I know I said in my last post that I’d be back in 2010, and it’s still technically 2009, but among my new year’s resolutions—along with be more p a t i e n t—is quit procrastinating. Working right up to a deadline is a habit I’ve refined to perfection, but it is a bad habit nonetheless. So, here’s my inaugural post for 2010, early.
Resolutions are odd things, a grab bag of idle wishes, perennial self-improvement goals mixed up with a few tasks with clear performance benchmarks. I can vow to b e m o r e p a t i e n t, exercise regularly, apply for a few grants, start my next book, stay in better touch with my family, and a year from now the results will themselves defy consistent assessment. Well, any grants applied for? Yes or no. Book started? Yes or no. More p a t i e n t? What’s your point? I don’t have all day.
I’ve always felt that New Year’s Day was misplaced. Inventing January is another one of those things the Romans did for us, but the day we know as Labor Day makes a better New Year. That’s of course the academic in me speaking, remembering that each fall always felt like the start of something new and promising. I loved the whole back-to-school package, the new shoes and clothes, true, but more so the new notebooks and pens. I suspect that all teachers at whatever level carry that sense of the New Year beginning with fall semester rather than “spring” semester. Besides “spring” in no way describes something that begins in January; it’s a sick joke.
I’m sure there are those who would argue for the real spring, starting in March, as the New Year’s start. Mother Nature subscribes to that one. But Spring New Year, the first harbinger of which is the arrival of the Burpee catalogue—check out those Astilbes—arrives mid-semester and prefigures a rush to the end rather than a beginning. While new shoots and leaves are erupting I’m thinking of everything that needs to be done before the school year ends.
We should just acknowledge that there are more fresh starts in any given year than just January 1. Maybe that’s why I never been a New Year’s Eve kind of person. It’s a strange celebration that is devoted to watching a clock tick, a triumph of abstraction over experience. The Fall New Year is marked by days and weeks of preparation and is celebrated in a full day, the first day of school. Rituals like Finding Your Place, the Reading of the Syllabus, and Beseeching the Administration for Favors are enacted each year to propitiate the gods of fresh starts. It is a full experience, both personal and communal, not merely a tick or a tock.
May brings another New Year as the figure-ground of my weeks reverses from mostly WAAC with one day at the Museum to mostly Museum to one at WAAC. But the curatorial world has its own rhythms of endings and beginnings. Green Community the exhibition has closed, ceding the spotlight to House of Cars—insert inescapable irony here—and I felt I had permission to put off any new starts until the calendar demanded it of me. That would be today.
At my NBM desk I’ve sorted through the Green Community moraine, clearing a place where Reyner Banham and Vitruvius now sit side by side awaiting my attention. At my WAAC desk I’ve put last semester’s books back on the shelf and signed off on stack of draft thesis books. The hypotheses and problems on both desks in 2010 are as usual similar and mutually reinforcing, positively chiasmic in fact, but they are not new. They are different framings and formulations of the eternal questions of nature, culture, technology and us as expressed in our constructions. That ought to keep me busy.