So did you know it's 2013?
Wow. That number just keeps getting bigger.
I have a theory that years are not equal units of time, at least not as we humans experience them psychologically—we experience "years" as a percentage of our lives. A single year is now only 1/55th of my life, which isn't very much, so it doesn't take a whole lot of time for one to go by.
This is unfair—even tragic, in a quiet, minor way. Years should seem longer as you grow older, not shorter; you have fewer of them left. Then again, if I could complain to the Cosmos, I'd have other complaints to get to first.
One thing I think is curious is that for most of my life, there was an iconic future date that somehow "stood for" the future and made you reflect on how weird and foreign the future was going to be. For the first half of my life it was 1984, but then 1984 arrived and it was just another year. Then we had 2001 to look toward as "the future." Then even that strange-sounding date went past.
Now—unless you count a really wretched pop song about "2525" that I hope I never have to hear again—nothing.
Or is there something like 1984 and 2001 out there, but I'm just not in touch with it? Could be. As a 55-year-old white male who lives in a small town in Wisconsin and hardly ever goes to the movies, I won't claim that pop culture targets the likes of me or that I would necessarily be aware of today's 1984 or 2001 equivalents.
Maybe I should write a book called "2038."
...Which brings me to my next subject: New Year's Resolutions. Usually, my New Year's Resolution is that I'm gonna write a book. I never do. The quintessential New Year's Resolutions, of course, have to do with smoking or dieting.
I quit smoking half my life ago. It was incredibly difficult—I've heard people say it's easier to quit heroin cold turkey and on your own than it is to quit smoking. It took me a year of trying, and I tried very hard. Fortunately, I didn't give up, and, even more fortunately, I eventually succeeded.
As for dieting...I've been "working on" my overweight problem for about two years now. The general problem fascinates me. I've been performing experiments on myself to see what, if anything, works, and I've been reading and learning about the obesity epidemic in America and what might be causing it. I've read at least 50 books on the subject.
There sure are a lot of pretty theories out there. The most fascinating recent one I've come across is that antibiotics are causing obesity. This theory holds that there are a zillion kinds of bacteria in our microbiome, we know next to nothing about most of them, and killing them off indiscriminately with antibiotics is throwing our bodies' relationship to food out of whack.
Fascinating. Did you know, for instance, that there are more bacteria in your body than cells, and that in toto they make up about three and a half pounds avoirdupois of your body weight? Consider, too, that poultry were originally dosed with antibiotics to prevent disease in the unhealthy conditions in which they are forced to live, but then it was discovered that antibiotics made them fatter, and now they're given antibiotics principally to fatten them up more quickly and further shorten the amount of time they have to be kept alive before they can become food.
Personally, though, I've reached my conclusion, and I'm bringing my experiments to a close.
Here's why. Have you ever heard of John Snow and the Broad Street pump? John Snow was the father of epidemiology, the study of disease transmission. He's the one who figured out the mystery of cholera, formerly a disastrous contagion that rivalled the Black Death for carnage and terror. Sandra Hempel tells the story grippingly in The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump: John Snow and the Mystery of Cholera, a delightful little history of science title written for laypeople. (I have a short shelf of such titles.)
What I find fascinating about that story is that, before Dr. Snow figured out the truth, there were all sorts of very pretty theories about where cholera was coming from and how people caught it. The theories all sounded relatively reasonable, they all had adherents among the upper strata of the establishment, and rival factions had sprung up to argue the relative merits of each, championing one view and denigrating competing ones. They were argued fiercely, as if they were ideologies. And yet they were all just plain wrong.
All so quintessentially human.
Well, I've concluded (for my own self) that that's where we are in the study of nutrition. Science is just in a dark age, a crude state of ignorance, about how human nutrition functions. We are in the same condition with regard to nutrition that epidemiology was in before Snow came along: mired in a miasma of ignorance and strident disputations between competing and fiercely held wrong beliefs. We don't know what the hell is causing the obesity epidemic in America, or what the hell to do about it. All I can say is that I think everyone is wrong. I no longer believe it's caused by any one particular element that we must excise ruthlessly from our diets or any one element we must consume more of; it's not related primarily to exercise or failing willpower, or too much or too little fat of this or that type, or sedentary lifestyles, or the genetic engineering of wheat, or the rise of fast food, or eating no meat or eating only meat, or the nefarious politics of post-Nixonian agribusiness, or the relentless pollution of the entire food supply with sugar (although all of those things are bad enough). I won't run through all the counterexamples, but consider that the average weight of marathon runners has increased in the past forty years roughly in parallel with the increasing weight of the general population, and that the Brazilians eat even more sugar than Americans do but are on average thinner.
So, personally, I just asked my doctor what to do about my weight, and he said WeightWatchers has the best track record of success. So my New Years Resolution is: compliance. I'm not much for following orders; I am a freethinker above most everything else. I like to tinker. Characteristically, I have not been very compliant with WeightWatchers since I joined it a few weeks ago, but my excuse is that that's because of the holidays, and I'm stickin' to that. In 2013, my big ambition is: compliance. I.e., doing what I'm told.
You know what they say: Oh, well
I'm not very convinced of the efficacy of New Year's Resolutions, though. They've never been shown to have much power, at least according to my limited observations. Maybe it's just that the arrival of a new year allows us a brief shining moment of hope, in the same way that, say, buying a Lotto ticket buys $2 worth of daydreaming.
But there are just certain things that statistical analysis can tell us. Take smoking, for instance. There is a huge shelf in the actuarial tables right around the age of 40. Statistically, you are better off not smoking than smoking no matter your age, and you are better off quitting than not quitting at any time in your life, but you are much better off if you stop smoking before age 40 than if you stop after 40. If you're a smoker and you find yourself approaching that age, now is the time—very urgently. Don't let yourself go past 40 without quitting.
Similarly, there are just very few obese 90-year-olds. And precious few obese 80-year-olds. And the exceptions are only that. Overweight kills. Obese people die younger. Opinions vary as to whether I'm 30 or 50 or 70 pounds overweight, but I accept that it's probably not good for me to carry all this corpulence along with me as the years click past, from here on out.
Now's the time, now's the time.
But you know, now that I think of it, 1984 wasn't just another year. It was actually a great year for me. I encountered Ronald Reagan repeatedly, literally and figuratively, which formed my politics. I was in art school and (to my considerable surprise) having a blast there. And I fell in love, really for the only time in my life, with a woman who, in my solitary mid-middle age, I still think about rather too much. "Nineteen Eighty-Four" in the Orwellian sense might well be here (constant, distant war; Big Brother prying into your life in myriad ways...and don't get me started on the Thought Police...), but if 2013 turns out to be half as good as the real 1984 for me, I'd be happy.
Here's hoping. I watched the ball fall last night. Today is a bright, shining new day.
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Featured Comments from:
AM Townsend: "Wordsworth summed up the time sentiment:
We'll talk of sunshine and of song;
And summer days, when we were young,
Sweet childish days, that were as long
As twenty days are now!