Most New Year's resolutions are anything but new. Every year, we try to break the same bad habits, aspire to the same elusive goals. If you're waiting until Jan. 1 to quit smoking, lose weight, throw out all your unmatched socks, call your mother more often, curse less (and curse less when you call your mother), cut back on trash television, save more money and/or get more exercise - everyone's rooting for you, but no one really believes you'll succeed.
Especially your mother.
In the interest of exploring new ground in the realm of the guilty mind, a sampling of people milling around Reading Terminal Market in Center City were interviewed yesterday. They were asked, "At the close of this month, year, and decade, what will you do differently in 2010?" The only rule: Don't say diet.
"I'm swearing off e-mail on the weekends," said Matt Kinservik. "And absolutely no work on Sundays."
This fall, the 42-year-old professor was named chairman of the English department at the University of Delaware. "It can be a seven-day workweek if you let it," he said.
Kinservik's wife, Mara Gorman, said she believed he would keep his promise. "He's the kind of guy who does whatever he sets his mind to do."
Gorman, a freelance writer, is presenting herself with an equally daunting challenge. "I'm going to say no less often to my kids and more often to everyone else." She has become more sensitive to the passage of time, she said, and how slippery the years become as her children grow.
"Having experiences is better than having stuff," she said.
The couple's 4-year-old son, Teddy, was too engrossed in the beheading of his dinosaur lollipop to comment. But Tommy, 7, said he was all for his parents' new plans.
"I want to go to a lot of history museums and travel more. I want to see Asia," he said. "Because my favorite food is sushi."
Carlos Mejia, a 31-year-old graduate student at the University of Iowa, plans to treat himself more gently next year.
"I'm going to be more careful not to get injuries," he said as he and his friend Angelique Dwyer waited for a table at the Down Home Diner. Three weeks ago, Mejia was at the gym, deadlifting 110 pounds, when his back staged a rebellion.
"I'm still feeling the consequences," he said sheepishly.
Mejia and Dwyer were in Philadelphia attending a conference and interviewing for jobs. Dwyer, who will be writing her dissertation about female artists and their identities onstage, said her New Year's resolution would be to ramp up her motivation next year, if she hadn't already maxed out.
"I guess," she said, "I'll try to multitask more." Between running to class in the mornings, picking up her 18-month-old daughter, Bianca, from day care at midday, teaching during the evenings, and trying to get to the gym before bedtime, "it's crazy," she said. "I'll have to try to be more of a superwoman."
Tiffany Wise can list a dozen things she wants to do more of or less of next year, but she has consolidated her resolution.
"I'm going to read the Bible more." The 30-year-old administrator at the Criminal Justice Center, who has dimples deep as canyons and eyes bright as stars, said that spending more time studying Scripture ought to do the trick. "If I do that, all the others will come into play."
Deirdre Blumenthal, a 29-year-old insurance agent from Glassboro, said she also planned to study Scripture more next year. But she's taking a slightly different spiritual tack.
Her faith in Messianic Judaism leads her to both the Old Testament and Greek writings, she said as she pushed her daughter, Lily, in a stroller past a fish counter. Her religious devotion grew after she and her husband, Derek, took a trip to Israel two years ago, just before their daughter was born.
"I want to be a better husband and father next year," Derek said.
"Oh, look!" she said, admiring her husband's succinctness. "You made it simple."
Since she opened the Tea Leaf shop in the Reading Terminal in 1995, the challenge for Lynnette Chen has been the untenable work environment.
"Chocolate-chip cookies from the Famous Fourth Street Cookie Company. Danishes from Metropolitan Bakery. . . ." Chen, 45, is slim but worries about her arteries. "A lot of my family members have been diagnosed with high cholesterol," she said. "So next year, I'm going to eat fewer sweets."
"I can't say lose weight?" said Sean Ryder of West Deptford. "OK. How about stay healthier? I'm diabetic."
But Ryder, 49, a union stagehand at venues around Center City, was just getting started.
"I want to save more money. I'm going to make more sandwiches for lunch instead of coming in here, but this place is so great! How can you not come in here? I'm going to take a train more instead of drive my car, for the environment and because of gas prices. Like taxes, gas never goes backward. And I want the government to pass health-care reform."
That's not a personal resolution.
"No, but that's why I have to stay healthier! Which will mean I go to the doctor less often, which means I will also spend less money."
"Yeah. Quit smoking." Since he was 13, Ryder said, he has smoked one or two cigarettes every day and has never before tried to quit. "I'm going to do it. And also relax more. Take more time off from work."
The last two goals, he admits, could be incompatible with the saving-money resolution.
"Unless you bring your own sandwich."
"Oh," said a math teacher we will protect from self-incrimination by using only his initials: R.M. "I need to practice more empathy," he admitted, with an inscrutable grin.
R.M. is a sharp-looking man of 53 with a short gray beard, wearing a sparkling stud in his left ear, a plaid wool cap, and a canvas Carhartt jacket. He was at the Terminal shopping for dinner. He has a gratifying career, teaching middle-school math. He and his wife have four children and five grandbabies; in January, they will celebrate 22 years of marriage.
This year, on his birthday, he behaved very badly.
"I can't tell you," he said. "But next year, I need to do more than just talk. I need to walk the talk."
Lest our imagination conjure something worse than the reality, just how badly did he behave?
Was his trespass on a Tiger Woods level?
"Yes," he laughed. Nervously.
"Let's just say that next year, I'm going to share the love," he said. Then added, "Monogamously."