2019, which arrives tomorrow, looks like an unreal date to me, as has every year since 2000. I grew up when “the 21st century” meant the future of The Jetsons. Actually, the Jetsons were a very 1950s-ish family that in basic ways already was an atavism when the show first aired in 1962, but they had flying cars and AI robot domestic servants. The show’s prognostication was wrong on both the social structure and the technology. 2001: A Space Odyssey also was wildly optimistic on the tech side but stuck in the 60s socially…but that is another conversation. My current point is simply that when I saw the movie (in a Boston theater with a marquee that read “for stoned audiences” – hey, it was 1968) 2001 seemed a suitably distant future date for all the spacefaring tech on the screen. The fact of somehow now finding myself 19 years into the 21st century feels…strange. Nonetheless, I won’t be writing “2018” by accident on my checks. I’m pretty good about making the change each January, probably precisely because the previous year didn’t look real either, so writing it never became an ingrained habit. The only day of the year I really have to be careful is my birthday when I have an unsettling tendency to finish a date “1952.” That tends to raise eyebrows at the bank.
While saving some documents to a flash drive the other day, I noticed that January 3, 2009 was my first post here on Richard’s Pretension. So, along with the New Year to be celebrated by pretty much everyone, there is a ten-year anniversary to be celebrated (if at all) just by me. Maybe I’ll have cake. In the first few years on this site I tended not to append (sometimes barely relevant) videos and pictures as I do now, but otherwise the posts haven’t changed in tone that much since 2009. They were and remain a hodge-podge of this and that. Of course, I was pretentious long before 2009. My blogging predates the word “blogging” by decades. It was a habit acquired by age 16, partly from writing for the school newspaper (yes, I was one of those kids), which was by choice, and partly from schoolwork, which wasn’t. My high school English teacher Mr. Drew required his students to write a 500 word essay every single day on any subject: “On my desk by 5 o’clock. That does not mean 5:01!” Only in later years did I appreciate just how much work he had generated for himself; wading through all that adolescent prose must have been rough. I won’t say I always enjoyed writing the essays, but I often did. So, even after graduation the habit persisted (not every day, but more or less weekly) in multi-page letters to friends, occasional essays and short stories published in obscure literary magazines (webzines by the ‘90s), and eventually in blogs with modest readerships including on Myspace. Remember Myspace? Five decades after those schooldays and one decade after first posting on this site I’m still at it – on New Year’s Eve no less. We all have our quirks. Where’s that cake?
|New Year's Eve in |
"After the Thin Man" (1936)
There are worse ways to spend New Year’s Eve as I know from experience. Most of my worst New Year’s Eve experiences have been the most outwardly festive ones – and I don’t mean because of the next morning’s aftereffects, which are a bonus feature. I’m just not keen on public merriment, though I don’t scoff at those who are. Loud is fine, for those who prefer that. I understand the impulse to celebrate dispensing with the old and welcoming the new, however loudly or quietly one prefers to do it. Unlike in videogames, in life we don’t ever get a do-over at our last save point. (That feature accounts for much of the popularity of gaming IMO.) The closest we can come is simply to declare a “fresh start,” and there are few better times to do that than at the New Year, whether one celebrates it on January 1, the second new moon after the winter solstice (Chinese New Year), or the vernal equinox (most ancient cultures).
We owe the January 1 starting date for the standard Western calendar to Julius Caesar. (The Gregorian calendar currently in use is simply his Julian calendar tweaked a tiny bit by eliminating leap days from century years not evenly divisible by 400, so that 2000 was a leap year but 2100 won’t be.) Prior to Julius the Roman calendar started in March. Like all calendars that try to incorporate lunar cycles, however, it was a mess and was constantly going out of phase with the solar year. So, Julius’ better calendar that set New Year’s Day on January 1 was adopted; it went into effect in 45 BCE. Inexplicably, he didn’t change the names of the last several months, so “December,” meaning “10th month,” became in actuality the 12th. No matter. He did pick a good name for the new first month. January is named for the two-faced god Janus. Janus was the Gatekeeper whose image on gates had one face turned inward and one outward – or metaphorically one toward the old year and one toward the new. The new New Year’s Day was soon enough after the Saturnalia for it to become an extension of the holiday season as it still is today. I suspect boozing to excess on New Year’s Eve (regardless of the calendar in use) predated the Romans, but they certainly continued the tradition. They also did the kissing thing, though nowadays that’s a midnight tradition that isn’t likely to end well and had better be skipped.
To all the readers out there (perhaps not numerous but…ahem…discerning), whether your evening tonight is loud or quiet, may your 2019 be pleasant.
Zooey Deschanel & Joseph Gordon-Levitt reprising Frank Loesser's 1947 What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?