So long, suckers, it’s been nice knowing ya. I’m moving up in the world. On my way to where the air is sweet. New year, new Nick. Things are gonna be a whole lot different from here on in.
This past week I’ve hauled my accumulated crap up a narrow steep flight of stairs from the first floor of the ramshackle, creaking old pile of rubble I’ve haunted for more than half my adult life, to the second floor. I’ve started to feel a bit like a ramshackle creaking pile of rubble myself lately, especially after the battering effects of the last year or four. It’s strange moving so close- no need for moving vans, just one cardboard box, emptied and reused over and over. Neighbours, to whom of course I’ve never spoken, give me a wide berth as I pass, buried deep within a mountainous armful of socks, wary of an Argyle avalanche. The move coincides with the new year and my birthday, and feels like a new start– a new apartment, fresh paint, a new outlook. But I know that before long, the place will fill up with me– my things, my thoughts– the same way the new year, brimming with hope and possibilities, is soon infected by old habits and obstacles.
It’s traditional in our society to use January 1st as some kind of rebirth. A chance to reset the clock, and finally make the changes in our lives that we somehow didn’t get around to every year before this. And this year in particular, the prospect of starting fresh seems particularly attractive, 2020 being as it was, somewhat of a bummer. It’s tempting to delude ourselves that the recent horrors, and the four-year ferment leading up to it, can be crushed under the dropping ball, and that the prejudice and inequality dyed into the wool of our society, outrageous to any mildly sensitive spirit, are going to evaporate once the clock ticks over and the lunatic leaves office. Call me a negative grumpy old bastard, but I’m not sure it works like that.
There’s nothing wrong with marking time by an arbitrary calendar system, breaking our lives down into seemingly manageable blocks. It’s a neat way of pretending to be organised and gives proceedings a veneer of order; plus without it, the weekend seems like it’ll never come. The world already tells us how to manage our lives– wake when it’s light, sleep when it’s dark, eat when you’re hungry, drink all the time; act according to the changes in season. But we humans know better– we like to think we’re running things, imposing our puny order on a chaotic universe, determinedly combing our hair in a hurricane.
But as I look at the blank pages of my 2021 diary, and contemplate many more months free of appointments and obligations, it seems like an opportunity to wean myself off the scheduled security blanket. If I was to contradict myself absolutely, I could make a New Years resolution to embrace the chaos and meaninglessness, and let the days and nights pass as they will.
I say this, but in a few minutes I will probably have clicked over to my preferred social medium where I volunteer for a daily dose of soul erosion, to be reminded what I was doing on this day last year, five years ago, or during the Renaissance; I’ll pour my first drink at what I understand to be an appropriate time, berating myself for not working enough hours on this particular calendar day. They’re hard habits to break, and living outside these societal norms produces its own problems – making a barber’s appointment for “dusk” or knowing how long to watch 60 Minutes for.
Days here in New Jersey are sunny and icy and dark comes early; I take my daily walk around the park whenever I get the urge. This week the sidewalks will be crowded with resolute joggers- next week less so. By February the old intrepid crew will have it to ourselves once again– bundled-up tortoises averting our eyes as we pass one another. Routine is reassuring, and changes don’t seem to happen when we want them to. I like to jolt myself out of my daily torpor by surprising my stomach with a fiery bowl of Pho for breakfast, or taking a surprise nap in the afternoon.
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