Life

In 2020, Skip Your Resolutions—Embrace a Vice

Sleep in on weekdays. Drive when you can walk. Have that cigarette. This is the year to indulge your bad habits.

(Year of the) rat embracing vices, like occasionally having a cigarette, drinking a glass of wine while working, and reading old text conversations from exes.
Lisa Larson-Walker

Welcome to 2020. A new year means it’s time to strive, once again, away from sloppiness and inconsistency and toward perfection—or at least, to make a showy embrace of a new habit that will be mostly forgotten by March. This year, though, we advise you to do it differently. Rather than resolving to be better, resolve to be bad. You don’t even need to look for a new habit to onboard. Just identify one small thing you already do, something you’re not really supposed to do, but that you do anyway (or have always desperately wanted to do). And then, accept it as fine. Maybe even accept it as good.

Your vice of choice might be something you’ve been taught is antithetical to personal growth (like outright refusing to join a gym). It might be something that is, objectively, quite bad for you. Whatever it is, it should be something that holds special meaning for you—something that makes you feel good, for one reason or another. Perhaps accepting a vice will allow you to channel more energy toward a more pressing project. Perhaps it will simply move you further from the tyranny of endless self-improvement. Whatever the purpose, what we hope is that it brings you a small bit of happiness. In that spirit, here are the vices we’re holding onto in 2020: joyfully, pragmatically, in spite of ourselves.

Q-tips Are Fine

You shouldn’t put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear, the adage goes. But I do. I just love the feeling of twisting a Q-tip in my ear canal when I get out of the shower. Or right after I wake up. Or when I’m about to leave for a night out. I stock-pile them in my apartment. When I see a jarful in the bathroom of a gym, I thrill, as though I were a smoker and they were cigarettes. I can tell you that the best Q-tips are actually the rougher generic ones, not the fluffy brand-name ones—the former is better for scraping at that little bit of inner ear skin. Q-tips are annoying to pack in a toiletry kit (they get grimy), which means I miss them when I’m on vacation.

A purple rat hoists a Q-tip above its head.
Lisa Larson-Walker

Q-tips are, in medical terms, unnecessary. Left unperturbed, wax will naturally make its way out of the ear canal; it is a self-cleaning orifice. Actually, “unnecessary” is a rosy way of putting it; speaking with full scientific accuracy, Q-tips are more like an “active menace.” They can thrust wax deeper into the ear canal, where it can build up. Pushed too far, the Q-tip can perforate eardrums and cause hearing loss. From time to time, they make the news for instigating life-threatening infections. Q-tips and children, especially, should not mix.

So, the very thing the Q-tip was invented for is the very thing you definitely should not use it for. “Q-tips are one of the most perplexing things for sale in America,” the Washington Post once declared. But if you consider the Q-tip as not a hygiene tool, but an outright vice, in the league of motorcycles, and shots of vodka, it makes perfect sense. Dangerous things often feel good.

I have tried to quit Q-tips. It has never stuck. In fact, banishing them from my home only leaves me eyeing increasingly pointy small objects with the urge to push them toward my eardrums: bobby-pins, pen caps, worse. And there are so many other tiny little things I have been working on changing in my life that feel more worth the effort. Maybe someday I’ll manage to banish Q-tips. In the meantime, I’ll revel in the joy getting at that little bit of earwax brings me. —Shannon Palus

Wake Up to Twitter

Obviously, unquestionably, Twitter is unhealthy. I don’t have the patience for technical debates about what makes something formally “addictive” or not; I pull out my phone and check Twitter when I’m uncomfortable (sharing elevator space with strangers, dealing with bickering children) or just bored, to take a compulsive break from the feeling of being alive. Often enough the feeling I get in return is a bad one. When I force myself to leave my phone in my pocket for an hour or a day or a weekend, I can sense my mind pulling its frayed edges back together into a more whole and wholesome condition.

A purple rat in bed with the Twitter bird.
Lisa Larson-Walker

Everyone agrees about this, and most people further agree that the one of the very worst, most abjectly dependent things people can do on Twitter is to check it first thing in the morning. Roll over, open your eyes to the artificial blue light, and take a dose of internet poison before anything else. What could be more shameful? The tech resisters say the thing to do is to leave your phone in a whole other room.

But for me, wake-up Twitter is Twitter at its least alienating and intrusive. My alarm goes off, on my phone; I lie in bed on the edge of sleep, aware of the things I have to do but unconvinced it’s worth crossing over into consciousness to do them. I squint and scroll the feed and see what’s on the minds of other people: early risers, British people, folks who stayed angry well after I’d turned in. Something in there—a piece of overnight breaking news, a subway delay, a terrible take—jabs a little harpoon into my drifting brain and drags me fully awake. The new day assumes a shape and identity.

At some point, I recognized that this is not some new dystopian affliction, but an old habit, one I picked up before Jack Dorsey was even born. When I was a small child, my parents would play the AM radio in the mornings: national news, world news, local news, sports, traffic, weather, commentary, music. (Yes, music; format boundaries had not been drawn as narrowly and rigidly then as they are now.) The disembodied voices of people I’d never met would bring me the news I’d missed, and call me to wake up, pay attention, get going. It was—and still is—the opposite of being alienated or numb. —Tom Scocca

Ditch Family Dinner

If you are a parent of at least one small child, you have probably heard that you must—MUST!—serve dinner family style. This way, your kids can learn some table manners, absorb your love of salad, and eventually climb the eating ladder from “wild hyena” to “reasonable human.” But, you might have also heard, it’s best for their tiny brains to put them to bed between 6:30 and 8 p.m. Who can manage both an early bedtime and a proper family meal, particularly if you are a working parent with any kind of commute?

A purple rat high-fives a smaller purple rat in a pea pod.
Lisa Larson-Walker

This, then, is my (extremely middle-aged) vice: my kid eats dinner on her own. To be clear, she is not alone. For now, when the window between school and bedtime is so narrow, I have given myself permission to feed my child dinner at the kitchen counter, while I do the daytime dishes and get dinner ready for myself and my husband. She sits there, eating a small portion of something left over from last night’s adult dinner, or a bit of a previous week’s meal that reheated from the freezer. (We might be anti-family dinner, but we’re pro- prep and planning.) My husband sits beside her, drinks coffee, and we all chat about the matters of the day.

Then, if it’s getting late—and it always is—we merge dinner into her bath time. Her pupusas and rice and peas perch on the edge of the tub. We read her a book, and she finishes her food while soaking. She heads to sleep sometime shortly after seven, done and dusted well within the bedtime guideline. We go on to eat our own dinners together at a regular adult hour. The shame! (It’s the best.)

If you need more permission to join us on the dark side, I recommend Episode 23 of the Comfort Food podcast, which is an interview with Kate Tellers, a mom of two kids under 4 who admits to doing almost exactly what we do in this house (minus the eating in the bath part). As the hosts of the podcast point out, if you’re doing a lot of eating together at other times—breakfast, weekends—it’s probably okay to let weekday family dinners, when small kids are at their most done, slide a bit. For us, we’ll keep on doing it this way until bedtime changes—or, until our tub gets clogged with rice. —Rebecca Onion

Drink on the Job

I’m an enormous fan of drinking one and a half beers during the workday. It’s the perfect amount of beer to perk up your mood, to stifle your inner critic, and to coax your tired 2 p.m. soul into taking a low-stakes risk. If you’ve got a job for which creativity is a boon, at which you have some degree of autonomy, and where you’re not operating heavy machinery, I suggest you occasionally drink one and a half beers too.

Don’t get sauced in the workplace, like Don Draper (or Slate’s own Emily Bazelon and Hanna Rosin that one time). Don’t drink at work every day, or even every week. Certainly never do it if you might get fired. But there is real value in, every once in a while, lubricating your desk job with the exact right number of beers, which is one and one half.

A purple rat types on a laptop in a wine glass.
Lisa Larson-Walker

My colleagues at Slate are aware of my occasional mid-afternoon consumption of a single beer, and then half of another beer. We conduct meetings at Slate via videoconferencing. While some of my co-workers apparently have been stressing out about what they look like on camera, I’ve never been shy about calling in from the local beer garden, saison in hand.

No one’s ever reprimanded me about it, perhaps because Slate’s a slightly quirky workplace, or because I’m senior enough and annoying enough that it’s not worth the trouble. But even if someone did, I would strenuously advocate—indeed, am in this very post strenuously advocating—mild, infrequent drinking at work.

My occasional 1.5 beers help me rethink a story that just wasn’t working or steer me toward an idea I’ve shied away from before. Indeed, this very blog was produced under the influence of precisely 1.5 beers. If you think this blog is bad—well, imagine how bad it would’ve been without the beers!

Now, your one and a half beers might not be one and a half beers. Depending on body weight, ABV, and your predilection for tipsy giggling, it might be two beers, or half a glass of wine, or the head and feet but not the torso of one weed-laced gummy bear. What you’re looking for is to be gently altered such that you have the creativity to come up with surprising ideas (and the self-confidence to pursue them), but not so tipsy that you’re tired or your judgment is seriously impaired. Randall Munroe, in his comic xkcd, calls this sweet spot the “Ballmer peak.” I call it one and a half beers. Cheers! Now back to work. —Dan Kois

Stop “Working Out”

I have never paid to belong to a gym. It’s not that I’m against gyms, though, to be honest, I am certainly not the kind of person who is “comfortable” in a gym—the machinery confuses me, I don’t know what to do about eye contact, there are never the right number of windows. Also, I refuse to believe it is logical that we just waste energy on working out? (Can’t we turn our working out into energy? We’re in a climate crisis!) OK, so maybe I’m against gyms. But I’m not against exercise. I ran a half-marathon a few weeks ago! I do that about twice a year.

A purple rat lounges while watching TV.
Lisa Larson-Walker

What I am really against is the idea of “regular exercise,” a thing that gyms promote. You join, you pay a monthly fee, you stay a member forever. You feel obligated to keep going to this indoor space and doing all of the things that resemble exercise—what is an elliptical supposed to even be?—a certain number of times a week, even when you don’t feel like it. This is what you’re supposed to do to be a healthy person who does not waste her gym membership fees. But…sometimes I just don’t want to do a thing that looks like exercise. I don’t want to change into a sports bra; I don’t want to get sweaty. Sometimes I just want to go for a long walk, or do light yoga (OK, just pigeon) while sitting in front of my TV. Sometimes, I just want to … not formally exercise, for weeks, even months at a time.

Indulging these desires makes occasional periods of training for a race an indulgence, too. I have developed an extremely good routine around what this entails: starting six weeks before, I do a long run each Saturday, starting at seven miles and ticking up one mile a week until the race. I also try to run a couple times during the week. Is this exactly the kind of regimented workout regime that I am arguing against? Yeah, I guess so.

But my point is that I only sign up for this kind of thing when I’m feeling that sort of nervous energy that makes this routine feel right. I don’t wear a watch. I don’t stress when I miss runs. And the rest of the time? I go back to doing whatever I feel like, whenever I feel like it. And somewhere deep in my soul, I suspect this has given me a better relationship with my body than any gym or regular routine ever could. —Susan Matthews

Sleep In on Weekdays

I sleep in almost every single day. Yes, that includes workdays. When I am forced to awaken before 9 a.m., I feel horrible: nauseated, disoriented, irritated, and sad. On days when my job as a reporter requires me to attend Supreme Court arguments, which typically begin at 10 a.m., I am bedraggled and weary, comforted only by the fact that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a famed night owl, is probably just as tired as I am.

A purple rat sleeps with an eye mask on while the sun rises.
Lisa Larson-Walker

As a teenager, I had assumed that I, too, was simply a creature of the night. But the key factor isn’t when I go to bed. As an adult, I manage to go to bed before midnight every weekday, and it makes no difference. Waking up before 9 a.m. is still torture. I am squarely an anti-morning bird; I need to huddle in the nest long past sunrise. When I wake up after 9 a.m., I feel glorious. I am energetic and enthusiastic. The world is a good place to be. Any earlier, though, and I am a cranky wreck.

This indulgence could cause problems, but it does not, because I have structured my life around it. I married a man who is game to wake up first thing and walk our dog before he heads to work at 8 a.m. On the rare days when my husband does not walk her, she has been trained to wait until I stir to come pester me for a stroll. I found a workplace with flexible hours and a boss who doesn’t mind that I decline every request to appear on radio or television before 9 a.m.

Every so often, a brand new friend or professional contact asks to meet over breakfast. I’ve stopped concocting excuses to get out of these confabs and now simply tell the truth: We will never, ever have breakfast together, because you are not important enough to sacrifice sleep over. But could you do lunch?

When I explain my habit to early risers, they look at me as though I am some bedridden housewife in a Victorian novel. Why don’t they see that they’re the sick ones? Waking up at 5 a.m. to go to spin class is objectively deranged, bordering on a crime against human biology. It wouldn’t bother me if these people just didn’t need much sleep, but they’re always complaining about how tired they are. Their choice is pure vanity, favoring a sculpted bod over a revivified brain. They wear their under-eye bags like badges of honor—proof of how hard they work, how overextended they are. It’s sheer narcissism! Go ahead and boast about your grueling schedule and all the extraordinary feats you accomplished before I even opened my eyes. I won’t lose any sleep over it. —Mark Joseph Stern

Let Amazon Listen

I didn’t even want the Amazon Echo. My husband did, a few years ago, after he’d played with one at a relative’s house. I flat-out refused. As Slate’s Future Tense editor, I spend an awful lot of time working on alarming stories of technological invasions of privacy—from the government, from corporations, from hackers seeking money or chaos or both, even by accident. I would never pay for the privilege of allowing Amazon to eavesdrop on my home, I said.

A purple rat plays air guitar while an Amazon Echo listens.
Lisa Larson-Walker

Soon after I made that edict, I began to question myself. Who was I to unilaterally declare that he couldn’t have one? How would I feel if he banned something I wanted from the home? So after a few weeks of guilty soul-searching, I gave in—I even purchased it myself and made it a Christmas present.

He soon became a bit freaked out by the Echo, which sat on our kitchen counter, occasionally mistaking a snippet of conversation for its wake-word, “Alexa.” He began turning off the mic regularly. And now I, the person who once spent 20 minutes teaching a preteen nephew how to protect his iPhone from police search, am the one who unmutes it.

My most-used feature is probably the timer. God, I love that timer. To be able to set it while both my hands are busy cooking is miraculous. The doo-doo-da it makes when it goes off is so soothing, I sometimes let it go a little long just so I can keep listening. I also ask Alexa to play NPR One, or tell me the weather. And I truly love using it for music—especially because via Spotify, I can turn on songs while my husband is home alone. (His current feeling on the Alexa: “At this moment I don’t regret it. I just find it kind of annoying and creepy.” I’m doing my best to contribute to the annoying part.)

I understand why so many of the experts and writers I work with are aghast at the idea of trading privacy for these minor conveniences. I’ve heard plenty of people say, “I can’t understand why someone would want that!,” unaware of the Echo-haver in their midst. But there are reasons to want one. The Echo makes my life a little more seamless. Sure, it may someday be used against me in a court of law. That’s a risk that I’m willing to take. —Torie Bosch

Dwell on Your Exes

If the cardinal sin post-breakup is texting your ex, then the runner-up is rereading your old text exchanges. But I do it. I do it when I’m bored, or feeling disenchanted with dating. I open the iMessage app, and scroll all the way to the early back-and-forths with old partners, flopped dates, friends who never knew how much I liked them. I smile at a long-lost inside joke. I skim through coordinating meetups, trading Spotify links, deciding—in the case of, say, a college boyfriend—where we should have dinner with our parents. I eventually near the texts that followed a difficult, real-life conversation, a conflict that will never be resolved. By the time I get to our polite birthday exchanges, my shoulders are scrunched up to my ears.

A purple rat cries while texting.
Lisa Larson-Walker

This compulsion to revisit the past, even for a breakup I’m long over, isn’t healthy. Breakup specialists warn that this habit can “undo a lot of the work you’ve done on healing” and “erode at your self-worth.” Indeed, my nostalgia tours can result in disappointment, painful texts eclipsing sweet ones. It hurts to see someone who was once a daily part of my life (or at least thoughts) reduced to a string of grey bubbles. But unlike the rest of my digital life—social media, photo albums, journal entries—text messages offer a fuller story, one with two sides. There’s no highlight reel to skim through here.

When I emerge from the texts, I feel like I’m exiting the theater after a scary movie. That was the past. My present life feels newly exciting, the possibilities wide-open. I vow to be more direct with my emotions next time, to be kinder, to date people who are open to exclamation marks (like I am!). But I’m also reminded of what I gained, and continue to gain, from falling for people. And so each time a guy and I break things off, I dutifully stash my correspondences away in the attic of my iCloud. Because the chief pleasure of rereading texts is in reliving how a stranger becomes known, and anticipating the moment it could happen again. —Rachael Allen

Don’t Walk—Drive

Driving, I hear, is bad—it pollutes, it clogs up roadways, it kills pedestrians. It’s particularly bad if you live in a city that has its own transportation. Which is why, when I first moved to D.C., I thought owning a car would be a nightmare. I had heard stories about D.C.’s horrific traffic, and my parallel parking skills were rusty at best. But I had also spent the previous 20-some years of my life in Midwestern sprawl with inconsistent sidewalks, zero bike lanes, and parking lots galore. Driving was more or less the only transit option I had ever known. So I packed up my Honda Civic and hoped for the best.

A purple rat drives a car.
Lisa Larson-Walker

Turns out, it was incredibly easy: registration fees are low, I can usually find a parking spot on my block, and D.C.’s public transit system is seemingly always on fire. I drive often, even when it’s nearly as convenient to walk, bike, or take public transit. The only times I won’t drive are when getting behind the wheel would be a headache (during commuting hours, if I’ll be drinking, if I’m going somewhere crowded).

In the decade I’ve lived here, D.C. has improved its long-neglected Metro and become substantially more bike-friendly. But I often still drive instead. Grocery shopping? Drive. Dinner with a friend? Gym? Drive. My excuses pile up faster than the miles on my odometer: The weather sucks, the Metro is still unreliable on the weekends, biking makes me sweaty (even in the dead of winter). I buy more groceries than I can carry. I’m always running 15 minutes late. And I have to keep my car anyway—I need it to go hiking, which I do every weekend—so I should at least get my money’s worth.

Yes, I am worried about climate change. I can barely bring myself to read the latest doom-and-gloom article without panicking. And yet, I still drive. I picture Greta giving me side-eye every time I buckle my seat belt and turn the key to go to the Trader Joe’s that is less than a mile away. I realize I’m not the problem, but I also believe every bit counts, which is why I’ve still cut back on my meat consumption and flights. Am I a hypocrite? Yes. But for now, I’ll still be piling my reusable grocery bags into my car. At least I’m not going that far. —Megan Wiegand

Take More Selfies

I once made it my actual New Year’s resolution to take more selfies. Yes, I realize that selfies are seen as the vapid currency of the self-obsessed or, at best, passed off as a shallow form of empowerment. For me, they aren’t quite either. Coming off a major breakup, I hoped focusing my phone camera on myself would make me feel more like the subject of my own life. It basically worked! I snapped photos of myself in restaurant bathrooms, on my commute, out with friends. On one occasion, I selfie’d while flossing my teeth.

A purple rat takes a selfie.
Lisa Larson-Walker

I felt sort of vain at first, trying to get the lighting just so. But since I didn’t post the vast majority of my selfies to social media, my thirst for external validation flared up a little less with each picture. I even got over the embarrassment of taking selfies in public, snapping one after an exercise class in Union Square, when my urge to record the moment outweighed my concern of how I’d appear to strangers. I grew fond of even my ugliest selfies, and learned to accept my imperfect self as just me.

The project had an unexpected benefit: I have a comically thorough record of that year, the best since the ’90s, back when my mom chased me around with a point and shoot. In those days I remember being deeply embarrassed anytime she’d ask me to pose in front of a landmark or in a Halloween costume. Stopping the action to record a moment just felt hopelessly square to me: can’t we just REMEMBER that we came here, Mom?

But of course, as an adult I treasure those photo albums. And now, I treasure my selfies. This year, I’m resolving once again to take more, and so should you (one a day is a manageable goal, but you could even do several). Not in the spirit of a self-obsessed millennial, or an influencer crafting a facade, but for your own personal posterity: even in the small moments, even when you’re alone. —Asha Saluja

Go Ahead. Light Up.

A vice is not just something that you know is wrong but do anyway, like ordering a toothbrush from Amazon Prime or driving an SUV. A vice is something that gives you a little rush of living by breaking the rules; something that you sneak off to do, wouldn’t want your kids to find out about, and leaves you feeling both ashamed and also like a slowly disappearing version of yourself that you don’t want to forget. Doing something that is the tiniest bit bad for the planet, or is self-absorbed, or supports big tech, is not a vice. Smoking is.

A purple rat hugs a cigarette.
Lisa Larson-Walker

Smoking—it’s cool, and I do it sometimes. It might seem wrong for me, a mother of three, to advocate for even the rare cigarette on the searchable web. That’s why it’s a vice! But also: The first time I thought of my mom as a person with her own life was when she told me she would occasionally have a drag of her friend’s cigarette at bridge. I remember feeling uncomfortable but also impressed. (Kids: I smoke when Lara comes to town! See me!)

If my husband is reading this, he’s probably choking on the memory of the nicotine gum he once chewed obsessively in order to quit his pack-a-day habit after my incessant nagging. For years after he had “quit,” I would scour social media, looking for pictures of him still grabbing a smoke with his co-workers at the holiday party, zooming in on his hand, squinting to see that little white stick between his fingers. The difference is that I was never addicted to smoking. The other difference is that I judge myself less harshly than I do him. Smiley-face-smoking-a-Marlboro-Light emoji.

The act of inhaling smoke itself is honestly not so enjoyable anymore. It hurts my lungs, makes me a little nauseous, and the smell on my hands afterward is not ideal. Also, it is bad for you. But I refuse to admit I’ve become a person who says smoking is gross. I am committed to maintaining some level of completely outdated ’90s cool and therefore will definitely go grab a smoke with you at a wedding, or outside the restaurant, where, when it was a different restaurant six restaurants ago and life’s possibilities stretched out ahead of us, we used to smoke inside, at the table, between dinner and dessert.

And then I will go home to my plastic straws and my Facebook account, kiss my kids on the forehead, and tell them not to vape. —Allison Benedikt