Notes on a New Year
At the dawn of 2020, I wrote a hopeful essay about the new year. I resolved to stop catastrophizing. What can go right?, I asked. The icing on that shit cake is the banner photo — Things will be fine, it says, scrawled in pink neon. Clearly, clairvoyance is not my thing.
As everyone knows, 2020 was bad. Bonkers bad. Last year kicked us around in ways so surprising and creative that you almost have to be impressed. Wow, 2020, hats off. We didn’t see that coming. Which is saying a lot, considering that each of the last four years presented a list of whiplash surprises, a fresh WTF with each new day.
It can’t get crazier, we said. It can’t get worse. It did. It always did. There was no bottom. We’re still looking for the bottom. The grim numbers rise, the sadness so thick it threatens to asphyxiate us. And beyond the pandemic, if we can even see that far anymore, the same old crises are burning out of control. Unaddressed climate change. Unchecked corruption in the halls of power. Systemic racism. Economic collapse. Catastrophizing, indeed.
The ugly won’t dissipate now, just because we turn a page on the calendar. It will get worse, they say. There is a hard winter ahead. It’s two months since the election and my neighbors still have the Trump sign in their yard, squatting defiantly beneath a limp flag. I see it from my kitchen as I pour my morning coffee, a big red middle finger in the snow. Every morning.
I have a bad relationship with new years, in general, and New Year’s resolutions, specifically. It’s never gone well for many reasons (some of which are embroidered with ancient romance, but that’s a different essay). I tend to approach the whole affair with trepidation, absolving me of the New Year, New You trope.
This year, however — because it’s THIS YEAR and we’re stumbling in with wounds and lots of baggage — we’ll need a better attitude. We’ll need to work to see the forest and the trees, to embrace ugly reality and the whiff of promise, all at once. It will suck, inevitably, but sometimes it won’t. A new year is just a string of tomorrows, stretching out into the distance. Today is here — we just need to carry on.
Is this hope?
Here’s what we’re going to do: We’re going to be very quiet, and very good. We’re going to be kind and patient, with ourselves and others. We’re going to eat oats and all our veggies, we’ll take slow, reverent walks, with cups of warm things making us nicer. We’re going to watch the cycles of the moon and notice the things that grow in spite of us. We’ll make more bread and keep writing letters. Our kitchens will be clean enough and our clothes will be comfortable. We will use our inside voices and get plenty of rest. We’ll practice gratitude and say generous things, if only in our heads, maybe even about the neighbors. We will seek silver linings and make lemonade. So many lemons!
Happy is a lot to ask for right now, so here’s to a safe, sane, quiet 2021 for you all. Hopefully, someone planted a happy seed somewhere, somehow, and it will grow slowly and by summer we will all be weeping a few joy tears for a change. I have no idea where any of this is coming from, because I feel low, slow, and a little mean here in the darkest days of the darkness. But maybe if we all just shut up and do a little quiet good, we’ll get there. Wear a mask, wash your hands, clean your kitchen. We’ll talk soon.