Friday, January 1, 2016

David L. Ulin: Resolution: January 1, 2016

  1. My New Year’s Resolution: No more New Year’s Resolutions.
  2. No, wait: Maybe just one. I resolve not to be up to my old tricks.
  3. I resolve not to go for easy answers, easy solutions, not to fall back on the tried and true.
  4. I resolve not to follow patterns … or better yet, to understand that patterns are illusions, that I can do whatever I want to do.
  5. I resolve not to be embarrassed by the inspirational tone this list is taking, even though I detest the inspirational.
  6. No, wait: Not the inspirational, the easy inspirational. The unthinking affirmation. The social media equivalent of an enema.
  7. I resolve not to pay attention to social media. Or not to pay the wrong kind of attention. (Which is not the same thing as not paying attention to social media.) You know what I mean.
  8. No, wait: This is important. I don’t want to fall prey to knee-jerk sanctimony. Social media makes me feel bad: Can I just say that? It makes me feel less than, disconnected, antisocial. I’m not writing only of its endless humble brags, the way it encourages us to pimp ourselves — although that’s part of the problem, to be sure. How many times do I need to read how great your life is, when I know it’s messy and unkempt as mine? How many photos of your children in exotic places, stories of your triumphs, inspirational (that word again) references to your struggles, your challenges, all of which you seem to have overcome? A friend (another word I resolve not to overuse, or use incorrectly, or whatever) once sent me an e-card, which I still have, printed out and displayed in my office; I wish there was a social networking site, it reads, where everyone would leave me the fuck alone. The image, framed in soothing shades of lime, features a man sitting at a table, clutching a knife and fork, eyes wild, mouth open, hair and beard unkempt. It is how I often feel when I’m on social media, hungry for real interaction, unfulfilled by all the scanty fare.
  9. No, wait: not a friend but a former friend, someone who has subsequently unfriended me on Facebook. What’s that I was saying about scanty fare? I do want to point out, though, that my favorite aspect of the e-card is, as it has ever been, the use of that word everyone, which I much prefer to everybody (leaner, far more elegant) — proof, I like to imagine, that it was crafted by someone who knows his or her way around the written word.
  10. I resolve not to go on and on about issues, such as social media, over which I have already gone on and on.
  11. I resolve not to feel old. Which is not the same thing as not acknowledging my age. As Gabriel García Márquez writes in Love in the Times of Cholera: Age has no reality except in the physical world. The essence of a human being is resistant to the passage of time. Our inner lives are eternal, which is to say that our spirits remain as youthful and vigorous as when we were in full bloom.
  12. Or this, from Edith Pearlman: Life and death? They were incidental, in her opinion, although of course she deplored suffering. But what counted was how you behaved while death let you live, and how you met death when life released you. That was the long and short of it.
  13. I resolve not to quote so much, not to rely on the words of others when, with a bit more effort and determination, I might frame perceptions, thoughts, ideas, perspective, in visions and revisions of my own.
  14. I resolve to contradict myself. Do I contradict myself? Walt Whitman writes. Very well, then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)
  15. I resolve to contain multitudes.
  16. I resolve not to pretend to know more than I do. 
  17. That Whitman quote, for instance — it comes from the penultimate section of Song of Myself, a poem I read in high school, but to which I have returned only glancingly since. Hasn’t stopped me from using that phrase, however (in essays, reviews, even casual conversation) for decades, although it was only this morning, as I looked it up online to make sure I had the punctuation right, that I (re-)discovered the parenthetical in the last line. 
  18. This, of course, changes everything, as punctuation often does. The parentheses make the closing sentiment conditional, an afterthought almost, half-heard and only partially articulated, as if the poet were whispering to himself. Without them, it is more a bold assertion, a declaration of iconoclastic certitude. 
  19. I also learn, on a web page administered by the University of Iowa, that Whitman was recasting one of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s central ideas: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. … Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. … To be great is to be misunderstood.” 
  20. The site continues: For Whitman, as we have seen, the self is a continually evolving and expanding entity, and new experiences will always broaden and challenge and upset what a self believed earlier. We must learn to be grateful to arrive at contradictions and to cultivate a sense of a self open and aware enough to “speak against” (the root meaning of “contradict”) the self that existed yesterday. As “Song of Myself” has demonstrated throughout, a self that does not change is a stunted identity, dead to the transforming stimuli of the multitudinous world around us, stimuli that include the transforming words of this poem.
  21. I resolve not to resist such stimuli myself.
  22. Here is another phrase I like and tend to overuse: E.M. Forster’s buzz of implication, with its insistence that fiction, literature, tells us something about the essence of a moment that mere news or history, for all their precious facts, cannot. I consider that (is there any doubt?) an article of faith. And yet, I have (I must admit) no idea the source of Forster’s homily; I have never read one of his books all the way through. 
  23. Google that phrase, however, and you will find it quoted, among the top ten hits, in four different pieces by me, an indication of the patterns (behavioral or otherwise) I resolve not to follow anymore.
  24. I resolve to thank the universe for Google (the search engine, not the corporation — and yes, I know that they are inextricable, two heads of the same hydra, but still …), without which I would be hard-pressed to write.
  25. Jeez, why pick on Google, David Gates once wrote (in a book review of all places), the most useful tool since the stone ax?
  26. I resolve not to be so negative, or at least not so negative without cause. 
  27. I resolve not to (over)use the parenthetical.
  28. No, wait: This without cause thing is important, because there is much about which to be negative. 
  29. The insistent press of everything, the idea that we so rarely go unseen. I don’t mean the NSA — I expect the government to spy on me; I grew up in the era of Watergate and COINTELPRO. I believe in what Vaclav Havel referred to as second culture, in which freedom is a function of the willingness to behave as if we are free. Surveillance only works if it is accompanied by self-censorship, if we curtail our thoughts or our activities. 
  30. The hell with that, I want to tell you: We have the right (the obligation) to remain curious, contrarian, to reveal ourselves, even (or especially) if that means calling bullshit on the consensual hallucination of the present day. 
  31. But what about the noise, the constant buzzing? I wish there was a social networking site where everyone would leave me the fuck alone. And yet, it’s not just social media but social everything, the insistence of a conversation that never goes away. I’m tired of being expected to live my live in public — by bosses, parents, friends.
  32. No, wait: Not tired of being expected to live my life in public, what am I doing here if not living my life in public? More like: Tired of being expected to live my life in public on anyone else’s terms other than my own.
  33. (What’s that I said about not to going on and on about issues over which I have already gone on and on? This is why I don’t make resolutions … or keep them, at any rate.)
  34. (As Allen Ginsberg tells us in America: I am talking to myself again.)
  35. I resolve not to lie.
  36. Oops, too late. This whole list of resolutions is a lie.
  37. I resolve not to lie to myself.
  38. I resolve not to take shit from anyone. This is the year of me, I tell my wife and daughter on New Year’s Day, each time they ask me to do anything.
  39. No, wait: This is a lie, too, a lie I tell myself for reassurance, a strategy for getting through the day. It’s a way to forget that I am beholden, part of a network that exists beyond the virtual — social without the media, as it were. 
  40. A network, yes: parents, children, spouse, employers, landlord, creditors. All have a piece of me, which pleases me in regard to some more than to others: a Venn diagram of obligation, love, and need. Life is, in large part, rubbish, David Shields has written, referring to the duties of adulthood. This reminds me that, when I was an adolescent, my mother used to tell me, Seventy-five percent of life is boring. As if this were something to look forward to.
  41. I resolve not to bash my mother. She was just doing the best she could.
  42. No, wait: I mean it, even though boredom is a state of mind. If seventy-five percent of my life were boring, I might crawl inside a bottle and never emerge.
  43. (This may explain something about my mother, or at least what distinguishes her from me.)
  44. (What’s that about not bashing my mother? Although there is a difference between bashing and telling the truth.)
  45. No, wait: I’m getting off the point here, which is that taking shit is part of the deal. The key is to be selective, which is another way of saying: Make your obligations stimulating to you. I work all the time, more than I want to, and yet, the work is almost always interesting in some way. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say: worthwhile.
  46. I resolve not to forget this, next week, say (or the week after) when I am mired in too many commitments and all I want to do is get away.
  47. I resolve not to overcommit myself, or I would, if I understood what that meant.
  48. I resolve not to want everything, not to look around with envy, not to measure myself continuously against all (and everyone) I am not.
  49. No, wait: I know that’s not going to happen, which is why I need to be more careful — about social media, among many other things.
  50. I resolve to zero in on what’s essential, and let (at least some of) the other stuff slide.
  51. I resolve to be a better person.
  52. I resolve to be exactly who I am.
  53. Or maybe it’s more useful to frame it this way: I resolve not to take it all so personally.


DAVID L. ULIN is the author, most recently, of Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles, which was published last October. His other books include The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time and the Library of America’s Writing Los Angeles: A Literary Anthology, which won a California Book Award. A 2015 Guggenheim Fellow, he is book critic of the Los Angeles Times.


  1. a dizzying list and thank you for taking the time! I also want to resist quotes starting tomorrow... (and my fallback ellipses): I am looking for the perfect Robert Frost or Helen Keller quote tonight.

  2. a dizzying list and thank you for taking the time! I also want to resist quotes starting tomorrow... (and my fallback ellipses): I am looking for the perfect Robert Frost or Helen Keller quote tonight.

  3. This blog earned a Bean Pat as blog pick of the day. Check it out at: