Personal New Year’s traditions interest me.
One friend reads the diary she kept all year. After the semi-feral year we’ve been through, wouldn’t rereading a day-by-day account of it be, to quote Dorothy Parker, a fresh hell?
Another friend says she goes through her house and disposes of everything she hasn’t used the past year. She is Chinese and says it is a cultural tradition. What a job that would be after the 2020 lockdown. Think of everything that would have to go. Most of your shoes, to start with. Followed by everything from guest towels to the Thanksgiving turkey roaster.
But, once we get through the holiday, then what?
I ended the year with an injured shoulder because of an accident so bizarre it was Charlie Chaplin-comic and absolutely appropriate as a metaphor for 2020. Back during the short flash of Oklahoma autumn, when the weather was sublime and all outdoors was the color of Nicole Kidman’s hair, I fell out of a lawn chair. It was more complicated than that and more embarrassing.
I was sitting outside slurping up the sun, chatting at a social distance with my friend Curtis, when suddenly he pointed at me and shouted “No! Stop!” While I was chattering away, my dog Bucky had begun peeing on the chair leg and — I’m sure unintentionally — my pant leg. The chair leg is a popular target; I like to think I was collateral damage.
I jerked the chair sideways, a chair leg collapsed and the chair tossed me splat onto the cement driveway. My young friend, fit and athletic, jumped to his feet and ran — to the chair. To see what caused it to break. While I was scrambling around on the ground in pain, he comforted me with, “It’s OK now. I fixed it.” The chair first? Is that a gender thing?
I ask because when I mentioned shoulder pain on a Facebook post, a tribe of consoling women emerged to circle me with accounts of their own shoulder and back injuries, treatments they sought and recommended names of physical therapists, chiropractors and acupuncturists.
When people asked how I injured my shoulder, I lied. Running to catch a purse snatcher. Rescuing a cat from a tree. Loading food boxes for a local charity. Anything but, “My dog peed on me.”
My shoulder was better in time to ring in the new year, but my psyche was still battered. Sure, we’re out of 2020, but we’re not out of the woods yet. Miles to go before we sleep peacefully.
A little-known holiday is Make Your Dreams Come True Day on Jan. 13. This is the optimum day, the website holidayinsights.com tells us, to “move in the direction of achieving your dreams.” The flower of the day is Mexican sunflower and the recipe of the day is peppermint brownie — in my opinion, two talismans for happiness.
I remember a time I had to make a major effort toward happiness. It became the subject of a talk I gave a couple of years ago at Cain’s Ballroom for a Moth live storytelling event. Here’s how I happened to be there.
It was a lot worse than falling out of a lawn chair. I had been walloped by losses and was in such a trough of unhappiness, I decided I needed to rewire my brain. So, I did. Whenever I saw something beautiful — a sunset, my Chinese lantern tree, neighborhood children skating down the sidewalk — I said to myself, “That’s beautiful. That makes me happy.” Whenever I heard a funny story or a witty remark, I said, “That’s funny. That makes me happy.” Example: The acidic Australian critic who likened Laurence Olivier’s portrayal of Shylock to Disney’s Scrooge McDuck.
It worked. Sort of like Professor Harold Hill’s Think Method but without trombones. Eventually, I realized my life was again full of joy.
Here I am in a new year, and it’s time to do it again. I’ve started the year with lots of black-eyed peas and greens, a handful of reasonable resolutions (Example: Learn the names of the trees in my neighborhood.) and now I’m going to think myself happy for 2021.
Join me. I’ll be even happier if you bring Mexican daisies and brownies.