Here’s how I feel on New Year’s Eve: I feel as if I’m facing one of those doors in a busy restaurant that swipes so fast in both directions it’s impossible to tell whether people are coming or going.
I’m standing at the threshold and I’m aware that I’d better make a decision about the way I’m heading.
Novelist Zadie Smith argues, “Every New Year’s Eve is an impending apocalypse in miniature.” This time of the year, we know it’s supposed to be “out with the old” and “in with the new,” but even that can be confusing. Everybody seems purposive, but a person can sometimes feel as if she’s standing around and getting in the way.
The tricky part is this: If you don’t examine what you are doing, you might move along without making any decisions whatsoever. Simply in order not to stand still, you start going in circles.
Then you can end up a revolving door.
Getting stuck in a revolving door is either a nightmare or a farce; it’s absurd mechanical activity without purpose. That’s no way to go through life unless you’re Will Ferrell in “Elf.” And even that, as I recall, didn’t end prettily.
(Don’t kid yourself that you’re embracing composure if all you’re really doing is slipping into complacency, either.)
So if we want to make next year different from the one that preceded it, we’ll need to change more than the last digit of the date we write on our checks.
Where to begin? There are practical ways to make life better. And since I am now at the age where I write Post-its to remind myself of everything from my cellphone number (I don’t call myself, so I forget it) to my preferences in lipstick (“Never purchase anything called ‘Coral'” is an actual Post-it in my purse), I have written them out.
Phrases from the first list, I’ve discovered, can be easily rehearsed until they not only sound sincere and natural but also are sincere and natural. Phrases from the second list can be removed from one’s arsenal by biting one’s tongue, thinking before speaking and reminding oneself that nobody ever says, “I simply adore a narcissistic boor” with a straight face.
Say these words more often:
•How can I help?
•Here, let me do that for you.
•Thank you. I’m grateful and I want to make sure you know it.
•Tell that wonderful story about …
•I’ve given it some real thought and I owe you an apology.
•I’ve given it some real thought and I accept your apology.
•This one’s on me. You can get it next time.
•We might not agree about this but I’m glad we can discuss it. A) Maybe we should move on to another subject; we seem to be getting stuck here and it’d be great to talk about other topics. (This is especially useful during election years or family gatherings.) Or B) We’re never going to agree about this, so until we can approach it differently, let’s not just keep rehearsing the same arguments that frustrate both of us out of respect for our (choose one) friendship/marriage/cellmates.
•Count on it.
•I got myself some coffee (tea, pizza, job equity) and I thought you might like some, too.
•C’mon, there’s plenty of room.
•You’re welcome. It was my pleasure.
•Congratulations! Hooray! Wowza!
Say these words less often:
•That’s not my problem.
•It’s not my job.
•What does that have to do with me?
•Way too complicated.
•If I had her (choose one) connections/money/looks/luck, I could’ve done it, too, and done it better. (Notice how the words “talent,” “intelligence” and “diligence” aren’t on the list?)
•There wasn’t enough time so I didn’t finish.
•You know I’m always late.
•Um, what were you just talking about?
•Oh, please, not again.
•You’re kidding, right?
•Give me a break.
•That’s not fair.
•Nobody will ever notice.
According to author Hilary Mantel, the days surrounding New Year’s Eve are “a time of suspension, of hesitation, of the indrawn breath. It is a time to let go of expectation, yet not abandon hope.”
Here’s to hope — and to 2017.
Gina Barreca is an English professor at UConn and a feminist scholar who has written eight books. She can be reached through her website at ginabarreca.com. Because of the holiday, we’re publishing her column one day early.