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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
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."
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.
at two bucks a pop for used paperbacks on Amazon.
noisy office with lots of people, even if it’s making coffee and
because when I am babysitting, she is the boss. And I am not her
And I will give her candy when she whines.
SOB who thinks he is Smarter than Everybody and Never Writes Nicely.
and a pedicure.
she never likes any of them. (Is this sadism or masochism?)
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.
the coming year.
and appreciate the richness of our multifaceted Mercer community.
Kathleen McGinn Spring: In Praise Of Simple Planning
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
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
invite friends over for dinner more often.
up on the front steps.
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,
Plans are in this year; resolutions are out, probably forever.
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:
— 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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