“What are your new year’s resolutions?” asked my wife one Saturday during December. An innocuous-enough question you might suppose, but one that put me straight into the conversational equivalent of a defensive crouch. Because actually, this was not so much a question as a flashing caution sign that we were approaching a familiar milestone on the annual journey through the landscape of our married lives. Each December, like a migrating swan using landmarks to navigate her way to winter feeding grounds, my wife plots her course through the coming year with the help of clearly defined resolutions.
These are carefully thought through and quantifiable—no vague “Get in shape” or “Eat better” declarations here. Her goals are measurable: she will run X number of miles a week, adhere to a diet rich in Y food groups … or affect the construction of Z pieces of eye-catching garden infrastructure. It was this last possibility that worried me; to admit that I hadn’t actually thought of any resolutions would be leaving myself exposed to being assigned some, probably involving said garden hardscape. What I needed—and fast—was a resolution that was not too obvious, respectably ambitious, moderately time-consuming, and, above all, plausible. But what? Breed prize-winning chickens? Not realistic. Grow a luxuriant moustache? Success too subjective. Train the dog to stop demolishing Amazon packages? Too many variables.
When it comes to new year’s resolutions, it seems that people fall into one of two camps: one for people who have the resolution gene and one for those that don’t. Obviously I reside in the latter camp. A natural navigator along the migratory flyway of life, Ashley loves to identify landmarks, draw up detailed action plans, measure progress, anticipate roadblocks, and devise alternate routes. I’m more of an executor, which means that, left to my own devices, I am more apt to show up on January 1, see which way the wind is blowing, and set out in that direction. If she is the swan, I am the resident nuthatch: not planning ahead much but pretty good at staying busy and getting things done. I like to think that we make a pretty good pair.
Then I hit upon it: In 2017, I will play more violin! Both of our kids do because, like parents since the dawn of time, I visit upon my children that which was visited upon me. For several years my mother, who is an accomplished cellist, frogmarched me through violin lessons, practice, and orchestra rehearsals. Not being much for practicing, I never got very good at it. Even then though, I could perceive that the experience of learning an instrument was giving me a broader appreciation of music. So ever since our kids were about six years old, I have been marching them through lessons and practice—something that doesn’t hold much pleasure for either player or listener in the early years.
My ambition was simply that they reach the point at which they were better violinists than me. Now I am happy, if a bit startled, to realize that they have well and truly cleared that (admittedly low) bar; and now it’s me who has some catching up to do. New year’s resolutions are all about optimism and starting a new chapter filled with conviction that the year to come will be better than the one just gone. Time, then, to start practicing a new tune.
Swan Lake, perhaps? Happy New Year, everyone. Thank you for reading.
—James Fox-Smith, publisher,