02 February 2013



What do you think of New Year's resolutions?

I'd never put much stock in them . . . I figured that if you really wanted to do something, then you'd do it . . . Of course, the catch is that I don't actually get down to doing much . . . But I didn't realise that until after I made my first New Year's resolution since childhood and challenged myself to stick to it.

My 2013 began, as a great many of the inspired initiatives of the twenty-first century will prove to have begun, with a Cracked.com column . . .

Let's say that the person you love the most has just been shot. He or she is lying in the street, bleeding and screaming. A guy rushes up and says, "Step aside." He looks over your loved one's bullet wound and pulls out a pocket knife--he's going to operate right there in the street.

"OK, which one is the injured one?"

You ask, "Are you a doctor?"

The guy says, "No."

You say, "But you know what you're doing, right? You're an old Army medic, or ..."

At this point the guy becomes annoyed. He tells you that he is a nice guy, he is honest, he is always on time. He tells you that he is a great son to his mother and has a rich life full of fulfilling hobbies, and he boasts that he never uses foul language.

Confused, you say, "How does any of that fucking matter when my (wife/husband/best friend/parent) is lying here bleeding! I need somebody who knows how to operate on bullet wounds! Can you do that or not?!?"

Now the man becomes agitated--why are you being shallow and selfish? Do you not care about any of his other good qualities? Didn't you just hear him say that he always remembers his girlfriend's birthday? In light of all of the good things he does,
does it really matter if he knows how to perform surgery?

In that panicked moment, you will take your bloody hands and shake him by the shoulders, screaming, "
Yes, I'm saying that none of that other shit matters, because in this specific situation, I just need somebody who can stop the bleeding, you crazy fucking asshole."

I didn't censor the profanity, as I normally do, because I love the writing so much. Cracked.com's snark is matched only by its intelligence; it's intelligence masked only by its snark. (I wish I could be as brilliant as that someday.) 

Having read the whole thing (as you ought to as well), I started wondering what value I could possibly offer to the world . . . and well, the list came up embarrassingly short. =S

You could say that my New Year's resolution is, in six words, "To be useful to the world." But I prefer the line from the Glengarry Glenn Ross speech referenced in the column: "You want to work here? Close." Yes, I want to work in this world. Yes, I will close.

And that is the end of the first chapter in the chain of reasoning.

* * * * *

The second chapter opens with a visit to The Last Psychiatrist, also known as "Alone."

I've just surfaced from a three-week long immersion in his posts--and yes, I know that there's baptismal imagery in that line. His point, in a nutshell, is that you should never define yourself by what you believe, but always by what you do.

Being on YouTube, having a blog, having an iPod, being on MySpace--all of these things are self-validating, they allow that illusion that is so important to narcissists: that we are the main characters in a movie. Not that we're the best, or the good guys, but the main characters. That everyone around us is supporting cast; the funny friend, the crazy ex, the neurotic mother, the egotistical date, etc. That makes reminders of our insignificance even more infuriating.

Take a look at the photos in the
Time article: a DJ, a punk rocker, a guy in dreadlocks, a kid dancing with headphones, a guy singing into a mic, a hot chick taking a photo of herself--none of these people could ever be "Person of the Year." They barely have identities outside of their image. (And observe how so many are defined through music they listen to.) They must be defined by something from without, like a tattoo . . .

If he had been aware of the book blogosphere, that parenthetical insert in the second paragraph would have said: "And observe how so many are defined through books they read." These days, identity seems to mean no more than identification. Which brings me to my biggest issue with a lot of the books that are coming out these days . . .

Hasn't anyone else noticed the number of Super Special Protagonists who have a Destiny To Save The World? They find out that they are the incarnation of some legendary being . . . or the last in an ancient line of superheroes . . . or the fated mate of someone who has been waiting centuries to fall in love . . . basically someone whose amazing "powers" have lain dormant for all these years, unnoticed by the rest of the world, finally to awaken, through no effort at all by the wielder but just because that is what "powers" do . . . And of course, these heroes happen to be alive at The Most Critical Point In The History Of The Universe, so that all existence hinges on the course they choose to take. "Alone" would say that these books (and movies) are popular because they reflect the our own image of ourselves as . . . Super Special Protagonists.

And this is a problem inasmuch as we are not Super Special Protagonists--and inasmuch as our persisting in this delusion makes us channel more energy into keeping up the image than actually doing anything to deserve it. His favourite metaphor is "kung fu": no, you will not magically know kung fu when you suddenly need it; but yes, you should take a martial arts class and work hard at it, if kung fu is really what you want to know.

So that's what I'm doing now. In another six words, that would be: Working hard at my "kung fu."

They'll kick me out of this dojo if I don't close.

* * * * * 

There are a whole bunch of other chapters in this chain--and no wonder. As Mark Twain may or may not have said, "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Now I want to close everything, from a new language (Buongiorno! Mi chiamo Enbrethiliel!) to a toned body (Thank you, God, for Blogilates!).

Even random reading is lining up--synchronistically, like wandering stars. A few days ago, for instance, I found the article How to Learn Anything, whose section "How to Write a Personal Learning Plan" might as well have been titled "How to Write a Personal Closing Plan". The best part is the rule to set a deadline for yourself. Deadlines make projects real. (Take it from someone who has failed to meet 98% of the deadlines on her own blog. =P)

More recently, I read Sheila's latest blog post Goals and Word for 2013, in which she shares the fabulous idea of having a New Year's word. Sum up the theme of your whole year in a single word. Hers is seek; mine is . . . close.

But you already knew that. =)

And yes, I recommend, if you do this too, that your word be an action verb. Several years ago, "Alone" wrote a post that challenged his readers to describe themselves without using the word "am." I personally found it an interesting challenge. Now I want to spend the rest of 2013 adding more verbs to that description.

So what about you??? =D


Sheila said...

Wow, that's a great one. At the same time, it shows how different each person's journey is. My own tendency is to assume that no one cares about me unless I do something for them, that any minute I spend not doing something directly useful is a waste, that I am not and will never be good enough or special enough. So a resolution like this would be bad for me. It's only when I'm NOT paralyzed by the fear of being forgotten and rejected and the sense that everything I do is a waste of time because I should be doing so much more, that I can actually get out and DO things.

But it sounds like it is the RIGHT resolution for you. I like making just one simple intention for the year and letting it inform everything. It seems to actually work. I wish you lots of success this year!

Sullivan McPig said...

I think, just like the old guy in The Holiday, that we all should be the leading character in our life. Ok, so maybe we are not all super heroes, but our own life however simple or boring it might seem to others should be excellent to ourselves. We deserve to be our own lead character, we can always be the supporting actor in someone else's life.

And to conclude with my word of the year: excellent! (I could also go for pig, as pig stands for excellent as well ;-)

DMS said...

This was a fascinating post! Thanks for sharing!

My goal is to BE in whatever scene I find myself in and not lost in my ideas about the past or future- but instead, live in sync with the people and things that make me happy and fill me with joy.

I also try to remember to give others the space they need to comfortably be themselves : ) ~ Jess


Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila -- What's funny is that I would say you don't need to focus on "closing" because you can already do so much! You can prepare different kinds of meals, you are growing your own food, you are currently writing a novel, etc. You're right that your value as a human being is not merely a function of these abilities, but man, do you have a bunch! ;-)

Sully -- "Excellent" is a great word, too! =)

I didn't complete the point "Alone" has been trying to make on his blog, which is that the problem with thinking of yourself as the main character is that you relegate everyone else to a supporting role and might not realise that there are some things as legitimately important to them as your priorities are to you. Of course, I'm not saying that this is what you specifically are doing. Based on your comment about supporting others in their lives, you seem to be doing the opposite! =) But I've met enough people who fit the profile to want to distance myself from it as much as possible.

Jess -- You're welcome! I'm glad you liked it! I agree that "being" fully in the present is important for a full life as well. =)

Sullivan McPig said...

@Enbrethiliel: I can understand what you mean. A lot of people are very self centered, they aren't so much lead characters in their own life as they are trying to push their way into the leading role in other people's life as well.

What I also see is people who take a support role in their own life, putting everyone and everything before themselves and that's not healthy either.

I think we should all be watchful and try to stay in charge of our own life while also help others to stay in charge in theirs.

anjaguggenheim said...

Reading Cracked was the last thing I did before turning in last night! Thanks for sharing the other great links... have added them to Pocket to read later.

You've inspired me to come up with my own word for the year! There's a lot to say on that subject so you gotta wait for my next blog post :p


Unknown said...

Excellent post, E. And inspiring.

I like the challenge to describe yourself without using the word "am". Just doing that in my head makes me want to go out and do the things that make me who I am.

A friend of mine is using the word "create" as her word of the year. I should check in and see how she's doing on it. Are you going to close a novel about a person who is not a Super Special Protagonist? Are you going to write a song (I'll proffer lyrics, if you desire)?

It is easy to become so caught up in what we have done and will probably never do that we forget to do. And while doing is not being, it is perhaps only in doing that we can be. That is, my identity and sense of self worth is not the particular things I do, but the particular things I do aid in developing that identity.


Sheila said...

You brought a huge smile to my face with your words. :D I guess I tend to forget, in my constant anxiety that I'll never be one of the cool kids, never be perfect, and never EVER be good enough, that there are a lot of people who look at me (or at least, the me I project) and say "Wow, she's got it together."

I haven't got it together. But I have been doing a lot of things lately that make me proud. I think intentionally letting go of the obsession to be perfect at everything has made space for me to choose things I actually WANT to do well. In other words, my house is not very clean, my clothes not in style, my social life basically a big zero ... but I'm growing a garden and a novel and some boys. I'm learning not to care about the rest.

Enbrethiliel said...


Anja -- That's great! I hope that they prove as motivating to you as they have been to me. =D I can't wait to read your word for the year!

Dauvit -- Thank you. =) I think your last paragraph sums up--in perfect grammar--why doing is so important to being.

Writing a song isn't on my list this year (although that could change!), but I do want to spend Lent writing some fiction. At the rate I'm coming up with ideas, however, it will probably be Fan Fiction again. LOL!

Sheila -- I know what you mean. A few months ago, someone said she couldn't believe what an excellent handle I had on things, and I waited a couple of beats before answering in case she was setting up some punchline. =P

And I think you've hit on the truth that a great deal of the anxiety comes from the difference between what we can produce and what we can project. Yonks ago, when I was writing a Catholic blog, I occasionally published something to the effect of, "If you all really knew me, none of you would like me!!!" But nobody seemed to get what I meant.

A garden and a novel and some boys may seem modest, but they are so much more than a lot of people do.

Erika said...

Great post! I think this is one of our least selfish traits as humans: the wanting to be useful to someone. Even if it's just one person. Thanks for sharing all these wonderful things. Very well written and thought out.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thank you, Erika! I hope you find the links as helpful as I have. =)

Entropy said...

E, this is such a great post.
I read that Cracked column when it came out and thought it was fantastic except it reminded me that I'm basically good for .. nothing. ha. Except for having babies. I'm pretty good at that but as the haters of breeders like to say, that's hardly extraordinary.

Leila of LMLD talks about homemaking and family building as something worthwhile (because it is) but it takes SO LONG to see results it feels so lame to say (without using "am"): I build a home, a family, a life.

Only after it's finished, built, does that seem monumental. In the process, I just "do" laundry and school and diapers and hugs.

I guess my word should be Build.

Enbrethiliel said...


I think that those who will ultimately get the most out of that Cracked article are those who took it as a wake up call. =)

Having babies may not be extraordinary, but raising them into moral, competent human beings definitely is! But yes, it takes time. As all really worthwhile accomplishments seem to.

Perhaps our words should not be in bare infinitive form but be present participles instead. I am closing (or at least trying very hard to!), and you are building.

So . . . do you visit Cracked.com often? =D

Entropy said...

Yes, Building. I like that.

And yes, I do visit Cracked quite often--it's hilarious. And I totally agree with your assessment of its intelligence and snark.

One of my favorites: http://www.cracked.com/article_18960_5-things-tv-writers-apparently-believe-about-smart-people.html

And it relates to building something, and that takes time, and it's worth it. Reminder to self: I am not a tv character.

Enbrethiliel said...


That's a good one! =D

By uncanny coincidence, I was just recommending another David Wong article to a friend: 5 Ways Modern Men are Trained to Hate Women. It points out that a lot of frustration and rage felt by many modern men (and may I add, many modern women) is rooted in the widely held belief that we are characters whose lives are supposed to play out in a certain way. Never mind that that has no real connection to reality!