Saturday, December 31, 2005

On the Precipice of a New Year

We've been here in Chiang Mai for Thanksgiving and Christmas, so it makes sense that we'll usher in the new year here as well. It is our home-away-from-home as I've mentioned before... a place where orchids sit upon trees like crazy hairstyles on portly girls; where women running the cash register at 7-11 turn out to be men with 5 o'clock shadows and red bows in long hair (and the kicker is, here it's OK); where a walk through a market attacks the nostrils with the pungent and not altogether pleasing scent of fish: dried fish, fish sauce, fish paste and where the smell of sweet corn reminds me of summers in the midwest; where everyone wears flipflops and women, when not wearing flipflops, operate motorbikes in spiky, strappy sandals; where, with an artistic perspective, temple spires pierce clouds in the sky: be careful if they pop, confetti may spill out...

Tonight, lights from bridges will twinkle on the river; lit lanterns will intermingle with stars in the sky; fireworks will light up the night in colors of the rainbow; the pop and bang of hand-thrown firecrackers will damage ear drums; the smell of gunpowder from battles with wick and flame will fill the air...

We'll be celebrating with our friends John and Nyla -- we met them a few months ago in Koh Samui and we've reunited here in Chiang Mai for the drunk-fest known as New Year's Eve. And what is New Year's Eve, if not a time to get wasted or remain sober and watch Dick Clark's ball drop while eating frozen appetizers heated in an oven? It's not like time knows that it's marching on... the calendar is a human invention. If it wasn't for us and our habit of organizing time into days and weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, millennia (and what comes after millennia?)... if it wasn't for our habit in doing this, New Year's eve and day would be like any other. But we use this event as a reason to change our ways -- shed bad habits -- make a change in our lives... This year, I haven't come up with any resolutions... A few years ago, I wrote a little essay about just this thing. Here it is:


To bring in the New Year, I did my spring cleaning... last year's. It prompted me to consider my New Years' resolutions more carefully. Obviously I need to add time management to the list. Literally. Since I didn't follow through on 2003's resolutions, all I have to do in 2004 is find last year's list (possible, thanks to the spring cleaning) and pencil in 'improve time management'. The words follow a considerable record of failed or forgotten endeavors that follow me from year to year: lose weight, dress more stylishly, remember to send birthday cards, learn how to break-dance, discover the cure for cellulite, win the lottery. Several years ago I began to add ridiculous resolutions to the roster because in reality, even the every-day items are improbable considering nothing ever comes of them. My listing of resolutions has become more of a wish list than something to take action on.

Almost everyone makes New Year's resolutions, but hardly anyone I know keeps them. Joe, the guy down at the corner store, grimaced when I asked him about his. He already knows he won't keep up his weight loss program, one that simply entails eating dinner before 8 p.m., and it's only January 2. I, myself, have already considered breaking a few of my pledges - after all, bad habits are hard to shed. And anyway, there's always tomorrow... or next year.

In addition to adding 'improve time management' to this year's list, I'm also considering 'cease making new years resolutions'. But how could I stop following a tradition that's been around 4000 years, since the ancient days of the Babylonians? Their lists of resolutions were probably short and sweet, as they'd have to painstakingly chip them out of stone tablets. I've read that their most popular resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment. Now that's a resolution even I could keep (that is, if I lived anywhere near grass).

The Babylonians were onto something. They gave themselves achievable goals. Maybe we should keep our lists simple and clutter-free. Perhaps we'd actually be able to achieve something written on them. If we have only one goal to pursue, how could we go wrong? We can throw our full weight at the problem without distractions from other pesky aspirations and the guilt that comes with ignoring them.

Committing my self-improvement objectives to a list makes them scary. They leave the happy place in the back of my mind and become real. I must feed and nurture them or they will die and mock me in the process. I've made ambitious proclamations about losing weight over the years, only to meekly admit failure when I'm asked how things are going. It's a cycle of embarrassment I can count on from year to year. I don't like to make my life more complicated than needed and would rather not make resolutions in the first place. Still, every New Year's day I bring out my tattered list once again, if for no other reason than habit. I know that ultimately, the list doesn't matter. I am not the only one to quickly stow her list away, back to its home in the subconscious, before week's end.

As for 2004, I've decided to maintain the tradition set forth by the Babylonians. I will continue to make New Year's resolutions, but this year, I won't set myself up for failure. I will add 'improve time management' to the inventory but my resolution is simply to keep my list in mind beyond the month of January - possibly, even, the entire year.


The only thing I've lined up to bring in 2006 is the eating of a cockroach. Yes, you read right. I shall eat a cockroach (maybe... maybe I won't, but I did promise to do so). They sell fried insects as snacks here in Thailand and the other night, while out with John and Nyla, we were all drunk enough to try a cricket and some of us (me and John), a fat, white grub. At the time, I was too sober to eat a cockroach, they're 3-inchers I might add, but I was drunk enough to promise John that along with him, I shall ingest a roach on New Year's Eve. Perhaps, if I'm crafty, I can convince John that I've made a New Year's resolution to not eat insects and I can worm (pun intended) out of my commitment to join him in the midnight feast.

Happy New Year, 2006


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