Tag Archives: Answers

From the Desk of Answer Man: New Year’s Resolutions

Dear Answer Man,

All my friends are making New Year’s resolutions. Where did this custom come from? Have you made any resolutions for the new year?

Sincerely, Maura Less

Miss Less,

Contrary to vulgar belief, New Year’s resolutions were invented (by a royal of Denmark, I think) to provide you and me with a convenient excuse NOT to do something – or, as the case may be, not to not do something, which in practice means to do something that you wanted to do all along. Think about it. If you’re only held to account once a year, it’s easy enough to blow it in the first few days. You’ve resolved to eat no chocolate this year? Oops, it’s the sixth of January and you just ate a delicious chocolate chip cookie which you baked by accident. Don’t worry, there’s always next year. It’s only 359 days away.

See how that works?

Well, that’s one way of answering your question. Here’s another: New Year’s resolutions were invented to guarantee us the pleasure of failure at least once per annum. Because, really, failure is a species of pleasure, quite different from success, and more acute and satisfying the more our failure is total. This explains why it’s a good idea to set yourself a high goal when crafting a New Year’s resolution. Make it, in fact, a stratospherically lofty goal.

Which brings us to your second question, about my own resolutions. As I informed my wife on New Year’s Eve (after a couple gins), my original New Year’s resolution for 2011 was: ‘To have sex with all my favorite Hollywood stars.’

She laughed at this.

It occurred to me while shaving next morning that she probably thought I was making it too hard on myself. I considered myself in the mirror for several minutes. Yes, I decided, she’s right: I am a handsome devil. I wasn’t setting myself an ambitious enough goal for the year. I was far too likely to succeed and would inevitably find myself at year’s end without the toe curling pleasure of the failure I desired. What a thoughtful, supportive wife.

‘Darling,’ I said over a late brunch of eggs and coffee, ‘you were right to laugh at my resolution last night. To sleep with all of my favorite Hollywood stars! What was I thinking? But I’ve thought better now and made a revision. Here it is. Over the course of the next twelve months, I hereby resolve (inshallah) to politely – but firmly – decline sexual overtures from all my favorite Hollywood stars.’

I tell you, Miss Less, I’m already in ecstasies over my certain failure this year.

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From the Desk of Answer Man

Believe it or not, I am sometimes asked my opinion on serious topics of the day. Really I am. People the world over flood my inbox with the most surprising questions. Some, for example, want to know if I’m ready to become a multi-millionaire through some sort of fancy bank transfer. Others ask me how much I’m willing to spend for a genuine gold-plated Rolex.  Still others want to know if my manly vigor is flagging or if my wife is “getting all that she deserves” from me. These are excellent questions which I hope to answer someday. But not today. There are more pressing things to consider.

 ‘What makes someone an intellectual, and can I be one?’

By asking the question you’ve probably disqualified yourself. An intellectual is first of all someone who already knows himself to be an intellectual, or secretly suspects it. He never asks confirmation from others because it’s his own imprimatur that counts.  Besides, it’s not fashionable to be an intellectual anymore. Being an intellectual is something like being a “goddamned idiot” or a “two-bit whore” – that is, one is called an intellectual by others but does not set up shop as an intellectual on one’s own.

 ‘That’s not quite what I meant…’

I hope you’re not confusing an intellectual with an academic. Several of my friends and family members are academics. Somewhat fewer are intellectuals, if you ask me. At least we’re on too friendly terms for me to call them that to their faces. The Academy in its wisdom does not concern itself with producing intellects. Pillar of the economy that it is, it’s main duty is to prop up the acronym industry – which, as we all know, is too big to fail.

 ‘All right then. What makes someone an artist, and can I be one?’

But darling, you already are. The Spirit of Universal Affirmation, whom we adore, insists upon it that we each possess “the soul of an artist.” The trick is to match it with the body of one. That’s what cosmetic surgery is for.

 ‘What makes someone a philosopher, and can I be one?’

Philosophia (if you’ll indulge me in a little etymology) is borrowed from the wily Greeks and means the love of appearing wise. With the exception of numerous celebrities and politicians who make their living by a public show of folly, every Jack and Jill from here to Hudson Bay wants to be thought wise (but not an intellectual!). So, you’re in luck; it’s nothing difficult. If you want to seem wise, then you are a philosopher.

 ‘Last question. What makes someone a poet, and can I be one?’

To be honest, I was winging it with those other questions. But this one I think I’ve got a better grip on. Poetification is the process of compression and shrinkage by which an admirer of Edgar Allen Poe is turned little by little into a scale model of the great man himself: a Poe-et. That’s one definition. Here’s another: a poet is a lesbian, or sometimes a suicide. If you find yourself a lesbian or dead by your own hand, rejoice: you are a poet. Be careful, however, not to confuse a poet with a poetaster, the latter being no poet in his own right but a mere cannibal of poets.

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