This is an in-between time, neither here nor there, the week after Christmas. The old year is done for, but we're not yet in the new year.
If we were rats - and some of us are - we'd be getting ready to take the plunge right now, as the ship of 2011 begins to founder.
Soon it will sink, taking with it all of our ratty baggage as well as the worthless ballast in the hold, and good riddance. We can't think why we have carried it around with us for so long.
Off we go, splashing into the cold, bracing water, swimming for shore, where we'll spend the next year living up to our best intentions. We're setting the bar high this time. We'll be richer, trimmer, healthier, happier and freer, all of our bad habits and wicked ways lost and gone forever at the bottom of the sea. Hooray!
Or, then again, maybe not.
Maybe as 2011 goes down we'll float into 2012 on top of our baggage, having decided at the last minute that it was just too difficult to sort through it all before jumping ship. Plenty of time for that after we land. We scan the waves, keeping track of the ballast so that we can retrieve what we want as it washes up. Who knows - there may even be some interesting flotsam and jetsam on the beach we can add to our collection.
Every year I take the same dim view of New Year's resolutions. Every year I insist that it's difficult if not impossible to change ourselves simply by resolving to do better. I make fun of self improvement and talk up self acceptance.
Secretly, though, behind my sneering, skeptical exterior, I am making my own resolutions with desperate sincerity. Please, please, I whisper to the Universe, let me do better this year, or at least let me stop endlessly repeating the same mistakes.
It's as if one of those rats I was talking about just kept paddling round and round in circles with his eyes closed until the tide carried him into the next year and dumped him onto the sand.
"There," says the rat, picking himself up and shaking the brine off his coat, "I made it again, even though I did it the hard way. Slow and steady wins the race!"
The other rats, already on shore, are too busy collecting their belongings from the wrack to pay him any mind. Besides, they've heard it all before.
"Yeah, yeah," they say. "Well, I guess I've just about got everything. Onward and upward! Oh, yeah, and this year I'm gonna lose 10 pounds."
The swimming-around-in-circles rat starts collecting his own baggage, taking what he has gathered from coincidence and loading it into his back pack.
Despite failed attempts, every year I resolve to improve myself.
But why stop there?
When focusing on one's own faults becomes tiresome, it's refreshing, as well as unselfish, to point out other people's faults.
Unfortunately, my attempts at other-improvement have been equally discouraging.
In fact, I have found that the bad habits of friends and loved ones become more entrenched with the passage of time. It's as if nothing I say or do makes the least bit of difference.
As children, we believe that we will make progress at overcoming our faults and flaws as we age. This is true, but only to a limited extent.
We stop sucking our thumbs and publicly wiping our noses on our sleeves, but fundamentally we remain pretty much the same. Finally, becoming geezers in our own right, we discover that we are regressing, without ever having lived up to our finest resolutions. We can still see that shining star high above (we're off the rats-on-a-sinking-ship metaphor now), but it's too late. We're in retrograde.
This is a good time to start thinking about reincarnation. Not coming back as a bug or something, but just getting a second or third crack at things.
And forget those other people you've been trying to help. They'll never see the light.
There's a let-down after Christmas, I find, like coming down off speed.
I've been keeping my spirits up by eating Christmas cookies, but my reserves are running low. I'd better sign off before I'm down to my last snickerdoodle.
Remember what Mr. Rogers said: "I like you just the way you are." Although it wouldn't kill you to make a New Year's resolution or two.
Happy New Year!