The New Year

from wikipedia

Janus

In ancient Roman religion and myth, Janus (/ˈdʒeɪnəs/; Latin: Ianus, pronounced [ˈjaː.nus]) is the god of beginnings and transitions, and thereby of gates, doors, doorways, passages and endings. He is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past.

The turn of the new year saw me making batches of the garlic bread. Inside the oven, my mother’s lasagna slowly browns. My father is sleeping. My niece and nephew are outside; they are screaming with all the other savage children in the street. The new year din began with the desperate whining of the trumpets until they were overtaken by the chattering booms and cracks of firecrackers. The noise reached crescendo by midnight. We greet new years with smoke and debris strewn on streets.

We end our midnight meal with leche flan and persimmons. The dishes are quietly put away. The noise has died down and the last greetings have been said.

 

Back

I’ve learned a lot in the past year. If there were was a theme to these lessons, it would be in keeping with the very same book that opened my 2014: David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. I didn’t get to finish the book. Somewhere on my way back to my regular life in the city, I’ve lost track of it. My notes are turning a year old, yet they still ring:

“The people described in the book are hideous. They’re all manners of screw-ups who screw people over. They don’t do it overtly; they do it silently and deceive themselves along the way. In short, it’s the human way people usually screw people over.  And in the inevitable return of attention and focus unto the self, the reader (me, you, humanity) is brought to question the very disgust that these characters evoke… The easy reaction is that of self-righteousness and disgust. The more reflective aftertaste asks the reader (me, you, humanity) if I have, at any point, acted or felt similarly….”
It would be easy to read the book as a manual of what not to be, and as lessons on how not to be an asshole. This particular way of reading owes to the kind of literature we read as children. The stories we read usually featured someone performing some misdeed only to meet some swift and just retribution. The story ends with a moral. These texts were designed to instruct children on the proper ways of conducting themselves.

Growing up we learn, things are all gray. Wallace’s book is an adult book; it offers no consolation of the infantile wish for redemption. It is. It is the way it is. There is no divine or fatal retribution to those who we perceive have wronged us. There is no retribution aside from those we effect ourselves; and the effect our own wrongdoings goes as far as our acknowledgement of them and our willingness to let them gnaw at us. (Self-righteousness is a mighty shield, indeed.)

In fact, if you depart from that tiny bubble you will find that things are hazier and the truth elusive. The best you can offer is to acknowledge certain judgments as perceptions and trace the behavior that invite them. The truth is bigger than what we see; bigger than the hurts we nurse.

It is the way it is. People will always be messy, self-deceiving, self-preserving, inconsistent. (This adds more weight to my thesis question, which is how is it possible for an ethical self to emerge in this rubble).

But at the end of the day, these are just symptoms for the desire and need for love and acceptance. I’ve seen how rejection and the absence of love from the world (as Alain de Botton would put it) could drive someone to go so bat-shit crazy, they don’t even recognize their insanity. The way we hurt ourselves and the way we hurt others are just our stupid, blind ways to look for somewhere we belong. It’s either that or we want to say, a little too loudly, we don’t need your love, we don’t need your love.

In my workstation, a whiteboard is filled with quotes. Each one means something to me; they are reminders of how I should conduct myself. Until I’ve ingrained it, the quote remains. There is an excerpt from Tolstoy, “One who understands all, forgives all.”

I can’t erase it yet.

 

Forward:

I’m making my resolutions, as I’ve done every year of my conscious life.  I’m not naive, I know I can’t keep all these resolutions; especially because I’ve always been too ambitious and too optimistic about my estimates. I know that sometime during the next twelve months, I will cycle through extreme enthusiasm for life and through dark apathy for everything. Some promises to myself will be dropped. I know that those millions of articles in the internet are correct: today is just another day and the turn of the clock does not magically wipe our slates clean. The sun rises and sinks heedless of our aspirations and our despair, I know.

And yet there’s always that exciting new freshness of a new year. Each morning is a new opportunity, yes; but there’s nothing like the new year to remind you that the world is still full of possibilities. There is still the chance for redemption, improvements, change. I celebrate the whole theme because it resonates with a part of myself who unceasingly hopes for the better.

I’m not a happy person. I just happen to be funny when I’m with other people, but I am and always have been a touch too serious for my own good; and I’m always dissatisfied about something. Being still and being grateful- these things do not come naturally to me. But I do have that one redemptive bright spot– that optimism that things can turn for the good, and that things can be better. I can learn to manage things better. Here I am, a little more aware of how things work in the world.

My hope is still, in reality, a desire for better self-preservation. Someday, I wish my hope to be similar to Marcel’s I hope in thee for us. I haven’t stilled myself enough for that kind of openness. Here I am, still tottering and reeling in a world I’m still learning.

My heart could be elsewhere, I know.

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