I make and keep modest, practical resolutions all year, but the showy ones I make every New Year's Eve are another story.
For instance, in August I vowed not to become a violent felon. I was doing some (research) time in Pelican Bay State Prison. Grim place. The guy I talked to
hasn't touched another human being in 16 years. He'll probably never be paroled. He's only had the sun on his skin for 30 seconds of the last decade, when he was taken outside to an ambulance that took him to a hospital.
I left the visitation center with the moms and dads and brothers and sisters of the inmates. A lot of these people know each other from coming up here for so many years:
Hi Al. How's Bobby?
Had some trouble. Fifteen to parole now.
Ah, that's too bad. At least it's not Corcoran.
The sun was shining down on us, and the towering, green Del Norte County forest surrounded us just beyond the electric fences. It was a momentary glory in a gloomy and often hopeless place.
And, of course, I resolved what anyone would resolve -- to never, ever do anything to get thrown into a place like this. I can keep that resolution. I did exactly the speed limit all the way back to the Travelodge in Crescent City.
Then there was the February resolution I made after watching my son get a yellow belt in tae kwon do. I watched him kick and punch and do his forms and even break a board with his foot. I was stunned with pride. So I resolved right there in the martial arts studio to take better care of myself so I can live long enough to see him get his black belt. And lo, just a few days later, I got a stationary cycle and started pumping away.
In March, my wife and I resolved to get our affairs in order and draw up a will. Ever gotten together with a lawyer to create a will and do some basic estate planning? As fun goes, it's right up there with getting warts cut out of the soles of your feet or a Lasik "touch-up" -- but we got it done, and by fall we had a heavy new document (half an inch thick) outlining all the things that we'd like to see happen after we die. Chipper stuff!
In June, I resolved to give my young sons a basic understanding of California geography, so we took them to Bakersfield, Paso Robles and Yosemite.
In July, I resolved to give my young sons a basic understanding of the natural world, so we got a dog.
In October, I resolved to go fly fishing more often, so in November a buddy and I drove way up past Bridgeport to fish the West Walker River. I'd never even seen it before. What a beautiful piece of water. We caught good wild fish all day. Then, when it was almost dark, it started raining, and I found a pool I could hardly get my fly into.
But on the eighth cast I hooked a monster. It exploded out of the water to take my Royal Wulff. I needed both hands to fight it. It was like having the new dog on a leash when he spotted a rabbit. The fish slashed around the pool six or eight times, then blasted out of the water again, shot over a waterfall into a fast downstream run and broke the line and my heart in a split tragicomic second. I sat on a rock for a long time after, shaking not from cold but from knowing that I had touched something, if not sacred, then at least very rare and splendid indeed.
So it's not like I'm incapable of resolving.
But frankly, my record of keeping New Year's resolutions isn't good. Maybe it's because they're too big. For some reason, the big resolutions -- become a better man, live in the moment, do something to make the world better, live each day as if it's your last -- just don't stick. They're good resolutions. I'd love to keep one. I just can't.
So this year I'm going to keep things doable. I'm going to stick to the physical. This New Year I'm going to resolve, reasonably, I think, to get rid of things that don't work.
To that end I've contracted for a dumpster to be brought to my home. Neither my wife nor I can bear to part with things, even the nonworking things that other people might consider junk. But into this bin I'll be tossing all that failed in 2006: my cheapie VCR/DVD player, the Thunder Slam plastic backboard and hoop that once played recorded thunder claps when you slam-dunked on it, the cylindrical floor lamp filled with water in which plastic tropical "fish" would swirl in lovely aquatic light, the Jumbo Vehicle Pet Barrier that our new Labrador retriever easily crushed into scrap metal, the cute wading pool that our new Lab chewed to shreds, the tennis rackets I wore out or bashed in frustration, the scrap wood bristling with nails, the garden hoses peppered with holes and the Gopher Getter that got not one gopher all year.
There will be more. This may be my first New Year's resolution ever that actually gets resolved. I'm bullish.
Through my office window I now watch the dumpster arrive. Proud and commanding, it is borne in on a garbage truck like a beauty queen on a float. It clangs and bangs and echoes into place. I know that as soon as the clock strikes midnight Dec. 31, it will be calling me with its siren song.