Have I ever really and truly had a good time on New Years Eve? I suppose I've had a fine time? Thanks to my Hollywood expectations, New Year's is a total let down unless one of the following scenarios unfolds:
1. My ex-best-friend with whom I recently had awkward sex suddenly turns up at the party and declares his love, and I love him too, and our names are Harry and Sally;
2. My best three best girlfriends and I have such a wild night that we actually go to jail, but the charges are dropped, THANK GOD, and the brunch the next day is LEGEND.
3. Hamilton Tickets.
Are any of the above things really going to happen on New Years? The first one is unlikely because no one is named Harry anymore. The second is impossible because all of my friends are adults. The third is just laughable.
So what does a reasonable person do to avoid let-down?
Last year, I got myself a really nice bottle of Italian red and a puzzle. Then I turned off my phone. It was total bliss. Of all my New Years Eves, I would rank it second.
This year, I have a broken leg. So, it might be rational to repeat last year, but... I'm restless. I have spent every night for almost 6 weeks in my bed at home. Also: 2017 was not a banner year. It had some nice parts (my trip to Italy), but overall, thumbs down. I don't want 2017 to repeat itself. So maybe I should welcome 2018 with a different energy?
Not that I intend to get on my crutches and head out to the Opera or anything. It's freezing cold, and my physical therapist says I'm not even ready to walk a city block. Then there's the booze issue. My tolerance is really low. I had a single glass of wine on Christmas Eve and it caused to me have a vasovagal attack when I got up from the table.
Last night I read an article in the Times about elderly people. It seems that most elderly people are happier than young people. They focus on positive events and are grateful for the good stuff. They try not to think about the bad stuff.
Five years ago, I underwent surgery for breast cancer and spent two months recovering from the ordeal. I felt like I was about 85. However, I was not miserable. My uncle and aunt invited me to stay in their beautiful home near the cancer center. My family and friends visited regularly. My aunt bought me puzzles and strawberries. Conditions were not far off from those of a lucky retiree staying in a lux assisted living condo. At the end of the two months, I went back to work feeling way stronger than I had been prior to my diagnosis. The world felt huge and sunny. I was alive and ready for adventure.
In a way, my broken leg has been more challenging than my cancer ordeal, because I'm not mobile. Although I wasn't exactly strong following my mastectomy, I could still eat in a restaurant or walk around the block. I could take a shower standing up. This time, I'm stuck in my messy apartment with my parents and two dogs. My mom lectures me if I fail to drink all the coffee she makes ("wasteful and expensive"). There is a pile of art supplies next to my bed. My only escape is through the pictures that I draw.
What does it mean to go on an adventure? Do I really have to get in a plane to have one? What about virtual adventures? Or friendship adventures? Creative adventures?
When I was an actress, I didn't like to play boring or unattractive people. Theater was supposed to be glamorous and exciting - an escape from my mundane world. Then, one day in acting class, I had a true moment of emotional peril. It came over me unexpectedly, in a scene from a comedy called The Man Who Came to Dinner. My character was a hyper-competent secretary to a famous intellectual. Though the secretary is devoted to her boss, she needs to leave him. She finally works up the courage to quit, and, naturally, the boss resists. The play seemed a little creaky and false to me, but my teacher urged me not to judge it. If I let the 1930s details fall away, it was easy to identify with my character. Like her, I had a demanding job that required subservience. But I didn't just pretend to be me at my job - I became her at her job. I accepted the circumstances of the play. With the help of my teacher, I spoke my lines as if they were being said for the first time. The actor playing my boss became a real force - a loveable father figure, but also an obstacle to my happiness. It was so hard to leave him. Was I in a comedy anymore? Tears streamed down my cheeks. I NEEDED TO QUIT.
When the scene was over, my acting teacher asked me: "What was that like for you?"
"I wish that I could be this real in my actual life."
It was as thrilling as any far flung trip I've ever taken. The excitement didn't come from the circumstances - it came from honesty and spontaneity. To be alive is to be present and open.
Society doesn't really encourage people to live in this state. How many times have I heard the advice "think before you speak."
I quit acting not too long after I was in that scene about the secretary. I didn't need theater anymore. I wanted to be alive all the time - not just on stage. I'm much happier since I quit, but I'm don't live in the moment all the time. When I'm riding the subway or sitting in a meeting at work, I tune the world out. Then the habit goes home with me. While walking my dog on a beautiful day, I'll worry about bills instead of enjoying the sunshine and warm air. At a party, I'll try to impress or entertain people instead of getting to know them.
There are certain tricks that can jolt me back into the present. A physical adventure like sailing or skiing works. Swimming. Travel. Sometimes, I just luck out. I have felt real and alive on a trip to the Amalfi Coast, but I have also felt that way in my own kitchen. It requires a curious blend of relaxation and alertness. When it happens, I don't think about the future or the past.
So that's my hope for New Years, and for 2018. I hope to listen to the people around me, and notice my world, and breathe the air and live.