You Say You Want a Resolution

One of my all-time favorite blog posts is this one by Tim Urban which discusses the passage of time, and in doing so, puts into clear focus the finite aspect of our lives. In particular, he lays out a lifespan not in the usual units of measurement such as minutes or hours or months or years, but instead by activities. For example, a presidential election only happens every four years. Assuming I live to be 90, therefore, I’m only going to punch the presidential ballot about another 10 times. Yikes.

That example, by the way, was intentional. The four-year cycle of presidential elections (or World Cups or Olympic Games) is apropos here at Pulitzer Schmulitzer because it has been just over four years since my last blog post. Another yikes. There are lots of reasons for this unintentional break, but suffice it to say that unlike presidential elections, the frequency of my writing is entirely in my control. And knowing that, I came to the patently obvious conclusion that I’m not going to finish this countdown unless I significantly pick up the pace here.

Why am I thinking about this now? Well, part of it is simply that fact that this is the time of year where “best of” lists abound as we look back on another loop about the sun. (Another part of it is that I had a COVID exposure so am self-isolating on New Year’s Eve and have some time on my hands.) On an individual level, it’s hard not to use this time to take stock of our accomplishments and failures and grade our past twelve months. More importantly, however, the end of the year also gives us an opportunity to think about the year ahead who we’d like to be. Granted, in reality New Year’s Day will just be like any other Saturday in our lives. But it feels different. It feels like we have a chance to close a chapter and start again with a blank slate. And not surprisingly, therefore, it is also time for New Year’s resolutions.

Historically, I’ve never been a huge proponent of either forming or following through on New Year’s resolutions. Part of this is certainly my fault, but most of the time my resolutions were either too vague, too small, too big, too numerous, or really, too stupid. As a result, I often forgot about them or ignored them or simply failed at them after a week or two.

At the start of 2021, however, I adopted an idea that my friend Gillian wrote about a few years back: instead of doing yearlong resolutions, set 12 one month resolutions. This structure helps in a couple of ways. First, you’re more likely to succeed (and success comes much quicker), with this shortened timeframe. Second, if you don’t succeed on any particular goal, you year isn’t shot; you simply start again the following month. So on this, the last day of 2021, here is my look back at my previous twelve months. With grades.


Grade: B

Giving up alcohol in January certainly isn’t a novel idea, but honestly probably was (and probably still is) the most important one for me. The more I read about alcohol, the more I’m convinced that drinking is one of the worst things you can do to your body. The flip side, of course, is that drinking is super fun. (Or, as Kid Cudi put it, “All the crazy shit I did last night / Those will be the best memories”).

But at the start of 2021 we were a year into the pandemic, and if there is one thing I’ve learned from COVID is that pandemics are hard and a break from booze was sorely needed. I wasn’t perfect; I actually started on January 4th and had two other events that month where I drank, but 5 drinking days out of 31 was my best in a while. A long while.


Grade: F

February was supposed to be the month I kickstarted my writing. Specifically, I wanted to post two Pulitzer Schmultizer blog posts. It was a total fail. That said, the fact that I did set that goal gnawed at me periodically through the year, and may, in fact be another reason why I’m aiming to publish this piece in 2021. (Spoiler alert: I made it.)


Grade: C

Given that I’m an avid reader, you would think the fact that I spend so much more time at home without a commute would have led to a significant increase in my reading time. You would be wrong. Turns out that the commute itself provides some built in reading time. Removing that time from my schedule also removed a fairly ingrained habit, and I didn’t find a suitable replacement.

So in March 2021, my goal was to read for an hour a day. I gave myself a C, but I consider this one a success; I was just over-zealous on my ambition. An hour a day is simply too much (or is simply too much for me), and I realized this fairly early on. What I also realized, however, was that a half-hour was doable, revised my goal accordingly, and was very successful reading that amount. So maybe a C with an asterisk.


Grade: A

I love meat. But, like alcohol, the more I read about meat, and in particular the meat industry, the more I’m coming to believe that we’d all be better off as vegetarians. While this has been a slow realization for sure, over the years, I have cut out some specific things from my diet. I haven’t eaten veal in forever, for example. More recently, I decided that I won’t eat any of the top 10 smartest animals. Granted, most of these are fairly easy to avoid, but giving up octopus and, to a much greater extent, pork, has been a sacrifice. As noted above, I love meat and pork is very, very tasty.

Despite my love of meat, however, this one turned out to be relatively easy. My only slip up was a booze-fueled, unintentionally enthusiastic inhaling of a Kentucky Fried Chicken drumstick. (For Pulitzer Schmulitzer fans, you are aware of my weakness for KFC.) I will definitely do this one again.


Grade: D

If you asked me at the start of the year which monthly resolution I thought would be the easiest to accomplish, I might have said this one. My goal for the month was simple: do two camping trips and take two hikes. What did I actually do? One hike and one night in a glamping tent at Safari West where I stayed up all night listening to two mating geese. I aspire to improve on this one in 2022.


Grade: A-

The goal for June was straightforward: do at least 30 minutes of exercise every single day. I already exercise a lot so this one wasn’t a huge stretch, but like with my reading, the COVID disruption to my schedule had somewhat surprisingly resulted in me being a little less disciplined with my work out routine. I missed maybe 1 or 2 days during June, but otherwise met this goal and, more importantly, re-established a much healthier routine.


Grade: C

In hindsight, this goal – to “learn something new” – was frankly too vague. I did absolutely learn some new things. For example – and this is a little embarrassing – I actually barbecued for the first time in July. I’m not kidding. Not only that, but the grill had seen such little use that it wouldn’t light so I had to learn how to replace the igniter. But that wasn’t really what I had in mind at the start of 2021. In my head my goal for July was something more lofty like to take a course. As such, I gave myself a C with the real lesson here to be more specific with my objectives.


Grade: A

If my reading time decreased during the pandemic, my time on social media increased in equal measure. As such, August’s goal was to delete Facebook, Instagram, Snap and TikTok from my phone. To be clear, I didn’t delete my accounts. But simply by removing them from my phone – especially from the home screen – it required me to be much more thoughtful and intentional about accessing them because it also required me to log in on desktop or through mobile web. This little bit of added friction, believe it or not, totally worked to decrease aimless scrolling and even more importantly the habit of opening them up at any moment of downtime. I loved this one and have never added any of the above back to my home screen.


Grade: F

September was supposed to be the month where I did a volunteer activity every Saturday. Again, like Outdoor May, I went into 2021 assuming that this would be a layup and again failed miserably. Didn’t do one thing. Yes, work was really busy this month, and yes, one Saturday I was actually at my first post-COVID wedding, but I believe I could have done more to make this happen. Of all of my 2021 resolutions, I may be most disappointed by this one.


Grade: B+

At the start of 2021, vaccines were just around the corner and I assumed that by October life would be for the most part back to normal. As such, my goal for the month was to experience some of the things that I’ve missed the most these past few years and see one concert, one play, one museum exhibit and one art event of my choice. I was close. I went to two days of Outside Lands (I’m counting that as the concert and the event of my choice), and went to see an Orchestra performance of Anime hits on November 10th (nothing this elaborate mind you but this was one of the “hits”) and the Art of Banksy exhibit on November 24th. So technically I didn’t see the play and didn’t do it all in October, but technically COVID didn’t cooperate either because of the Delta variant so screw it, I’m giving myself a B+.


Grade: A-

Similar to booze, the meat industry, and mindless social media consumption, I often struggle with how much stuff I consume. Because November is the time to give thanks, this month’s goal was simply to not buy anything new (food items excluded). Like Vegetarian April and Delete the Apps August, this one turned out to be relatively easy. I had to buy one tie and one dress shirt to wear for a business trip to New York, but other than those purchases I was the non-conspicuous consumer.


Grade: B-

Last but certainly not least was one of my favorite goals of 2021: make a point to reach out to people that I adore but that I don’t get to see. My original thought was to do one reach out per day, so 31 in total. Ultimately, the reach outs were much more lumpy and I probably ended with about 20 so I’m giving myself a B-. Nonetheless, when I did do it the responses brought me a lot of joy. Makes you wonder why we don’t prioritize this more often. (Also, if you just read this paragraph and are mad that you weren’t one of the 20, don’t be. The other thing that this resolution taught me was that there are so many people that fall into this category. I’ll hit you up in 2022.)

So we’ve reached the end of this post and of 2021. I’ll get this posted right under the wire, and promise that this weekend I will work on my list for 2022. Some of these I will keep forever (Dry January is definitely needed), some I will keep because I failed at them last year (Writing February, Outdoor May and Do Good October), some I will improve on (Learn Something New July), and some I will drop because I don’t need them (Delete the Apps August). But most importantly, I resolve to pay more attention to Pulitzer Schmultizer and make some progress on my countdown. I hope you all keep me accountable.

In the meantime, I’m going to leave you with words from two people much more articulate and wise than I am. Both are about life and understanding that it is very finite. The first piece is from a commencement address the author Joan Didion – who just passed away last week – gave in 1975 at UC Riverside:

“I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it.”

And the second is a poem called The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski:

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

(I love this poem and the only way it would be better would be to watch Tom Waits read it.)

So I made it. It is 11:13 on New Year’s Eve. Wishing you all the best in 2022.

#64 – On Bedside Notebooks, Ambien and Not Being An Asshole

I’m a terrible sleeper. Truly horrible. And I’m not talking about the occasional night when life is stressing you out because you’re thinking about what you need to do tomorrow or crap you screwed up at work or stupid things you said to your fill in the blank (spouse, boss, mom, dentist, Uber driver, etc). Those nights I get. But with me, it is not an occasional night; it is almost every night.

Is my life that stressful? Nope. But my brain has decided (I speak of my brain in the third person when it’s being unreasonable) that even if I don’t have anything to actually stress about it, it will make things up. And the best part is it will make up things that will NEVER EVER happen such as what if I get the ebola virus or what if one of my kids gets attacked by a shark. I’ll wonder if rattlesnakes can swim. I’ll think about Kayser Sose or if I know anyone who might be either (a) in the Illuminati or (b) legitimately crazy and mad at me that they’d go on a Left Eye burn the house down rampage.

But it’s not just totally improbable stressful thoughts that keep me up. I’ll also ruminate over fantasy football line ups, whether the “In the Air Tonight”/Miami Vice intro was the best intro to a television series ever (it was), and if I could sit cross-legged on the floor and try and stand up without using my hands or the walls or any furniture because I read that if you can then you’re six times less likely to die prematurely than if you can’t. In fact, last night I woke up because I had the idea that I should write a blog post about waking up so outlined the idea in the notebook by my bed.

Why is there a notebook by my bed you ask? Well, in the old days (prior to 2013) I would have just dealt with my lack of sleep and been, well, tired. But now we are inundated with articles on how insomnia makes you fat or sleep cures depression. We learn about exercising for better sleep and napping for success, and an array of new sleep devices and products, including dozens of sleep-monitoring smartphone apps, alarm clocks that won’t wake you during REM stages, sleep-inducing chocolates, candles that crackle like fireplaces, technologically enhanced sleep masks that “switch off your mind,” fitness bracelets that give you a sleep score and a $12,000 sleep-enhancing mattress containing soothing seaweed and coconut husks.

So after being bombarded by this, I decided this sleeping thing might be worthwhile and went to my doctor to see if he could help. This particular doc is a little on the homeopathic bent, so after hearing about my sleeping issues he suggested counting sheep (seriously), spraying my bed with lavender, taking melatonin or valerian root (or both), practicing meditation (I’m the worst meditator that ever lived but that is a story for another day), or flexing and unflexing every muscle in my body starting with my feet. None of this worked. (As an aside, he also suggested drinking less coffee and alcohol. Not a huge fan.)

But he did suggest two things that weren’t totally useless. First, he suggested keeping a notebook by the side of my bed so that if I woke up thinking about ideas for work or things I needed to do the next day (such as write a blog post on not sleeping), I could simply write them down. Brilliant. Totally helped. Second, he said that if none of the other things worked (including said notebook), it was important that I at least sleep well every third day so I should take an Ambien. Also brilliant.

But the uber brilliant part of this advice that he failed to mention was the magic that would happen when I would take an Ambien, have a brilliant thought, fight through the haze and write this pearl of wisdom my bedside notebook. Saul Bellow, author of Pulitzer winner Humbolt’s Gift (1976) once said: “You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” Saul clearly never took Ambien. Or read my notebook.

Exhibit A: The other night I had an epiphany in my dream that was so life-changing that I emerged from my fake Ambien sleep to jot it down and fell immediately back asleep. I woke up to a note that says:

“It isn’t the dinner that is important. It is the cook.”

And I think what I meant there was that life is not about the accomplishment and is really much more about the company you keep while getting there.  Which sort of makes sense.

Except that it also sort of also implies that I think life is less about reaching your goals and more about sitting around while other people make you food. Which is kind of shitty.  Ambien-me is kind of an asshole, I think. Never make Ambien-me a chicken pot pie.  He’s sort of a dick.  Sorry about that.

And speaking of assholes, the last position on the Pulitzer Schmulitzer! countdown doesn’t go to a book or author. Nope, last place is reserved for the Pulitzer Prize Board itself for the 7 times in the last 65 years that they didn’t pick a winner. That’s right. Seven times they looked at every book published in a given year and passed. Total assholes.

To be fair, if you look at the list, you’ll notice that six of these seven non-decisions were made prior to 1977 so although I was aware of these non-choices, I believed that this was an anomaly of times gone by that we wouldn’t see again. Until 2012 happened.  That year, three books were nominated by the committee: Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson, and The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace. But instead of picking one, for the first time in more than three decades, the Pulitzer Board refused to give an award for fiction.

Admittedly, I didn’t read any of them (because I was too busy reading all the other Pulitzer winners), but they must have been pretty good, right?!?! According to the Washington Post, these three books were “unanimous” selections of the committee. But even if they weren’t the “best” books of the year, the statement made by refusing to award any of the books forwarded to them by the committee is that no novel published in 2011 was up to the standard set by the Pulitzer Prize in over 60 years of arbitrary award giving. And that’s bullshit.

The winner of the Pulitzer Prize, or any other award, is not the “best novel ever” or even necessarily the “best novel of the year.” There were no doubt a hundrednovels published in 2011 that were good enough to win the Pulitzer. In fact, NPR said that 2011 was “a terrific year for fiction.” And those NPR guys are really smart. Or at least they sound really smart on my radio. In addition to the ones officially nominated, they could have chosen Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones, the winner of the National Book Award, Kevin Wilson’s beautifully weird The Family Fang, or The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (the last two I did actually read).

To not pick one, for whatever reason, is not only arrogant, but also dumb. It is arrogant because you’re saying that there was not a single book published that year worthy of the award. Even if true (which it isn’t), you should still pick. The Downtown Athletic Club doesn’t decide to cancel the Heisman Trophy Award when the best they can do is Gino Torretta or Eric Crouch. And it’s dumb because this isn’t something that you need to even be right about. Look at the Oscars. They picked Driving Miss Daisy, Out of Africa, Forrest Gump, The English Patient, and Titanic as the Best Picture winners. Horrible movies, but no one cares. Imagine, however, if they’d come out on stage and told the audience that they decided they weren’t going to pick a winner that year. There would be blood.

There is an old Latin saying that I’ve been using recently (that is a whole other story), “provehito in altum,” which is an idiom that means both “reach for the heights” and “launch forth into the deep.” I love it because it means two possibly opposite things, but both are equally awesome. Not picking a Pulitzer Prize winner is like the opposite of provehito in altum. Totally un-provehito in altumy.

So my message to you Pulitzer Prize Board people is don’t ever do that again. Make a decision. And don’t be an asshole.