This is not a political blog. I have no desire to rant and rattle on about my political views and why you should or should not vote for this one, that one, or the third one who really shouldn't even be running because he's just mucking up the chances of the second one. There are plenty of blogs exactly like that, though, so if that's the horse you want to ride, well, do a search and saddle up, cowboy.

This is not a blog about the short-comings of the American education system or the stupidity of the next ( or any) generation. If you think the school system failed you and you can still read this, then congratulations,Kilroy! You managed to rise above it. Kudos to you.

This is absolutely not an anti-American blog. I may have named it "Stupid America", but as corny as it sounds, I really do love this country. I will, however, admit I am often embarrassed by it. I just don't understand how a country that once gave us Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, Sojourner Truth and Walt Whitman could now be serving up Real Housewives, teen vampires, info-mercials, Humvee limousines and all things Kardashian. Where, exactly, did we go off-script? This blog is my journal of musings on American culture and mores as I try to find some answers.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Happy New Arbitrarily Agreed Upon Length Of Time!

       So. Here we are, smack dab in the middle of the first week of 2011. A new year, and by some counts the start of a new decade as well. There are those who say the decade starts on the "zero" year, and those who say it starts on the "one". As for me, I don't really care. Time is time. It passes, it flies, it marches on. It takes forever, there's never enough of it. It's running out, of the essence, on my side.  Let's do the Time Warp again.  What was it Einstein said, aside from all that relativity jazz? "The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once". Makes sense.  Everything happening at once would leave us absolutely nothing to look forward to. On the other hand, if everything happened at once we wouldn't have to worry about going to work in the morning because we would simultaneously already be there, and also be retired. And dead. And not yet born. Yikes. Better set that alarm clock.
        Happy New Year. We say it to everyone we haven't seen since December, weeks into January. Happy New Year! How are you? How were the holidays?  The holidays. Christmas and New Year. Christmas, sure. We get and give gifts, we decorate a tree and light candles, sing carols, eat too much rich food.  Or, we may be celebrating Chanukah, and also getting and giving gifts, lighting candles and eating too much rich food. But then,  a week after Christmas, there we are, celebrating the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. We mark it with noise and booze and kisses at midnight. Or we simply acknowledge that when we wake in the morning, it will be the next year, and turn off the bedside lamp. We dress up to meet it and gather in large groups, or we may decide that this year it would be best to greet it in pajamas with the TV host of our choice. But everyone marks it. New calendars go up on January 1st, resolutions are broken with that third cup of coffee or fourth pancake or  first cigarette of New Year's Day.  It's just another day, really. But it isn't. It's more. It is the first day of the brand new year.
       People all over the world gather in groups to mark the end of the old and the start of the new year. Yes, there is Rosh Hashanah, and Chinese New Year, and myriad other new year celebrations ( remember Nyepi?). Every culture marks the turn of the calendar and the tick of the clock. But December 31st is globally acknowledged as the last day of the year, and has been since around 700 BC. The Gregorian calendar, which is still followed today, and the Roman calendar before that, both consider January to be the first month and December the last. But even before this, at least 4000 years ago, the exit of the old year and the entry of the new was being celebrated by the ancient Babylonians, who even made resolutions. They celebrated the New year in the Spring, at some point after the Vernal Equinox, and their resolutions were more along the line of not taking neighbors' farm tools and paying back their debts than quitting smoking and losing ten pounds. But I would bet some libations were poured. The Babylonians loved their beer. It was something like their national drink, and they were widely known for it. The Babylonians knew how to party.
      I suppose I can understand why people chose to mark the passing of a year, as opposed to a month, or a week, or two years or seventeen months or what have you. Most ancient New Year festivals were celebrated in the Spring, so the New Year was equated with new crops and new life. That's probably why the Greeks decided to use a baby to symbolize the new year around 600 BC. We still see the baby New Year today, dressed in diaper and top hat, as he shakes hands with the Old Year, who is by that point so exhausted he can barely stand up straight without the aid of a cane. Interestingly, we never see any female new or old years. Another example of the glass ceiling, I guess. The whole shebang is run by FATHER Time, after all.  I wonder if he hangs out with Mother Nature on a Friday night.
      It's odd, how we mark time. We celebrate the New Year, sure. But we never think of celebrating the start of a new month, unless you think rent or mortgage payments are a form of celebration. The new week is usually greeted with groans, and declarations of "I hate Mondays!"  Then again, does the new week start on Sunday or Monday? Depends on whether you are going by the calendar or the kids on their way to school. We would never celebrate each new week, month, hour, minute. It would be silly. There would be no sufficient amount of time passed.  But we do celebrate a new year, a new decade, a new century and of course, a new millenium.  Remember the Y2K scare? Now, that was a celebration! Living on the edge, not knowing whether or  not the world would cave in upon its technology-laden self, listening to all sorts of crackpots go on about their crackpot doomsday predictions! Best party ever, til 2012, that is.
       People are eager to celebrate a Centennial, too. Or a Bicentennial. But try and drum up some interest in a Sesquicentennial ( 150 years), Dodransbicentennial ( 175 years), Sesquarcentennial ( 350 years), or my favorite, a Quinquageny ( 50 years). Where is the love?  If it takes that much effort to even say it, the safe bet is that most folks will stay home and watch reality TV.  Sorry, Quinquageny, you've been voted off the island. You are NOT going through to Hollywood.  Sometimes people might find room in their hearts for a vigintennial, but only if it is a wedding anniversary or a high school reunion. Otherwise, 20 years is not a big deal. But when someone in America turns 21, that is considered a big birthday. Now they can drink and smoke with ease, so they will have something to make resolutions about on some future New Year's Eve. Likewise, 18 is considered an important birthday, but not 19. And 30 is a turning point, but 31 is just another birthday. 40 seems to be less important than 30, but 50 is  big. And so is 65, but not 56. Of course, when a person passes a certain age, and I am not talking about 30, every birthday is a big one. If someone has reached 85 or 86, each year is a big birthday, but not as big as 90, or the ultimate big one, 100.
      Babies are a different story, though. When you ask a mother, "how old is your baby?" she will often tell you the age in months, even when the baby is a year, or two years old. Even baby clothes sizes go by months.  I suppose this is because babies have a short shelf life. They grow into toddlers and then little kids, and their age starts being measured in years. So, as we age, we go from measuring time by the month to the year, and then the decade. Some butterflies live only a day or so, and most species live less than two weeks.  I wonder if they would mark the passing of an hour as a great and momentous event. If our life spans were much longer,  perhaps a new year would be less of a celebration, and the big party would happen every ten or twenty years instead, since it would be silly to mark the passing of just one year, not a sufficient amount of time would have passed. But we are here for such a short while, in the scheme of things. Very few of us ever see that Centennial birthday. We mark the passing of time with every breath, with every blink, with every new morning. But we don't realize it or acknowledge it. At least, not often. It would make things too difficult, to constantly remind ourselves that we are only here for a matter of days, really, that are then grouped into weeks and months and years and decades, if we are lucky. Still, even when we do acknowledge it, we never seem to make the most of it, no matter how hard we try. There is never time enough. Tempus fugit. In Latin, that really translates as, "time flees", not "flies". Fugit. As in, fugitive. Time flees from us. Tempus fugit.  It really does, too. Just try and catch it.
       So go, make the most of this new year, and every new year you greet. Read that book you keep meaning to tackle, or write that book you keep wanting to write. Call your old college roommate or your best friend from high school. Email your uncle in Florida or your co-worker from that job you had when you were 23 or the person you used to love but never told.  Take a stroll on the boardwalk in winter with your loved one. Plan that trip to Paris or Australia or Tahiti.  Drink a good bottle of wine and enjoy a nice, indulgent meal. Run an extra mile, you can do it! Put down that cigarette and think again, maybe you DO have the will power. Listen to that album you used to love so much, I bet it makes you smile. Sing out loud in the car on the way to work. Don't take things for granted. Happy New Year! May we all have time for it. May we all make time for it. Tempus fugit. Get to chasing.

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