I’ve never been much of an Elliot Smith fan, but I feel like I could really hang out with him today. I mean, not literally. I obviously couldn’t literally hang out with him, because he killed himself. And that’s really another post altogether.
Somehow I missed the Happy New Year train.
Happy New Year.
Today, believe it or not, I’m even almost objecting to the use of that phrase. I know I have a bit of a reputation as a contrarian already, but I’m really not sure that’s the best thing to hope for from a year. When was the last time someone wished you a Thoughtful New Year? Or how about a Peaceful New Year?
I recognize that I’m straw-manning this situation a little bit, because obviously the etymology of the “Happy New Year” construction is about the day of New Year (actually “New Year’s Day”)… the phrase is actually meant to signify “Happy New Year’s Day”. This simply puts the phrase/day in line with almost every American designation for holiday greetings, save for perhaps Christmas. And wishing someone a Thoughtful or Peaceful day is a little ridiculous, or at least would get Americans to look askance at you.
They asked me to come down and watch the parade
and to march down the street like the Duracell bunny
with a wink and a wave from the cavalcade
throwing out candy that looks like money…
It’s not that I don’t have hope for the new year of 2008, or even the new year day of 1/1/2008. See? But there’s something a little bit off right now, and it feels important to detect what that is. The TV is telling me it’s the Year of the Rat, though they note that this doesn’t get underway till February 7th. It makes me look up to the television to see tens of American girls whose lives are peaking at this moment. Their televised appearance in formal gowns and dresses, high atop flower-adorned vehicles, will be the highlight of lives specifically designed to aspire to the life of a princess. They will never be closer than today. And when you ask them along the course of the next 30 or 50 years, they will mention their marriage (until it goes sour) or the birth of their child (until they rebel), and it will probably not be till 2067 or so that they turn over in their aging recliner and whisper softly to their granddaughter that “Don’t tell your mother, but the day I was in that parade was the best day of my life. My whole future was in front of me and I could’ve been something or done something. Promise me, promise me now that you’ll do something different.” And the granddaughter, age 7 (or maybe realistically it’s a great-granddaughter, with the speed that most Rose Parade highschool queens run at) will blink and promise and have no idea what grandma is talking about and go watch a movie about princesses and sigh softly to themselves.
But today, Miss Wherever, enjoy it. I can see that the biggest thing you’re concerned about is worrying whether you’re being too ardent or too reserved in your exact waving technique. By the end of the parade, you will have resigned yourself to however you have the stamina to acknowledge the crowd, but for now the anxiety about proper waving technique is probably ruining at least half your happiness on what you will look back on as the pinnacle, the apex, the Best Day of Your Life.
The day that they told me the best way to be part of the Wheel of Fortune crowd, and maybe even get called to play on Wheel of Fortune, was to demonstrate mindless, even vapid enthusiasm during the taping of the show was a big one for my perception of the world. It came another step full-circle when Emily & I, together with some of the Garin clan, attended a taping of The Price is Right 5 years ago. Now as I listen to the commentary, I am reminded how much of the world has this mandatory vapidity check at the door. Even CNN, still wearing its “most trusted name in news” label that was accurate in the mid-90’s, has hired an army of smiling toned young people to convey the collapse of various aspects of the planet with a smile and a nod to advertisers and the incredibly insipid tactic of faking impromptu conversation between anchors. Reading informal inter-anchor dialogue off a teleprompter must be one of those truly surreal experiences for its participants.
I’d say it’s a sight that’s quite worth seeing
it’s just that everyone’s interest is stronger than mine
This post is starting to feel more like fragments of a story than any sort of nonfiction presentation of the realities of my (or other’s) life. I’m sure the story has been written already and maybe in many ways, probably often with a strange moment of seeming redemption where the person who has devoted their life to the false prophets of fame and fortune quietly accepts their role as a middle-income middle-interest middleton who can be Happy Just the Way They Are. Alternately, maybe one of them has the ending I would write, where they spend one afternoon or dark night of the soul facing everything they’ve committed to and believed in and then, just before dusk or dawn, decide to willingly (metaphorically) gouge their own eyes out with a pitchfork, and undertake a dedicated regimen of controlled-substance-consumption, or obsessive collection of Pokemon cards or beanie babies, or maybe setting a goal for themselves of sleeping with as many people as possible before they die. And then, if we’re going for maximal irony, even this wanton goal is upended by either some unexpected death or even more damningly a small but important reminder of their “real life obligations” that puts them right back where they were at the beginning of the story, spending almost the entirety of their days quieting the voices of disappointment in the back of their head.
This is the point in the narrative where I usually feel strongly impelled to write some trite reassurance to my friends and cohorts that I am not actually feeling this dark and melancholy, and that sometimes I let my mind run away with my emotions and wind up in a place that I don’t really feel. I’m going to go ahead and take a pass on that opportunity.
It’s not that I’m chronically unhappy, or even particularly unhappy at this point in my life. (Dammit, this isn’t taking a pass after all.) It’s just that being thoughtful about the human experience, especially in the happiness-obsessed nation called the United States of America, always leads me to a realization of just how short we are of the way things should be. And observing this shortness, exploring it, trying to absorb it and put it on display, this process looks very sad. It is, however, deeply hopeful in the end. One could give up, stop caring, decide that humanity/America/vapid individuals are not worth saving, and then turn away and write about something “happier”. My sadness is my hope. My anger is my clinging to this planet and its meaning. I know Elliot is sponsoring this post, but I feel like I need to shout “If you’re not angry, you’re just stupid, you don’t care” from the rooftops most days.
I wonder if Elliot Smith and Ani DiFranco ever met. They seem finely attuned to have one of those profound love-hate relationships that leads to torrid romance, incredible blowout fights, and ultimately some sort of suicide pact.
and when I traded a smoke for a food stamp dollar
a ridiculous marching band started playing
and got me singing along with some half-hearted victory song
I’m working on longer pieces (outside the bounds of this blog) about the nature of rite and ritual and how our personal desire to fill our lives with such lead to us slowly carving meaning out of our lives with a spoon. Today, I think my take-home message about New Year’s is about the problems with its rituals and traditions. The entire point of a New Year is to embrace the new, the unexpected, that which we can change. And yet what defines 12/31 and 1/1 for people? Doing the same thing over and over again. The same toasts, watching the same shows. Followed by the same morning and the same (you guessed it) Rose Parade.
I was personally soaring at the idea that our TV somehow couldn’t get Dick Clark’s special last night, given that it’s both (A) a three-hour-old broadcast appearing on tape and (B) the exact same thing every single year, for years on end. All of these traditions proudly talk about being the 94th Rose Bowl or the 119th Rose Parade or Dick Clark’s 35th New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. How can it be reassuring to do the exact same thing every year to embrace a brand new year of opportunity and possibility? Why not make it a tradition to do something you’ve never done every single year?
Emily and I got into a bit of a fight about how overt I was in my opposition to watching an East-Coast broadcast. But really, I can think of very few relatively trivial things that get me so profoundly angry as West-Coasters starting their new year by watching a three-hour-old taped film of what happened in New York City. I mean, blind-rage, literally-seeing-the-things-in-front-of-me-with-a-tinge-of-red-that-must-be-some-sort-of-squeezed-blood-entering-my-eyeballs angry. The entire point of observing a new moment, a turning over, a changing, and actually seeing something that happened far away, three hours ago, and is not really happening now (or even close to now) and this being the seminal moment of change and turning. I feel my soul frothing at the mouth just thinking about it.
And yes, I hear you. The New Year moment itself is no more meaningful, really, than any other second. After all, in my very last post I decried New Year’s Resolutions as getting in the way of valuable and important change 98.08% of the time. But symbols and metaphors and emblems are important and do have a certain weight or value. After all, this whole planet, really, is just an exercise in metaphor. And so that moment of crossover, of turning, is an important reminder that we’re living a complicated life with an open future and that we have an incredible amount of control over the future that we create for ourselves.
There are still hours left in your New Year’s Day. Go do something different. Don’t start a new tradition, but do something important you’ve never done on a New Year’s Day. Embrace the open future symbolized by the four numbers 2, 0, 0, 8.
Thoughtful New Year.