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This is the dead time of year, the days when nothing counts. The time between Christmas and New Years is a gap in the story, a pause in the music, a space between and inhale and exhale. It is not yet time to start anything new and it is too late to finish anything you did not finish already. Everything’s done; everything’s settled; everything’s filed. It’s terrible; it’s a huge relief. No one is going to notice you now if they haven’t noticed you already; might as well stay home, might as well do nothing, might as well stay out later, might as well buy that thing, have that drink, make that choice, or do nothing and refuse all of it. It is a time to text people you shouldn’t text and ignore texts you should return. It is a time to talk to no one. It is the photo-negative print that the loaded obligations and expectations of the holidays leave behind in their wake. Nothing is owed, and everything is finished. Try again next year. December 26th to January 1st is the least impressive moment of the whole calendar year and it is also, to me, the single holiest holiday there is.
This is the only time of year that’s really about forgiveness, whatever the Christian calendar and the onslaught of new green growth in spring claims. Forgiveness is sleeping in, forgiveness is getting up slowly, forgiveness is staying indoors, or forgiveness is going outdoors and talking to no one. Forgiveness is slow, and patient, and unspectacular. It does not fit, logistically or energetically, with the building blocks of work and achievement, with the ruthless pursuit of an unbroken momentum that colors the jaw-dropping lists of personal accomplishments that so many people are sweeping onto the internet right now.
Right now I am very sad, if I’m honest: I didn’t do much this year but write this newsletter and go to the gym and not drink and love some people halfway decently and others not as well as I would have liked to. I did not do anything exciting and I also did not save as much money as I intended to save by trimming out those exciting things. I once again did not finish or sell a book; I got off twitter for a while but only because I spent most of the year wrestling with the feeling that all of this had been a mistake and that I should quit writing and go do something else with my life, and the perhaps-worse feeling that it was too late to even do that, too late, even, to successfully give up.
I could pull together a sunlight-shot photoset from marches and church Sundays and dinner parties and anniversaries and cats and lazy weekends and kisses and birthdays and tell it as a bright story, but the truth is that each of those things felt like something in which I was reaching for the experience, grasping it at it and then missing the mark and falling away. Whenever I loved someone or met someone new whom I wanted to bring into my life, I felt like I was disappointing them, saying the wrong thing and stepping in the wrong spots in an invisible dance diagram. I felt that my awkwardness, the uncool, not-fun-at-parties person I was for many years, whom I believed myself to have vanquished, had mysteriously returned. I felt like a bad friend and like a person who had lost most of their friendships; I felt like a lot of things had been lost by some negligence of my own that I had been too thoughtless, too distracted, too disorganized, to even notice had occurred.
It was not even a particularly bad year; everything was fine, really. There is no thundering disaster to offer a giddy, sprawling sense of burning it all down and starting again. In the past, I have felt nauseously energized at the end of extraordinarily bad years, as though all the year’s horror had fired me out of a canon and briefly it seemed like I could fly. The days that just kind of pass, that are just ok, that are not disasters but also do not get better and do not climb upwards, where the same problems simply persist at a low level, are a different thing, a sleepy monster that is somehow much harder to fight than the one roaring up spitting fire and thirsty for blood. It is awful how possible it is do nothing, how easy it is to simply never quite be happy.
It is difficult forgive oneself for failures as subtle as this. The frantic aggrandizing mood at this seam in the year can feel like it runs counter to forgiveness, and so can the next day’s arbitrary to commitment to out-loud goals, as though we were never at any other time allowed to resolve to change our lives, as though this were our only chance. But the real holiday already happened, or is happening, extending across the 31st and the 1st, across the imaginary gap between years, between calendar numbers, stretching out lazy as a cat. Capitalism would have us believe that life divides into work and vacation right up until death, and that there is nothing else: work, and when you should be working. Work, and what rewards you can earn from having done enough work. Work, and getting away with something. But it is possible that this strange time, between the holidays and the new year, is something else, is neither work nor The Holidays, obligated in neither direction, towards oneself or away from oneself. It is possible that this is the only blank time of year and that blankness is the place where forgiveness starts, or at least where it becomes most possible, holding space, doing nothing, receiving no accolades, returning no emails.
To be clear, plenty of people go to work at this time. It would be wonderful if this liminal time were actually honored as a legal holiday and all commerce and government and infrastructure and tourism shut down and not a single person went to work, but we do not live in that ideal world. Far more people are at work than are staying home. But the unguarded porousness in these days seeps into offices and shifts and jobs, too. Ten in the morning and two in the afternoon and eleven at night all still feel exactly the same. It still seems like it might be possible to do something very large and very reckless and have no one notice or care. The identity-less sense of being unseen and out of step with time has applied in my experience even at the times when I went into work every day between Christmas and New Years. The lost space at the end of the year, the gap in the dance, the pause between sentences, does not change or lift according to circumstance; it is the circumstance itself. Like the holidays and all their expectations, it exists no matter where we find ourselves when it arrives, and it acts on us in whatever state it finds us. Only our reactions to it change.
This non-event holiday is, I believe, what we really mean when we say that the city empties out at the holidays. Nothing-time just starts earlier, maybe, for those of us who stay in a place like New York over December 25th. It is less about the clearing-out of physical space, although it does mean that too, how the lack of rushing bodies slows the mind and the blood pressure. The emptying out is part of this sense of uselessness, that this time is useless and people are therefore permitted to be useless within it. This softness, this forgiving uselessness is perhaps why nothing really changes the fact nor the feeling of the city emptying out this time of year. New York, despite its best efforts, cannot so wholly undo itself that the days when the city empties at the bottom of the year do not still feel like themselves. Of course, it happens in every other place that isn’t New York, too. The emptying out that those of us who live here and want to act like we know some kind of secrets talk about is not specific to the city at all; our lives empty out at this time of year, the streets picked clean with tumbleweed blowing through them, traffic dispersed and buildings shut up into closed-eyed windows, every chance already missed, every decision already made, every verb in the future or the past tense and nothing in the present.
A decade is as arbitrary a measure of time as a year; today is no more despairing or prideful than any other day, nor is tomorrow more hopeful. There is no reason for the days at the end of the year to be blanker, nor for the ones at the beginning to be cleaner. These things are invented for our own comfort, out of our rioting need to make our own experiences legible, to locate something large enough that we might let ourselves go limp in its grasp. In this way, the calendar is just another religious fabrication, and so are all the holidays and renewals, anniversaries and self-congratulations, taking-stocks and successes and failures, losses and accumulations, within it. Even these dead days at the end of the year are an invention, merely a fiction more widely agreed-upon than most. Today feels like Sunday but it is not Sunday. Nothing is coming for us tomorrow, neither to destroy us nor to save us. No new year is new, even one that changes more of its numbers than usual.
But still we all want to believe our lives are going to change. We are reeling out into a future that is already here, hoping we can propel ourselves into a new universe, fearful, nauseated, trying. But I would stop and hold the softness of this liminal nowhere time, and try to forgive both success and failures, to forgive ourselves for wanting to believe that the movement of a clock could change us, and a new set of numbers could render us new. I try again as night rushes in for the last time this decade, to forgive myself for wanting to believe in the religion of an early enough morning, and in the currency of a long enough list of good deeds.
Maybe wasted time is a failure, but failures can be a softness, a relief like an empty city after the holidays. This is a time to sit uncomfortably with who we are when we have nothing to show for ourselves, and how we might still be loved. Forgiveness turns us toward our soft and couch-bound bodies, our fleshy and stupid wants. There are a few more hours left to cleave from the calendar and the clocks and fall into the useless indoor wasted-time softness of love. In love we render one another invisible. Imagine the year means nothing; imagine the decade will not matter. Imagine the part of love that is the other person’s body convincing you to sleep in on a morning at the dead time right before the end of the year.
happy new year, griefbacon is ending but there are two or three more coming before that. love to all of you at this arbitrary progression of one day into another. xo