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Seeing Red and Jade | 2011 | Encoding Kairos

01.01.11 9:16 p.m.

New Year's eve is like every other night; there is no pause in the march of the universe, no breathless moment of silence among created things that the passage of another twelve months may be noted; and yet no man has quite the same thoughts this evening that come with the coming of darkness on other nights.  

-Hamilton Wright Mabie


The Microcosm of One Night

One can ring in the new year alone and very likely keep the suicide hotline busy until dawn. There is nothing inherently wrong with not celebrating with dozens of soused strangers or associates one does not care to see the rest of the year - having one's only company be Dick Clark in Times Square could be preferable - but there is a cultural superstition to uphold. The only time we as a civilization are permitted to impose our irrational beliefs in toto is when we are using this collective implication to make someone feel as though watching television alone on this one night insures a year of pathetic loneliness. As such, one will give in to one of the other options for one's evening, even if one goes to one's parents' and kisses the dog at midnight.

Some go to night clubs, to be surrounded by strangers. If one is even a faintly attractive, unaccompanied (or not explicitly and constantly accompanied) woman, one spends the night fending off dime store lotharios who are intent on making someone their first kiss of the new year. One gets increasing drunk, perhaps hoping that the Universe will mistake them for someone less coordinated and not visit curses on their doorstep, until the ball drops. Then, depending on one's social situation, one gets even drunker to wipe the taste of ashy first kiss out of one's mouth or erase the sting of everyone else getting sloppy snoggings. On the plus side, these gatherings are so chaotic that, even if one had shown up with a date, one won't be noticed ducking out early, whether to return home for a well-deserved rest at 12:01 or to rut about in a coatroom with a man named Joe. (Or was it Josh? John? Fred?)

The option most people take is a friend's party, entering the next chronologically dictated chapter of life with those people who are most important. However, outside of sitcoms, it is nigh impossible to get those people into the same room. This is to say nothing of the fact that said people do not to have bonds with one another, so they would have to have an almost completely different room full of friends, who would themselves necessitate exponentially more people.

This scenario results in people telling more and more extravagant lies about their feats of derring-do to anyone unfortunate enough to be in the same zipcode. One can hear it in their voices, the half-octave rise, the nervous waver as lie after lie is stacked precariously higher. The boaster has to hope that the listeners are unaware of basic science and logic or are simple too polite (or sober) to scar the party by calling the bluffs. Their resolutions - if I may be permitted to dictate those to near strangers - ought to be to have confidence in their own abilities (or, less kindly, to not steal away the focus of conversations because they are attention-starved). Perhaps this is a flaw in all parties, but the closing of a year causes an irritation of their glands and they need to punish the world for allowing them to be other than superheroes, for being disappointments or strangers where they want to be friends. Were I to make a resolution, it might be feel the compassion for their neuroses that I try to outwardly display out of basic tactfulness, despite feeling my time in proximity to a friend wasted by their verbal flailing. At a club, these lies would be shouted over terrible music and background noise louder than a jet engine to tipsy women who might be in need of first kisses by herculean strangers, but those people do not exist at smaller parties. No one will be kissing them. So the point is simple that of a pouting child at someone else's birthday: "Why isn't everyone paying attention to me?!"

I have been in a place in my life where all that mattered in my life was not being alone on this one night, of speaking whatever incantations, of making whatever social sacrifices were necessary to get that kiss at when the countdown hits zero. I did not want to transition into the coming year in pain, feeling the sucking wound for a moment longer than I had to. I am not without sympathy for what people endure on these coldest nights, having been in their shoes. I have been in a place where simple not being alone was all that I thought mattered.

The aftertaste of New Year's Eve parties bothers me for the same reason I am not much for New Year's resolutions. It is not that I don't see room for improvement (far from) but that I make movements toward positive change when seems expedient. No use dusting off a stepper only because we are on a new calendar page and certainty no point in applying societal pressure to personal goals. After all, society also conditions that most will whiff their resolutions by January 3rd, at which point one is to abandon them utterly and feel guilty as one devours a box of Christmas chocolates.

It is a new day, new month, new year, but it isn't a new you. You are the same person that was here yesterday, dealing with the same problems that cannot be dispatched in one tearing off of the calendar page. Solutions come incrementally, however much the sliding into magical thinking seems permissible when the grass lies under a foot of snow. This day is another step on the path, but it isn't an end in itself. If you kissed someone at midnight matters only to the extent that kissing a loved one is a nice thing to do. Kissing a stranger because that is what someone told you is done harbingers an unhappy year not for any supernatural reason, but because someone is discontent enough to put one's lips on the line for a fallacy. But that is what we are taught to do, to push ourselves out to spend this night other than alone, in hopes that we spend the rest of the nights of the year anything other than alone, to force the macrocosm by the microcosm of one night.

Soon in Xenology: Maybe a job, linguistics.

last watched: The Maxx
reading: Last Chance to See
listening: The Killers

Seeing Red and Jade | 2011 | Encoding Kairos

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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