Monday, January 18

The truth about self-improvement? Canceled until the world improves | Life and Style


METERr Z ran downstairs with a package this morning. This happens constantly these days. That, or I open the door to the delivery guys and say, “What did you buy? now? “As if we were living in a sitcom and I was his grumpy father. It’s radically unfair, since he has almost always bought something for someone else: a light bulb for an ungrateful child’s complex lamp, hypoallergenic bedding for a rabbit, a dumpling curler.

This time it was for me and it was a book. I went to the back cover to see who had given the quotes. “This … this is chick lit.“I can’t tell you how much disgust I put into that sentence. “Or, you could have started that sentence with ‘thank you,'” he replied softly. “That … [nope, sorry, I could not say it] What made you think I’d read a book like this? You used to give me books on American social policy in the ’80s and vampires. “” Yeah, you never read them. “” I liked having them! ”

I’ve given Lockdown Three a bit of thought, and the lessons I can take from Lockdown One (I didn’t learn anything at Lockdown Two, except which pubs were making hot takeout cider), and I know exactly why you bought it. In 2020, I mostly read schlock. I did about 10 minutes of nostalgia (Old Time Big Thoughts, Hannah Arendt, Susan Sontag) for every 10 pot hours. I went through all of Ira Levin’s works, long after I realized that the books were dumber than the movies they had become. (Seriously, Rosemary’s Baby? At least the movie is scary; in the book, the scariest parts are the dangerous canapes, and the incarnation of evil is a slight relief from the uninteresting cocktails. Sorry, I don’t mean to be obnoxious. I really enjoyed my Ira Levin months).

I methodically made my way through Len Deighton when I already knew who all the spies were, and stubbornly attacked all the Jilly Coopers, stopping only to regret that I couldn’t interest the kids. There was no arc of self-improvement. The only thing I learned was how much plot I am able to forget.

I did not successfully get any sourdough, did not go vegan or put in pickles for the winter. If anything, I gave up any attempts at dietary discipline I already had: the twice-weekly toad-in-the-hole max, jerky digestion of fruit when I don’t particularly like it. (Mr. Z also bought me a contraption in which an apple is twisted onto a dowel and, as it is rolled, it is cored, peeled, and sliced. “Why did you buy this? don’t hate apples in particular, you just hate fruit. “” Well yeah! I hate fruit, it doesn’t make sense … ooh, look at that. It’s perfectly peeled and cored, and cut into a delicious spiral “).

I met a woman, the first time, who was using the confinement to introduce the whole family to the canon of Spanish cinema, and I thought, “It’s a good idea,” but I didn’t. I read a story about a man who had befriended a raven murder by leaving them regular food gifts, and accidentally built an army of raven bodyguards who plummeted his neighbors if they entered his garden. His main concern was whether he would be legally responsible if a neighbor was injured, so I can’t say he was my type of person. But, sure, it’s unfortunate when you have months of free time and not a single new link to the animal kingdom to prove it.

To this relatively new wisdom about improving myself, and its likelihood, I can add a lifetime’s knowledge of New Year’s resolutions: almost in the act of writing them, you more or less guarantee that you won’t keep them. It’s probably been a decade since I’ve been upset. I changed the tradition in favor of the whole family writing predictions for each other for the next year and then sealing them in a tin, to the delight of the following New Year’s Eve. The children began to wish each other horrible things. “I think H will join a cult of death.” “I think TJ will become allergic to air.” That was also suspended.

Instead, a series of irresolutions: I probably won’t read much better literature until the world improves; I won’t have a great idea for an awesome new project until there is a credible future to project it on; I won’t eat a ton of fruit, although you have to see these fresh apples to believe it; I won’t grow a sourdough starter, but I can imagine switching my hand to more regular buns; I don’t have the patience to hand feed a squirrel, but my daughter does, and she is essentially me; I already forgot to plant tulips on time; From time to time, you may consider saying, “Thank you.”

The book is great, by the way.

• Zoe Williams is a columnist for The Guardian.

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