A Year in Words

When I was a teenager, I read an article about author W.P. Kinsella where it said that he wrote 900 words every day. “That can’t take more than an hour or two; some life these professional writers have!” is what I remember thinking at the time.

Then inevitable rejoinder is, “well, why don’t you try it?” And the answer of course is that such output is harder to manage than it sounds. A writer who hit Kinsella’s daily quota would grind out just under 330,000 words over the course of the year—enough for about four novels of respectable length.

It was about a year ago now that I began work on what became my first eBook. So with this nostalgic anniversary on the door step, I thought I would reflect on the past year’s writing totals.

The first draft of 25 Principles clocked in at close to 110,000 words. My Springsteen project currently sits at about 50,000. I have another pot-boiler project that totals 10,000 and since November, I would estimate I have churned out another 10,000 or so in postings for this blog. So my sum total from end of January 2013 to end of January 2014 would be around 180,000.

That sounds impressive, though I doubt that it counts as being prolific output. In the indie publishing world, there are people who claim they grind out 20,000 sometimes as many as 50,000, words in a single week. If I wrote full-time, I think I might hit 20,000 over a very good seven day period; I don’t know how anyone would reach 50,000 without the assistance of methamphetamines.

Still, that 180,000 total feels significant. There is an old writer’s maxim that states that every writer has “a million words of crap” that they have to discharge from their system before they start producing work that can be considered “good.” It’s kind of a variation on Malcolm Gladwell’s idea of the 10,000 hour rule. The figure of one million words isn’t a hard and fast one; some writers contend that the threshold could actually be as low as 693,000.

In any event, I feel like I have served a good chunk of a long apprenticeship now. The past year’s output forms a big part of it, but my training has been underway for far longer. The journey has included hundreds of press releases, endless scrolls of web copy—not to mention the horrible fiction writing attempts of my younger years.

The incremental nature of writing (and getting better at it) is a bit like the old philosophical puzzle of how many grains make a heap. I don’t know exactly what I have right now or what I am moving towards. It probably isn’t mastery but it’s something.



A Painful Case: The Sad Story of Dr. V

We think we know better, but a part in each of us wants to see the world unfold with the simple morality of a fairy tale. We’re at ease when situations and people can be divided into convenient dichotomies: good and evil; heroes and villains; victims and perpetrators. We acknowledge all the gray shadings but reach for the old rubric anyways, the dualisms, the choosing of sides.

Once upon a time, the story of Essay Anne Vanderbilt (aka Dr. V) seemed like a simple one. She was the mysterious founder of Yar Golf and the inventor of the Zero MOI Putter. Her putter was the subject of a breathless infomercial, but it had also attracted high praise from the rarefied (and one would presume knowledgeable) world of professional golf. For writer Caleb Hannan, the assignment was straightforward: find this inventor, talk to her and those who endorsed her, and find out if the club legitimately worked.

When Hannan first contacted Vanderbilt, she emphasized that she wanted him to focus on, “the science and not the scientist.” However, her grandiose pronouncements and penchant for self-promotion made that a difficult proposition. Vanderbilt said that she had helped build the stealth bomber, and was on the team that invented Bluetooth technology. She claimed to have come up with the idea for the Zero MOI Putter while working at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital.

Along the way, those claims and credentials would be irrefutably debunked. In his finished piece, Hannan also revealed that Dr. V was formerly a man, and in a sad coda, that she had committed suicide before the story was completed.

When the long-form story was first published on Grantland on Wednesday January 15, 2014, it received plaudits at first and a storm of criticism shortly thereafter. The site was accused of everything from having poor judgement, to being exploitative, to being transphobic. Hannan was redressed for “outing” Vanderbilt against her will in his piece and to one of her company’s investors, with some commentators suggesting he bore some responsibility for her suicide He also received numerous death threats.

Grantland Editor-in-Chief Bill Simmons delivered a mea culpa on January 22, offering apologies to those offended, defending Hannan, pouring some ashes over his head and those of the other editorial staffers, and generally promising to be more sensitive next time out. The site also posted an op-ed from fellow ESPN writer Christina Karhl, detailing problems with the writing from the standpoint of the transgendered community.

So now, here is the inflection point where you are supposed to choose. Whom do you side with? How do you apportion the blame? Vanderbilt was the one who fabricated a gossamer persona and back-story and invited the scrutiny that led to its disintegration; Hannan was the one who took a personal detail and made more hay out of it than he needed to. Vanderbilt clearly didn’t want her transgendered status to become public knowledge; when Hannan was faced with a subject revealed to be mostly artifice, the question then became, what is the truth? And while Vanderbilt’s past as a man comprised part of that truth, was it fair or just to reveal it?

While Hannan’s piece itself has some issues, it’s clear that he didn’t set out to be a Kitty Kelley style takedown artist. At the beginning, he seems like Fox Mulder of X-Files: wanting to believe. He is initially credulous about Vanderbilt’s fantastic claims. And when the discrepancies begin to appear he gives her opportunity to explain them. But when he finds out that Vanderbilt lived as Stephen Kroll for the first 50 years of her life, you can see the gears turning in his mind—here’s the hook: Dr. V was born a man. Because otherwise we’ve seen this story before—journalist meets eccentric fabulist, eccentric fabulist is undone by their lies and contradictions, end scene. The transgender angle kicks the “not what they appeared to be” storyline into overdrive.

Though I understand Hannan’s choices, I sympathize with Vanderbilt. I read Hannan’s piece after reading the post-mortems from Simmons and Karhl first and the advance knowledge of how everything ended puts a suffocating layer of dread over the article.

When I was a kid, our local community college used to hold bridge building competitions for elementary school students. Participants constructed miniature trestles out of packages of balsa wood and glue, and then they were tested beneath a pneumatic press to see how much weight they could hold before they crumpled and failed. And that is what reading Vanderbilt’s increasingly desperate and inchoate responses to Hannan reminded me of, the gradual buildup of this inexorable and crushing weight, the glue cracking, the wood splintering.

Clearly, it was a mistake for such a fragile person to weave together such an outlandish fantasy and then bring it into the public square, the world of golf pros, infomercials, and curious journalists, when one tug at any single thread could cause the whole tapestry to unravel. But as Hannan himself wondered, were her sins very great? In a country that still regards P.T. Barnum as more folk-hero than charlatan, and where overheated infomercial claims are de rigeur, was Dr. V guilty of anything more than simple puffery?

The more I seek answers, the more I find only dissonance. I understand the logic that led Vanderbilt to create her elaborate “Dr. V” mythos; I understand why Hannan destroyed it. The tragedy is that the whole thing wasn’t really needed. The “mad scientist” trope has its appeal, but just as irresistible is the idea of the “unlikely prodigy:” the savant who emerges from their garage or basement with a new product, computer program, or work of art that blows everyone away. A golf putter doesn’t need a comic book hero’s origin story.

In the end, the case of Dr. V is a tale with no winners, only losers. An inventor dead before her time, a writer burdened with a measure of infamy to live down, victims of happenstance as much as anything, two satellites drawn into each other’s orbit and set on a collision course.

The pain comes from knowing that so much of it was avoidable. Somewhere, in some happier alternate reality, there was a great article to be had. An inventor with limited knowledge of golf and club fabrication creates a revolutionarily different style of putter that attracts praise from pro golf’s upper echelons. How did she do it? What inspired her? Did it actually work as advertised? Those would have been the only questions Hannan would have needed. And the answers would have been compelling enough.



Playing in the driveway with my sister and Papa, many moons ago.

It wasn’t long ago that I had reason to feel myself very fortuitous in terms of family longevity. On the north side of 30, I had three of my four grandparents still living. They had lived to see me into adulthood and to see the arrival of my son—the first great-grandchild—in 2012. They all delighted in him and he always got a big charge out of them too. He is still only a toddler now, too young to form memories, but I had hopes that he might know them all as a pre-schooler and be able to remember them when he was older.

It was not to be; my grandmother passed away in mid-October, my Nana and Papa last week, unexpectedly and suddenly within 24 hours of each other. They each died from unrelated health reasons, like a plot point in some hackneyed novel. “Couldn’t be apart,” is what I keep repeating to myself, searching for something optimistic but not really finding it. Once relatively flush with grandparents, now I am bereft.

Grief has made a narcissist out of me. I have three people (really four) to remember; I should be writing about their lives, their accomplishments, their personalities—and yet here I am, dwelling on myself, ceaselessly. Sometimes this inward turn feels appropriate. It feels like I have to keep going, that this is my way of paying tribute in some Darwinian sense. Because I carry parts of them with me, and I gaze at my dull face in the mirror to try and discern what they are, just as I now study my son’s handsome features closely to try and glimpse what irreducible elements have been passed down to him.

Coming to terms with the death of elderly relatives is a matter of finding the right proportionality. Beyond a certain threshold of age you are always a bit ready for it, while still being unprepared when it does happen. And so in October and now I have striven to deploy what seems like the right response: sad but not too sad, mature and accepting, grateful for the good times.

And for the most part, I have managed it. Even when the shock from this latest double-blow was still new, I went to work. I functioned normally. I talked with co-workers and acquaintances without hint of being distraught. I walked the dog, shoveled snow from the driveway, cooked dinner, and did all the other things that still needed doing. Because there is always something clamouring for attention and life is a moving sidewalk that bears us along even when we want to stand still.

And in some self-congratulatory moments, I look at my mostly unchanged comportment this past week and delude myself into thinking that this is indicative of me possessing some admirable degree of masculine strength. But it’s more likely a sign that some inner part of me has become calcified. With rationalism and chosen unfeeling, I have locked it away and now I am mostly successful at ignoring it.

I grew up separated by geography from my grandparents and the rest of my extended family. It wasn’t insurmountable distance—a day’s drive, an hour’s flight—but it was enough to pose a barrier. I remember when I was young, four or five, how I would cry uncontrollably when it came time for the visit to my grandparents to end and how I would beg to stay. It didn’t matter what reasoned explanations I received or how terribly I made everyone else feel; all that mattered was my sadness.

But as self-centred as I was and as and embarrassed as I felt about my childishness when I was older, there was also a great abiding love for my grandparents manifest in my tears and pleas. And there are moments now where I counter-intuitively wish that I could feel that way again, to be consumed with grief, to be left inconsolable. Beyond my needs for catharsis, it seems that would be an appropriate way to mourn, to externalize how much I cared for and loved them. Because if my heart is broken, why does it carry on without missing a beat?

I know it is a vain hope; the ability to grieve so deeply and freely seems lost to me now, washed away like a child’s sandcastle on a beach. I have my memories of the past for comfort, of how my grandparents were and of how I was. And now too, I have an adult’s forlorn knowledge that in time I will learn to accept the pain of being unable to return to them.


Record Review No One Asked For: High Hopes by Bruce Springsteen

Today marks the “official” release of Bruce Springsteen’s latest album, High Hopes. I pre-ordered my copy already so it should be along in a day or two, but I’ve already streamed the album online many times over, as part of my research for the Springsteen 99 project that is winding onwards.

Having immersed myself in all things Springsteen for the last six weeks or thereabouts, I feel like I’m in a good position to offer some thoughts on the new album from The Boss. If you’re fan or just Bruce-curious, the review below might help you decide if High Hopes is worth checking out.

Review of High Hopes by Bruce Springsteen

A long-time supporter of many social justice causes, with High Hopes Bruce Springsteen demonstrates his concern for the environment, as fully 50 per cent of the album is constructed from recycled materials. high hopes thumb

Of the 12 songs on the record, three are covers (including the title track, which Springsteen previously recorded in the studio), one (The Ghost Of Tom Joad) was the title track of an earlier album, another was released on a live album and compilation package (American Skin), and another has been played in concert numerous times (The Wall). That leaves six songs that could be credibly construed as “new,” but even these trace their roots back to between the late 90s and mid-2000s, and in most cases earlier recordings have been used with some modern overdubs grafted on top.

So herein lies the philosophical problem for serious Springsteen aficionados. High Hopes has been relentlessly marketed as Springsteen’s “18th studio album,” when in fact it’s more like a compilation or an anthology of studio recordings. It’s closer to being one of those patchwork “B-Sides and Rarities” releases that artists used to put out to help fulfill their recording contracts, than a “true” album.

That’s the big hang-up with High Hopes, but if you can get past it or learn to ignore it, then this newest release becomes a worthwhile offering. The disparate nature of the material prevents it from hanging together as a great album, but the songs are enjoyable, vigorous, and consistently interesting. Some of the musical dynamism comes courtesy of Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello, who brings his wizardry to bear on eight of the 12 tracks.

The lead song is the titular High Hopes, which is a cover of a Tim Scott McConnell composition. On record, the song just doesn’t do it for me; it feels like a car revving its engine in neutral—a lot of noise but not much movement, though it’s supposedly a barnburner when played in concert. A few more songs also have issues. This Is Your Sword is middling folk rock, while the energetic Heaven’s Wall tries to fuse together styles ranging from gospel to hard rock but ends up sounding muddled.

Fortunately, other tracks are more successful. The second cut is Harry’s Place, a song originally written and recorded during sessions for The Rising in 2002. Harry’s Place unspools a yarn about an underworld fixer and the desperate characters who come to him for assistance. The song has an unexpected sleazy charm, driven by pulsing bass and wah guitar. Clarence Clemons appears on the track with a saxophone solo that could be background music for someone flipping open a briefcase full of cocaine in a pay-by-the-hour motel room.

The energetic Just Like Fire Would is another strong entrant. The song is a cover of an Australian punk band called The Saints whom Springsteen is an admirer of, and it sounds like he does them justice with his muscular rendition. The swaying Hunter of Invisible Game is another solid effort, as is the don’t-think-too-hard fun of Frankie Fell In Love.

The first-half highlight of the album and its best original track is the astounding Down In The Hole. It’s a delicate assemblage that weaves together banjo, multiple backing vocals, violin, samples, and the backbeat from I’m On Fire to tell the story of a haunted 9/11 rescue worker. Springsteen’s vocal begins with a filtered effect that suddenly drops off mid-line in the second verse—as though his character has punched through a layer of rubble to reach the body of a victim. It’s an inspired conceit, one that takes an eerie song (and one of Springsteen’s best latter-day compositions) to stunning heights.

Interestingly, it’s probably the most well-known songs on High Hopes that provoke the most mixed-feelings. The Ghost of Tom Joad, sung here as a duet/guitar freak-out with Morello, is paradoxically one of the album’s strongest tracks while also being it’s most gratuitous. The incendiary on-stage performances of the song by Springsteen, Morello, and the band have rightly become legendary. But to re-record it here, after it headlined another studio album, and to stretch it out to almost 7:30 in length is the definition of indulgence: enjoyable but not necessary.

There’s more dissonance to be found with American Skin (41 Shots). While it’s nice to have a studio recording of one of Bruce’s best post-2000 songs captured for posterity, the version here is over-long and over-processed. The live performance from Live In NYC is shorter, better, and should remain definitive.

The album closes with a pair of highlights. The penultimate track is The Wall, an affecting tribute to a local Asbury Park musician named Walter Cichon who was killed in Vietnam. CIchon was someone whom a teenaged Springsteen admired when he was growing up. The song details Springsteen’s visit to the Vietnam Memorial and uses understated acoustic guitar, organ, and trumpet to build a gentle elegy.

The album closes with a dazzling cover of Suicide’s Dream Baby Dream, a song that vies for the title of best track on the album with Down In The Hole.  Springsteen began playing Dream Baby Dream during 2005’s Devils and Dust solo tour; the version on High Hopes is an expanded and more polished take. The song begins floating on a wave of harmonium and then builds into an insistent, orchestral hymn, providing a poignant but hopeful coda to the collection. A video of the song was released to commemorate the end of the Wrecking Ball tour in 2013. Near the end, there are clips of late E Street Band members Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons. For Springsteen sentimentalists, it’s hard to watch without being moved.

The Bottom Line:
Springsteen used to build albums with the painstakingness of a master chef preparing a grand banquet, but in recent times, he seems increasingly willing to whip together a meal out of whatever ingredients happen to be near at hand. As he nears pensioner age, it gets harder to begrudge him doing this, and as High Hopes proves the results can still be mostly-appetizing. However, next time it would be nice if he breaks out the good china again and serves up something scratch-made instead of cobbled together from leftovers.

There’s much good in High Hopes, but as a whole, the album contains more vitality than necessity. However, if you can accept it for what it is rather than what it purports to be, you’ll probably enjoy listening. For moderate fans (and above) I would rate it a buy. Casual followers can afford to give it a pass, while for neophytes there are better entry points available.

Final Grade:
B –          

Tiger Mom Returns to Troll America

It’s like the answer to a question nobody asked: which “cultural groups” are best positioned to thrive in modern society? Well, if you live in America, the answer is apparently Chinese, Jews, Nigerians, Lebanese, Indians, Iranians, Cuban exiles, and Mormons—at least according to notorious “Tiger Mom” Amy Chua and husband Jed Rubenfield. Do you not count yourself among the ranks of the chosen? Well, don’t despair; someone has to rear the next generation of fry cooks.

Chua and Rubenfield make the case for their elite eight in a new book entitled The Triple Package that is currently being greeted with the sort of critical reaction that a new and revised printing of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf might receive. According to early reviews, the husband and wife co-authors combine the worst instincts of Malcolm Gladwell, with specious reasoning, pseudoscience, and anecdotal arguments. The net result is a book that emerges with the unpleasant whiff of eugenics wafting up from its pages.

Just what are the elements that compose the “Triple Package” that the earlier mentioned groups supposedly possess? Well, the magic ingredients are supposedly:

• A superiority complex

• Insecurity (aka an inferiority complex—dig the seeming paradox!)

• Impulse control

(Were you brushing Cheeto crumbs off your shirt when you read that last bullet? If so, you can forget about ever achieving anything meaningful in your life.)

You might remember Chua from 2011 when an earlier book of hers, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, became a sensation. In it, Chua criticized the lax methods of “western” parenting and touted her own harsh and uncompromising approach. Some of the highlights (lowlights?) included explanations of why she wouldn’t let her daughters participate in sleepovers and an anecdote about a time when she threatened to give away a cherished toy if her daughter couldn’t learn to play a piano piece to her satisfaction.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother turned Chua into a lightning rod, attracting praise from some quarters and vituperation from others. Along the way, the book also moved a ton of copies, so it seems here that Chua, Rubenfield and publisher Penguin are hoping that lightning will strike twice.

Hopefully, they won’t be so lucky. Whatever one thinks of Chua as a person, the first-person viewpoint she presented in Battle Hymn was undeniably interesting. She portrayed herself in a way that rendered herself unlikeable to many readers, and while that was in many ways a knowing choice, it was still a bold one. And while her overarching conclusions were dubious, the contentions she raised were worth discussing, and the debate she provoked was worth having.

In contrast, The Triple Package is lazy fear-mongering garbage that belongs on the same shelf as Glenn Beck’s dystopian novels. It’s at once calculated to offend, while at the same time it contorts itself to ensure that its carefully selected list of superior groups includes representatives from almost all races and major religions. Relying on generalizations and cherry-picking, the three legs of The Triple Package tripod are monolithic thinking at its finest and most useless, and they end up supporting nothing more than a fairy tale—and if history is to be our guide, a dangerous one at that.

At this point though, I have to believe that Chua and Rubenfield are just deliberately trolling their fellow Americans. I can laugh at their antics, but many others won’t. The more serious debunking is already underway; Maureen Callahan at The New York Post has done a good initial takedown and I’m sure there will be many more to come.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I will take my leave. I have an unhappy toddler who has a date with the piano to practice his melodic minor scales, whether he likes it or not.



An Open Letter to Global Warming (Reprised)

I don’t know about where you live, but it has been a cold start to 2014 around these parts. This has followed up on a cold ending to 2013. Most of the last three weeks have seen temperatures of 20 below zero (Celsius), with wind chill values occasionally touching the -30s. A few parts of the country have seen -50 temperatures, and it looks like the cold trend will keep going for some time yet.

The one good thing about this weather is that it is conducive to Canada’s great national pastime—complaining about winter. And lately, if you partake in a group conversation about the cold and snow it doesn’t take long for some great wit to make the following observation:

“Global warming? More like global cooling if you ask me!”

(This is a sterling example of what is sometimes called “dad humour.” Another famous specimen of dad humour is the old chestnut, “Rap music? More like crap music if you ask me.”)


In the thrall of winter. Can you spot the arctic hare?

I remember many moons ago another similarly vicious cold snap. I recall that I spent a lot of time walking from place-to-place while it was ongoing, and the bedroom I slept in at the time had poor-to-nonexistent insulation, so the spell of frigid weather took a toll on me. I even pondered some half-joking thoughts about whether it might make sense for me personally to become a global warming supporter.

After mulling this thought in my partially frostbitten brain, I came to the realization that a letter of support to global warming from someone suffering through a deep freeze would be a funny exploration of recency bias. And pondering that a little further, I realized that such a piece would be a good candidate for submission to the “Open Letters to People or Entities Unlikely to Respond” department of the McSweeney’s website. So when I had my “Open Letter to Global Warming” written and bashed into form, I sent it off to them and it was accepted. Hooray!

Anyways, that would be the end of a relatively mundane story, except for one strange final twist. Not quite a year later, I discovered through pure happenstance that someone at the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) must’ve taken a shine to the letter, because a recording of someone reading it was broadcast during an episode of The Current—a weekday radio program. I even found a podcast of the episode online and was able to listen dumbfounded as some chap with an Australian accent gave my deathless prose a dramatic reading.

It was a surreal experience. The best part was that CBC made absolutely no attempt to secure my permission to use it or to inform me that it was going to appear on air. Now I know how contributors to Flickr must feel. But not to worry, as I vowed at the time, “the day will come when I have my revenge on Anna-Marie Tremonti.” In fact, this is the title of another humour piece/polemic I wrote, although I am forbidden from publishing it anywhere due to the contents of a restraining order that is still in force.

But enough of all that. In celebration of this fierce cold snap, I thought I would exhume “An Open Letter to Global Warming” from the vault to provide a little humour during this dark winter month. I don’t remember what rights (if any) I granted to McSweeneys, but I’m going to rerun it here anyways. Besides, they never paid me anything so I figure that entitles me to do what I want. If you’d prefer to read it as published on the McSweeney’s site, you can do so by clicking here.

An Open Letter to Global Warming

Dear Global Warming,

I know I’m not supposed to like you. I’ve heard about your grandiose plans to melt the polar icecaps and flood coastal cities, your aspirations to destabilize global weather patterns and throw fragile ecosystems into upheaval, and your desire to have all of us, by the year 2070, living inside geodesic domes, whence we will gaze wistfully out at moribund deserts and dream of greener times. I know everyone says you’re bad, but damn it, I don’t care, because after six straight days of minus-25-degree weather I’m ready to throw myself into your arms.

Being a man-made ecological phenomenon, you might have some difficulty in commiserating with my plight. You’ve never had to walk to get groceries with the skin of your face threatening to crack like old plaster because the only sound your car made when you tried to start it was the dry death rattle of an engine that refused to turn over. You’ve never had to shovel out a driveway while being lashed by blowing snow, with your teeth clattering together in uncontrollable Morse code, while your mind is preoccupied with the concern that your numb ears might have already succumbed to frostbite, and that they could be turning purple in preparation of detaching from your head altogether. If you had suffered through these things, you would not doubt my sincerity. This cold snap has turned me into a half-mad combination of Faust and Sam McGee; I’m willing to do whatever it takes.

I’ll start burning coal in my wood stove. I’ll buy the most inefficient SUV that Detroit has the gall to put on the market. Whenever a friend says something like “There’s not much snow anymore, not like when we were kids,” or the topic of climate change comes up, I’ll cite with authority one of the studies sponsored by Exxon that claim you don’t exist. So, please, let me join you over on the dark side. After all, there’s nothing (figuratively) cool about hypothermia, and the prospects of more arable land in the Arctic and balmy weather all year long sounds pretty good to me.


Mike Ward

P.S. Please disregard my letter from last July’s heat wave. I was only joking.


First published on McSweeney’s.net, March 31, 2005.

New Year, Old Tricks

Well 2013 is gone and 2014 is here. As depicted in the comics sections of newspapers everywhere, we’ve reached the point where we can officially have a wake for the frail, bearded, stoop-backed old year that has slid into the dustbin of history. In its place, we welcome cherub-like and fresh-faced 2014, born with promise and hope. And with this year dawning so young and naïve, now is the time to resolve to Kick It’s Ass and take its lunch money. DO IT NOW. Don’t wait until May or June, the year will be far too strong and wily at that point; at best, you might be able to fight it to a draw.


So what will the New Year hold for me?

Well first off, I think it’s going to be a year of living frugally. No more impulse purchases, no more tiny luxuries, and no more $1.40 workday coffees bleeding my coffers dry. It’s time to save, save, save. I’m going to redirect the fruits of my thriftiness into high-value investments: equities, fixed-income vehicles, and commemorative coin pressings. The battle against an indigent retirement starts NOW.

At the same time though, I’m not going to deny myself. Life is just too short, and I’ve never heard of a happy miser (in the works of Charles Dickens or otherwise). If I see something and I want it, why shouldn’t I buy it? If I’m always forcing myself to go without, I’ll breed resentment and push myself ever closer to launching a pyramid scheme or living a life of crime to get the things I want. I look terrible in orange; I don’t care if it is the new black. I can’t let this downward spiral happen, so I’m going to have to strike a balance.

Another area where I want to improve is my physique. It is going to be a year of getting in crazy-good shape here in 2014. It’s going to be about eating clean, exercising like a fiend, and looking like a dream. There’s still only 168 hours in a given week, so it’s not going to be easy. I’m going to have to go to bed later and wake up earlier, all while getting more sleep in between. I’ll have to shed fat and build muscle at the same time, and I’ll have to work at simultaneously building up strength and endurance. It’s going to take a lot of sweat and sacrifice day-in and day-out, but I know that this year I’m primed to make it happen.

That being said, I’m not going to be afraid to indulge occasionally either. What’s the sense of living if you can’t relax enough to eat a piece of fudge cake every now and again? And if on occasion at my appointed workout times I find myself worn and tired, or I have more fulfilling things to do, you’re not going to find me at the gym. Deep-down, there’s something pathetic about these endorphin-addicts who claim they “never miss a workout.” What really keeps them going: love of fitness or their own simple vanity? Some of them need to take a long look in the mirror…and then step away from it. No sir, you’re not going to find me snared in that trap of narcissism.

Lastly, this is going to be a year where I give more of myself to others. It will be a time of personal growth for me, one that will see me become more patient, tolerant, self-reflective, and understanding. I’m going to keep marching forward in the battle to be more selfless, giving a greater share of my time and energy for the betterment of my family, community, and the broader world.

However, I’m also going to have to carve out more “me-time.” The work of becoming self-actualized is a solitary endeavour, and it’s going to require shutting out the world for a substantial portion of each day so I can develop my own interests, talents, and perspectives. It can be hard to do this, because there are always other people looking to intrude, trying to have their needs and demands given primacy. I’m going to have to find the strength to turn them away, and risk catcalls and accusations of being “selfish” and “aloof.”

Where I live, we’re buried in the depths of winter right now and locked in a frigid cold snap, but my being is kept warm with the inner fire of excitement and new purpose. As the calendar page flips over, I don’t see mere boxes, numbers, and dental appointments that need to be rescheduled; rather, I see the future—and an unbroken vista of limitless possibilities.

Just like I did last year.