Others’ resolutions

by Eszter Hargittai on January 1, 2009

I never make New Year’s resolutions. If I want to do something then I’ll just start doing it. (This explains why I started recording my steps with a pedometer on April 4, 2007 and why I started photo Project 365 on October 24, 2006.) If I’m not really committed to doing something then it certainly won’t make a difference to start it on January 1.

But yesterday, I got some resolutions handed to me nonetheless. I was at a New Year’s Eve party and everyone was asked to write down their resolutions and put them in a hat. Then we went around and drew resolutions.

Here is what I got:

The resolutions I picked randomly on New Year's Eve

Eat More Green things (and by green, I don’t mean moldy)
Make more stuff

I get the first one and I’m happy to give it a go. I’ve already had some edamame today to comply.

But what does the second one mean? Does writing a book count as making stuff? Or should I be setting up shop at Etsy?

I’m curious, those of you who make New Year’s resolutions, what’s the longest you’ve managed to stay on track? Anyone go a whole year? Any unusual attempts this time around?

Donald Westlake has died

by Henry Farrell on January 1, 2009

Obituary “here”:http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/02/books/02westlake.html?_r=1&hp. I’m very sorry to hear this – he was one of my favourite writers, both under his own name and his Richard Stark pseudonym. A few of his Dortmunder novels were perfect, in the same way that P.G. Wodehouse’s best Jeeves and Blandings novels were perfect – beautifully made confections of style, wit and adept plotting.

Update: This “post”:http://www.tor.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=blog&id=11124 from Jo Walton puts it much better than I could.

He was a writer that writers like. I have often been in a conversation with writers about writing and someone will bring up Westlake and everyone else will nod and agree. Westlake’s books have wonderful characters, complicated evolving plots, they’re tightly paced and incredibly readable. When he’s funny, he’s genuinely funny with humour arising unforced out of situations. Characters are always themselves, they act the way you know they would act. They’re acutely observed and like like people. Yet his plots are clockwork masterpieces—he winds them up and off they go, not just ticking away but producing wonderful pyrotechnics. He could be gentle and he could be as hard as steel. I’ve often recommended that beginning writers study his books if they want to see how to do these things right. They’re hard to study though, because they suck you right in. There’s a quality of writing there isn’t really a word for except “unputdownable” and Westlake had it in spades.

If you haven’t read him before, I’d suggest starting with What’s the Worst That Could Happen, because that’s where I started. It’s the story of how the thief Dortmunder has his ring stolen, and how he tries to get it back, pulling off more and more complicated heists on the same person, who thoroughly deserves it. The series actually starts with The Hot Rock where Dortmunder and his friends steal the same jewel over and over. He has one more Dortmunder novel coming out in July, Get Real, so that’s something to look forward to.

Moments of Hope

by Ingrid Robeyns on January 1, 2009

It’s quite depressing that 2008 had to end with this kind of violence in Gaza. On the 29th I signed “the petition”:http://www.avaaz.org/en/gaza_ceasefire_now/ for a ceasefire that Avaaz initiated. I’m glad to see that by now more than 170,000 people worldwide are calling upon all involved parties to agree to a ceasefire. I am enough of a pessimist to seriously doubt that it will make any difference to what happens on the ground, but still. Sometimes one acts even when one finds it hard to believe that it will make a difference.

Luckily 2008 also had some wonderful moments of hope. For many Americans the election of Obama has been such a moment. One of the most touching Obama-related things I saw was when I visited South Africa during the second half of November. I am involved in a research-action project in Capetown in a township called Khayelitsha. My input in that project is merely philosophical/theoretical, and has so far been from a (physical) distance, so one of the main purposes of my visit was to get to know the women in the townships that are part of this project. One of them, “Vivian Zilo”:http://www.iliso.org/vivianstory.html has founded “the Iliso Care Society”:http://www.iliso.org/index.html which serves nutritious soup to the poorest, and especially to those who need to eat so that they can take their TB or HIV medication. Inside the house of Iliso were several newspaper clips on the walls, some about Iliso, some about local events. But in a prominent central place were a few about Obama, taken from South African Newspapers. Editorials in those newspapers wrote optimistic columns about the significance of Obama’s election not just for the US but for the prospect of a better world, and of course also for the position of black people. Parallels were drawn with what South Africans could do to make their country a better place to live.

Enough Bloggers here and elsewhere have warned us to be realistic about what Obama will be able to deliver – still it was really heart-warming to see how people can be inspired by an event that takes place thousands of miles of where they live, and even if they live in a situation in which many of us would have lost all hope for a significantly better life altogether. The strength and energy and optimism of some of these women from Khayelitsha were striking. So I hope 2009 will bring us more of such hopeful events, more than in 2008, and more than those events where many have lost all hope to reach a just and sustainable solution. Happy new year!