Striding manfully along Cat Bells on Thursday, I mused on new year’s resolutions.
I last did the new year’s resolution thing in 2004 when I quit smoking. I’d smoked heavily for thirty years but stopping was effortless when not one fibre of my being wanted to spend the next thirty doing the same.
Observing the movement of one’s mind in the grip of a strong habit is instructive. On previous attempts to stop I’d been struck by its similarities with the devil, in the sophistry of its reasoning – specious as a lawyer’s yet childishly and even amusingly transparent once faced down – and in the old saw that the devil cannot enter one’s home by stealth. He can’t sneak at dead of night through a window left carelessly open, but must be invited across the threshold by the owner in broad daylight. Once inside though, he’ll shapeshift as need and mood take him: from advocate to thug, aggrieved friend to sneering upstart. Upstairs, downstairs and let’s not forget my lady’s chamber he’ll wheedle and steal, bespoil and betray, but that initial entry is always on our say so. Which as I read it means we’ll only keep Old Nick from hearth and home – and Philip Morris from life and lungs – by being indivisible in the desire to do so.
Judaeo-Christian cultures depict such integrity of intent as heroic – yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin – but that’s not how I see it. I began my thirteen years not out as a non smoker when, and only when, all of me wanted my freedom back. At which point renouncing tobacco proved about as tough as cutting down on sheep shagging, catheter frolics or drilling into my eyeballs with a Black & Decker.
(In my experience desire for nicotine is intense but short lived. Infinitisimally so. Long before we make a demonic beeline for the nearest supplier – in fact before, if we observe our mind’s movement instead of being consumed by it, we even get out the door – that desire has burnt itself out. By then it’s not the drug in the driving seat but one of the many scripts, each step programmed by needs more tyrannical by far than desire for nicotine, by which our lives are so easily led. I dare say the same goes for all compulsive behaviour.)
That said, those who break the habit usually do so only after many attempts, all but the final one ending in backslide. Perhaps those earlier efforts were needed, for all they seemed abject failures at the time. As Forster says in Howard’s End, success may not happen when we try but it seldom happens unless we try. In that spirit then, and with splendid vistas in every direction just days before curtain fall on 2017, I pondered my first NY resolutions in thirteen years.
More structure in daily life – not a SMART goal, I know. Specific? Measurable? No. Achievable? Realistic? Of course. Targeted? Absolutely not, but it’s important and does lend itself to a first SMART step of devising a flexible timetable, framework for other resolutions. The context here is a temporal paradox confronting most retirees. Day to day I’ve more time than in decades but long term the opposite is true. It’s taken three years but the novelty of doing as I please is now fading. While the days never drag, and I think what I do matters – though your promise count for nothing, you must keep it nonetheless – I’m haunted by a sense I could do more.
Two hours a day reading and note taking – I’ve many tomes half read, abandoned too long ago to be resumed without starting over. Marx, Dawkins, Piketty and Varoufakis await. (Not to mention a commitment, foolishly incurred and repeatedly put on the backest of back burners, to read and respond to the best arguments for seeing 9/11 as an inside job.) I’ll claim the time by reining in some of the hours spent on web surfing and good but lightweight telly viewing.
One hour exercise alternate days – I walk a few miles each day but that’s it. I used to gym and yoga till I fell several metres, from a rope swing to the shaled bed of a Welsh mountain stream, eight years ago. The damage to a small but crucial shoulder muscle took me out of the exercise habit at an age when it’s not so easy getting back in. I’ve not set foot in a gym, or done a single asana, since that day.
More people time – I’m on the cusp of introvert and extrovert. That’s misled people, including me, as to my nature but these days I’m tilting to introversion. I spend hour on contented hour with just my thoughts. This has advantages but also downsides. I want to be more ‘there’ for my nearest and dearest, and to give a day a week of voluntary work. I’m thinking homelessness.
No red meat and far less dairy – I’ve been unhappy with my contribution to an auschwitzian meat and dairy industry for too long. It’s time to act. I’ve spent long spells of my adulthood as vegetarian bordering on vegan, and am due for another. For now I’ll eat some fish and white meat (less profligate in protein conversion ratios) from good sources but pork, beef and lamb I can do without. Cutting back on dairy requires imagination but vegetarianism – whether from aversion to cruelty, concern over protein wastage or worries about the greenhouse effect of 1.5 billion farting cows – strikes me as odd if it ignores a dairy industry inextricably linked to beef production. Equally, I want to avoid the kind of all-or-nothing zealotry I’m prone to. Better that the many consume less meat and milk than that the few renounce them entirely. Better too that we stop reducing such matters to questions of individual lifestyle – letting the profit drivers of all this go scot free – but such thinking goes against the new year spirit so I’ll just STFU.
Raise my game photographically – I’ve not pushed myself here for years and it bothers me. I dwell often on the facts, not easily reconciled, of an ugly and insane world on the one hand, life’s beauty on the other, and have been banging this drum since my March visit to India. As my writing has tilted through no conscious decision of mine to deepening confrontation with the extreme centre and its normalising of madness, I need to restore inner balance; some of it with my camera. I need SMART goals to raise my photographic game.
Meanwhile, as reminder of life’s irreducible beauty, uneclipsed by the world’s profit driven and quite unforgivable madness, here are twenty-four pictures taken on one of my late father’s best loved walks: Cat Bells in sunlight and in snow. To the north, Skiddaw towers over Keswick, its bland peak now a curve of dazzling white. East is Derwentwater’s glittering surface, buckled in places by tectonic plates of ice while on the far bank Borrowdale’s crags ascend to Central Fells that hide Thirlmere, Ullswater and even Helvellyn from view. The northwest offers intermittent glimpses as we climb of Bassenthwaite and, on so clear a day, Galloway’s hills above a Solway Firth even the peak of modest Cat Bells cannot bring into view. To the west are Newlands Pass, Causey and Grisedale Pikes; to the southwest, Dale Head and High Spy, while dominating the southern skyline are Scafell, the Langdales and Glaramara.
Happy new year to all sentient beings. Slides in the pdf advance manually – 171228 cat bells