nicer to my brother even though he is a


SOB who thinks he is Smarter than Everybody and Never Writes Nicely.

9. I will get a new computer, a subscription to The


and a pedicure.

10. I will not hold my stomach in for anybody.

11. I will continue to buy my mother gifts even though

she never likes any of them. (Is this sadism or masochism?)

12. I will keep a diary — two days already this year,

not bad.

13. I will get rid of all the silver that needs cleaning.

14. I will be calm, practical, thoughtful and


15. I will get new driving glasses.

16. I will eat slower.

17. I will watch my next grandchild get born, maybe


18. I will learn Excel. No I won’t. Maybe I will.

19. I will love my funny friends more than ever.

20. I will be careful. I will be grateful.

21. I will live to be 108.

Liz Hagen

Hagen is a retired editor and freelance book reviewer.

IN THE NEW YEAR, I resolve to pay attention. To listen instead

of preparing my next remark. To break new ground, cook new dishes

and make new friends. To read, learn and inwardly digest. To savor

the moment, seize the hour, and offer my time and humble expertise

to a cause greater than myself.

Jeanette Ortiz

Ortiz is a sales clerk at Lord & Taylor in Quakerbridge Mall.

TO NOTICE the simple things in life, and not take them for


Angela McGlynn

McGlynn is a professor of psychology at Mercer County Community


TO APPRECIATE each day more fully and to love more deeply in

the coming year.

Fran Davidson

Davidson is assistant professor of English at MCCC.

TO LISTEN CAREFULLY to my students’ unique and diverse voices

and appreciate the richness of our multifaceted Mercer community.

Kathleen McGinn Spring: In Praise Of Simple Planning

Spring is an editor at U.S. 1 Newspaper.

OUT TO UNCOVER New Year’s resolutions, I first quizzed

my spouse. "Me? Resolutions?" was the response. So I moved

on to my GenX son. "No, man," he said with no hesitation.

"What’s the point? You make resolutions, and you break them in

two days."

Interestingly, that "two days" appears to be the universal

timeframe for referring to the futility of pledging to reform some

a bad habit in the coming year. I heard it again and again as I asked

the resolution question. No one said two hours, although that is


where many smoking cessation resolutions end, or two weeks, which

is about the median time most humans can stick to a diet without



The folks at the New Year’s Eve party I attended, for the most part,

were just saying no to resolutions. Most, like me, celebrated their

30th birthdays sometime in the early-’80s. My guess is that resolution

burn-out is at work, and perhaps it is worse this year as we hurry

an unhappy 2001 into history.

On assignment to write about my own resolutions, I got nowhere. The

list of potential self-improvement projects that popped into my head

was endless:

Remove summer beach and sports accoutrements from the car.

Write birthdays on calendar, and send cards, preferrably before

the event.

Keep on top of clerical-type tasks.

Elevate taste in music.

Open bills before the cats mutilate them.

Avert eyes and quicken step when passing bakeries.

Learn to cook something — anything — well enough to

invite friends over for dinner more often.

Absolutely resist the charms of any stray kitten that shows

up on the front steps.

Figure out how to use the video camera.

I’ll stop right there. There are many more possible resolutions

in half a dozen categories, but dragging them out is no fun.

The whole problem with resolutions, I think, is that they tend —

to one degree or another — to go against the resolver’s nature.

Don’t these resolutions sound awfully familiar? Haven’t they turned

up on lists before? As I tried to come up with resolutions, something

powerful within balked.

Coincidentally, as I was pondering — darkly pondering — the

nature of resolutions, I went outside to cut greens from a thicket

of bushes along the side of the porch. For years, the spouse has been

advocating their elimination. "Badly overgrown," is his


But the bushes, growing up several feet above the porch windows,


a lovely privacy, allowing peeks through their branches at the river.

Suddenly, though, I saw just how wide they had become — a good

seven feet, maybe more. Ripping them out would create a sizeable


space, all of it with lovely southern light.


Much of the yard is in deep shade, and is criss-crossed with the roots

of a meglomaniac wisteria. Planting anything in most of the yard is

out of the question. But here, on the site of the overgrown bush


is a prime garden spot. Who needs privacy when the alternative is


On one of the last days of December, the soil was still

warm enough that planting bulbs seemed possible. I bounded into the

house and started calling nurseries and checking Internet sites. All,

sadly, were sold out of spring bulbs.

No matter. I have a plan, and its contemplation fills me with


I will scour catalogs, order tulips, and daffodils, and irisies, and

lilies in all sizes and colors. I will enjoy days planting and weeding

in all weather, and will cut flowers by the armful to bring into the

house and to share with friends. Maybe I’ll find a way to work in

a little patio, another spot to sit out late in the evening to watch

the moon rise and chat with my neighbors as they take their dogs for

the final walk of the night.

In thinking about my new garden, I pondered the difference between

a resolution and a plan. For me, resolutions have an unpleasant aura.

They carry heavy, heavy intimations of Calvinistic self-improvement

for its own sake. As the years go by, they also induce feelings of

hopelessness, guilt, and failure.

Plans on the other hand are light and sunny. Buoyed by my garden plan,

I began to think about seeing San Francisco, taking up skiing again,

and putting together a family reunion in the summer. Ah, that was

more like it.

It is possible that I will become busy and the garden will not happen,

that the trip to see the Golden Gate Bridge — which frequently

appears in my dreams — will be put off again, and that my


will not be able to make it to a reunion. It doesn’t matter. Planning

for each will be delightful. If they happen, fine. If they don’t,

that’s fine too. There is no moral imperative. There will be no guilt,

either way.

Plans are in this year; resolutions are out, probably forever.

Top Of Page
Joyce Carol Oates

Oates is professor in humanities at Princeton, and most

recently wrote "Middle Age: A Romance" and "Beasts."

For the December 31 issue of the New York Times she was invited to

write about celebration in a time of stress.

In "Words Fail, Memory Blurs, Life Wins," she references September

11 and tells of another instance when "words failed," a white-knuckle

flight from New Orleans:

AS SOON AS SUCH an experience — whether anecdotal or tragic

— is over, we begin the inevitable process of "healing":

that is, forgetting. We extract from the helpless visceral sensation

some measure of intellectual summary or control. We lie to ourselves:

we revise experience to make it lighthearted and amusing to others.

For in what other way is terror to be tamed, except recycled as anecdotes

or aphorisms, a sugary coating to hide the bitter pellet of truth


Amnesia seeps into the crevices of our brains, and amnesia heals.

The present tense is a needle’s eye through which we thread ourselves

— or are threaded — and what’s past is irremediably past,

to be recollected only in fragments. So, too, the collective American

experience of the trauma has begun already to fade and will continue

to fade, like previous collective traumas: the shock of Pearl Harbor,

the shock of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

"Hope springs eternal in the human breast" may be a cliche,

but it is also a profound insight. Perhaps unfairly, the future doesn’t

belong to those who only mourn, but to those who celebrate.

The future is ever-young, ever forgetting the gravest truths of the


Ideally we should retain the intellectual knowledge that such traumas

as the terrorist attacks have given us, while assimilating and moving

beyond the rawness of the emotional experience. In this season of

unease, as ruins continue to smolder, we celebrate the fact of our

existence, which pity, terror and visceral horror have made more precious,

at least in our American eye

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