On the last day of a calendar year, it is commonplace for folks to take stock of their lives and resolve to do things differently in the coming year.

Yeah, right.

Don’t get me wrong. Aspirations are astounding. Goals are great. Resolutions are really, really remarkable.

But in my case this year, I need only look to my holiday presents to see what paths I have been treading. For it is my loved ones, you see, who took stock of me for me—and wrapped it up in bows.

On this last Change of Venue Friday of the year, let me tell you about three of those gifts.

The first came from our older daughter, Willa. She got me the book “The Best of Roald Dahl.”

I love Dahl, and a collection of his seriously askew tales is a great gift. But Dahl is not known for having been a fabulously cheery individual. And his stories tend to share the darker side of the human experience.

The cover squib trumpeted the fact that the author’s work was famously “nasty and wicked.” The first story I read featured a female main character who, by the fourth page, had killed her husband. By hitting him. In the head. With a piece of meat. Specifically, a frozen leg of lamb.

Put that in the category of “things that make me go hmmm.”

Next was a charming gift from our younger daughter, Thea. It appeared to be a beautiful pen, something I could use every day.

On closer inspection I could see a black ribbed crown. Pushing it caused the pen to vibrate.

A wondrous massage pen, the package announced. The perfect gift for those filled with stress.

So now I could write stories filled with Sturm und Drang, and then use my pen to obliterate it.

Hmmm, I thought. Nasty and wicked. Stress-filled. What could be next?

The last exhibit of evidence is a book I was given by our good friends. This last may be enough to convince the jury that my ways need mending.

The gift was a book by David Rakoff titled “Half Empty.” Rakoff “defends the commensensical notion that you should always assume the worst, because you’ll never be disappointed.” The book is his attempt to address the fact that “There seem[s] no longer to be any room in the discourse for anything but the sunniest outlook.”

In the first story, titled “The Bleak Shall Inherit,” Rakoff taps “deeply into the churlish vein,” concluding that “as best as I can determine, the universe cares not one jot for you or me.”

Rakoff acknowledges that “in the pessimist’s view of reality, there is often little difference between ‘worst possible outcome’ and ‘outcome.’”

Well, happy holidays to you, too.

Of course, friends and family know me well.  I am consuming the books and using the pen—both to shake the world with my thoughts and to massage my forehead.

But after all the gift-giving, I was glad all over again that my wife and I decided long ago not to exchange Christmas gifts. I had had enough with the peering into my heart of darkness, and I was not eager to have someone who knows the trail so well start spelunking in there. We’ll leave deeper excavation for 2011.

Have a great weekend.