I mostly eschew New Year’s Eve. Although I am a sucker for the culminating scene in “When Harry Met Sally,” in which Billy Crystal runs across Manhattan to find his lady love by the stroke of midnight and ask her to marry him. But aside from movies – and even including most of those – New Year’s celebrations are a shit show, if you’ll pardon my French (do the French know we associate them with blue language and tongue kissing? Not to mention cute little bulldogs? I wonder.).
Perhaps the problem with New Year’s Eve in North America is that it has no deeper association than the purchasing of a new calendar (those who are still archaic enough to use paper products) and the consumption of lots of booze (people are rarely too old-fashioned for booze). As much booze as possible. After all, it is a New Year and a new chance to sleep with a stranger or get in a drunken fight with your best friend or blackout at some point. It is definitely a chance to walk in uncomfortable shoes and wake up with a mouth that tastes roughly like you sucked on ticker-tape marinated in the juices of Times Square at midnight. Not that any of those things ever happened to me. . .
There is nothing holy about this holiday in modern western culture. Other cultures have a more ritualized and spiritualized approach to the New Year – as in Brazil, where I admired their true enthusiasm for the holiday – and I just discovered that the ritual is for a goddess. On December 31 in Brazil, they celebrate not only the New Year, but also the sea goddess Yemena – a transplant who came with Nigerian slaves to the New World – to whom they throw garlands and for whom they wear white and light candles. It all makes so much sense. We have no god or goddess for the New Year. The closest we get is a cartoon of Father Time, skeletal, scythe in hand, and Baby New Year, rosy cheeked dressed in nothing but a red sash. In ancient times, it was Inanna, who was rebirthed after her holy journey at the solstice, her voyage to the Great Below. One of the longest observed and holiest of times of the year, and we let it pass with nothing but a superficial nod to improving our health. Although I do think that a yearly review of what we have done and accomplished is its own ritual of sorts.
I chanced across a movie last March (2013, how full of hotel rooms you were) in a hotel room in South India. It was a rainy, humid night and I was minimally clothed and keeping still so as to sweat less. My windows were open, despite the fact that I’d seen a family of athletic looking and sharp-toothed monkeys not far from my balcony earlier that day. And suddenly on the opposite side of the world I am watching “New Year’s Eve” or some similarly called tripe of a movie on an ancient TV set. It was made in the style of “Love Actually,” not my personal favorite format for a movie – too many plot lines and too many actors and a weak script and shallow, predictably zany characters who fall in love with each other at a word and then don’t meet again until – you guessed it – NYE. But strange nonetheless to see New York, the home I’d left nearly eight months before, looking so very familiar and foreign all at once. It didn’t make me want to be there for New Year’s eve, (it was already past, anyway) but it did make me miss it a bit, and think about going back. Pine for those I’d left behind there and all the trappings of the life I changed when I left in 2012 to follow my sister’s memory to Burning Man and beyond. In truth, it was something like dying myself. I took very little with me, I traveled (mostly) alone. To paraphrase Inanna, I turned my eyes to the East.
There are times in our lives when one door closes and leaves us to wait for another to open, like when you get to subway platform just in time for the doors to close in your face. What might that 5 minute difference have meant to you? Some people think that each choice we make creates another version of reality in which we’d made the opposite choice – if only we could visit those other realities and taste the strange flavors of different decisions. Until a couple of months before I left New York – more like six weeks, really – I had no intention of coming back after my trip. I’d move elsewhere – maybe the west coast. But then I unexpectedly met someone who made me reconsider. My plan to leave had been in place since April and I’d been planning to quit my job for two years and to go to Burning Man since Erika died there the previous year. And yet now something pulled me back to the city like a magnet, a moth to a flame. I made my way back, eventually, but turns out the flame I found so irresistible had been snuffed. Do dreams have a statute of limitations? Do cities? Do hearts?
This year I happily abstained from New Year’s Eve in the city for the sixth year – which is every year I have lived in New York. I don’t mind missing the frenzy of partying that happens in NYC at the drop of a hat, anyway (never mind a giant crystal ball), which I participated in to some extent at Halloween this year. (I missed blogging about Halloween, because it was my birthday and I met an amazing artist visiting from Spain, Juan Zamora, and we went on an impromptu adventure to Niagara and Toronto just in time for the Rob Ford to get caught on video smoking crack. It was all very memorable).
So I stayed in Sarasota again, where I’ve been keeping to my old quarters in my grandmother’s sculpture studio. I have spent many years in this town having anticlimactic NYEs, so this year I stayed home with my mother and grandmother, aunt and uncle, and we had a bonfire in the back yard and I played some songs for them and we drank pink bubbles in honor of my sweet sissy. My stint with the Elysian Fields’ goddesses is finished for now and now the real vacation begins. Mom and I will go for a camping trip in the Keys and a visit to my Aunt Elisabeth next week and in the meanwhile I am playing music and writing and enjoying the weather. I see my friend John and my friend Lara and otherwise, feel no great need to socialize. I’ve barely seen my sister, Skye, who is off with her boyfriend, and the kids are still with their dad for another couple of days before they come back to town.
It turns out it takes a long time to return to the land of the living when you’ve descended to the depths. It is hard to believe it is a year and a half since I left New York and now it has been 10 months since I returned. What happened to the other me, the one who stayed behind in New York in a parallel reality? It is hard to imagine. I am reminded of so many stories of subterranean depths: Inanna, Persephone, Orpheus. In all of them, a price must be paid for the insight earned: one does not enter the gates of death and leave them without leaving a part of oneself behind. Frequently, the price paid for re-entry into the Great Above is to lose someone beloved. For Orpheus, his trip into the underworld after Eurydice is successful in that he emerges alive, but her soul is the price of his inability to follow directions – to act on faith. While in Hades, he meets Persephone, who was similarly stolen away from the bright world to the underworld by the lord of that realm. It is her sympathy that convinces Hades to allow the lovers to leave – on the condition that Orpheus goes on ahead and doesn’t look back to see if his love is truly behind him. Guess what he does?
In Inanna’s case, she dies and is revived by the water and food of life, but death will not be cheated and demands that she send someone to take her place when she returns to the upper world. She will not send away those who were loyal to her, but then she sees that her husband has not mourned or missed her, but has taken her throne and seems oblivious to her absence. She decides that he will go to the Great Below in her place, though his sister, out of love, asks to split the time with him, so that he may return for part of the year, to bring back fertility in time for spring, symbolized by the two lovers’ annual reunion.
In fact, the Jewish tradition of the wailing wall on the Temple Mount is handed down from the ancient tradition of weeping and mourning for Inanna’s husband on his descent into the underworld: Hebrew women in the bible were chastised for this practice, as it was a facet of the Goddess religion which was predominant in the land of Canaan before it was conquered by Kind David. But – voila – change it into “weeping for the loss of the temple” and no problem – keep on a-wailin’! (It seems to me that most Judeo-Christian traditions and holidays are just remnants of more ancient festivities: if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em (and maybe murder ’em, too)!
I digress. It is just that the older I get, the more western religious traditions seems hokey and made-up and self-serving, the more curious I am to peer behind the facade of modern traditions and into their ancient roots. I appreciate how pagan religions reflect and enshrine the earth and natural phenomena – as above, so below – rather than projecting man-made black-and-white constructions of Good and Evil onto everything. Even the dark Queen of the Underworld – Inanna’s sister – is a reflection of her: they are one and the same. Not only that, but pre-Christian traditions actually incorporate women! Imagine that – the “fairer sex” as more than a vile temptress or the virginal vessel for some more important dude. . .
Though I didn’t do much for the New Year this year, I celebrated the solstice by making lists of what I’d like to let go of and what I want to bring into my life. I’m not much for resolutions, but one thing about rebuilding yourself from the inside out is, the original flaws in the old construction become obvious. I’ve lived in a sort of murky jello for the last 18 months – suspended between hope and fear, between mourning and embracing life again, between my old beliefs and the new reality.
I long for the old clarity I used to feel. I mourn for the me who ceased to be when I quit the city before. Perhaps this year’s return to New York has just been another step in my journey into the past and what was lost. Perhaps 2014 will lead me to greener pastures.
Love and miss,