|Hercules Resting, Florence, late 15th century (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
I've always enjoyed New Year's Day more than New Year's Eve. It hardly seems necessary to point out why. New Year's Eve is pressure—the year is counting down, gotta get out, gotta go somewhere fun, gotta then have fun, gotta make the most of these remaining hours of indulgence and excess before the rigor of the New Year sets in and we try to become the people we believe ourselves to be.
Crowded rooms, friends and strangers, noisy, dark, smoky. Even when I was drinking I never really liked it. Especially when I was drinking.
By New Year's morning, that has changed. The light dawns. Real life returns, which is celebration aplenty. There are no demands, no appointments, no countdowns—a few New Year's Day parties, low key affairs where you may arrive when you wish or not at all. The day is cold and sunless and still, a beginning, an opening note, pregnant with promise.
"All is quiet," U2 sings, "on New Year's Day."
Indeed it is, a kind of blessed quiet, a morning stillness. Little to do, little that can be done. Doing nothing is a vastly under-rated activity. Reposing, reclining, napping, thinking. It's very hard to fuck it up, to do it wrong. Even world class revelers know that the time comes to retreat, retrench, rethink.
"And if you know what’s good for you, on days like these you sort of hunker down in a safe corner and watch," Hunter S. Thompson wrote. Wise words.
A time to reflect, to assess, to take stock.
"Blessed be God, at the end of the last year I was in very good health, without any sense of my old pain, but upon taking of cold," Samuel Pepys wrote in his famous diary on Jan. 1, 1660. "I lived in Axe Yard having my wife, and servant Jane, and no more in family than us three."
Thoughts have a way of quickly turning to the future.
"My wife … gave me hopes of her being with child, but on the last day of the year."
She wasn't, as he would discover. Then onto the nation.
"The condition of the State was thus; viz. the Rump" —perhaps the best term ever applied to a legislative body— "after being disturbed by my Lord Lambert, was lately returned to sit again. The officers of the Army all forced to yield. Lawson lies still in the river, and Monk is with his army in Scotland. Only my Lord Lambert is not yet come into the Parliament, nor is it expected that he will without being forced to it. The new Common Council of the City do speak very high..."
See how tiresome politics become? How evanescent? How meaningless to all who come after, assuming they weren't meaningless at the time. That's why I avoided year-end summations this year—we all know what happened. Anyone who doesn't know by now never will. Better to stick to yourself.
"My own private condition very handsome," wrote Pepys, a view common among 26-year-olds then and now, "and esteemed rich, but indeed very poor."
Sounds about right.
"I staid at home all the afternoon, looking over my accounts," he wrote.
That's a plan. I'm going to do that too. And continue to resist the temptation to look ahead, at least for today. We don't have to squint and attempt augury. We just have to wait and find out. Besides, who can tell? It's been such a random and strange year, of daily if not hourly shocks culminating in a deadening sameness, surprise after surprise pelting down on our sodden, blown-out senses. I wouldn't hazard a guess what will happen Jan. 2, never mind the entire year. For people who press, I say, "I think in 2018 the rubber will really hit the road." What does that even mean? I sure as hell don't know; I suppose, as real and stark as it has been, I expect it to get realer and starker.
But not today. Today the world is born anew, a fresh day, a new year. A good time to pause, to breathe deep, rest and prepare for the task ahead. Good luck. Coming home last night from our New Year's fun, I parked the car, then squeaking over the snow to the house, looked up at the crisp black sky, the stars twinkling through the -2 degree gelid air. I picked a promising star and wished, out loud, "I hope 2018 is a good year." It wasn't much of a strategy, but it will have to do, for now. Happy New Year.