Thoughts For a New Year

Joel Bellman

“What are you writing about?” my son asked, when I mentioned I had a column deadline coming up.

“I’m not sure,” I answered. “I think I may write about impeachment.”

“Really! Jumping right into it, huh?”

“Yeah, I think it’s time,” I said. “He’s gotta go. We can’t stand two more years of this.”

To be blunt, I really don’t think we can. He’s a clear and present danger to the nation. He literally shut down the federal government over his wasteful demands to build a monument to his own xenophobia. The New York Times revealed that his behavior has been so overtly pro-Russia that the FBI was compelled to investigate whether he was literally an agent of Moscow.

His presidency, not some imaginary immigration “crisis,” is literally—not figuratively—the real national emergency.

But for now, after some second thoughts, I want to write about something else.

Instead of New Year’s resolutions, let’s call them “New Year’s goals”—not the rash promises we’ll all be breaking before February, but achievable objectives to strive for throughout the year.

Topping the list is trying to read, watch, write, and think less about the Usurper-in-Chief, starting with this first column of the new year. Like Freddy Krueger, he’s a lethal monster who haunts our dreams—but only if we let him. We can’t ignore what he’s doing to our country and to us, but obsessing too much on every outrageous remark or daily news story is more than lazy and unproductive—it’s stressful and unhealthy. It is, as they say, “giving him free rent in our heads,” and it’s an avoidable distraction from other important things in our personal and political lives. With a fresh crop of new faces in Congress, some smart electoral strategies, and increasingly woke voters, together we’ve rescued the House, I want to let Nancy, Adam, Ted, Maxine, and their colleagues do their jobs.

I want to try and reduce my screen time this year. My iPhone “Screen Time” app gives me the full rundown, and it’s humbling: how long you’re on, what apps you’re using, how much time spent on reading and reference, social networking and “productivity.” I’m not yet desperate or far gone enough that I need the app to schedule my downtime or set time limits yet, but let’s see how it goes.

Inspired by our civil rights tour through the Deep South last spring, I’m trying to honor my commitment to ration my news intake and avoid the traps of repetition, click-bait, manufactured outrage, and partisan hysteria. On social media, to be less reactive, avoid pointless debates that just double down in existing opinions, be mindful of online argument where the lack of nuance, facial expression, and body language invite things to escalate needlessly.

Keep exercising daily, getting enough sleep, and reading my books. See more live music. Watch more movies and fewer TV series (even the good ones; it’s just too much time on the same characters and storyline; there’s more to the world of drama than that.) I’m doing pretty well here, but I want to do better.

Lastly, and most importantly, I want to make this a year where we visit more with our friends, particularly those we’ve not seen in a while. The latter half of 2018 was particularly a season of loss, and a season of health challenges, for a number of friends and former colleagues. We can try and deny mortality, but we can’t avoid it. The young have all the time in the world for everything, it seems to them. But as I age—even in relatively good health—I look at my shelves and think to myself, “You know—I’m not going to live long enough to read all those books, or watch those movies, or listen to those albums and CDs.” It won’t stop me from trying, but it will encourage me to prioritize a little better.

Taking my son out for breakfast at our favorite place, cuddling with my wife as we fall asleep, stroking a purring cat on my lap, listening to a favorite song, marveling at our Southern California skies just after the rain—these are intense pleasures for which I feel real gratitude, all the more when I reflect on the transient nature of human existence.

An old friend and former colleague always seemed to take the long view when he’d preface his (usually sound) advice by saying, “You know, the ‘life’s too short’ theory would say…” I’ve decided that’s not a bad criterion to consider: how important is it, really, to win a particular argument—or even to have it at all? To insist on your way or the highway, instead of compromising or sometimes even simply giving in, if you’re not always needlessly invested in “winning.”

To return—briefly—to my least favorite topic: We’ve had a brutal political lesson over the past two years about what it means to live in a constant personal state of war, belittling, insulting, threatening, and alienating everyone, be they friend or foe, ally or adversary. It’s unhealthy for the country, and it’s unhealthy for us.

As we celebrate another successful circle ‘round the sun, let’s use the occasion to try and be a little better, individually and collectively, So be it hereby resolved: a very happy, peaceful, productive, and loving New Year to you all.


Joel Bellman

Joel Bellman worked in journalism and local government in Los Angeles for 35 years. He now teaches and writes on politics and pop culture. He can be contacted at

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