…but at two other sites.
Do Some Damage - Every Saturday, I contribute to this group blog.
Scott Dennis Parker - My official author website.
Join the conversation and share your thoughts.
How are your New Year’s Resolutions coming along?
I saw a statistic that said by today—Day 36 of 2023—a shocking 80% or more people have already given up on the resolutions they so fervently made at midnight on 1 January. Eighty percent. I think the figure is higher, to be honest. There’s even a holiday to help folks who waver on their resolutions. It’s called National Quitter’s Day and that was back on 13 January.
As I wrote back in December, I had certain personal goals—okay, let’s just call them habits, okay? That’s what they really are—that I wanted to do in January. I started re-reading the Psalms (one a day for 150 days), I re-read the Proverbs (31 chapters for 31 days in January), and have started to re-read Ryan Holiday’s Daily Stoic. Taking a cue from Bryon Quertermous, I bought a weekly planner and kept track of every habit I wanted to set.
So far? Success. It’s feels very nice to have reached the last day of the why-does-it-feel-so-long January and all my boxes were checked.
The other thing that also was checked? The writing habit. My writing goal for January was simple: start a new project and write on it every day. I had no word count goal but I tend to zero in on 1,000 words per session. Again, 100% success.
Now, it wasn’t perfect. There were a couple of days when I had to slog through the writing, but I sat down and did it.
By the 31st of January, I had amassed approximately 39,000 words on the new novel. That’s not quite NaNoWriMo speed (50,000 words over 30 days) but considering the dismal writing I did in 2022, I’ll take the win. You know how I knew the new habit was locked in? When on that first Saturday morning, I opted not to watch a movie before I finished my words for the day. That Saturday Habit has continued. That, my friends, is a fantastic feeling.
But what do you do if life threw you curveballs in January and you’ve had to catch them, dodge them, hit them, or let them hit you?
Start again. Seriously it’s that simple. Just start.
What’s great about February is that it has the fewest days of any month. If you’ve wanted to start a new habit and have fallen off the wagon, start again on Monday. Do the writing, do the exercise, do the reading, do the calling of your friends or family you haven’t spoken to in a long time. There are only 24 more days in February. It’s a nice, short length of time to get back to the habit you know you want to ingrain in your brain.
Start today or tomorrow and do that new habit every day for a week. Your reward? The Super Bowl. Then aim for the next week. You make it that far, you’ll only have ten more days until the end of the month.
You know you want to create that new resolution, that new habit. I’m here to tell you that it’s never too late. But you will have to do one thing:
Photo: Mo Eid via Pexels.com
Like Castle, New Amsterdam had me at the trailer. The show starred Ryan Eggold (whom I knew from The Blacklist) as Max Goodwin, the new medical director at New Amsterdam, the oldest public hospital in America (based on the real Bellevue hospital). Eggold’s performance on The Blacklist stood out, especially when he was in the same show as series star James Spader, but with Max, Eggold had a role to which he could bring his considerable charm and humanity. It didn’t hurt that he had Max’s mantra as a north star: How can I help?
If you watch the trailer, you get what the series was about: helping people despite the massive forces standing in the way. Over five years, and through a pandemic, Max and his colleagues kept running up against seemingly insurmountable odds. Sometimes they’d win, other times they’d lose, but they kept trying, striving to do what they can.
New Amsterdam ran on Tuesday nights on NBC right after the massive hit This is Us. My wife watched that show from the jump and, like many viewers, often ended episodes with tears in her eyes. I didn’t watch that show, but New Amsterdam proved to be my weekly dose of heartwarming tears.
Storytelling-wise, the writers of New Amsterdam often used a very small story—often a single patient—to tell a larger tale. Like all good TV shows, the supporting cast each had their time the spotlight. A particular favorite was Tyler Labine's Iggy Frome, a psychiatrist, who often ran up against the pillars of big medicine just as much as Max did. A season 5 recurring theme for Iggy was the crumbling of his marriage and having to come to terms with himself before reaching out to his ex-husband and asking him for a simple date, to try again.
Sandra Mae Frank's Dr. Elizabeth Wilder was the Chief of Oncology. The actress is also deaf. She became a love interest to Max in the last season and I found it wonderful not only to see how a deaf surgeon navigated the world of the hearing in the operating room but also how the writers showed a burgeoning love often in silence and sign language.
I enjoyed seeing Jocko Sims's chief surgeon come to terms with things he could not easily fix--like his personal life as well the relationship with mostly absent father--and how Jocko imbued Floyd Reynolds with deep grace and understanding. And Janet Montegomery's Lauren Bloom, a character who grappled with addiction and showed how the messiness in life can be dealt with, but that it's hard and it takes one day at a time, one decision at a time, and the struggle never ends.
The writers and directors brought all their resources to bear in fun way, sometimes using time-honored tropes quite effectively. They did so for the finale episode, adding a nice twist that pulled all the tears from my eyes. [I’ll add my thoughts about the finale at the bottom of this post.]
But what really got me thinking about the end of New Amsterdam is what it might signal for me as a viewer: Would this be the last network TV show I watched on a regular basis?
Born in 1968, I remember when there were three networks, PBS, and a local UHF station here in Houston. By the time I got to middle school, we had two more local stations, but that was it. Every fall, the three networks would roll out their Saturday morning cartoon lineup, showcasing them in specials that aired the previous night. There'd be articles in the local papers for the new fall TV shows (including a side-by-side grid) and big splashes on TV Guide. I remember scanning all those resources and then making a schedule for what I'd want to watch.
This practice pretty much continued through the publication history of Entertainment Weekly and the birth of the internet when information was much easily found. I'm always game to see what the Big 3 had planned.
With the birth and rise of streaming TV, however, things began to change. Netflix would drop every episode of a new show and you could binge them all in a weekend. Other services followed suit. It was a different way to watch TV. Not wrong, mind you, but different. Just because I grew up in the weekly format doesn't mean I don't appreciate having all episodes of a season at my fingertips. Ever since last summer, my family has been watching the entire run of Friends, an episode a day at dinner, something that would have been difficult prior to streaming. But there is something to having a week to think about and digest plot elements and revelations of any given episode. I remember when Lost was airing, the morning after, a group of us would discuss the newest episode over coffee. It was quite fun.
Things change and I change with them. That's how life is, but I will say I dug when Disney+ opted to drop episodes of its Marvel and Star Wars TV shows on a weekly basis. Sure, it meant the company would secure subscriptions for a longer time, but it was fun to think and read about what the latest revelation about Wanda (WandaVision) or The Mandalorian or Andor might mean.
As Fall 2022 approached, I did my usual thing that I've done all my life: I scanned what was returning and what new shows would debut. New Amsterdam was top of my list even though I knew going in it would be its last. And a shortened 13-episode season at that. It was, however, the only returning show I watched and cared about. The only other network show I watched live--SyFy's Resident Alien--wouldn't be returning until 2023.
That left the new shows. As I read about them and watched previews, I experienced something foreign to my experience: none of the shows appealed to me. Granted, I'm a middle-aged guy now so that might be a thing, but you'd think the shows at CBS would be in my wheelhouse. Some of them probably should be. I'm looking at NCIS or FBI, but for whatever reason, I just never started.
So what's next? Network TV is not going away, but perhaps that majority of its viewers are. The Boomers are slowly dying and us Gen Xers are now in middle age. Millennials grew up in the 1980s and 1990s so they remember what it was like to be in front of a TV on Thursday nights (or set the VCR) but for Gen Z, the ones born in the late 1990s, I don't think network TV barely registers. My son, now twenty-one, rarely watched anything on "live" TV after he stopped watching Blue's Clues. His network is YouTube and streaming. When he moved out of the house, I made sure to load the apps of the local TV stations on his smart TV. "It's for the weather at least," I told him. He just showed me his phone. "I get the weather here."
And he gets his TV there, too.
Now that New Amsterdam is gone, network TV is now the place I watch Stephen Colbert every night. And football until the Super Bowl and then golf on Sunday afternoons without football. If you throw in ESPN, it's also the place I'll catch NBA games, but I think you're seeing the trend. Network TV might become the place for live events where scripted TV shows are things I'll catch on a streaming service.
Might network TV have lost a viewer? Unlikely. Come next fall, I'll still read about the new shows. There might be another New Amsterdam, a new This is Us, or a surprise sitcom that comes out of the blue. I will always be curious to see what network TV has to offer.
But it has been a fascinating realization that the end of New Amsterdam likely marks a point in my lifetime of TV watching.
What about you? Do you still watch network TV or are all your favorite shows on a streaming service?
One of the tropes the writers used in the finale was to give each character their origin story via flashbacks. We see how Max, Elizabeth, Iggy, Lauren, and Floyd each found their way into the practice of medicine. I'll add that I kind of hoped for a flashback to Anupam Kher's Dr. Vijay Kapoor but, as my wife suggested, perhaps the show and the actor didn't part well. Ditto on both accounts for Freema Agyeman as Dr. Helen Sharpe, Max's previous love interest.
In one of those tricks via editing, you see Max's last day at New Amsterdam with his young daughter, Luna, as they try and get out of the hospital. Max has resigned the position of Medical Director in order to spend more time with Luna. There is, of course, a major emergency that will harness the powers and abilities of all the staff and it forces Max to miss the mermaid parade yet again (it's something Luna always wants to attend but they kept missing it because of Max's job, thus the resignation).
The editing trick is where you see what is presented as the next medical director, a young woman who showed up and has to deal with whispered rumors about her. Halfway through the show, as Max's edict of "How can I help?" has been uttered more than once, I looked over to my wife and said, "If the final four words of this entire series isn't 'how can I help?', then the writers will have missed a golden opportunity."
They didn't, but they went one better. My wife figure it out first and suggested it: "I think that new medical director is Luna all grown up."
Boom! That is exACTly what it was. Some writer I am. I didn't even see it coming (although, to be fair, I rarely try and guess stories while I'm in the middle of them because in that moment, I'm a viewer/reading rather than a writer).
Turns out, Luna's origin story was Max's last day at New Amsterdam. And it is she, looking directly at the camera, who speaks those famous four words: How can I help? Cut to black and cue the tears.
Oh, and props to the writers for not showing us older versions of the same characters. I first thought I might've wanted to see a gray-haired Max, to see him be proud of his daughter, but then realized my error. And here's the veteran writer tip: you don't have to see Ryan Eggold in old person makeup to know he's proud of his daughter. If you've written characters well, stuff like that is understood and doesn't always have to be shown. Besides, New Amsterdam no longer belonged to Max. It's Luna's story now.
For the past few years, in light of the success of the Rian Johnson films (Knives Out; Glass Onion) and the Kenneth Branagh adaptations of Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, I’ve been curious about Agatha Christie. 2020 celebrated the century mark of her first book and the yearly reading challenges started. I didn’t do very well before but I intend to change that. I plan on reading—intentionally—the books on the Read Christie 2023. This year’s theme is “Methods and Motives.”
Good news: I’m one for one. Sad Cypress is January’s book and I’ve already listened to it. Even better, if you check out the website, they’ve listened ten of the twelve books on tap for the year. That way, you and I can stay abreast with the new challenge and read at least twelve Agatha Christie books. I’m particularly looking forward to February’s book, Partners in Crime, the second book in the Tommy and Tuppence series.
Oh, and you don’t have to read the books they suggest. They have a particular method of murder or a motive and you are free to pick any of her books. But as a Christie newbie, I’m just going with the flow.
How are those resolutions coming along?
It’s Day 7 of January 2023, a full week after many of us toasted the new year at midnight and resolved to make changes in our lives. Back in December, I wrote about making resolutions—or habit changes—with the guiding principle of “just try.” Most of us want to change something about ourselves—to become a better version of ourselves—so the first step is to decide to try. The next (and the next and the next) is to follow through.
Depending on where you get your data, a large percentage of folks who make new year’s resolutions fail by February. One statistic I found was 80%. That means 80% of people who want to change decide to renege [yeah that’s spelled correctly; I actually had to look it up] on their promises to themselves. January 19 seems to be the date most associated with throwing in the towel on resolutions. One fact I read claimed that 23% quit their resolutions in the first week. Hopefully you are not in that number.
So far, neither am I.
Most of the changes I want to implement are habits. I fell out of taking a multi-vitamin in the latter half of the year so I’m starting to take them again. Six for six as of this writing. Ditto for consuming a daily dose of apple cider vinegar, performing daily push-ups, getting up and moving [either walking or the rowing machine; walking won this week], and daily readings [Psalms, Proverbs, and the Daily Stoic]. The principles found in James Clear’s Atomic Habits provided me the tools necessary to maintain the habits I want to implement.
And, inspired by fellow writer Bryon Quertermous, I bought a weekly planner to keep track of everything. I make daily notes when I perform the habit. I don’t anticipate having 365 days of check marks saying I took a vitamin because after a certain number of days, the habit becomes ingrained. It’s how I started and maintained my flossing habit.
But here’s the key metric for any new habit: inevitably, one day you’ll miss or forget or somehow not do the new task. Let that roll off your shoulders and stay focused on the overall goal. Adjust if you have to and try not to miss two in a row. It was a lesson I applied yesterday.
The year 2022 was not a good one for me writing-wise. As such, a major resolution for me was to get back in the habit of writing. Taking a cue from key message from author Mary Robinette Kowal at her book signing here in Houston back in November, I’m starting the year off with a brand-new story. Yes, I have multiple unfinished stories, but am channeling Kowal’s theory of why NaNoWriMo works for her: the writing is Novel, Interesting, Challenging, and Urgent.
So, for me, the new book is novel (as in brand-new). I’m interested in the story I’m telling. I find it challenging in that I’m starting from a story pitch and a general sense of what kind of story it is and how I want to tell it. As for urgency, I would love to finish the story by 31 January, but I’m allowing myself a goal of six weeks. I’ll grant myself until 28 February if things get complicated.
Crucially, I don’t have a set writing goal in terms of word count. All that matters is forward progress. I started the year with 1,028 words, a great start considering I haven’t written fiction in months. I topped 1,600 words twice this week, both on days in which I went into the office (Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays). By the time yesterday rolled around, my first work-from-home day of the year, I was excited: with no commute, I could wake at the same time and get a substantial chunk of writing done before I logged into my work computer.
That was the plan. Didn’t work out that way.
I had Alexa set to sound the alarm at 5:30am. As a bit of background, the Christmas break was not as restful as I wanted and I’ve been trying to catch up on sleep. I’ve been tired this week and, despite my attempt to get up at the alarm, I was still catching up. “Alexa,” I said yesterday morning into the dark, “set an alarm for 5:45.” With those words, I rolled over for an extra fifteen minutes.
Forty-seven minutes later, I woke. Still in the dark. I smiled at myself for thinking I was so excited and ready to get to writing that I had beaten the alarm. I checked my digital watch. 6:17am. What the heck? Did the power go out? Nope, the ceiling fan was spinning. Puzzled, I asked Alexa what the alarm was set for. “5:45pm.”
That brought a huge sigh from me. Sure, I needed the sleep, but I had slept through my writing time. I only had time to get up, take out the dogs, shower, eat breakfast, and get to work. What would become of my new daily writing habit?
I worked really hard on all my day job activities, got them all complete, and, late in the afternoon, I opened up my writing computer and picked up where I left off during my Thursday lunch hour. To be honest, it was weird writing so late in the day. I became a morning writer ten years ago—lunch hour writer when I have to go into the office—so it’s been a long time since I wrote fiction so late in the day.
But you know what? It worked. I made forward progress, clocked in 1,694 new words, and my writing resolution remained intact. All is good.
The key takeaway: Life will throw curve balls at your resolutions. Take the hits if you can and adjust accordingly. Just stay focused on the end goal: becoming a better you.
Do you have your New Year’s resolutions planned yet?
Yeah, yeah, I know it’s still two weeks away but this will be my last post at Do Some Damage until January. But I’ve already started thinking and planning the things I want to accomplish in 2023 and it is really important to kick off the year on a good note.
On the Daily Stoic podcast, host Ryan Holiday wondered why we constantly make New Year’s resolutions and he brought in a quote from Samuel Johnson: “Reformation is necessary and despair is criminal.” I looked up this quote to see if it is part of something larger and it is: “When I find that so much of my life has stolen unprofitably away, and that I can descry by retrospection scarcely a few single days properly and vigorously employed, why do I yet try to resolve again? I try, because reformation is necessary and despair is criminal. I try, in humble hope of the help of God.”
I know lots of folks have a good first week in January and then, by around the six-week mark, most folks have given up on their resolutions. But you don’t have to.
Which I why I’ve been structuring my own resolutions around smaller yet quantifiable goals. The key for me is to have a good January so that I can maintain the newly formed habit. For me, any new resolution I make I will do during the 31 days of January. I will keep track of the new habits daily and mark them on my calendar. Then, by 1 February, the bulk of the new habits will have become ingrained. It’s how I started my flossing habit and there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t floss.
But let’s circle back to the Johnson quote, the longer one. What he’s basically saying is that when he examines his life, he sees where he’s faltered and then questioned why try again. For many, that’s reason enough not to make resolutions For me, however, I am always optimistic that new habits and resolutions can be made and kept and maintained. I’m always looking for ways to improve my life—as a husband, father, writer, friend—and I’ll always make New Year’s resolutions.
Because what’s the alternative? You get older and then you look back on your life and wish you would have started something. Which ties right back to a quote I have pinned to my cork board: A year from now, you will have wished you started today.
Make “today” be 1 January 2023, start something new, and make your future self proud.
Well, by my own definition, I’m officially in my mid-fifties.
For any given decade, I consider the years ending in zero through three to be “early.” Four, five, and six are “mid” while the last three years are “late.” I turned fifty-four on Tuesday.
You might think that would be cause for a great, big sigh. Sure, there’s a little of that as well as the realization that there are more years behind me than in front of me. That, my friends, is just a sign of mortality.
But here’s the giant cherry on top of this sundae we call life: I’m alive! So it is always good to recognize and respect and cherish that simple fact.
And yet, as I took stock of what I had accomplished and all that happened in my fifty-third year, I started to wonder what I would do in my fifty-fourth. It was the latter thought that gave me a sense of urgency.
Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor who was also a Stoic, wrote the following opening paragraphs in Book 5 (or should it be V?) of his Meditations (as translated by Gregory Hayes):
At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I am rising to do the work of a human being. What do I have to complain about, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”
—But it’s nicer here…
So were you born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?
At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I am rising to do the work of a Writer. What do I have to complain about, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”
—But it’s nicer here…
So were you born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a Writer? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?