January 1st, 2010

krazy koati

And Mister Lang is very old

A problem in making New Year's Resolutions is so few of them are actually new. Most of the popular resolutions, like ``lose weight'', or ``save money'', or ``better alphabetize my capybaras'' (they should be filed under 'c' instead), or ``stop with this thing where I always sneeze twice, never once'', are practically antiques. They got made years ago before you knew how to make them, and you take them out of the resolution drawer late December, brush them against a cat to change the layer of dust to a layer of cat hair, and put them away again. When's the last time you saw an original resolution? Discount the ones meant sarcastically or that are dangerous. See? It's been two years at least.

But most people don't know how to make resolutions. Back in feudal days any well-equipped noble would have a resolution-wright. And he'd work with the skill and craft of a person knowing the noble who receives the final product has teams of men with pointy sticks and swords surrounding the wright. He'd have to work at least forty days of every year preparing resolutions just for the noble, though in exchange he received protection, mostly from the noble's teams of men with pointy sticks and swords.

Still, the business of trading work for protection worked out very well up until 1648, when one of the men with pointy sticks asked who they needed protection from, and they all realized it was just the noble, and they outnumbered him. More, it turned out the noble had died of the plague in 1349, following the late delivery of the earliest recorded resolution in the English language, ``Resolved: this year I shall not die of the plague''.

Today (actually, yesterday, when this was written) we don't have people with pointy sticks and swords forcing anyone to make resolutions, but we keep making them for substantially the same reason: we are comic strip characters who have to grind out a week's worth of jokes about being unable to keep resolutions since the cartoonists feel an urge to do something topical yet notice there's nothing of pop-cultural significance about the 3rd of January.

With just a couple days spent at it annually, and I bet not even full days at that, it's no wonder the art of homemade resolutions is in such a condition. Don't stare. You'll hurt its feelings, and the last thing you want is emotionally troubled art forms lashing out at you. That's what gave us Brutalist architecture and jokes about how my imaginary rhetorical kid could paint better than that, and my imaginary rhetorical kid could make a better joke than that.

A major step in the industrialization of resolution-writing came in 1898 when over 114 bakeries employing thousands of bakers across the United States merged into the National Biscuit Company and got to making tens of thousands of pre-wrapped, pre-packaged resolutions distributed to groceries around the nation. Previously stores were just fine putting stale cookies in antique barrels and rewarding potential customers by whapping their fingers with pointy sticks. They hadn't yet got the hang of mass marketing. In the new model in under twenty minutes Nabisco went bankrupt. They'd have been ruined for good if they hadn't decided to give ``making cookies'' one try before giving up and going home.

Still, mass-marketed resolutions brought a basic quality and reliability to an otherwise highly variable market. By the 1920s popular resolutions included ``get a better job'', ``stop detailing to everyone the foods that I'm not allowed to eat at some point before their agitation turns violent'', ``stop making resolutions'', and ``stop becoming violently agitated at jokes I've heard too much''.

Mass production went too far, as always, and oversaturated the market with long-lasting resolutions so cheaply we got the present situation, where everyone has a couple of long-standing resolutions they'll never do anything with, but keep around since they take up so little space and they've been passed down for so many years. And there's still a cachet to that one about not dying of the plague. We'll see how we're doing this time next year.

Trivia: According to legend Rome's King Numa added February and January to the end of the year, in that order, with the extra month Mercedonius added as needed. Source: Mapping Time: The Calendar and its History, EG Richards.

Currently Reading: In The Heart Of The Sea: The Tragedy Of The Whaleship Essex, Nathaniel Philbrick.