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Reflections of a new year


January 03, 2018

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I was reading an article recently about the 1990s being the best decade in history. The argument was a sound one, although I needed no convincing. I was a child and teenager of the 90s, and it all seems pretty great to me in retrospect. I have particularly fond memories of New Year’s celebrations during that decade, when my parents would allow me to invite over whoever I wanted.

 

We leafed through Delia’s catalogues, played original Nintendo, and rented a lot of Stephen King from Blockbuster. We bounced off of the walls after eating boxes of NERDS or tubes of chocolate chip cookie dough. It was easy to stay up late, and easy to sleep in.

 

As I got older, we were even left alone to do what we wanted. Which was — rebels that we were — go to Kroger and buy hair dye and hope no one got in trouble with their parents for coming home a redhead or with a bright green shock. We had sparklers and grape juice in plastic flutes, and, of course, we watched the ball drop.

 

In the 1990s, New Year’s Eve was a celebration of the past 12 months and an excited anticipation of the next 12, but these past few years have felt more like attempts at burial, and looking forward into a blizzard. The year 2017 has brought with it a lot of fear, grief and discord. It has been inconvenient, tiresome, lonely, cacophonous and too quiet.

 

As is true for most adults, the actual celebration surrounding the new year has faded into a tired trust fall as I have gotten older: primarily, I reflect upon all of the road blocks I encountered in the previous year, and hope that the next will yield less death, more tenderness, and, if I am feeling particularly optimistic, perhaps financial gains, increased self-esteem and stronger friendships.

 

The years have also begun to feel predictable, each a sloppy collection of pretty typical human experiences, the lines between which blur and wobble. Someone gets sick at the end of one year and stays sick the next year and dies in the middle of the next. Someone is engaged in one season and married the next, divorced the next. People announce their pregnancies in summer and give birth in spring. The most significant experiences transcend the tidy package of a calendar year.

 

In retrospect, there are some new year’s eves that do feel like true celebrations: in 2006, I was at an oyster bar in Brooklyn, where strangers kissed at midnight, and there was lipstick on the teeth of more women than is reasonable.

 

In 2007, my partner and I were so sick with head colds that we watched a marathon of the “L Word” from the bed, took NyQuil, and fell asleep by 8 p.m.

 

In 2010, in the Colorado mountains, I walked outside in my bathrobe, warm from scotch, to watch the farm community set off bright, loud fireworks for the children, who clung to the adults’ legs and clapped from time to time, when they forgot to be afraid.

 

These scenes play like motion pictures now, and while those years weren’t perfect — the people who were with me in each of those examples were not with me the next year, I drank too much, I was broke — there is a complicated joy within them. The context around them becomes clearer the further from them I get: not just the moment but what surrounded and led up to it. Those times in my life bleed out of each scene, take shape like a napkin absorbing water. It’s got nothing to do with years, but with stages.

 

The mistake is in believing that New Year’s Eve celebrations are most significant in the present. The point is not the precipice between one year and the next, but to create a kind of mile marker to be gazed back upon in the future. I may not feel particularly celebratory on December 31, 2017, but 10 years from now, nostalgia will showcase a more honest truth: grief, fear and depression mute their surrounds, but do not erase them. There was great joy in me in 2017, and it will grow more evident in reflection. 


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