I really do love new year’s’ resolutions.
Not in the “I’m going to be more fit” or “more social,” “better at networking,” or “happier” way. Not in the nebulous, non-definable, non-measurable, set-it-and-forget-it infomercial-like way.
No. I love the idiosyncratic way of it: The idea of setting a goal for an entire year, just because it is a practice. Like the new year has a newness that each new day doesn’t. Like it’s extra squeaky clean just because it has a new 4-digit number attached to it. Well, that sort of makes sense. It’s also a bit crazy. That’s why I like it.
So, for a few years ago I began the practice of setting very real, very specific, very nonsensical goals. 2015 was drinking more whiskey. It worked.
My 2014-and-before self didn’t much like whiskey, yet I liked the idea of drinking whiskey, of being a woman who walked into a bar, kitchen, library, bosses’ office, newsroom, nursery (JK), and asked for a whiskey. Like somehow the whiskey request would be the impetus of also wearing black turtlenecks and red lipstick, and listening to vinyl while reading Hemingway, and being altogether very interesting.
So in 2015 I made a concerted effort to drink more whiskey. First, I had to learn how to order whiskey — what my favorite whiskey drinks were (Old Fashioned). Later, how to make an Old Fashioned. I had to drink enough whiskey to know that I had preferences. That is a very important step.
And it worked. I drank the whiskey. I developed the preferences. I became staggeringly interesting (ha!). And the dark spirit actually became my favorite liquor. I love the saying ‘dark spirit’ but if I say ‘dark fire water’ feel free to make me leave.
I cannot remember the resolution that I set for 2016, which basically kills my narrative of ‘setting resolutions is something important to me that I do.’ I was disappointed at this as you probably are, so I decided to start over, or start early — however you care to look at it.
Since I have an affinity for Jewish traditions (though not being Jewish myself), I decided that the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, was a good enough time as any to set new year’s resolutions. This time I wasn’t messing around. No way, Yahweh.
Enter: leaning to dine continental style. ‘Hm?,’ you say. ‘Like a continental style buffet?,’ you say. Nope. No. Let me explain.
Last year, as I was in England, I noticed something peculiar. Everybody was much better at using utensils than I was. I thought this was odd, as using utensils was something that I took for granted as being good at, pretty much always: I can eat. I do it every day, multiple times a day, usually with some sort of silverware. And I’ve been doing this as long as I can remember. Really.
But all of the sudden I felt so clunky at it. These damn Brits, they looked so smooth!
Through intense study, which took all of a couple minutes, I realized that this was because they never set down their silverware. And they held their forks in their left hands, and held them belly-up. And their knives were so involved! Here they were with their forks doing the backstroke and kniving things that do not require cutting or spreading — 2 things that seemed completely inefficient — and they looked so civilized!
I was on the other side of the table looking like a neanderthal; “Fork. Fork. Whoops I need to cut this. Put down fork. Pick up knife in right hand. Pick up fork in left. Cut, cut, cut. Put down knife, grab fork with right. Stab food. Fork to mouth. Phew.”
They’re over here like, “Smart words, smart words, class, class, class, poise, etiquette, chew.”
So, I’m now back in North America, and I’m trying with all my being to eat continental. It’s not an easy road, but I’m committed. Screw rice, there will be much less rice in this Jewish new year, my friends. My left hand cannot handles those wily, tiny starches.
But with all seriousness, changing something so rudimentary, so simple as the hand with which you hold your fork, is hugely telling.
I didn’t even know I was stuck in some way. I did not know how attached I was to this style of doing something. At how routine the practice had become, at how there was no motor engagement in this activity that I do multiple times a day. At how I didn’t notice what I was doing, how I looked, how something different could entirely change this experience.
My normal was so un-normal to my British friends. And we were doing the same thing, dining, in two completely different ways, each style debilitating to the other if insisted upon. And here I am thinking about how changing the way I do simple things can make me think of something entirely differently, can make me appreciate a practice and a different style, and my old style.
Now, or actually, months from now, I will hopefully have the option of performing both utensiling strokes both equally well.
How much is there that I don’t understand? That I don’t even notice? Maybe if we make small changes, or a single small change, we begin to understand the huge variance at work across the world, across cultures and peoples.
And maybe when we begin to notice this, we begin to be more aware of difference and similarities, aware that we can learn from each other. Or we remember this careful, important lesson that seems childish on the surface. Maybe we realize that we’re all eating, and we can change how we eat, and we can all eat at the same table.
And we don’t have to wait for a new year. We’re new and changeable and hungry today.