Happy New Mirrors!
Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
I’ve long loved New Years. It may be my favorite holiday.
I’m not much of a drinker, and rarely up past 11:00 by choice. I am, though, a sucker for fresh starts, for rebooting. It’s why I actually prefer Monday to any other day of the week.
I know – it’s like a sickness, right?
I don’t make New Year’s resolutions anymore. I’m convinced most important changes are evolutionary, torturously slow and staggering as we claw incrementally forward. It’s not that I expect much to be so very different in the next calendar year... I suppose it’s more of a symbolic thing – this idea of perpetual re-creation.
It’s why we celebrate spring, yes? And birthdays? Part of the meaning non-believers bring to Christmas, so they can still have lights and presents without feeling they’ve completely sold out?
I think, too, that there’s an inherent human love of rebirthing the familiar, rather than seeking the completely foreign, the truly unknown. Sometimes we want to be entirely different people, but mostly we just want to be better versions of ourselves.
It’s why we like to tell the same stories again and again, varying them over time - revealing as much about a changing us as about events themselves. It’s why a good cover of a familiar song can make it alive in a whole new way, while the original improves through the contrast. It’s why we respond to familiar characters, lines, or plot tropes in new contexts – note the popularity of Breakfast of Champions or The Bone Clocks among fans of their respective authors, or the ‘insider’ enjoyment of Star Trek or Planet of the Apes reboots. Recall the public backlash when Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes in favor of other literary pursuits, and the praise from that same public when he varied narrator or tone within the Holmesian universe.
Sure, the commercial side of the movie and publishing industries tend to squeeze profits from rehashes until even the originals are ruined, but that’s not the only reason common stories or characters or genres come ‘round again and again. There’s something analeptic about yet another space cowboy trek and its thinly veiled moralizing over contemporary events. It’s fascinating to see how many times Lizzy and Darcy can circle one another before falling in love – in yet another setting, genre, or medium.
We want the good guy to get the girl and overcome the darkness – but we want to doubt along the way, again, so that it’s new. But not too.
Ideally, of course, as we rewrite ourselves and our stories, rearrange our songs and rehearse our plays, we get a little closer to the ideal – to the “best” version. (It would be weird to try to do worse.)
For me, some sense of the past falling away - or any shot at ‘new and improved’ - may be a bigger deal than it is to a more balanced or reasonable person. My life has not been particularly onerous nor my sins so noteworthy, but I manage to carry varying degrees of despair and self-loathing almost constantly. There are days it’s more prominent, others more subdued. Please understand, I don’t claim to fathom the depths of clinical depression or other personal hells some endure – I’m not competing for most tortured soul or anything. But I have my issues, and New Years and Mondays and new semesters salve them in some way. Even reformatting my e-reader brings on the vim.
A student sent this to me a few years ago, and was a bit vague about its source. He may have written it or appropriated it from elsewhere – it doesn’t matter. At the moment he sent it, it was his:
For some of us, the devil is not a deceiver, subtle and coy. He does not argue with our reasoning, let alone our theology, or tempt and taunt us like a car salesman, a drug dealer, or a frat brother upon our initial inebriation.
For some of us, the devil is a tape recorder, a running loop of all of our failures, inadequacies, and foibles, playing continuously in the background. It hammers us not to make a case, but to bludgeon us softly, with truths out of perspective, until we carry a complete conviction of our own uselessness. Rejecting and despising ourselves on behalf of those around us, we are no longer able to act out of purpose, but only out of quiet despair.
For some of us, the buttons are broken and can't be reached - especially from without. No wonder we are tempted to dash the entire machine to the ground, seeking solace in silence and tangled ribbon.
I don’t know if this is technically any good, but I get it. I hear and see this radiating from my kids in so many variations, it’s heartbreaking. I adore them, but I can’t help what they see in the various mirrors around them. I can't turn off their tape recorders.
It’s absurdly relative – some blaming themselves for tragedies and dysfunctions beyond all reason, while others self-flagellate just as intensely over that high ‘B’ they can’t quite push into an ‘A’. The reality of each situation is largely irrelevant. It’s the sense of shortcoming, of failure, of despair. It’s the idea they’re not good enough – may never be good enough.
Strangely, I also see this – in slightly more sophisticated variations – in some of the best teachers I know, or in others of strong gifting. I don’t know that it’s ubiquitous, but so often the most valuable carry the deepest sense of inadequacy. Maybe that’s the universe’s way of balancing things out. Maybe it’s some form of the Devil as Accuser trying to slow them down.
But a New Year is coming. A new semester. Fifty-two weeks of new beginnings.
I guess I could also reformat all of my electronics, but that seems like overkill.
If revolutionary changes aren’t available, maybe we could do a more conscious job of turning down our tape recorder, or at least arguing with it more loudly. Maybe we could occasionally help to pause the tape recorders of others, or help each other look into different mirrors.
You can’t bequeath self-worth to another, but you can invest in their reevaluation of themselves. We can ask for assistance shining different lights on our own assumptions and traps. Let’s not worry about making dramatic new people of ourselves or our darlings so much as finding recurring ways to keep stretching forward and cutting loose the weights of the previous year’s failures.
Despite the ready rhetoric, it's a lot of work. You may need a hand.
I’m positive they will.