There’s something magical about January 1. It might be just the way that the human brain is wired, but the first day of the first month of the year is a gleaming tabula rasa, empowered by the future rather than weighed down by the past. It’s a moment pregnant with possibility, when you can imagine yourself replenished and forgiven in all ways, granted a fresh start, all tanked up to do things better. The word ‘magical’ here, therefore, is used in the sense of ‘inexplicably wonderful and inspirational’ in addition to the sense of ‘completely hallucinatory’.
But after all, hallucinatory is as hallucinatory does, which is to say it might be bumf, but it’s bumf that works wonders for the dim and smelly place that is my head. When I wake up/crawl out/throw up on January 1, I am always amazed at how new, hopeful and vigorous I feel. January 1! It’s not just the birthday of Paul Revere, E.M. Forster, Noor Inayat Khan and Vidya Balan; it is that we are all reborn that day. I don’t exactly make resolutions—New Year resolutions take character, commitment and discipline and, as such, are strictly for the birds—but I do feel very smug and powerful. This lasts until January 7 or so, after which everything goes back to normal.
Henry Ford would say that that’s just my bad attitude. (Warning: this column is largely comprised of other people’s words, partly because other people have said these things far better than I can, and partly because I’m still woozy from New Year celebrations.) Ford acutely summed up one’s agency in one’s own life thus: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are right”, although if we’re going to get into why it helps to think positive, I tend to side with Herm Albright, who said, “A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort.”
Either of those assertions, in any case, are more palatable than those in Rhonda Byrne’s dreadful little book/movie/audio, The Secret, which exhorts people to merely “ask the universe” for whatever they want, namely fame and riches, and blames natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis on the broody thoughts of negative people.
Anyway, 2008 feels like a year in which my life will get shaken up a little because, as Goethe wryly put it, “The dangers of life are infinite, and among them is safety.” It’s not yet a week into the year, I still feel I’m captain of my ship and master of my fate, and as William Shedd pointed out, “A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” So, like Mark Twain, I will strive to throw off the bowlines and sail away from the safe harbour, because I ask myself, as Nietzsche asked himself, “Is not life a hundred times too short for us to bore ourselves?” Comfort is a wonderful thing, but J.K. Galbraith dryly observed that “[F]aced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.”
Maybe it’s just a boring old mid-life crisis (yawn, yawn), but it might be true that, as Karl Wallenda posited, “Life is being on the wire, everything else is just waiting.” And if it’s not, I’ll find out that “Living at risk,” by Ray Bradbury’s definition, “is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down.” The possibilities—not ‘ker-splat’, the other ones—are enough to make your head swim.
Of course, I’ll re-evaluate all this on January 7.