It's that dreaded time again,... New Year's Day.
Resolution Day.
I have friends who have learned to avoid the dread. They have quit making resolutions.
But I cannot.
I am a man who has never stopped trying for a little self-improvement, and 2005 will be, alas, no different.

I've made it a bit easier on myself this year, because usually there is nothing easier to quit than something you've quit before.

In 1997, while ensconced at a small twice-weekly newspaper in Port Orchard, I started having serious sinus headaches.

Not being a whiner, I tried to ignore the pain, writing it off to the dreadful, drippy West Sound weather - even wetter and darker than over here.

But finally the pain drove me to an ears, nose and throat medic, who also happened to be a friendly acquaintance.

He did a thorough exam of all the sketchy areas above my neck and then said: "You have to quit smoking. If you do, I will treat you for just the insurance costs for the next year. But if you smoke another cigarette after today, find another doctor."

This startling concern - shown by a man who I had always believed loved golf more than even his attractive female patients - coupled with the nightly headaches, forced me into action.

I'd been a smoker since I was 12 years old. Never more than a pack a day, but seldom less, either. Since I played competitive sports (if you count club soccer and softball) into my late 40s, I had never worried about my tobacco jones.

But the Doc's wet-eyed attentions, and the thought of having to find a new sawbones, did the job.


Smoking

I quit on May 9, 1997, and except for two cigarettes (not two packs) in the fall of 1998, and when a very nice girlfriend moved to Oregon and soon after gave me the gate ("Please don't come down here every weekend, baby"), I remained smokeless until a few months ago.

But when I went to Thailand, where it seemed that everybody around me smoked. Being the social sort, I started again, standing around puffing away with my Thai friends and adoptive Thai family at every opportunity.

I returned here in November and brought the damned habit with me.

Then, earlier this month, I had to return to Ohio for a very sad occasion - a death in the family.

I smoked up a storm in honor of my godmother, who had passed on at 78, from cancer, after a lifetime of puffing away on Chesterfields (non-filtered, natch).

The other morning, after two and a half days on the train, I awoke in my apartment with the taste of rags in my mouth.

Having quit for seven years, I couldn't help but notice the leftover-smoke taste in my mouth.

I'm not the preaching sort.

My best friend in the Army died at 41 of drink-related woes, and one of my long-term exes drifted in the fast life after we split up, and I never once told her she was killing herself. She later reformed and, unlike me, preaches to everyone about the evils of drugs, even to those of us who don't indulge in Bolivian Marching Powder.

I firmly believe that as adults we are responsible for our voluntary choices, and if those choices in our search for pleasure or relief from the cares of the day hurt us, we can't sue R.J. Reynolds, Jack Daniels or McDonald's, much less our neighborhood dealer.

But I personally don't like the way I'm feeling after just three months back on the nicotine. Don't get me wrong. I love the taste of tobacco. But enough is enough.

As of January 1, 2005, I am once again smokeless.

I always make two resolutions. One external, which this year is smoking. In 1999, to win a bet, I quit drinking wine and beer for the entire year (although I had quite a few glasses of both on New Year's Eve 2000).


Gossip gossip gossip
The second resolution always involves a personal habit I find disturbing in others but usually have difficulty seeing my own little self - a very common problem, according to a psychiatrist friend, who says whenever someone else is really bothering us we should look inside.

"They are mirroring our own distasteful behaviors," is how she put it, being a headshrinker and all.

Now I've noticed as I get older I am much less confrontational in face-to-face situations. My bones are more brittle, and my capacity for violence is steadily lessening. But as I have shrunk from physical violence, my tongue, always sharp, has developed edges like those on a nice, small cutting knife.

To my dismay I've turned into a semi-vicious backtalker.

So I've decided to try and curb my urge to gossip.

Oh, hell, if you come up to me and start talking about a mutual acquaintance who stinks, I'm still gonna say something funny and biting, if I'm not too distracted because I don't have a cigarette in my hands.

But I'm determined not to voluntarily be verbally mean.

No unsolicited gossip and no backbiting.

I mean it, so don't tempt me with lurid tales of people we all know, OK?

In some years my resolutions are a total success. Other years one goes by the wayside around March. And on at least two occasions in the past decade, both my well-meaning aims at self-improvement, internal and external, went up in, uh, smoke before springtime.

I'm hoping that isn't true in the upcoming 365.

I'm going for the personal resolution gold.

How about you? Do you make resolutions? Do you keep them?

Freelancer writer Dennis Wilken can be reached c/o doug@kirklandcourier.com.