What a pain in the Janus

Here we go again with the astrology girls... Лобачев Владимир via Wikimedia

Just because the universe thinks you should set resolutions doesn’t mean you have to right now

by william spencer, contributor

As the past sets and the present arrives, there are a panoply of goals I wish to accomplish this year: film another skate part, start that guaranteed-to-be-bad novel, learn more pretentious words, attenuate time spent on Instagram, and so on. I categorically support self-improvement, though I am diametrically opposed to New Year’s resolutions, the kind that are steeped in the ostensible ethos of self-improvement induced by the exigencies of the moment. The past ending, the future arriving, and a foreboding feeling that one must change the present this very moment, lest they are trapped in their past selves and actions for the foreseeable future. Why do we adhere to such arbitrary distinctions?

There is evidently something grandiose (and absurd) about the Earth completing another revolution around the sun – our solitary life-sustaining mudball flinging around a capricious and finite firebomb. This notion occurs to such a ubiquitous extent globally that one could argue it is an inextricable part of the human condition to let the Earth and its function in time and space dictate our lives. However, nowhere does this imply that it would be natural to start anew at the completion of such a cycle. It appears it would be equally as arbitrary and effective to decide to begin anew each day, a brief cycle that would be more beneficial to success given that there are many more new days than years. Unless, that is, there was some other reason for our arbitrary distinctions being derived from something other than their practical effects. Incidentally, this appears to be the case. Let me introduce you to Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings, and Ovid, the author of Fasti.

Fasti, a poem that spanned several books regarding the Roman calendar, was published putatively in 8 A.D. You may be thinking, “what the hell does this almost 2000-year-old, fusty-ass poem have to do with my resolution to diminish the amount of time I spend on TikTok or to learn how to cook with more than directions from the box?” Well, my fellow zillennials (a term I detest and found recently on the Atlantic as a portmanteau of, you guessed it, the misnomers of millennials and generation Z’s), the poem encapsulates the values that pertain to each month as interpreted directly by the gods themselves.

In the text, Ovid inquiries from Janus, the god of January, several answers and justifications for rituals occurring within the month, such as why the new year begins in the cold season, and what justifications there are for obligatory sharing and reception of good tidings and well-wishes at the month’s conclusion. The former is dictated by the new sun, the winter solstice. The latter is dependent upon construal; here, a direct quote from Janus as interpreted by Ovid: “Omens are wont to wait upon beginnings.” The god goes on to compare such behavior to that of having a conversation and how the ear is alert at the outset of sound, only to diminish attention as time elapses; so too, ostensibly, does our ability to enact change diminish in strength throughout the year as the time piles on.

As a personal aside, I quit smoking, without any traditional succor, on July 31, 2021. I contemplated quitting smoking for quite some time before earnestly undertaking the endeavor. The price had become outrageous in the last few years; the price of cigarettes was never reasonable, it’s just that it had become unjustifiably unreasonable, if you know what I mean. While the physical issues that were appended, namely the chronic bronchitis, were so intense as to conjure thoughts of my inevitable death way sooner than my expected expiration date.  This may be incredibly anecdotal, but that is nowhere near New Year’s; I decided on a course of action, finally quit succumbing to my self-justifications, and quit on my terms, with my power, of my own volition, all invocations of the gods be damned.

What the new year does accommodate for is a notion of novelty, a catalyst and marker for what will follow. This is a verifiable feeling, but to believe that all resolutions are best kept for the beginning of the year would relegate people to a lack of change and adaptation throughout the remainder. So, what’s the conclusion of this tirade against New Year’s? Go ahead and make resolutions, but don’t make them merely because it’s New Year’s.

Make them because they are what you truly want and desire. Once you have set those resolutions, render the environment around you as conducive as possible to your success. For instance, when I quit smoking, though I didn’t use traditional cessation methods I did choose an opportune time to implement my change: during the final month of summer when I had zero obligations to anyone other than myself and my family. If I had chosen a time within the normalcy of the year, I don’t think I would have been successful. To reiterate: set goals, render your environment conducive to success, and fuck tradition.


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