[Today's daily post asked: Where were you last night when 2012 turned into 2013? Is that where you’d wanted to be?]
I didn’t notice when the figurative clock in my traditional-clock-free-home struck midnight, and I was too absorbed in writing a reflective New Year’s Eve post to see midnight return that strike with a vicious left hook. Too bad. I hear it was a great fight; clock boxing never gets old. As 2012 rolled over and conceded the title to 2013, I was at home, contentedly writing a list of all the things I’d learned this year.
Home is a basement apartment near the University of Maryland. The house was built in the 50’s, and my walls are almost all knotty pine paneling (and I’m blonde….I might as well start calling myself Betty Draper). I have a second hand table and vintage 70’s desk chair in the corner. I like to adjust the lighting so that it’s bright enough to read, but still ambient. Then I light a couple candles, turn on my illuminated globe, and immerse myself in whatever ever I’m currently reading or studying (last night I was reading Myths of the Pagan North by Christopher Abram). I can spend hours this way, stopping every now and then to brew a new cup of tea, check facebook, or look up something on wikipedia or my globe.
I suppose some people, particularly people my own age, might give me a weird look if I told them that my ideal evening, on a night traditionally marked by indulgence and care free celebration, would be to take a shower then sit at my desk reading and learning late into the night. I would probably enjoy that weird look. I usually do. I would probably get an even weirder look if I said my evening actually led me to a new found appreciation of Wagner; that I spent the night listening to the entire prelude to the Ring Cycle while reading up on the opera, its creation, and it’s connections to Tolkien’s One Ring.
Mini Cooper has this “inspirational” ad called “Not Normal” running right now. It shows you scenes of poor office people bored, a wife and husband having a boring breakfast together, a boring pair of shoes, and a boring computer programing job. Mini Cooper then shows you what “Not Normal” looks like. Not normal consists mainly of live bands with light shows, dangerous escapades by a youth that are free from the need to earn money. They don’t sit around being responsible or contemplative or commute to work. No, they embrace a life of risk and adventure in expensive clothes that we must assume are purchase courtesy of their parent funded bank account.
Maybe they are still in college, learning how to live a fun life of adventure and friends without learning that paying for life can require some “normal” hard work. I mention this ad because advertising is a great way to pinpoint a societal train of though. Advertisers are paid to tap into what people are thinking and believing, then connect those pre-existing beliefs to their product. This ad reflects a larger trend in the constantly evolving American definition of “The Individual.”
You can and should be an individual and do what you want, but your desires and wants should fall into a certain framework. Being an individual is only ok if you’re doing it the right way. Be an individual and don’t be afraid to sleep with whoever you want if that is what makes you happy, but don’t you dare be an individual by choosing to wait till marriage to have sex. Be an individual and choose your own religious path and follow it at whatever level you want, but don’t you dare be an individual by choosing Biblical Christianity and sticking to your beliefs even when it’s not socially acceptable. I could go on and on, but you get my point.
I’m suggesting that really, as much as we profess to believe in the sanctity of the individual, what we are actually chasing sounds a lot more like the opening verse of Fleet Foxes’ “Helplessness Blues;” we spend our lives chasing a new “not normal” every time the old “not normal” becomes the norm.
“I was raised up believing I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see
And now after some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me”
Maybe it’s a bit of a stretch to connect my New Years Eve with our lust for social acceptance, but then again I think there are far more connections and overlaps in this world than most of us care to admit. Why is it strange that I wanted to spend the last night of
the year reflecting and sharpening my mind for the coming year instead of partying? Why is there a social stigma against learning outside of school. I don’t think it’s strange that someone might want to have fun and celebrate. I understand completely. It’s just not my cup of tea. I find joy and infinite delight in reading and studying.
So in answer to the prompt, yes, I was exactly where I wanted to be: in my cozy study nook feeling inspired by The Ride of the Valkyries, indulging my passion for all things Norse and Medieval, and writing. I didn’t notice it was 2013 until close to 1am, and that’s ok. I’m a bigger fan of the quiet evenings in between the big moments and turning points, and there are bigger forces at work than the calendar (as we saw on the 21st). The only thing that actually marks the change from 2012 to 2013 is mankind’s impressive, but nonetheless human, attempt to define and organize time and its passage.
When you really take a look at our understanding of time, it’s quite incomplete. For instance, we don’t even know how old we are as a species. We know very little, relatively, about what happened in ancient times, and we are incapable of an exact prediction of any aspect of the future. Perhaps that is why we are so desperate to find a set of actions and attitudes to fill and direct our lives. We want to feel that we’ve conquered the time allotted to us, that we have correctly measured off the portions of our life: 25 years for youth, 5 to transition into adulthood, 20 for family, 10 for rediscovering what will really make us happy, 10 years to attempt redemption and reconciliation, and the rest of the time to reap whatever we’ve sown. We have a number picked for when we should take responsibility, a number for when we should marry, a number for when we should procreate, and a number for when we no longer have to improve ourselves. We want to be individuals leading valuable lives, but we want the directions for how to do that to be as simple and as emotionally appealing as a great television ad, the kind that makes us feel good about ourselves. We want to be individuals and lead valuable lives, but we don’t want to do it alone. We certainly don’t want to swim against the tide in order to accomplish our goals. If “not normal” will make us happy, we want to figure out exactly what “not normal” consists of and what it excludes. When we see people who are not doing the same thing, it inspires doubt in the lifestyle that we’ve decided will save us from “helplessness blues,” the post modern pointless. We don’t like that, do we. Doubt scares us, and so we condemn whatever causes the doubt that infuses our lives with that lingering fear that we are doing it wrong.
In The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic history of Middle Earth from its beginning to Bilbo’s finding of the ring, the first gift given to mortal man is the gift of death. The elves live forever, but the Creator of the world seems to view this as their burden to bear. Near the end of the book, men start to question this gift and begin a desperate attempt to escape it. It is only then that Sauron, who becomes The Dark Lord and source of evil in The Lord of the Rings, is able to win the great leaders of men to his side. He convinces them that if they follow his advice, he can help them become immortal. They turn from the good demi-gods who have been protecting them and start sacrificing other men to an Evil that the demi-gods cast from the world long before. Their land is filled with darkness, literal and figurative, and they are more unhappy and enslaved to a fear of death than they have ever been. They experience sickness and the deterioration of their bodies for the first time (before they just laid down and slept when they felt they had lived out their time and were tired of the world). But rather than blaming the evil they are pursuing they push on with their escape from mortality and it’s blessing of rest at the end of a long life.
They’ve lost all their wisdom and benevolence. Psalm 90:12 says “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” In other words, it is only by understanding how small our lives are, that we can act with wisdom and thus make the most of our time here. Does think I’ve justified my sober minded New Years’ Eve. I guess that depends on whether you’re celebrating the end of 2012 or the beginning of 2013….or whether your just minding the transition between the bite sized scoops of life we fit into each year- years that add up to a whole life that still looks so small against the great expanse of time and the God that is outside of time.
Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that having a normal New Years’ Eve is bad, let alone evil. It’s not. I’m just trying to use the significance of the new year to bring up some questions about the way we organize our lives. I can’t answer these questions, and so I haven’t tried. A good poem asks far more questions than it answers. Unfortunately, the same is not true about a good essay, but if I call myself a poet, can I get away with a misapplied standard for quality and a frustratingly inconclusive ending for an essay that didn’t really stay on point?
Oh, and Happy New Year! I hope your celebration was magical and that your year is filled with peace, joy, wisdom, love and Truth.