Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goal-Setting In The 21st Century

In this current incarnation, I've tried to stay away from the lazy man's blogging, which is just making a list and slapping it on the internet. Don't mistake me: I love lists. But they're not always fun to read. There are the exceptions, like Cracked, which has elevated the fine combination of dick jokes and lists to a museum-worthy art form. Blog lists are usually things like, "Reasons Jesus loves you, personally," and "Stuff I like to put on my cat" and "The top five foods that are making me fat/skinny/clinically depressed" (hint: it's probably dairy!), but those irritate me because they're usually badly written and not really meant to be consumed by the outside world. This is why God invented the journal. And the pen. And the chance to be moody, alone, in private.

With that in mind, let's turn to the topic of New Year's resolutions. A perennial favourite among people who feel guilty and/or like a failure, the resolution can be a powerful way to motivate you into losing those last few pounds or trying new foods. It can also act as a terrible depressant when, in February, you realize you've been mired on the couch since January third and are covered in an orange and carcinogenic drift of Cheeto crumbs. I found a list of resolutions from 1996, when I was, like, thirteen years old, that resolved to "not act so snarky" and "lose ten pounds," which: holy shit, and also: something never change.

This year, I want to try something a little different. Resolutions are all about attempts, trying to strive for some more perfect version of yourself. Lose ten pounds, quit smoking, spent more time with your wife, ditch the lousy boyfriend, write a novel, and the ever-popular go to the gym. It isn't about accepting the person you are; it's about rejecting what you see in the mirror in favour of creating, tailor-made, the future self.

I can tell you with great certainty and experience that being ten pounds lighter (or heavier, for all you dudes who want to bulk up) won't make you a more satisfied person. If you're used to a gym-induced endorphin rush, then yeah, maybe weight loss will be a corollary effect to all that awesome dancing or weight lifting you're doing, but seriously: losing weight through January isn't going to fix it, whatever it is. That same priniciple can be applied to almost every New Year's resolution. The end result (upholding the resolutions) is way less dramatic than the process. On the other hand, having resolutions in the first place never acknowledges that there is a process, and that change is hard work. We're supposed to wake up on January first, yawn cinematically, and start being Father Of The Year.

Apparently, according to my mother (after a particularly effective harangue re: sleeping until noon), it takes about three weeks to create a new habit. I'm not sure I totally believe that, but it seems attractive in January. That's the time of year when everything seems frozen solid - habits, the sidewalk, your love life - and creating a gym-going ray of sunshine could be only 21 days away! But how often does that really happen? Because I can think of about two things in the past five years that happened as a direct result of doing them consistently for three weeks. Getting trim and slim was't one of them.

I think this year, if I go to the gym, it won't be because I said I would feel bad if I didn't; it'll be because I'll feel good if I do. Same with things like giving up drinking and not hemorrhaging money like a goddamned burst artery: better if I don't, not bad if I slip up. I can be a bit (okay, hugely) neurotic and perfectionistic, so trying this little mental exercise could be really beneficial.

I mean, of course I'm still going to make the damned list. I'd be making a list anyway, regardless of whether or not I wrote any of it down. Will I post it on the internet? Nope. This sucker is purely for me. I'll spill the beans on topics like how often I flirt with babies and what kind of pets I like (more than you'd think and none, respectively), but my New Year's resolutions are for my eyes only.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sing A Song For Love

Aside from all the heartbreak, destruction, life-shattering and tears they cause, breakups suck because they ruin all the songs you've liked for the duration of the time spent with your former flame. You're forced to choose between completely overhauling your iTunes library, or surprise weeping as your suddenly sentient and sadistic mp3 player decides to hit you with "Nothing Compares 2 U" while you're riding the escalator at the mall.

I remember right after my first real holy-shit breakup, which ranks as a complete bag of garbage in the house of my life, that "Hey There Delilah" song was suddenly everywhere. If you've never heard it, it's this earnest little tune about a couple who decide to tough out long-distance. The dude is strumming his acoustic love. It's a little saccharin but generally pretty sweet. Unless, of course, you've been recently dumped, in which case the Plain White Ts (alternate name: the Plain White One-Hit Wonders) are both fucking mind readers and also out to get you.

I was thinking about this, because, like a lot of people who had relationship drama in the mid-2000s, the Imogen Heap song "Hide and Seek" is sort of an emotional anthem. It's a gorgeous song all on its own, but coupled with the heightened state falling in and out of love can produce in a person, it became this ur-song in the pantheon. "Hide and Seek" could be about anything - I sometimes picture a natural disaster in the vein that Roland Emmerich would produce - but when you're dealing with cheating and dumping, like I was, the song is about you and your situation. Duh.

Lately, I've been listening to a bit more Imogen Heap/Frou Frou, and every time it comes on, I'm reminded of both the bad feelings and the road out of Crazy Breakup Junction into Ifeelalittlebetterville. The songs have changed, man! It's sonic evolution! Damn, I sound like I'm about four tokes away from a van ride to Burning Man. But instead of just deleting the shit out of those songs, I took them back. That kind of self-work isn't always successful; I had to relinquish Silverchair's "Straight Lines," which is a decent song that was 100% attached to the ex-boyfriend. But for the most part, music's healing properties can work wonders on single-fied dude or dudette in the throes of a breakup-related meltdown.

I think it's fascinating that you can take a painful song and turn it into a song about empowerment. Transforming a traumatic musical interlude - and yeah, there is such a thing, and some people will never be able to listen to the Muppet Show theme song without bursting into tears - into a personal narrative about triumphing over a terrible time in a person's life and becoming a stronger, more balanced person who hasn't traded her brain for a three-and-a-half minute-long chunk of radio time is awesome. Regardless of what they are, I dare you to make a playlist of the songs that were "ruined" by a breakup or an ex and see how you feel now when you listen to them. I bet you feel a small sense of wonder, as if you can barely remember the person you were when you decided that they were ruined in the first place.