New Year’s Resolutions: A look back at what went wrong

At some time during the course of the year, we must all come to face a single universal truth: our New Year’s resolutions, our best hopes for self-improvement in the new year, will all end in complete and utter failure. This is nothing new—it happens each and every year.

The timing is different for everyone; for some it lasts until the second week of January, for some it’s February. A few hearty souls are able to stick it out until March. These folks are our true heroes and pillars of the community, and we should vote them into office as soon as possible.

But regardless, their New Year’s resolutions will fail as well. And it will happen to you. And to me. The New Year is coming for us all, and it will take back what it has given. The important thing is to be ready for it when it does. For many of us–okay, for pretty much all of us–this means knowing the proper steps to cancelling your gym membership in a timely manner, because New Year’s resolutions have historically been all about the gym.

Let us, for a moment, take a step back and ask ourselves: why the gym? Why New Year’s? What is the connection between gym memberships in January and the desire to start the new year with a clean slate and a program for self-improvement? One possible answer emerges from a look back at the history of gym memberships. One can see the origins of the modern fitness center in the early Roman Catholic Church, where self-flagellation was used amongst followers to remind them of the agonies of Christ and a way to pay penance for living in a “sinful” world.

The modern-day equivalent of this is found in the rows upon rows of cardio equipment at your local gym: the ellipticals, rowing machines, spin bikes, workout steppers and so on. Devices designed to purify us of excess holiday calories, of donuts consumed in early morning work meetings, of beers and whiskeys downed in red Solo cups or dispensed from kegs, of pizzas and bagels trans-substantiated into jiggly flesh.

This, then, is penance for holiday decadence: an–almost–literal hamster wheel of repetitive motion. And what, after all, is an indoor running track but a sort of enormous three-dimensional rosary, in which one counts laps instead of beads? Think about it. The reason why one would want to do penance after the holidays is understandable. Imagine the morning-after scene on a typical New Year’s Day: sometime past noon, never mind the actual time of day, the people arise from their slumber, one after another in succession, by the cold piercing light of the sun. They blink, bleary-eyed, piecing together the events from the past night, from the past year.

Empty bottles and confetti lay strewn about the room, behind the furniture, stuffed into couch cushions. The entire premises smells of stale Doritos and PBR. A fine layer of Cheetos dust covers the surfaces of the kitchen, in which one can make out the barely-perceptible contours of fingerprints, and indeed may come in handy if a crime scene develops—which, as the sleepers awaken, they must decide for themselves whether or not to save, in the event that the police arrive to investigate.

In this scenario, with the people rising up like the living dead in some sort of cinematic zombie apocalypse, looking around at the squalor, the overturned bowl of pretzels, fallen salt grains ground into the carpet, the hardwood floor covered with something sticky and translucent—Mountain Dew? Vodka? Who can tell?—it is only natural that they pick themselves up from the floor, brush the Cheetos dust out of their beards and fishnet stockings, take a few Advil, and retrace their steps to the point where the year had gone so horribly, horribly astray.

As the hangover kicks in, advancing like the onset of impending doom, the opening lines of Dante’s Inferno repeating over and over again on a continuous loop: “Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself within a forest dark, For the straightforward pathway had been lost…” It makes perfect sense why self-flagellation by stationary bike might seem like a welcome change of pace. At the very least it sends a message to whomever is up there running the Cosmos that you are serious about not dying in a pool of your own vomit.

It may not be a perfect solution, but it’s the one that makes sense in context to the visceral horror of New Year’s Day. And so, after the hangover subsides, you decide to go ahead and get that gym membership. Or finally use the one that has been languishing since last March. To quote William Blake, “The road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” Or at least the elliptical machines.

And yet there is hope. Nothing lasts forever. There will come a time when each of us will wake up, see the penetrating sunlight filtering through the blinds, not as the harsh disapproving eye of the Universe judging you for holiday decadence, but rather as the promise of a new day. You will put on pants and emerge into the sunlight, mixed with the unaccountable drizzle that is everywhere in the Pacific Northwest, and decide that no, you will not go to the gym today. You will sleep in, eat a doughnut, and add a shot of bourbon to your coffee.

And on that day, perhaps the gyms of our city will be empty, like the storming of the Bastille, and we can all make French toast and watch reruns of Scooby-Doo together in our pajamas. Impossible, you say? Perhaps. But I, for one, think that is a goal worth pursuing.