Cusp of the Years: 2017–18


I wonder what my cat Jou-Jou might have had as her New Year’s resolution. Trap more mice in the basement for Jimi, the Jack Russell terrier, to finish off? Double the rate at which she traps Bunny, another JRT, in an ambush at the foot of the stairs? Eat more tuna and less kibble? I wonder what grade she’d give herself. Actually, I can’t imagine her caring ~^..^~  . . . the dogs might be better candidates for resolutions.

So here we are at the cusp of the year, the last twilight seconds of 2017, with a yearning towards the first glimmer of 2018. Of 2017, I can say that I failed to write the book. I miserably failed my number one goal! On the bright side, I did lose twenty pounds, but that doesn’t satisfy my goals and resolutions for 2017. Because, guess what? It wasn’t on the list. I also moved to Italy, which was on my list, but vaguely, with no sense of what might be involved in accomplishing this feat! I was going to say that I got a C or C minus for the year, but then when I look back over it, it’s also been a grand year. I didn’t even know what a permesso di soggiorno was at the beginning of the year. Now I am the proud owner of one! And of a very blue car, whose taking up residence at our old Italian farmhouse was even more challenging to organize than my own. Hey, it wasn’t such a bad year after all. (Just crazy, for sure!)

Well, so much for the year past. Here’s what I’m thinking about now, that this is also the time for creating new goals, renewing our vision of the possible—or, at least articulating some specific hopes—for the year to come. Hi ho, hi ho… we’re going to exercise, and we’re going to get more sleep. We’re going to pay off debt, spend less and save more. We’re going to count our blessings, learn to meditate, and realize that big dream—to write a book, take a month-long retreat, open a business, travel to an exotic destination, create a cultural or political revolution. Right?

I return to my perennial question, but with a twist. Usually I ask some variant of whether we can understand each other across species boundaries. And my answer is often a resounding “Yes, of course we can!”—this answer given on the basis of some real experiences of living that are shared across species divides. But today I wonder: “Can the other animals understand our annual review and assessment, our resolve to change for the better?” Uh, probably not, no more than we can understand the compulsion our dogs have to roll in dead fish. Chimpanzees can grasp that another may be lying in order to gain some advantage, like having access to grab some tasty fruit while another is distracted, but chimpanzees cannot grasp that another being could be acting on the basis of a false belief, like the idea that tasty fruit cannot be eaten on Wednesdays and so must sit untouched. The ability to act on the basis of a false belief seems to be a human capacity.


I don’t want to overstate any claim about what is or is not in another animal’s mind, but I think it’s safe to say that the other animals, while seasonal in their experience of life, do not live by the calendar and don’t quite get the significance of starting all over on January 1 (if they’re smart, they’re holed up somewhere anyway, sleeping off their own Christmas feasts).

The other animals might be sympathetic to the way we haunt garden stores in springtime, buy umbrellas and shade cloth in summer, plan harvest celebrations and seal up any leaks in our houses in the fall, gather firewood and buy hot chocolate that we rarely drink for winter. But the other animals are not likely to understand paying bills on the first of the month or making New Year’s resolutions (the word calendar comes from the Latin calendarium, the accounts book, and calends, first day of the Roman month, when accounts came due). Contrast these calendar activities with the word season, which comes to us from the Old French seson, a word that signifies the doing of things in a timely way, when conditions favor desired outcomes, specifically scattering seeds when the earth can receive and nurture them. Ah yes, this seasonality is something we share with other animals—call to mind spring fever, summer frolics, fall fattening, winter sleeping in.


So I failed to meet my 2017 resolutions, and my assessment is actually that I might take a lesson from other animals to forget about resolutions and tune instead to seasons, asking how I might cooperate with favorable conditions moment by moment. . . I think the moment might now favor writing a book? And, even if it doesn’t, conditions might surprise me with the loss of another twenty pounds. Or I might learn to say more than buongiorno and arrivederci! In the spirit of working with conditions as they are, as the other animals seem to do, and taking them as my personal trainers, I might learn to say, “Si arrangia con quello che c’è.”