Organization, unresolutions, a new take on an old book

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    To say that New Year’s resolutions don’t work is to state the obvious. All those folks who resolved last January to lose the 10 extra pounds they hate the most have visibly failed. Flab is everywhere–unloved adipose tissue, the result of holiday dinners of appalling proportions with leftovers to munch through the bowl game bonanza.

    Those of us who love to cook, as well as those who love (or live) only to eat, are doomed to gain at least 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and the New Year. Talk about taking the joy out of the feast. But January resolvers are doomed not only to fail, but also to beat themselves up for their failure. Hence the popularity of the new “unresolution” list touted in Glamour magazine as “the list of everything you won’t do this year.” Hang the guilt.

    In the days when I worked really, really hard, wrestling unruly colts that outweighed me ten to one, retaining fat cells was not even an option, much less a problem. But since turning to more sedentary pursuits, chained, as it were, to the computer for long blocks of time, I’ve suffered a metabolism shift. All those calories that used to be converted to instant energy now settle on the desk chair where they multiply or divide or whatever.

    So I did a little research and learned that 90 percent of people who resolve on Jan. 1 to lose their ill-gotten gains, don’t. This, I discovered, is not because they lack sufficient will power, but because winter is the worst time to diet. Not only are all our favorite comfort foods in abundance, but also the days are short, the weather chilly, and our basic survival instinct tells us to eat and sleep more, not less.

    Fearing failure more than fat–I know a hopeless cause when I see one–I’ve decided to diet during late summer and early fall when the days are still long and warm enough to enjoy outdoor exercise. Working in the garden burns more calories than trudging on the treadmill anyway. Trim shrubs, rake leaves–fodder for the compost bin – plant bulbs, mulch trees. And the comfort foods of summer are still around: fresh pears, apples, berries, even a few peaches, and sweet tomatoes still cling to their vines. Zero fat, few calories and no cooking. Anyone can lose weight in September.

    Making the natural rhythm of the seasons work for, not against, you amounts to a kind of reverse dieting. Lose 10 pounds before you’ve gained any. Easy virtue instead of guilt. Trim down before you have to meet temptation. Before you’re confronted with pumpkin pie, pecan cake, steamed pudding, almond cookies. Eat the apples from the tree before they’re made into cobbler and tart tartin. It works. Come December, there’s room for a little gain, and no guilt.

    The other New Year’s resolutions, or unresolutions, involve “getting organized” blah, blah, blah. And, of course, we have Martha Stewart to tell us how to do that (and much more than we have use for or patience with). Martha tells us this is the perfect time to organize our bookshelves. Excuse me? There is no perfect time to attack the bookshelves, stacks, piles and boxes. What happens is you set out to find the perfect volume to give to someone, or you need to make room for new books given to you. Then you happen across an old favorite, leaf through its pages, and that’s the end of the organization. Two hours later, you’re curled on the sofa, deeply involved with characters you once loved, in places long forgotten. Pass the pecans, please.

    What I usually do, instead of making resolutions for myself, is to write out lists of smart-alecky resolutions I think others should make. Pompous pundits, spin doctors, holier-than-thou televangelists, Enron execs–you know the sort. Anyway, I didn’t have the heart to do it this year. I figured I shouldn’t make fun of folks who are probably doing the best they can, even those who are poorly equipped.

    Instead, I am recommending a book for our leaders to read, one I found while I was trying to follow Martha’s suggestion to organize my bookshelves. My all time favorite journalist, David Brinkley, wrote the book with tongue firmly planted in cheek, but all the facts right on. I mean, nobody could make up this stuff. “Washington Goes to War” (Alfred A. Knopf, 1988) chronicles the foibles, follies and fiascos of our government’s response to the outbreak of World War II. A classic, it’s a fun read, and has some astonishing correlations to what’s going on today. It’s a shame this gem is out of print, but as soon as I’ve finished, I’ll gladly lend it to the current Washingtonians trying to adapt to their new situation. A little clarity, a little humor. And that, as Martha says, is a good thing.