Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Eighth Noel: All Things Newish


In honor of the new year, and all that it signifies, I am writing this post in Times New Roman. I hate Times New Roman, but perhaps, in the future, I will grow to love it. I want to love the new, embrace the new, live in the new, while still being mindful and attentive to the past. Maybe using a very traditional font, ironically titled New, which will, in fact, be new for me, is the way to go. Or maybe I have no idea what I'm talking about. 

That's always a possibility. On the other hand, your confusion could be a result of the fact that I am reading Umberto Eco (note to Jessie Riley). In chapter 71 of his Foucault's Pendulum, in a chapter on alchemy, Knight Templars, and the reform of the Gregorian calendar in the late 16th Century, he inserts these lines: 
Minnie Mouse is Mickey's fiancee
Thirty days hath September April June and November 

You should probably stop complaining about my writing. Or I will start quoting the really good stuff from Eco.

Not that I know if you are complaining or not. I just assume so, due to some paranoia issues I have.

Anyway, obviously, I have not resolved to write more "clearly" in the new year. Little digression here: in my essay included in the just-published MLA book on Taming of the Shrew, there is a typo. The word cleary  (as in Beverly) is used instead of clearly (what I meant to write). One of these days I will go back and see whether that was my mistake or someone else's. For now, I'm just thinking about how weird it is, given the number of drafts and edits we did. These things happen, even in an MLA book, I guess. Because I happen to have some friends who are editors, I imagine them all right now huffing and puffing a little that would never happen on MY watch.

The problem with clear writing, so called, is that like realism, so called, it just doesn't make sense of the real world. Clear writing is significant and valuable. Especially when assembling something you bought at Ikea. Or reading a flood warning (like much of the civilized world plus Arkansas right now). 

I'm not talking about that. Journalism, too, has its place, although much less of a place than journalists think. I mean, how much light and clarity do you come away with, really, after listening to talking heads clearly (or cleary) state and debate their positions about this, that, or the other. 

The problem with Plato, who wants us all to be suspicious of poets because they lie, is that he lies too. Or at least he sometimes says "the thing that is not" (Swift). As do journalists*, politicians, plumbers, and even my brother Gordon when he gets carried away with a true-ish story (like the one about Noel and the wolves). Anderson Cooper can't possibly have truth in mind as he foments international rebellion in nation after nation, pretty much creating something known as "Arab Spring" on demand for CNN.  Not to mention saying nice things about his co-host while awaiting the ball drop.

*I realize, of course, that there are still noble, dedicated journalists who are getting things as accurate as possible and taking great pains to do so. I thank you. No disrespect to you intended. 

Still, as I was saying. Life is complicated. In Cairo and everywhere. And statements need qualification. They need tension, they need irony. The new is fine and dandy, but its newness is, to some degree, a fiction. New Year's Day is still New Year's Eve somewhere, or maybe already January 2. 

But the new year doesn't mean we have new roads, new toilets, new veins, or new spouses. Or that we are new people. 

Babies, on the other hand, are new people (although even that needs some qualification). 

Converted people aren't new people either. They aren't born again, despite the metaphoric language. And yet, in a way, they are, despite the qualification. 

Maybe there is a divine power who will make things new this year, but why is that necessarily comforting? New may be good or bad (to us). You can't possibly look at history and say it's all been an upward movement. That's one thing I disagree with Martin Luther King about. I think it's best to let the divine power (and, we hope, love) work according to a plan we do not understand. If the divine power is THAT kind of power, we don't really have that much of a choice (whether we will get more or less justice, for example).  Although it's pretty to think we do (Hemingway).

On the other hand, the year, the future can be new, meaning different, even better (as in "new improved chicken nuggets") if we make it so

We can do things. After all, I have already put up a Christmas tree in this new year, and I didn't think I'd ever get it done. You may say I'm a week or four late, but I say, this is the eighth day of Christmas. I have four more days to party. Besides, I was able to include cards and presents I got last week on the tree. And fruitcake. 

Other than by putting up trees in a timely manner, how will we make the new year new ? How will we make it better? How will we make it something worth the effort of all that making? Wait, are you really asking me? I have some ideas, but, still, I'm the one reading Umberto Eco. So, my ideas might involve alchemy, high-level math (I mean, pretty much incomprehensible by anyone except Pythagoras), and post-structuralist semiotics. 

But Eco isn't just difficult and esoteric. He's also interested, like Kafka, in the impossible (or seeming impossible) as the territory of thought and fiction. So maybe I can give you some ideas. They are impossible, but only in my present reality. Maybe they are not impossible for you, or for someone unbound by time.

Besides, I think it was Einstein who proved that at least one out of every fifteen impossible things really isn't. OK, I just made that up but didn't Einstein have the greatest hair ever? And, given the slippery nature of language, might it not  be that some impossible things really aren't?

SO, in the spirit of all things complicated, especially life, I offer you--


1. Quit smoking.

2. Watch less television. 

3. Be more critical of Hollywood movies. 

4. Do a better job of raising my children.

5. Practice the violin more consistently. 

6. Stop questioning God. 

7. Deny the existence of God.

8. Ask my dad about the war.  

9. Do one final edit on that Taming of the Shrew essay.

10. Talk Noel into staying at New York Presbyterian for his rehab.

11. Write more clearly in the new year. 

12. Understand her

13. Be born again again

14. Choose to become a Calvinist. 

15. Stop making resolutions.

Happy Newish Year. And Joy to you in this Christmas season! Four more days if you haven't got your tree up yet or are still looking for that perfect gift for your significant otter. 

If you are looking for some other ways (possible ones) to make absolutely sure that the arc of history swerves towards justice,  try one of these in the new year: 

1. Volunteer to teach literacy classes for immigrants
2. Help someone who doesn't have a job get a job
3. Adopt a kid. 
I know there a hundred or a thousand other things you could do to make things (if not "all things") new, so make your own list and share it. But, more important, do one thing. 

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