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.
Monday, December 19, 2022
Do you have your New Year’s resolutions planned yet?
Monday, December 12, 2022
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?
Much of that passage reflects on what it is like to be a human. Heck, I’ll be honest and say that the spirit of these words permeate my brain when the alarm goes off at 5am and I need to get up and get to writing. Usually, but not always, they are enough and I get up.
When it comes to the writing side of things, re-imagine that same passage but substitute “Writer” for “human being”:
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?
My fiction self fell apart in 2022 and I’m largely (partially?) to blame. That’s what I wrote about last week. I mostly shrugged it off, chalking things up to life experiences (my son moved out of the house), the day job (the most creative day job I’ve ever had), and a willingness to consume stories rather than produce them.
But I turned fifty-four this week. I’m in my mid-fifties now. Time is not infinite, so why the heck am I not writing more? Because when I boil myself down to my essence and set aside the crucial qualities of being a husband and father and child of God, what am I?
I go to concerts and take notes. Ditto for author events. I keep a notepad in the car so I can jot down ideas and notes during my commutes. When I read books at home—including fiction—I take notes. When I take trips, I make sure I have pen and paper. When I go to conventions, I take notes on what I see and what I want to buy. I am always writing.
Why? Because that’s who I am. And now, at fifty-four, there is a sense of urgency spurred from Aurelius’s quote (with my modification): “And you’re not willing to do your job as a Writer? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?”
Okay, okay, okay. I get it, Marcus, I get it. I am who I am. I’ll strive harder to be more myself from now on.
All of this begs the question for you, dear reader: do you know who you are? And are you doing it?
Wednesday, December 7, 2022
I’ve been a part of a four-guy science fiction book club since 2009. Each month, one of us picks a book and we meet the first Tuesday of each month. Over the past year or so, I’ve started a new thing: on the books I don’t select, I don’t read the book description. I just download the audiobook and start listening.
I want the book to reveal itself it me without any preconceived notions. Now, typically, around the 20-25% mark, I might circle back and read the description but not always. I ended up doing that for this book because after the first section, I was genuinely curious what kind of book this was.
Think about it: when you hear the words “Sea of Tranquility,” what do you think of? The moon, right? Me, too. Well, there are scenes in this book set on the moon, but I think the title speaks to something more.
So, what is this book about? Well, it involves multiple characters over multiple times. Oh, and there’s time travel (but don’t worry: there’s not a lot of science to get in the way of a good story).
In 1912, a British scion from a prominent family is walking in the woods in British Columbia when, suddenly, he has the feeling of being somewhere else. He’s inside a great room he interprets as a train station. He hears something mechanical that he cannot identify. And he hears violin music.
In late 2019, at a party in New York, a woman is approached by a man. He asks her about her brother, a performance artist, who includes a snippet of video they shot in the forests of British Columbia when they were teenagers. On the video, the camera catches something that appears to be a hanger, and a few notes of violin music.
In 2203, a famous author is on a book tour and she’s in an airship terminal in Oklahoma City and, as the airships disembark, she sees a man playing violin and she has the sudden feeling that she's in a forest.
And in a future time (honestly I forgot what year this part takes place in), a time travel agent volunteers to research the strange anomalies that may or may not link all of these people.
Had I read the description, I would have been all in, but experiencing it the way I did—just the opening chapters set in 1912 then instantly jumping to 2019 with a reference to the upcoming pandemic—was a bit jarring. But I was hooked.
And the book didn’t let up. With each shift of characters, Mandel also shifts the point of view. Oh, and the audiobook was fantastic: with each POV change, it was a different narrator, so if you enjoy audiobooks, you’ll love this one.
I am not going to give away any more details because if I do, you might be able to infer the ending. I’m happy to say that I didn’t see it coming, but when it did, I literally cheered in my car as I drove to the office. It is a great ending to a wonderful book.
In the days since, I’ve told the story to my wife, my parents, and to a fellow saxophone player in my orchestra who went out and bought the book herself.
Of all the books I’ve read in my SF book club, if I’m measuring by emotional impact, then John Scalzi’s Redshirts still takes the prize. But The Sea of Tranquility will now be ranked as one of the best books I’ve read, both this year and of the entire and ongoing book club.
book review blogs
Monday, December 5, 2022
Are you ready for 2023?
I’m a firm believer in constant renewal, be that daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly resets. That is, after all, what New Year’s Resolutions are: a reset. A chance to start a new habit or break an old on.
But it is a good idea to plan ahead and be ready for your start date, and that’s where it’s good to review the current year. I actually started the process this week at my office during my lunch hours. I found an empty conference room with a large white board and started taking stock of 2022 in terms of my writing. I made various lists including the following:
- What went wrong?
- What is changing?
- What to change
- What kind of writing system works best?
For those that top line item, I was brutally honest with myself. Why had I not produced as much writing as I wanted to back on New Year’s Day 2022? I dug into my answers, looking for ways to improve. Because if something isn’t working for you, have the courage to confront it, ask why, and then change. That’s vital to having a sustainable, repeatable system.
I realized my paltry fiction output in 2022 was a combination of two things: my son moved out of the house (and I wasn’t prepared for the pre-move/post-move emotional wallop that produced) and my day job is the most creative day job I’ve ever had. These past few weeks, I’ve recognized how these two threads play into my psyche and have adjusted.
The Changing/Change list are the positive aspects of my life I’m implementing to address all that went wrong. I made sure that the items on these lists are all positive. I went through a terrible time in the beginning of the last decade where I’d chastise myself when I faltered and that didn’t lead to anything good.
The system part is the nuts and bolts part of writing. I’ve tried various ways to write novels and stories. Some don’t work. Some do. My challenge to myself is to take stock of what works and implement it and make it repeatable.
The good thing about taking stock and looking ahead, at least for me, is that it makes my excited to start. I’m purposively limiting my start date to New Year’s Day 2023 to build up anticipation and excitement.
But I pave the way by a month’s worth of preparation.
Have you started?