Year’s-End Wisdom from Niebuhr and Gatsby

Words to live by, or at least muse on, in 2010:

Happiness is desired by all men, and moments of it are probably attained by most men. Only moments of it can be attained because happiness is the inner concomitant of neat harmonies of body, spirit, and society; and these neat harmonies are bound to be infrequent. There is no simple harmony between our ambitions and our achievements because all ambitions tend to outrun achievements. There is no neat harmony between the conscious ends of life and the physical instruments for its attainment, for the health of the body is frail and uncertain. . . There is no neat harmony between personal desires and ambitions and the ends of human societies no matter how frantically we insist with the eighteenth century that communities are created only for the individual.

Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History

But still. . .

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby


David Allen’s Year-End Inventory

All would-be Life Improvers –and this time of the year, ain’t we all?– should at least know the name and skim the works of David Allen, whose book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity contains  ideas that will help anyone, whether or not you adopt his fairly complicated system whole-hog. I haven’t swallowed it all, but Allen tips like the Two-Minute Rule, the Next-Action Habit, and the 43 Folders have kept my life from sliding into the maw of chaos over the past several years.

Here’s how The David, as Davidites call him, suggests we end 2009 and stride into 2010. Again, no need to answer all the questions, but you’ll find a few here that should resonate. For testimonials from a number of Davidites, see my 2006 magazine article. (Sorry about the awkward formatting.)

Completing and Reviewing 2009

Review the list of all completed projects.
What was your biggest triumph in 2009?
What was the smartest decision you made in 2009?
What one word best sums up and describes your 2009 experience?
What was the greatest lesson you learned in 2009?
What was the most loving service you performed in 2009?
What is your biggest piece of unfinished business in 2009?
What are you most happy about completing in 2009?
Who were the three people that had the greatest impact on your life in 2009?
What was the biggest risk you took in 2009?
What was the biggest surprise in 2009?
What important relationship improved the most in 2009?
What compliment would you liked to have received in 2009?
What compliment would you liked to have given in 2009?
What else do you need to do or say to be complete with 2009?

Creating the New Year

What would you like to be your biggest triumph in 2010?
What advice would you like to give yourself in 2010?
What is the major effort you are planning to improve your financial results in 2010?
What would you be most happy about completing in 2010?
What major indulgence are you willing to experience in 2010?
What would you most like to change about yourself in 2010?
What are you looking forward to learning in 2010?
What do you think your biggest risk will be in 2010?
What about your work, are you most committed to changing and improving in 2010?
What is one as yet undeveloped talent you are willing to explore in 2010?
What brings you the most joy and how are you going to do or have more of that in 2010?
Who or what, other than yourself, are you most committed to loving and serving in 2010?
What one word would you like to have as your theme in 2010?

A Damn Good Question

If we can’t catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, a traveler whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn’t check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?

Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, today

David Levine, R. I. P.

Word’s just in that David Levine, the master caricaturist whose work in The New York Review of Books captured the essence of so many politicians, writers and others, has died at 83. Here’s Levine’s distillation of John Updike and his immortal take on Richard Nixon, looking like the scariest guy in a police lineup.

Nixon as Captain Queeg from The Caine Mutiny

Carpe Diem? Maybe Tomorrow!

Just had to steal that great headline from today’s NY Times.

For those who are thinking about thinking about setting aside some time to consider possible options that might lead to some tentative steps toward possible changes in the New Year, this one is worth reading.  Instead of telling us we really need to eat more strained brocolli and take more 20-mile runs in 2010, the researchers in this article say we need to get better at having fun!

Yes, having fun. Now. Not next week or next month when we somehow think we might have “more time.” Now.

Check out the interesting research these folks did to show  how we cheat ourselves out of enjoyable moments we should be seizing right now.   And you’ll instantly think of examples of how you’ve done this to yourself.

For example, the Dallas Museum of Art is running an exhibit called “All The World’s a Stage,” which brings together 175 works portraying different kinds of performers and performances–i.e., Degas’ ballerinas, etc.  I’ve been telling myself for two months to get down there and see it, but nooooooooo: I keep putting it off with this hazy notion that “after the holidays,” I’ll have more time.

Reality check: I won’t.

By the way, any heavy reader probably has shelves filled with proof that you won’t have “more time” down the line. From where I sit, I can see a biography of the novelist Sinclair Lewis, written in the 1970s and purchased in the mid-80s by a guy who was certain that he’d have time to read this big book. . . uh. . . probably in the summer. When Reagan was president.

The article is  here . Don’t put off reading it.

Workin’ on the Change Gang: New Year’s Renewal

Okay, New Year’s Change Gang: As you wonder just how you can make this year’s resolutions stick, Muse Machine is here as always to fan the flames of growth and renewal. Below you’ll find a number of posts from the past on the subject of change. Whatever you’re trying to overcome or do better at or banish from your life, you’ll find helpful advice here.

August 30, 2007: “The Carnivore’s Dilemma”

January 2, 2008:  “Are Your “Change Muscles” in Shape?”

April 5, 2008:  “More on Will Power and Change Muscles”

May 16, 2008:   “Strategies for Change: Start Itty-Bitty”

June 18, 2008:   “Fighting the Puppet Masters of Habit”

January 5, 2009: “New Year’s Changes: Gradual or Radical?”