Some four decades ago, returning home to my parents’ house on a winter break from Rutgers University, I descended on my bedroom armed with a fistful of black contractor trash bags and the caffeinated zeal of a college student who had just cleared his last remaining final exam hurdle. Goodbye calculus, hello clean South Jersey bedroom.
My dresser drawers stuffed with trash, running the gamut from moth-eaten sweaters to crumpled high school biology notes, had never bothered me before. So why change and why then? No end of nagging from my wizened Italian-American momma could do the trick. But the junk-o-logic that a tidy bedroom would somehow create coherency held appeal for me, a lanky kid who lacked a steady girlfriend and thus figured something in my life needed fixing.
Isaac Newton — who also listed theologian on his resume —never bothered to probe the forces behind the breaking of such slovenly gravity, not even after the fabled apple smacked his noggin. How I wish. The ferocity and focus of my New Year’s resolutions has always stood in direct proportion to the loathing I’ve felt over some aspect of my life. If I just loved myself more, would wholesale change be necessary?
Now: What does this have to do with my role as Editor and Publisher of Talking Biz News? Nothing, maybe. But before I begin the year with high ambitions, I stop to take note of the desperation of resolution that runs endemic among media types. Over in that cubicle: He’s working on his screenplay. And that one: She’s daydreaming a five-part series sure to win a Pulitzer. Landing a coveted column. Becoming one of Peter Sagal’s journalism royalty panelists on the brainy NPR quiz show “Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me!” (Hey Peter: hint hint.)
Why can’t we be happy where we are? With who we are? Or is there some irresistible gravitational pull to a new year that’s akin to a black hole cleverly disguised as a yummy Crenshaw melon?
A resolution solution = dissolution
Now in my later 50s, you might say I’ve come full circle on the resolution calliope, and plan to jump off the carousel for good. That’s right: No resolutions for me. I’m disgusted with being disgusted, if you will, and think that a fine way to begin 2023 is to do away with resolutions altogether.
I’m not sure if I need fixing or not, though I suspect on many fronts I do. While once lean as a string bean, I’m now 20 pounds overweight, pushing 200. I don’t floss my teeth every night and pick at my scalp when I think no one’s looking. I start and discard book projects and creative epics of all types with whiplash inefficiency. My latest stab at a late-season comeback as a singer-songwriter sold less than 100 copies. By the world’s measure, the one thing I constantly succeed at is failure.
And yet, I’ve developed just enough moxie – the grit of all this tough stuff in my life yielding a pearl of great contrarian price — to say that maybe it’s the world’s measure that’s bent beyond recognition. Making resolutions in 21st Century America is like trying to take accurate measure of yourself in a funhouse mirror that makes your butt look all wiggly and Sumo.
We salute hate-mongering pseudo journalists like Tucker Carlson over tireless teachers. We stare and sigh at airbrush altered fashion models, more CGI than real life. And while the world continues to spit out zillions of Powerball winners who blow it all and end up rotting in a trailer park, we still think money can solve all of our problems. And how many of us will kick off 2023 vowing to become adored, rich and thin?
No more for me. Instead, I’ll take my solace from deep thinkers like theologian Parker Palmer, who espouses the fine, funky art of learning to live with your deep internal contradictions. I press my ear to a club dressing room scene vaguely remembered — this also from my college days — and the words of a seasoned sound man I can never forget: “Lou, there is beauty in the flaw.” Or, to borrow from Miles Davis: “Mistakes? There are none.”
The media, contempt and 2023
This journalist in particular, and mainstream media in general, will make plenty of egregious mistakes in 2023. First and foremost, to borrow from Harvard professor and acclaimed author Arthur C. Brooks, we have to get out of feeding our current culture of contempt. Even the best of us have fallen for it. Once objective reporters now have license to inject disgust and snark between the lines of solid news coverage.
What we give the audience, Brooks suggests, are shots of addictive dopamine fit for the cave animal in us all. Viewers and readers keep coming back. They’re hooked, even though deep in their souls they don’t want to be. Family members stop talking to family members. Friendships shatter.
Then come the cable TV barons and online empire builders, just as primordial in their fear and greed: “What happens to our profits when we stop pushing the drug?”
Brooks gets it. He ran the American Enterprise Institute, a leading conservative think tank, for 10 years. His views as espoused in a new book, “Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from Our Culture of Contempt,” are revolutionary.
Parting thoughts: Revolution meets razz-olution
What if the spirit of Walter Cronkite as a trusted, avuncular and fair journalist is not dead but merely waiting for resurrection? Brooks hints at joining a movement or helping to start one. If so, sign me up for a Brooks revolution.
But as for the resolution part … hrumpf. For once, I’m not going to fool myself that 1000 push-ups a day, or six retreats to an ashram, or a book deal are sure-fire paths to happiness. I should begin 2023 full of piss and ginger, to quote my mom, raring to go. That is in part true. But another part of me begins a little exhausted and needs a hug.
Resolutions, then? Hooey. Who needs ’em? I don’t, especially not this year. So if there’s one resolution I’m intent on keeping, it’s to not make any damned…