Promises I’ve Made

Emitt Rhodes was, and is, a musician and songwriter who was once best known as the “One Man Beatles” (link to documentary) and is perhaps now best known for his fade-out into obscurity.  I was, and am, a big fan of Rhodes’ music: his early-1970s self-made albums inspired my own college musical creations.  Rhodes was often, and unfairly, compared to McCartney but he was neither a knock-off or imitator.  His songs were just as well-crafted but much more personal — perhaps best described as wistful pop.

One of my favorites from the first Emitt Rhodes album (1970) was Promises I’ve Made

Ever since you have gone the days don’t seem so bright
And I wish I could forget you but I can’t
Ever since you have gone I haven’t felt quite right
And I promised I’d forget all that you meant
But now that I’m alone I can’t stop my self from thinking
I can’t stop myself from breaking promises I’ve made to myself
Babe, you must believe

I have promised myself I wouldn’t dream of you
But I find that awful hard sometimes to do
I have promised myself I wouldn’t think of you
But I find that just as hard you know it’s true
Because when I’m alone I can’t stop my self from thinking
I can’t stop myself from breaking promises I’ve made to myself
Babe, you must believe

… all sung to a bright melody and jaunty tempo, belying the lyrical content.

In 2016, Rhodes released a new album, Rainbow Ends, 43 years after his previous album and the day after his 66th birthday.  The musicianship was still evident but the brightness was largely absent, with even more wistfulness in its place.  Now, I can get wistful myself, but listening to Rainbow Ends makes me want to call up Rhodes and say something to cheer him up.  I’m not sure what that could be.

• • • •

I have made a few promises myself in my 66 years, several of which have appeared here on The 100 Billionth Person.  Let’s see how well I have kept them:

  DIRECTV (March 2011):  “I intend to cut back on services, and the thought has entered my mind of cutting the cord completely…”  Result:  It never happened.  I’m still paying too much for TV because there are no easy alternatives in our area.  That, plus inertia.

  VITAMIN WATER (September 2014):  My open letter to Glaceau/Coca-Cola complained about that company’s poor response to my defective product report, and I declared that I would no longer drink VitaminWater or other Coca-Cola products.  Result: I have in fact sworn off Glaceau VitaminWater, but I did unknowingly consume a Coca-Cola product, when I had a bottle of hotel-provided Dasani water.  I consider that a minor infraction.

  WEIGHT LOSS (January 2016):  I committed myself to losing 36 pounds and listed a number of foods that were now off the table.  Result: I lost 25 pounds, then hit a wall, forgot about the diet, and gained just about all the weight back.  More on this below.

  PINTEREST (June 2017):  “I will never sign up for Pinterest, never, ever.” Result: I am still as un-pinterested as ever.

  CHEERIOS (July 2017):  I vowed not to buy Cheerios or any other oat cereal until their manufacturers stopped using RoundUp to desiccate the oats.  Result: Soon after that post, my spouse mistakenly bought me one more box of Cheerios, which I ate, because I do not like to waste food.  But I have been O-free since then.

  READING LIST (December 2017):  I used to publish a list (in the sidebar of this blog)  of books I intended to read in the current calendar year.  Result: I quietly dispensed with the Reading List because, year after year, so many books would remain unread.  The list was clearly an ineffective way to shape my reading behavior.

  CREATIVITY (December 2017):  “In 2018 and every year after that, I pledge to myself to do something creative every day.”  Result: It was a nice thought.  I haven’t kept count but I’d guess the actual figure is more like 30-40 percent.

  PRO FOOTBALL (March 2018):  In disgust, after viewing yet another crippling injury to an NFL player, I declared that I was done with pro football.  Result: My boycott lasted only a few weeks.  I was soon back to following the action in the newspaper and I resumed watching games before the year was out.  Since then, I have watched many more players suffer concussions and season-ending injuries.

  SAMANTHA BEE (June 2018):  I decided that comedian Samantha Bee crossed the line when she called Ivanka Trump the c-word, and there would be no more Bee for me.  Result: Does Bee still have a show?  I wouldn’t know.

⊗  PAINTING (November 2018): I proclaimed I was (finally) ready to start painting again!  Result: I did start a canvas, worked on it a few weeks, then made a dubious artistic move that I feared ruined everything.  I haven’t touched it in nine months.

The final tally of these promises, pledges and proclamations: 4 mostly-kept vs. 6 reneged.  Not a stellar record, is it?  What kept me from keeping more of them?

Making one’s promises visible to others is supposed to help one keep them, but evidently that did not matter here.  I don’t see a pattern in my successes and failures, except perhaps that my aspirational pledges seem more fragile than my principled stands.  There is probably some tortuous socio-psychological explanation for this, but I’m not convinced that it would be useful. 

The larger question is, must a person abide by every promise made to himself?  I find it interesting that the maxim “Don’t make promises you can’t keep” focuses only on your promise-keeping failures.  It means that you can comply with the dictum using one of two strategies: keep all your promises or make no promises at all!  Many people actually advise the latter, as if the negatives of a broken promise far outweigh any positives from efforts to uphold it.  In this way, our culture unwittingly promotes under-commitment.

The importance of keeping promises to oneself should not simply be a moral imperative but should be correlated to benefits and consequences.  That being the case, I should focus more on commitments such as losing weight (to stave off future problems) and less on my personal boycotts that may feel satisfying but have little real impact on social ills.

Which brings me back to the weight-loss issue.  Acknowledging my own poor track record on this count, and recalling what finally got me to quit smoking, I literally asked my doctor to tell me I needed to lose weight and how much I should lose.  At my insistence, we made a handshake agreement that I would weigh 190 pounds by next May.  We will see whether my externalizing this commitment produces the desired result.

As for those other pledges and declarations, I say this:  I am done making promises here!

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7 Responses to Promises I’ve Made

  1. Rachel says:

    30-40% days with creativity is still pretty impressive!

    • Craig says:

      Hi Rachel — given that I have the privilege of being retired, I still feel like I could do better than 30%. Thanks for reading/commenting!

  2. Gavin Larsen says:

    Thanks for alerting us to the Round-Up use in producing Cheerios, Craig! Is it just Cheerios or all General Mills foods??

  3. Rob says:

    “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp…”
    I’ve never been one for resolutions. I aim in what I see as the best direction and move that way as best I can. Sometimes I don’t get very far; sometimes I do really well. I’m guessing it’s about the percentage you cite. Free will is the culprit here, and I am not a big believer in free will. We set our sights on something but are buffeted by DNA, the behavioral settings of our first years, hormones, external stresses, the vicissitudes of age and so much more. We are a curious and interesting mix of vectors, and our level of control is undoubtedly much less than we might hope.

  4. Eric says:

    That’s a pretty darn good batting average, I’d say: far above the Mendoza line.

    One of my heroes, Wendell Berry, has a knack for keeping things in perspective:

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