20th January may seem a strange day to make a New Year’s resolution, but it’s not so much a resolution as a gradually growing realisation of what I want out of the year. Now that I’ve figured it out, I thought I might as well share it here.
When kids are growing up, adults decide what they’re going to do. And not only do we make better choices for kids than they would make for themselves, we make better choices for them than we do for ourselves. Here’s what kids do:
- Learn things (in school)
- Play sports (also in school, if not elsewhere)
- Sing and play instruments (e.g. school concerts)
- Draw and paint
- Write stories
(They also play video games and watch TV, but let’s ignore those for now because those are things that adults also do plenty of.)
All those things are fun. Adults choose them for kids because they know that they’ll enjoy themselves, that they’ll develop their creativity, that they’ll be healthy. Then having set our kids off on that trajectory, we slump in front of our computers for eight or twelve hours every day.
In 2012, I’m going to do those things, too. Why should kids have all the fun?
Two main areas for me: programming in the foreground, of course; and I’m pushing on with avocational palaeontology. In the area of programming I want to pick up my sadly neglected long-overdue serious attempt at Lisp. Less excitingly, but probably also worthwhile, I’m going to try to catch up with the way Ruby programming culture has moved on since I first encountered it. (I got a small but non-trivial program 90% of the way to being releasable, then foundered on the changing embedded-documentation expectations, and now that I come back to it a couple of years later it won’t even run on my current Ruby installation. *sigh*)
It’s easy to find statements such as the defining characteristic of real programmers is that they never stop learning, and I won’t disagree with that. But I’ll go further. You don’t want to stop learning non-programming things, either. Which is one reason why my palaeontology side-career actually helps with my programming career: it keeps me mentally fresh and fit.
What do you want to learn this year?
This is much harder. However old you get, there are always books, so you can always learn. But I am forty-three years old, somewhat overweight, and very unfit. I’m pretty limited in what I can do by the way of sports — especially team sports, which are the ones I really enjoy. I’d love to play football (= “soccer”) if only I could find a group of similar-standard players to play with. But there are no similar-standard players — everyone who plays football is young and fit and fast.
So that leaves two options. One-on-one sports, and solo. I play squash once a week for forty minutes against an opponent who is much better than me, but by playing left-handed he handicaps himself down to a level where I can compete reasonably well. So that’s good as far as it goes, but it’s not enough. Last year, I tried to start running, but I was defeated by our hilly neighbourhood, the English weather and of course my own lethargy. I might make do with regular walking, lame as that sounds. I was very impressed by this video, which is very well worth the nine minutes it takes to watch.
I’m on stronger ground here. Since August, I’ve been playing and singing songs at the Forest Folk Club, and finding it hugely invigorating. So far, I’ve made a point of not repeating songs: this policy has driven me to learn 23 songs and counting. Since the club meets twice a month and a slot is usually two songs, that means I need to learn about one song a week to keep up with that schedule. That’s a stretch, but doable — which is just right.
It’s actually the Folk Club that led me to my New Year Realisation. The way the sessions work — people get up from the audience, step on to the stage and perform, then return to the audience to watch the next act — reminded me of a school concert. In that environment, anyone who wants to perform can: it’s not restricted to the best. And there is something enormously liberating about that. I have no a delusions of musical stardom, I just want to play some Beatles songs to an audience that will enjoy them. A folk club is the perfect venue for that, and I strongly encourage all of you who sing or play to find one.
Drawing and painting
This I have done hardly any of. I used to draw all the time as a kid — I still have an old orange hardback book that I filled with dragons, spaceships and warplanes when I was seven or eight. And way back when Fiona and I were first married we had a brief phase of painting watercolours. But it came as a bit of a shock to me to find that this one (the Pension Stella in Plakias, Crete, where we went on holiday in 1995) is about as recent as anything I’ve painted.
How will I find time for painting or drawing in 2012? I’m not sure. But I’ll try to find a way. Maybe a class.
(By the way, I learned something today: watercolours are very hard to scan well.)
On this one, I have made zero progress. The last time I wrote fiction was in 1994, and that was only 2000 words. I have a pretty well formed idea for a novel floating around in my mind, but I’d only written 800 words of that before stalling. I’m not sure how to make progress with this. Last year a couple of people suggested NaNoWriMo might be useful. Maybe I’ll try it this year if I’ve not got anywhere by then.
The more I think about the things that we expect kids to do, the more I like them. I think they’re creative, empowering, demanding, rewarding — the kinds of activities that make us better people. We make kids do them because we can see very easily that they need to grow. We don’t see that so easily about ourselves. But it’s just as true. If we don’t grow, we stagnate.