Quitter's Reflections | Opinion | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Quitter's Reflections 

Is quitting really satisfying? It doesn't seem so.

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"I like to quit things. It is a very satisfying thing, quitting." That's how Larry David explained the decision to pull the plug on his popular comedy show Curb Your Enthusiasm.

But is quitting really satisfying? It doesn't seem so. In fact, there is a cultural bias for Vince Lombardi's contrary viewpoint: "Winners never quit and quitters never win." Americans celebrate those who persevere; those who overcome obstacles by dint of blood, sweat and tears; those who succeed where others have failed. The Protestant work ethic is in our bones and in our institutions. I learned in the Army that quitting could have unpleasant consequences. In academia, a Ph.D. ABD (All But Dissertation) can be as stigmatizing as quitting a Mormon mission.

During the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, German troops surrounded the 101st Airborne Division. The Germans delivered an ultimatum—either surrender or die. The American general responded in a single word: "Nuts!" Stories like that populate America's cultural narrative like stars in the night sky.

Sifting my own history, however, I find a surprising number of quits— enough of them to conclude that quitting is a lot more complicated than David lets on. Quitting is taxonomic: That is to say, it is a category comprising a number of subdivisions in the same way that "political," "humanitarian" and "economic" are subsets of "immigration."

The taxonomy of quitting includes good quits and bad quits. Voluntary and involuntary quits. Quits imposed by aging, and quits born of self-disgust. Some take the shape of resolutions, blooming in late December like forced hyacinths, only to shrivel within a few weeks. Some instances of quitting are satisfying and principled. Some aren't. One subcategory is the "pending quits" of tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Kick the Twitter habit, give up glazed donuts, forswear swearing—everyone has a few quits pending.

In my experience, good quits outnumber bad quits. That is probably because the good ones are vetted while the bad ones are the half-baked issue of impulse or neglect. Donald Trump's obsession with all things Obama is punctuated with such ill-considered quits. My good quits include a romance that had run its course and a pack-a-day Marlboro habit. I quit jogging for my knees' sake, stopped buying neckties, and bailed out of a nascent accounting degree at the University of Utah. In my teens, I took leave of church and I quit the NRA, neither in protest. America would be a kinder, gentler place if everyone did the same.

When it comes to bad quits, I consider abandoning a book to be a personal failure. I gave up on David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest after 300 pages. I am a fan of Wallace's nonfiction, but his big novel was a slog for me. Nevertheless, I should have seen it through to the end. I feel the same about lapsed friendships. I have a number of them caused by moves to new places. Sustaining a long-distance friendship takes work. I hate to say it but I have given up on too many. Another bad quit has a musical connection. My parents paid for piano lessons when I was in junior high school. I didn't like practicing every day, so I gave it up after a couple of years. I'm sorry I did. I envy those who can play the instrument. I shouldn't have quit the piano—or the friendships.

You could spend hours compiling a list of "should-quits"—some for yourself, some for everybody else. Bottling water in plastic, texting while driving, burning fossil fuel, fighting unwinnable wars, stockpiling assault rifles—quitting these would benefit the commonweal. It's easy to think of quits for others: Quitting newspapers is unpatriotic; abandoning a pre-diabetic diet is foolish; suspending contributions to an IRA is a self-inflected wound. My wife has a dog-eared, should-quit list just for me. "Quit drinking from the milk carton" has been on it for a long time. So has "Quit eating crap." On my list are a bunch of elected officials, mostly Republican. I was elated when Jason Chaffetz choose the Sarah Palin career path. I hope Orrin Hatch takes the polls to heart and retires. I wish that Mike Noel would quit his tired polemics, that Mike Pence would quit fawning and that Trump would quit lying.

To be fair, the president's disregard for the truth is not unprecedented. Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's riveting PBS series The Vietnam War, documented the self-serving lies told by Presidents Nixon and Johnson. Trump's lying is pathological; Nixon's and Johnson's duplicity caused the deaths of thousands of people in Southeast Asia. My friends Mike Hughes and Lee Richardson were among the 361 Utahns killed in that misbegotten war. I hope Trump watched the troubling film.

I find that the older you get the more involuntary quits are thrust upon you. With old age comes an instinct to avoid the high, the slippery and the heavy. It doesn't take a doctor's advice to give up ice-skating, moving pianos and climbing a ladder, but it does take an endorsement by a doctor to get a sexagenarian's driver's license renewed. When it comes to involuntary quits, doctors might prod, but technology is ruthless. The boxes of 35mm slides, floppy discs and cassette tapes stored in my basement are proof.

A quit might be satisfying for David because it is either a remediation or a course correction. The take-away for our bombastic president is grounded in efficiency: If you always tell the truth, there is no need to quit lying.

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