My plan for 2012: do things that children do

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.

Singing and playing instruments

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.)

Writing stories

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.


16 responses to “My plan for 2012: do things that children do

  1. For drawing, I’ve taken to keeping a sketchpad on my desk at work. When there’s downtime I’ll doodle a bit. I also keep Spanish flash cards and do a few when I boot up in the morning.

  2. Mike, you are rediscovering that old truism, that if you want long life and happiness, be as a child! According to Christian belief, you may get to go to heaven too, since “Unless you are as little children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” So, if you are as a child, I think that means you at least have a chance! :-)

    Anyway, enjoy your second childhood! I think I’m on my 4th or 5th…

  3. Oh, and BTW, I love your sushi photos, even though I am a vegetarian! :-)

  4. I accidentally started getting fit when I discovered geocaching (using GPS to find hidden things). I started off just looking for ‘urban camo’ caches ie things hidden in plain sight on suburban streets but soon moved on to doing small hikes in the bush, then longer hikes, and after a few months I was doing a 3 day hike and loving it. YMMV of course but for me there was a great mix of gentle way in plus enough game mechanics (smilies and other achievements) to keep me extending myself.

  5. That’s a wonderful attitude, Mike, and I wish you the best of luck as a child!

    Personally, as I grow older, I find there are more and more things I want to do or learn; even things I’d never consider as a child. in that sense, I’m more curious now than I ever was. On the other hand, the accumulation of these desires against the demands of “real life” make the whole business a lot more frustrating!

    I’d join you for a game of amateur soccer, but that’s a 5-hour flight, so… ;-)

    Sparing your storage space, I won’t write down my to-do list, just leave a link to this cute song that always comes to my mind when I fail to achieve too many of my goals:

  6. Bertie Wooster

    Fascinating… Good luck!

  7. Badminton is a great sport to learn. You can play singles, doubles.
    Its a sport that is played well by all ages and fitness levels. I’ve played 70 year oMuchaela are much better than me. Sport is for life, try and pick something that you can do for the rest of your life if you want to.
    Get a few lessons so that you learn the correct shots.

  8. You’ll find that once you start getting fit, your idea of what you can comfortably tackle will rapidly change. I started cycling to work, which in Yorkshire is 7 miles of mostly uphill work – and unfortunately a valley in-between. The first time I think it took me 90 minutes, a lot of which was walking with the bike. After a couple of weeks, I was starting to focus on beating my best time, not merely completing the journey.

    I also found that weights / pushups / pull-ups etc did more for my weight problem than any attempts at running (it’s amazing how much distance you need to run to burn off a chocolate bar). You don’t actually have to do enough to build large muscles, but as I’m sure you know, by increasing muscle you burn more calories at rest. And you don’t need much in the way of equipment – i.e. a couple of weights and a step.

  9. On the topic of learning Lisp, I’ve just started a study group at work to go through SICP. I think having peer pressure is useful to keep up the momentum. We’ve only been going for a couple of weeks, but it seems to be doing the trick so far. Maybe you need to find some other folks who want to learn Scheme and read along with them?

  10. Not a bad idea at all! I wonder if I could kick something off with my Index Data colleagues?

  11. drawing? Speedpaints!
    (Having a tablet also helps avoid repetitive strain issues.)
    I also find regular short sport breaks from computer work ideal. When I work on-site, colleagues laugh at me, jump-roping and pushing ridiculously feeble ups. No matter – I’m happy.

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