Kage Baker always felt that an annual resolution to do less of a bad thing was every bit as necessary as resolving to do something virtuous and new.
All Kage ever pledged to accomplish was survival, which she reasoned was broad and simple enough to have a chance of success. What she devoted time and detail and will-power to, was eliminating bad habits.
After all, she reasoned, as you grew in years and dignity, just how many new good habits were left for you to commence? Most people start accumulating habits of all moral hues sometime in adolescence; before then, Kage figured, you were still a child and probably innocent. Or at least ignorant enough to get away with a plea bargain on your more loathsome habits.
Nonetheless, she really did try to weed her spiritual garden every year. She perused her habits, determined which ones were detrimental to what else she wanted to do (write, usually) and ruthlessly marked those activities for destruction. The amazing thing was that she so often succeeded – I don’t think most people below the rank of saint or obsessive really win at this game. But by this method, she controlled her intake of television, her bingeing on Monkey Island games, her fondness for a postprandial pitcher of martinis … all of which had committed the inexcusable sin of interfering with her writing.
Mind you, Kage never reduced her intake of chocolate, or addiction to never-ending pairs of white Converse tennis shoes. But she never thought of those as bad habits, anyway. Which is how I ultimately found over a dozen exotic chocolate bars hidden in her desk, and numerous pairs of identical sneakers in her closet. But those items, Kage would have explained, made it easier for her to write.
Anyway, she didn’t put much stock in other people’s opinions of her habits. This was made easier for her to deal with because very few people got to know many of her habits, good or ill. Mostly it was friends at Faire. And me. Kage’s family was seldom in the loop – because, really, your family knows too much about your bad habits already – and so tended to inquire solicitously about things Kage had resolved away years ago. Which was fine with her; she believed firmly that a certain level of Need To Know, strictly maintained, enhanced the tranquility of domestic relationships.
This didn’t work with me, of course; but Kage solved that one by including me in her habit-editing program. “You know what you need to do?” she would inquire from time to time, eyes alight with analysis and decision. This usually meant something that I needed to stop doing, and I immediately resolved to do whatever-it-was twice as hard … however, Kage was frequently correct about these little corrective programs; since she died, I’ve actually quit a lot of what she asked me to quit. Smoking. Drinking. (Mostly.) Buying endless crap science fiction books that needed to be stored somewhere – the Kindle has helped that one, not only by supplying better storage, but enabling me to select better books because I now have a wider accessible choice. Or so I tell myself …
(Honestly, can you really claim to have explored all of the Dune universe until you have plunged into the murky pools of Mentats of Dune? Sisterhood of Dune? Sandworms of Dune? Whipping Mek? Well, actually, yes – but you see the idea here. It’s not my fault that Frank Herbert’s son Brian inherited his urge to tell a story, but not his ability to do so.)
The point, Dear Readers, is that Kage’s system worked. Every year, survive. Can’t get a thing done if you die; not things that other people will notice. Every year, try to eliminate a few nasty little tics of the soul you may have picked up: not to make yourself feel good, but to enable you to do your work. At the very least, look at the balance you’ve set up in your life, and try to make it function better. Losing that last 30 pounds may not make any real difference – registering to vote, contributing to a charity, learning to make stained glass might. Give some thought to the trade-off.
Hence my recurring vow to survive, which at this point probably fulfills both halves of this balance. I’ve developed a bad habit of being sick, which I mean to beat. My legs veins proved free of clots, so my cardiologist lost interest when it became apparent I was not about to have another heart attack. But my left leg still won’t support my weight and hurts quite distractingly; tomorrow, I see my regular doctor find out why. I don’t really care why (although blood clots do have more cachet than Housemaid’s Knee) but I really want this to stop. Ignoring your health is a bad habit, right?
It’s even more of a waste of time than Navigators of Dune.