On New Year's Resolutions, and dread.
Writing: Phoebe McGowan
Illustration: Isi Williams
The New Year, to me at least, seems to be the worst time of year for everyone. We open with New Year’s Eve, consistently the most over-hyped party of the year. You can feel the static energy of people trying too hard to have fun buzzing against each other, and I don’t think I’ve been to a New Year’s party yet that didn’t end in either someone crying, or an existential piling of bodies in the toilet, or taxi, or bedroom, drunkenly confessing to each other that we have no clue where we’re going, or what we’re doing, or how we’re going to make ourselves happy this year.
And then, after the gruelling cold and darkened mornings that refuse to be lit by Christmas decorations, we blindly stumble into February. February! You tell yourself that this one is the shortest one, that it’ll be gone in a blink but then the sickly pink shadow of Valentine’s Day hangs over the whole month. When did Valentine’s Day start being such an important part of people’s social calendar anyway? Maybe as a result of university communities’ tendency to cling onto all and any form of holiday to create fundraisers, club nights and socials; something which I am definitely guilty of. The theme certainly leads to some good fun along the way, but there’s something about all of it which doesn’t stick right.
Both of these holidays are so awful to me, I guess, because they try to rush something which shouldn’t be rushed. Self-improvement is fab! Being in love is fab! But neither of those are things which can be timed, or planned, or squeezed into a schedule. Moreover, there’s a certain element of performativity in both of these holidays, perhaps most pertinent in the New Year’s Resolution. How do you change yourself for the better without doing it in a way which makes others feel inferior? Or, how can you be sure you’re changing for you, and not for the approval of your peers?
We’re almost clocked two months into the new year, and after speaking to friends about their current personal outlook, the overwhelming response is that of unfulfilled potential. They’ve given up on their resolutions, they’re behind on work, they’re not making enough new friends, they’ve not done their washing up for a week and are hoarding 90% of their flat mugs on their bedside cabinet. Whilst I’m sure this essay sounds somewhat tired and overused in its advice, I’ve found that the impending climate catastrophe has installed a somewhat cheery nihilism in me: does any of it really matter?
The answer: yes and no. The universe will generally stay in balance whether you get a 2:1 or pass, the sun still rises and sets even when the dishes are dirty and you are loved and valued regardless of whether your social circle is shrinking or expanding. But if nothing matters, then surely everything matters! Every essay you write is a positive output. Even if all you do is shower today you’ve still showered. A baby step is still a step moving forward.
Because, my dear reader, every morning is a blank slate! Screw the new year’s resolution; we can reinvent ourselves every day, because there is nothing that you have done the previous day which forces you to act the same way the next. As was so aptly put by T.S. Eliot in his story ‘The Cocktail Party’, ‘What we know of other people is only our memory of the moments during which we knew them…To pretend that they and we are the same is a useful social convention which must sometimes be broken’. That is, if you’re feeling stuck in a rut, just get really existentialist about the whole thing! You’re a shifting, changing, wonderful being and you have no obligation to better yourself in the same way that you owe it to no one to be the same person day in day out.
And yes, that may even mean that January 1st is a huge day of change for you and that February 14th is when you turn your head to matters of the heart, and if that is the case, then congratulations on mastering the system. Personally, I wrote one resolution on the 1st and 16 more on the 12th, and I felt all the more better for thinking of new ways I could improve. I know of others who won’t change then because they are happy within themselves, and don’t feel the need to change. We choose and decide what constitutes our own success. We need to keep telling ourselves that.