The start of the year, arbitrarily chosen as it may be, has certain unavoidable effects on a personâ€™s thought process. This is my first cab ride of the new year, I think as I leave the party. The cab driver is my first new acquaintance: his name is Dave, a Panjabi 30-something studying network administration during the day and transporting drunks during the night. He loves poetry. He says his favorite poet is Khawaja Farid.
â€œWhat did he write about,â€ I ask.
â€œSadness,â€ says Dave. â€œSadness, and love. Separation from God.â€ As I climb out of the car, he says he hopes I have a happy new year. I tell him to be careful.
My first breakfast of the new year is scrambled eggs with salsa, accompanied by a steaming cup of tea. I drink it in my big plush chair by the window, wrapped up in a robe watching the rain fall. Somewhere near the bottom of the mug, I remember my first dream of the new year.
I was with my mom when I found out I was about to have a baby. I didnâ€™t even know I was pregnant. I was upset, but initially tried to take some comfort in the idea that my inability to lose weight could be blamed on biological circumstances beyond my control. Sadly this cheery thought didnâ€™t last long as I descended into panicked worry. I donâ€™t want it, I said. Is it too late to kill it? My water broke in the car on the way to the hospital. I counted back the months to guess at the father â€“ an ex-lover who would surely never admit the little bastard was his, much less help raise it. I was horrified that this current catastrophe was set into motion by a mistake I made nine months prior. Nine full months, lived in total ignorance of the internal process that would be my undoing. I was overcome with sickened resignation. My entire life is going to change.
Itâ€™s the kind of dream that makes me happy to wake up to my real life. I donâ€™t spend much more time staring out the window as I have a lot of work to do â€“ calendar orders to log and prepare for shipping, new videos to launch online. I have to catalogue the money Iâ€™ve collected for a fellow skeptic who was in a terrible car accident. There are new messages in my e-mail in-box, on YouTube, on MySpace, on multiple forums, on my cell phone.
I shower in preparation for my first lunch of the new year, a hangover-busting plate of drunken noodles with my friend the Harvard biologist. In a warm Thai restaurant in Jamaica Plain we talk about getting published â€“ his first peer-reviewed paper (short-term) and my first book (long-term). We talk about the big things weâ€™ll do this year. We talk about being grown up: respectable careers, dinner parties, curtains, and kittens jointly procured with a significant other. I go home and work until midnight.
This morning I read my first science article of the new year, about free will. In particular, it is about how the investigation of whether or not humans have free will has been taken from the philosophers by the scientists. According to some research, thereâ€™s a good chance weâ€™re all just kidding ourselves about who is running the show. We act, and then make up stories to prove we chose to do it. Immediately after finishing the article, I read another: a beautifully written (translated) op-ed essay from Pascal Bruckner about the resolutions we make for the new year. He writes about the way we know we wonâ€™t really change, we know we canâ€™t really change, but we take comfort in the thought that perhaps we will anyway. We happily accept this self-delusion, this belief that no matter how bad things get, we always have the option of exercising our free will.
â€œOh, the glorious day of making a resolution,â€ he writes, â€œthe belief that starting tomorrow I will be the pilot of my existence, that I will stop being the plaything of external circumstances, that I will govern myself.â€ He says it is an illusion, a comedy, but it keeps us sane.
Who hasnâ€™t been seized by this same desire to grab the wheel and sharply turn without somehow toppling the car? Moment by moment, though, I become more at ease with the idea that December 31 is not an end any more than January 1 is a beginning. I have spent the past 9,572 days traveling in one general direction, constantly building more and more momentum. Why waste all that time, all those mistakes and triumphs, on the impossible dream of starting over?
So this year, I resolve to fully accept the process that began a long time ago, before I even knew it.
And also to lose some weight.
Hey, you never know.