the lemon space
everything I can't have is a party
This is the fallow time, the weird excess fabric of days stretching over from the holidays to the new year. When we were young and stupid and always either drunk or hungover, John and Evan and I would start talking about this time of year in August or something, making big plans. We were always far more excited for it than for any of the holidays. The way we talked about it was similar to the posts people make now about not knowing what day it is, about being at work but doing as little work as possible, about how ridiculous it is for anybody to try to get anything done or expect an email response before the first Monday in January. The stretch of days between Christmas and New Years was a wild west town with no sheriff. It was a time to lose track of time, throwing parties and making no plans, eating leftover candy and weird cheese out of the fridge, drinking whatever was in front of us, hair unruly and texts unanswered, no rules and no short-term memory.
In those days, we would always make a big deal about how we were going to have so many parties, just one huge party across six low-slung days at the bottom of the year, when no one was looking and nothing was expected and therefore anything could happen. This was the time for it, available and empty, stuck in the end of the calendar like an abandoned building.
Like many people do right now, I talk a lot about how much I miss parties. I know that they are still going on, but the point is not that there are not parties, but that parties mean something different now. Even if things get better— the memes that say “me and the girls when we get the vaccine,” a joke but only a joke because the hope is too heartbreakingly sincere to look directly at it—parties will likely not feel the same, at least not for a long time. Even if there is a way in which parties are better, which of course they will be, all that desperation and gratitude rushing into a crowded room, every single stupid thing for a few months the best thing ever, still they won’t feel the way they did before. Whatever parties were in the past is already over. When I say I miss parties, this is a small and bearable piece standing in for the whole, something light and funny and easy in place of a bigger and more consequential grief that I cannot put into words or hold in my hands.
I miss parties a lot. I miss other people’s kitchens, and cabs across bridges, and the specific kind of loose acquaintance I would be overjoyed to see in a crowd at bar or a bookstore or somebody else’s house but absolutely would never call on the phone or arrange a Zoom hang with or text to check if they’re ok. I miss friendships that had nothing to do with crisis. I miss crowded rooms and I miss loving people without worrying about them. I miss irresponsibility and frivolity and laughing too loudly and going outside in the cold without a coat for ten minutes because the room had gotten too warm, going outside with one friend because “I have something to tell you but I can’t say it inside.” I miss revelations that were about gossip instead of death. I miss caring about stupid shit; who was talking to whom, who was looking at me, whether I had embarrassed myself. I miss embarrassing myself. I miss my friends’s houses, and the conversations you have in corners where somebody starts a sentence with “listen,” but they’re drunk and how serious they are is already obviously a joke and everybody is in on it including them. I miss jokes that weren’t bleak. I miss going even a whole five minutes without feeling guilty about anything. I miss loving things—people, an evening, a room, this stupid city— for bad reasons, because they were pretty or because they made me feel like I was. I miss feeling like I was in the movie when the movie was just some bullshit about parties, and not about the apocalypse at all. I miss my friends coming over and lying down on my floor and talking about shit that just abundantly did not matter at all. I miss seeing friends and not immediately knowing exactly what we are going to talk about, not being able to map every conversation before it happens, the mandated rehearsal of horrors, the obvious topics, because what else would we say.
We never really threw those parties, back then, in the days between Christmas and New Years. It’s not that there weren’t ever any parties at all, but we certainly talked about them more than we ever threw them. We would have maybe one party and often the party was on New Years, which obviously doesn’t count and was almost always terrible because New Years parties always are, reeking of the kind of desperate hope that combines yearning for love to save you and knowing the subway is too miserable to even try to go home before tomorrow morning. The days weren’t as fallow, or as full of potential, as we pretended they were; lots of us, like most people, still had to go to jobs or still had work to do or were stuck far away with family obligations. There was a fantasy of being free of ambition and records, free of goals and evaluations, but the week passed in a blur and nothing came of it. Nothing time feels like nothing, is the big secret. The kind of parties you dream up rarely happen when you want them to; things rarely go perfectly when you plan for them. The long-armed luxury of how we imagined this lost-weekend run of days was almost never a reality. We would talk about it all year and then, usually, miss it, and only notice it when, like right now as the day crashes toward the afternoon and then the New Year, it was already over.
But the magic of it was the hope, was the idea that for a few days late in the year, we got something extra. It was the idea that there was something unclaimed, lying coiled at the bottom of the year, a small still-wrapped gift way down at the bottom of the bag. The joy of the parties was planning them, was talking about them. It was taking a breath before the next thing. It was being briefly invisible. Whether we did nothing, or threw seventeen parties, nobody would notice either way, and neither one would matter and that fact was, in itself, a party.
The idea of a new year is a con, a false and flimsy hope. As much as we talk about 2020 being over with the finality of slamming a bag of trash down on the curb, everybody knows that nothing is going to suddenly change tomorrow. Posts about this piece-of-shit year ending and a new one beginning don’t really seem to believe their own propaganda anymore. I think we all know that January 1st will be a continuance, more of the same churn in which we have been caught for months, at once standing in place and running as fast as we can.
But still there has to be a language to talk about the enormity of what has occurred, of the swampy and exhausting hell we have all—if we’re very lucky—lived through in this interminably slow and science-fiction fast collection of months. Being able to hold 2020 in my mind as a singular entity renders it bearable. It makes it small enough to hate, shrinks it down to the human size of a movie villain. This January is part of the same relentless ongoing as last March, and April, the ripe and anxious height of the summer, and the resigned slide back from the bright days of fall into the skeleton branches of winter. None of it is separate. But naming it and sectioning it off is the way we have available to understand our lives; these are the languages we are afforded. My life does not actually split into the meaning of years— 2014 a good one, 2011 a terrible one, 2018 and 2019 sort of ok, 2020 the great villain of history—but insofar as I have a convenient means of sharing my experiences and making them comprehensible, it does. 2020 means nothing on its own, but it is likely that all my life, people I meet will ask me what I was doing in 2020, what happened to me and how did I survive. 2020 as concept and shorthand will become a code, an understanding, a way to say “I was there, too.”
Nothing will change tomorrow morning, and much of 2021 will be exactly the same as 2020 has been. Whatever I am going through right now, I will still be going through twenty-four hours from now. Things sometimes do fall from the sky and change our lives in the instant, for good or bad or simply for strange, but they rarely if ever do so on the designated turning days of the year, and almost never when we are waiting for them. Change hates the calendar and loves a prank. It comes up out of nowhere and pushes us off of the road, overturning the car onto the shoulder. It upends the game board instead of playing its turn. Change is never a year, and neither is sorrow, or loss, or triumph, or love, or the end of the world. The thresholds don’t usually feel like thresholds. They don’t come with a run of empty days ripe for parties. But it doesn’t matter; this time of year feels like the threshold all the same. The change in the year is a way of talking to one another, an understood fiction agreed upon as a convenience, as a means of making a cruelly individuated set of experiences translatable, something that can be shared.
Micah calls this time of year a liminal space. I think about how when one of our cats sits in threshold of the doorway, plants herself down on the floor and makes a little breadloaf shape spanning one room to the other, Thomas and I say she’s guarding the liminal space. We say this in the stupid little voice we use for our cats, and then we pretend she can’t say “liminal”— you know, because she’s a cat— so we say she’s guarding “the lemon space.” Here we are in the lemon space, the little breath between the imaginary end of one thing and the imaginary beginning of another, between losses and hope, between reality and fantasy, between the past tense and the future tense, between one day and another day very much like it, between nothing and nothing. Liminal spaces are spaces of magic and danger and possibility, and spaces of nothing at all. They are spaces for parties, and for the idea of parties, and for talking about all the parties you’re going to have and then not having those parties, caught up in reality and weather and relationships, arguments and blankets and television and laziness and phone calls and work and inertia.
Maybe the party that I miss is just the belief in a threshold, which is itself the kind of hope that has lately been hard to find. Liminal spaces cannot be inhabited. We push ourselves or are pushed through to the next active thing, propelled by loss or desire, by pride and need, climbing up the ladder into the story. Maybe I want to linger here, where nothing achieves anything, where nothing links up, where nothing leads to the next thing. Maybe I want to spin my wheels, a lost day like a hangover, a doorway like the kitchen at a house party, where everyone gathers and nobody accomplishes anything, bunching up in a small space to gossip and bother each other and take off our sweaters in the overheated room, sitting on counters, knocking over somebody else’s salt and olive oil. Maybe this is the party I miss the most, the empty end of the year without a desperation to get out the other side of it, the unmarked time and the useless paragraphs, something left over, time to waste. What we want from things versus what we think we want are rarely the same. Sometimes what I want from a party is the uselessness, how it has no point beyond itself. The spaces on each side of the doorway are narrative; they are goals, plotlines, successes and failures. The space in the doorway is a party and a party is sometimes a long day of doing nothing at all, without preparations, without resolutions, blank as the light through a door.
happy new year, or whatever it is, and thanks so much for reading. if you’ve enjoyed this, and want to read more, I’d love it if you subscribed, and would love it if you wanted to recommend this newsletter to a friend. you can also always buy a gift subscription for someone else, which I think is a wonderful way to help start the new year. this post is free for everybody to read, but starting next week, a little over half of the content here, including the archives, will become paid-subscriber only, so now is a great time to subscribe to get all of these essays (posts? emails?) going forward. we’re going to have a lot of fun and get real weird, and I hope you’ll come along. next month I’ll be writing about the idea of change, and hibernation and transformation, and resolution, and remaking, and all those january feelings, but there will also be stuff about indoor clothes and conversation pits and old movies and neighborhoods and apartments and probably-not-at-all timely music reviews and also something about how most of what I did in 2020 was read three (3) books about thomas cromwell. I hope you’ll join me. as always, if you want to subscribe but can’t afford it, just email me (also if you emailed me about this previously and I missed it, please don’t hesitate to email me again and remind me). warmest indoors new years wishes. xo