When I was younger, New Year’s Eve was a slightly fraught affair. After the lovely and much-appreciated coziness of our traditional family Christmas, my restless young self was desperate to throw on something sexy and stay out until dawn. It didn’t matter if I was sick, (I went out one year running a fever so high I paid for it for two weeks), or over-scheduled to the point of needing to be in three places at once. I just had to escape – to throw the old year off and run full tilt at the new one.
Then one year, when I was living in L.A., I found myself unexpectedly alone on New Year’s Eve. I’d been up in San Francisco for Christmas, but had had to leave early because I couldn’t get the full week off, so I was back in town and scheduled to work on New Year’s Day. My friends were all engaged in plans that would take them out far too late for me to have any hope of functioning in the morning, so I decided to go it alone for the first time in my life.
I took myself out to dinner at my favorite Japanese restaurant and people watched through the whole meal, something I’d always loved to do, but hadn’t indulged in for quite some time. Then I went back to my apartment and opened the bottle of Veuve Clicquot my brother had given me for Christmas, feeling like I should be sad, though I wasn’t. I felt calm and quiet and good.
I put on Miles Davis and opened my window onto quiet courtyard, with it’s lush greenery and never-used pool. Just down the street, Melrose Ave. was a party, but I felt far from that as I perched on the sill and lit a cigarette, (I was still smoking back then like it was 1945), and slowly sipped champagne hours before the ball dropped. I thought about The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which I was reading at the time, and how beautiful the prose was, and how deeply, peacefully satisfying it must be to sculpt with words. I thought about the broken heart I was still nursing, the empty threesome I’d had the week before, the gnawing, nameless anger I hadn’t stopped to acknowledge but which, I suddenly realized, was eating me alive. In the quiet of my small, dark room, I listened to the traffic in my head for the first time in years. Then I stubbed out my cigarette, got down from the sill and started to write.
I wrote a dark, angry directionless scene about a man and a woman trapped by circumstance and victimized by their own sexualities. I wrote it in one sitting, until my wrist hurt and my hand cramped. It wasn’t what anyone would call good, but it was the first time I allowed myself to follow the impulse to write, because it was the first time I’d been quiet enough to hear it. Over the years, I’ve found that, more than anything, I need quiet in order to properly be myself.
I went to bed shortly before midnight that year, exhausted by the writing and the realization that, though I had moved to L.A. to escape a series of mistakes, I had not started over. I had nourished the damage rather than myself. I woke up sober, clear-headed and rested. I moved back to San Francisco less than three months later, and started the honest and difficult process of creating a real life. And all the while, I kept coming back to the scene that I’d written New Year’s Eve. I wanted to do something with it, but I didn’t know how. That’s when I stopped scribbling and began to teach myself to write. I set that scene aside for nearly fifteen years, until it finally became a story – “Bound / Unbound,” which Rose Caraway narrated earlier this year.
I rarely go out on New Year’s Eve anymore. For me, Christmas is the social time, the time to pack in memories with family and friends, and talk to people that I love, (or at least like a whole lot). I love Christmas – I love the social rush and the sweetness of being active in the world. But New Year’s is for quiet. For thinking. New Year’s is for nurturing that insistent ball of energy that pushes me forward and refuses to be sated. New Year’s is for me.
This time last year, I hadn’t yet written my first post on this blog. Now, thanks to all of you being kind of enough to read, I am shaping a professional identity that I could only have dreamed of fifteen years ago as I perched in that window, listening to the whirl in my head. So thank you for joining me in 2014, and happy New Year to you, however you happen to celebrate. May we all have success, love, happiness, and enough quiet to suit our needs, in the year to come.