lydia davis | new year’s resolution

16 01 2009


NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No.165 | January 15, 2009


…the new year…resolutions…etc.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I don’t know at what point I decided the new year wasn’t new. Come the midnight hour you were the same as you were before. You would wake up in the morning who you always were. Despite all the celebration, tomorrow was pretty much moving down the same path to the end, long or short. Nobody knew.

Resolutions. The same bullshit every year. The media is filled with it. RESOLVED: To be a new you. Save the time and effort. It’s not going to happen. You’re you. Accept it like a Beckett character—“I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

Not that there won’t come those times you’re determined (resolved?) to change your life—as Rilke advised you must do. Sure. Maybe just a little. In changing your life, you’re changing you? Think about it.

Years ago, I resolved each New Year’s Day to begin a new writing project. A book. One year, January 1, I began making daily notes, observations about the natural landscape I was trying to adjust to after city life–all that was new, different, here in fields, woods, water, calling for attention. I lost my way a few times, almost abandoning that path. There were other things to do, more seductive, more challenging. But eventually RESOLUTION forced me back—or forward. At year’s end, I had a book.

I resolved never to follow that path again. Though I maintain a journal when it calls me.

To resolve little. Not to force change, but let it inhabit you, astonish you with no determination on your part. You’re who you always were, but come the time there may be something new going on, pay attention. You never expected this to happen but here it is. Go on. —Norbert Blei



By Lydia Davis

I ask my friend Bob what his New Year’s Resolutions are and he says, with a shrug (indicating that this is obvious or not surprising ): to drink less, to lose weight… He asks me the same, but I am not ready to answer him yet. I have been studying my Zen again, in a mild way, out of desperation over the holidays, though mild desperation. A medal or a rotten tomato, it’s all the same, says the book I have been reading. After a few days of consideration, I think the most truthful answer to my friend Bob would be: My New Year’s Resolution is to learn to see myself as nothing. Is this com¬petitive? He wants to lose some weight, I want to learn to see myself as nothing. Of course, to be competitive is not in keeping with any Buddhist philosophy. A true nothing is not competitive. But I don’t think I’m being competitive when I say it. I am feeling truly humble, at that moment. Or I think I am—in fact, can anyone be truly humble at the moment they say they want to learn to be nothing? But there is another problem, which I have been wanting to describe to Bob for a few weeks now: at last, halfway through your life, you are smart enough to see that it all amounts to nothing, even success amounts to nothing. But how does a person learn to see herself as nothing when she has already had so much trouble learning to see herself as, something in the first place? It’s so confusing. You spend the first half of your life learning that you are something after all, now you have to spend the second half learning to see yourself as nothing. You have been a negative nothing, now you want to be a positive nothing. I have begun trying, in these first days of the New Year, bur so far it’s pretty difficult. I’m pretty close to nothing all morning, but by late afternoon what is in me that is something starts throwing its weight around. This happens many days. By evening, I’m full of something and it’s often something nasty and pushy. So what I think at this point is that I’m aiming too high, that maybe nothing is too much, to begin with. Maybe for now I should just try, each day, to be a little less than I usually am.

from SAMUEL JOHNSON IS INDIGNANT, Stories, Picador USA/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002


Lydia Davis (born 1947) is a contemporary American author and translator of French. She is the daughter of Robert Gorham Davis and Hope Hale Davis. From 1974 to 1978 Davis was married to Paul Auster, with whom she has a son, Daniel Auster. Davis is currently married to painter Alan Cote, with whom she has a son, Theo Cote. She is a professor of creative writing at University at Albany, SUNY.

She has published six collections of short stories, including The Thirteenth Woman and Other Stories (1976) and Break It Down (1986). Her most recent collection is Varieties of Disturbance, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2007. Her stories are acclaimed for their brevity and humour. Many are only one or two sentences. In fact some of her stories are considered poetry or somewhere between philosophy, poetry and short story. Davis has also translated Proust, Blanchot, Foucault, Michel Leiris, and other French writers. In October 2003 Davis received the coveted MacArthur Genius award for Writing.

Selected works

  • * The Thirteenth Woman and Other Stories (1976)
  • * Sketches for a Life of Wassilly (1981)
  • * Story and Other Stories (1983)
  • * Break It Down (1986)
  • * The End of the Story (novel) (1995)
  • * Almost No Memory (1997)
  • * Samuel Johnson Is Indignant (2002)
  • * Varieties of Disturbance (2007)

Varieties of Disturbance has been nominated for the 2007 National Book Award. source



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