Hopes and dreams – Alison Healy on New Year resolutions of the famous

“Keep looking around me – only much more so”

If you are still thinking about taking on a few New Year’s resolutions, perhaps you should follow the lead of Samuel Beckett.

In 1983, the Times of London asked some famous people to outline their resolutions and hopes for the year ahead. The playwright must have been indulging in a spot of existential angst when he got the request. Instead of the 500 or so words contributed by some people, he sent back a very brief response by telegram, the gist of which was Resolutions: Zero. Hopes: Zero.

Let’s hope the newspaper had not set aside half a page to allow for the musings of this master of minimalism.

Yet 1984 was not as hopeless as Beckett had predicted. He had several books published, including his television play Quad, as well as revised collections of his poems and other works. And he was the first person to be elected Saoi in Aosdána, although he didn’t get too excited about it and failed to come home from Paris for the presentation of the gold torc.


Having zero hopes or resolutions seemed to work out well for Beckett, but other people prefer a more methodical approach to meeting their aims.

Marilyn Monroe did not leave anything to chance when planning ahead. In late 1955, the actor drew up a list of her resolutions in her address book. The 29-year-old had already become a household name with movies such as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Seven Year Itch, but the list, reproduced in the book Fragments, shows she was clearly determined to work on her craft.

She was working with acting coach Lee Strasberg and her resolutions centred around going to classes, actors’ sessions and lectures and working as much as possible. “Keep looking around me – only much more so – observing – but not only myself but others and everything”, she wrote.

The list may have paid off as she went on to win a Golden Globe for her part in Some Like It Hot a few years later.

More poignantly, the last entry on her list was to “try to enjoy myself when I can – I’ll be miserable enough as it is”.

She died less than seven years later.

Singer Woody Guthrie was another artist who died before his time. And like Marilyn Monroe, he was also ambitious when it came to planning his future.

His 33 “New Years Rulin’s” were written on New Year’s Day, 1943, when he was 30, and they are an endearing mix of small plans and big ones. They are reproduced by writer Maria Popova on themarginalian.org and include pledges such as “Wash teeth if any” and “Change bed cloths often”.

These everyday tasks sit side by side with a resolution to “Help win war – beat fascism”. He pledged to “Drink very scant if any” and to write a song a day. And he aimed to read more and listen to the radio a lot. “Learn people better” was another ambition of the singer, who already seemed to be fairly good at understanding people if his songs are anything to go by.

He had split up with his wife at this stage and he wrote that he wanted to avoid getting lonesome. “Keep hoping machine running” and “play and sing good” were other laudable aims.

Jonathan Swift also wrote a list, in 1699 when he was 32, but the Gulliver’s Travels author wasn’t making New Year’s resolutions. These were his aspirations for how he wanted to behave when he was old. The list includes some admirable things, such as not telling the same story over and over to the same people, and not being influenced by tattling servants.

But there is also a curious pledge when he writes: “Not to be fond of children, or let them come near me hardly”.

We don’t know if he stuck to the plan to avoid repeating stories or listening to gossiping servants, but he had no children, as far as we know, so at least that was one successful pledge.

I have decided to take a Beckettian approach this year and aim low with my expectations. And so, this will be the year when I finally learn how to say the word “apocalypse” on the first attempt.

My other resolution is to teach the children how to open a box of cereal with restraint, instead of the current method which makes it look as though a gorilla ripped the box open with his teeth.

If those resolutions go well, I might even learn how to set the oven timer.

And if I fail? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better, as a certain turtleneck wearing writer once said.