Here’s an opener that should score 4,000 on the Pretentious-o-meter: I was reading some Kafka last night. Yeah. I unearthed The Complete Stories, a book I bought while in high school when I went through my philosophy phase, and looked up a story called “A Country Doctor.” That story was referred to in an article I read earlier in the day. Not a very good article, but kind of interesting, the mysteriously awful and unfunny accompanying illustration aside. The article’s author asserts that Kafka thought “A Country Doctor” was his best story. I find that a little hard to believe, but there it is. If it’s on the Internet, there’s about a 50% chance that it’s true.
Jonathan implied that I was being passe (I’m sorry, but I don’t know how to put the little accent mark over the “e” on Windows, although I do on the Mac). I was mildly insulted by this, although I agreed too. But it was kind of like being caught trying on a pair of bell-bottoms you found from 30 years ago, to see if you still fit into them. A little embarrassing, but, you know, it’s still Kafka. I like to think he’s got some staying power apart from shifting cultural passions. It’s not like I was reading The Thornbirds or Future Shock.
So. Anyway. After not being all that impressed with “A Country Doctor” I moved on to other stories in the book. I’d been thinking of writing a New Year’s Resolutions post and, hey, what’s this? It’s a story right here, lookey here, called “Resolutions”. It’s short enough that I can include it in its entirety:
To lift yourself out of a miserable mood, even if you have to do it by strength of will, should be easy. I force myself out of my chair, stride around the table, exercise my head and neck, make my eyes sparkle, tighten the muscles around them. Defy my own feelings, welcome A. enthusiastically supposing he comes to see me, amiably tolerate B. in my room, swallow all that is said at C.’s, whatever pain and trouble it may cost me, in long draughts.
Yet even if I manage that, one single slip, and a slip cannot be avoided, will stop the whole process, easy and painful alike, and I will have to shrink back into my own circle again.
So perhaps the best resource is to meet everything passively, to make yourself an inert mass, and, if you feel that you are being carried away, not to let yourself be lured into taking a single unnecessary step, to stare at others with the eyes of an animal, to feel no compunction, in short, with your own hand to throttle down whatever ghostly life remains in you, that is, to enlarge the final peace of the graveyard and let nothing survive save that.
A characteristic movement in such a condition is to run your little finger along your eyebrows.
Personally, I feel that this little piece of writing blows “A Country Doctor” out of the water. But that’s just my opinion.
Yeah. So. Resolutions. I’ve been thinking a lot about the year ahead as the month of December has marched quickly toward it, mostly marked by a tenacious cold and lots of not running and no exercising of any sort. I’ve gotten depressed. I’ve gotten anxious. My mind has whirled and twirled inward on itself in the unhealthy way Mr. Kafka describes above. I have been in a miserable mood. All of this really needs to stop.
Here’s what I am resolving to do next year:
With regard to running, stop trying so hard. I need to let go of what’s happened over the last couple of years and stop expecting progress to happen on a certain schedule. I may also need to let go of the marathon, if it’s obviously not working out as a distance for me, and have that be okay.
Go to more parties. Partly because I want to, but mostly because I have to. I am a complete failure at parties and I’m not at all happy with this state of affairs. I went to one last weekend and in a 3 hour span of time had about 20 minutes of satisfying interaction with strangers. The rest of the time I was an anxious mess. Another one last month wasn’t much better. While I’m tempted to just avoid them altogether, that’s no way to live. So I need to practice.
Be neater. Get rid of stuff I don’t want anymore without attendant agony. Just give (or throw) shit away even if it’s “worth something.” The Yonkers Dump and FreeCycle are there for a reason. Reject new clutter. Rediscover our household surfaces. Clean on a regular basis.
Follow my instincts. I got better at this over the course of this year, but it was not always easy. I quit a steady gig that was making me desperately unhappy. I rejected new ones that for whatever reason didn’t feel right. I spent my limited social energies with more care. I went to Vermont with a bunch of people I didn’t know. I started or got involved in projects without giving myself the opportunity to talk myself out of them. Everything worked out.
Eat more fruits and vegetables; floss every day. This isn’t a joke. I do need to do this. This is going to be the year.
Stop complaining about the weather. I live in New York. It gets cold and it gets hot. It’s time I accepted that fact. Come to think of it, I should stop complaining so much in general.
Have more patience. With everyone and everything.
Ease up on Facebook. It’s a largely meaningless time suck. I do enjoy sharing things on it, but I’ve realized on some days that I’ve spent upwards of 2 hours on the thing. This is not a good habit.
In conclusion, for 2011 I will be doing much more than making myself into an inert mass and running my little finger along my eyebrows.