New Year's Resolutions

Insight, Wisdom, & Good Advice For 2012

Permit me to write yet another clichéd column for the New Year: one on the oh-so-elusive goal of making and sticking to resolutions. Losing weight, giving up cigarettes, and resolving to exercise are worthy but trite goals we hear every January 1. Fine, if you smoke, bust the scales, and are sedentary do something about it.

A runner and a non-smoker, I looked elsewhere for my resolutions and I found them. Great quotes. When a luminary, that 50-dollar word for legend, makes observations that burst with truth the words often becomes memorable quotes. You’ll see them repeated often over the years. You’ll see them because they tell it like it is. One writer who proved his knack for telling it like it is was Ernest Hemingway.

I suggest we make resolutions based on literary kernels of truth served up by this writer the likes of which we’ll never see again. After all, many of us Dewers like to serve up advice and our point of view on many topics. Let’s all write better. Let’s forge ahead in 2012 heeding the best writing advice possible. “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.”

I should point out that it took me a lifetime to recognize Hemingway’s genius. Back in high school I paid scant attention to my teachers when they would discuss Hemingway. I knew nothing of the man. Hemingway had taken his own life just three years before I entered high school and I can’t recall if I even knew that. I remember hearing his name but I had read none of his work. That would change as the years unfurled.

Reading Hemingway was eye opening. Two things about the bearded writing-fighting-fishing-womanizing icon surprised me. One, he never went to college. Two, unlike so many great American writers he was not from the South. But when a man and woman can write true words with clarity, power, and emotion it doesn’t matter if they come from Mars.

Recently I was updating my website. As I worked on it I decided to put some of Hemingway’s quotes on my home page. This desire led me to research his more quotable quotes for lack of a better term. In the process of reading his numerous quotes it occurred to me that some quotes could make good resolutions for 2012. I’m sharing some here because besides being well stated they cut to the chase: true words that serve up insight, wisdom, and plain good advice. Many of his quotes pertain to the art of writing but others zero in on life itself. From Hemingway’s mind we can come up with resolutions for the new year that might, just maybe, make life better, more meaningful, and more worthy in 2012.

Resolve to keep your mouth shut. One of his more famous quotes should give those who like to talk big with a drink in their hand reason to pause and think. “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” Good advice indeed.

Some burly fellows here in Columbia were talking big fueled by some cocktails and I thought of what Hemingway had said about “liquor talk.” They were talking about hopping on their motorcycles and motoring off to Memphis in the morning. One guy blurted out his intent to make this manly mission and all agreed they would do it first thing in the morning. The next day they were in Columbia having gone nowhere but to hangover hell.

Resolve not to be laid low in 2012 by life’s battles and disappointments. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” Profit from mistakes and disillusionment.

Resolve to see the truth no matter how ugly it may be. Don’t get swept up into politically correct thinking. As all novelists know you can’t make life better if you can’t see and present life as it really is. One of Hemingway’s quotes reminded me of what Pablo Picasso said, “Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.” Closely related to this Hemingway wrote, “All good books have one thing in common—they are truer than if they had really happened.” Recognize the truth and deal with that, not some fancy imagined world.

Resolve to live a meaningful life and do not fear death, the great equalizer. Said Hemingway, “Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguishes one man from another.”

Resolve not to worship money. So many people let the greenback dollar run their life. “Fear of death increases in exact proportion to increase in wealth,” said Hemingway. If a man wins the lottery he envisions a future of grandeur and ease and wants to live forever. The tattered bum picking cigarette butts up by the highway might see death as a relief. I, for one, do not worship the goddess money and my fear of death comes down to one thing: the knowledge that it can prevent me from accomplishing the goals I’ve set in life.

Resolve to be happier. Don’t over analyze your life. Wrote Hemingway, “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.” I’ve remarked more than once that it doesn’t take much to make a dog happy. A patch of sunshine and a bone on a cold winter day do much to please a dog. I would agree that the smarter a person is the more he thinks and the more elusive happiness becomes. Resolve not to fall into this trap.

Resolve to see your own life as a lesson for others. Aspiring novelists seeking their true subject matter might do well to become good listeners and to place their own life under the microscope. As Hemingway pointed out, “The good parts of a book may be only something a writer is lucky enough to overhear or it may be the wreck of his whole damn life and one is as good as the other.”

Resolve to be a better listener. How many of you know a person who jabbers incessantly, never letting you get a word in edgewise. These jibber-jabber jaybirds rankle my nerves and I avoid them like the plague. Hemingway has some advice for them as well. “I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”

Resolve to be open to good ideas. One evening years ago I was talking with James Dickey when he said that some of his best ideas just come to him out of nowhere. That brought to mind this quote by Hemingway: “I never had to choose a subject—my subject rather chose me.” Be open to sudden insight. Don’t dismiss it or forget. Jot down the truths in life that fly into your mind seemingly from nowhere.

Resolve to travel but do so with the goal of learning others’ culture, not just flocking to landmarks and clichéd tourist traps. Touching on worldliness and the broadening influence of living abroad Hemingway made what may well be his most famous quote, one good enough to title a book. “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

And he served up another nugget of wisdom concerning travel. “Never go on trips with anyone you do not love.” I went on a cruise once with a woman who had one strength and one fatal flaw. She was good-looking but a high-maintenance pain that I was glad to be rid of as soon as the cruise ended. If only I had listened to Hemingway. If only I had resolved to travel only with a loved one.

Resolve to not feel picked on and to overcome adversity and become even stronger. Said Hemingway, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”

Resolve to see reality clearer than ever. No stranger to war, Hemingway serves up some advice for those who oppose any and all wars and are the first to want to cave in to adversity and pull out of the nasty mess. “Once we have a war there is only one thing to do. It must be won. For defeat brings worse things than any that can ever happen in war.”

Resolve to be less of a busybody. I like this quote I like because I detest someone watching over me: “Somebody just back of you while you are fishing is as bad as someone looking over your shoulder while you write a letter to your girl.” Nothing’s worse than a duck plucker: that person who feels compelled to dictate your every move. Pluck your own ducks in 2012.

Resolve to read more in 2012. To you lovers of books, Hem had this to say and I know you will agree: “There is no friend as loyal as a book.” Make books your loyal friends.

Resolve to be good to those who suffer the loss of loved ones. Papa knew love and the ultimate loneliness it unleashes. “There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it.”

Despite his pearls of wisdom, Hemingway’s life took some bad turns. Accidents, plane crashes, and alcohol wreaked Hell upon the man. He took his life July 2, 1961. It’s tempting to think that one of his quotes may have crossed his mind that day but I doubt it did. “The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.”

I wish he had resolved January 1, 1961, to take his own advice. I wish he had resolved to fight a little harder but he didn’t. The good fight had left him. Let’s all fight the good fight in the year to come.

Happy New Year to all the good people, readers, writers, founders and editors on Like the Dew. May 2012 bring us great stories and more.

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Photo by Phil Greaney via his Flickr photostream, used with Creative Commons 2.0 License.

Tom Poland

Tom Poland, A Southern Writer – Tom Poland is the author of twelve books and more than 1,000 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. Tom grew up in Lincoln County, Georgia, where four wonderful English teachers gave him a love for language. People first came to know Tom’s work in South Carolina Wildlife magazine, where he wrote features and served as managing editor.Tom’s written over 1,000 columns and features and seven traditionally published books. Among his recent books are Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia, Georgialina, A Southland, As We Knew It, and his and Robert Clark’s latest volume of Reflections of South Carolina. Swamp Gravy, Georgia’s Official Folk Life Drama, staged his play, Solid Ground in 2011 and 2012.He writes a weekly column for newspapers and journals in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks often to groups across South Carolina and Georgia.Tom earned a BA in Journalism and a Masters in Media at the University of Georgia. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina where he writes about Georgialina—his name for eastern Georgia and South Carolina. Visit my website at www.tompoland.net Email me at [email protected]