Monday, 31 December 2018

how to be alone on new years eve

Berlin, December 2016

Patti Smith is perhaps the person whose habits and routines I have imitated most. I welcomed 2016 in the same way that Smith documented her New Year in M Train:

As thousands of drunken revelers disbursed in Time's Square, my little Abyssinian circled the floor with me as I paced, wrestling with a poem I was aiming to finish to usher in the New Year, in homage to the great Chilean writer Roberto Bolano... I decided to write a hecatomb for him- a hundred-line poem. 

Three years ago, I was 18 and it was the first New Year's Eve I could legally go out and drink. I spent the night sitting on the porch of my parents' house, drinking coffee and writing a 100-line poem in homage to Patti Smith, mostly about a boy I was hopelessly infatuated with at the time.

As the clock struck midnight, across town champagne glasses jingled, lovers brushed lips, and finished up my poem, lighting a cigarette and looking up at the clear and starry winter sky.

And, for a moment, I felt like my life had some sort of cosmic significance after all. Like I built worlds from scratch with my Christmas toys as a child, those first minutes of a brand-new year were entirely my own, to mould and shape however I wanted. Life spins so quickly and we bounce off of other people and into new situations. We break hearts and wine glasses, get too drunk and cry or call our exes. All perfectly human things. We can't avoid life by isolating ourselves all the time, but for that one night, I sought comfort in knowing that I could build the start of my year up, brick by brick. Tavi Gevinson would call it moments of strange magic. What I've really gathered from seeking out these moments in my life, is that it ultimately gives you a deep appreciation for your own company. 

I am not writing this to sound melancholy or self-pitying. Of the past three New Years, that one was the most memorable. 2016-17 I spent in an overpriced London nightclub, crushed in a crowd, with a random boy stroking my back during the countdown until I pushed him off. I welcomed 2018 in a cramped student house before leaving for an event that didn't start until after midnight.

Even as a teenager I preferred thinking of New Year as a reflective, spiritual time. The first time I went to a New Year's party with friends was to welcome in 2015 and I rushed outside straight after midnight and stood in the garden alone watching the fireworks.

I foolishly imagined that my 18th New Year's Eve was a one-off blip; that my social calendar would be bursting at the seams throughout my 20s. However, this year I found myself, once again, alone on New Year's Eve.

There were things I could have done or places I could have been if I had really tried to be busy, but as the date crept nearer and nearer, I began to relish the idea of being by myself in the first small hours of 2019.

I am not immune to FOMO. I wrote about how to deal with it for Issue 6 of Sunday Girl Magazine, and I will publish the guide on here soon, but I am still figuring it out. I know when tonight arrives my mind will inevitably wander to my friends, acquaintances, people I follow on Instagram, who are celebrating in cities across the world and I will probably assume that everyone is having a better time than me. However, these feelings are natural and, if you find yourself alone for New Year’s, don’t be harsh on yourself for sometimes wishing that you weren’t. Remember that there have probably been times when you have felt lonelier in a room full of vacant faces than you have felt in your own company.

The social pressure of New Year’s Eve sets up expectations that are impossible to meet. This makes it easy to imagine that the perfect night is happening elsewhere, but whether you are at a party or at home, it will probably be disappointing if you expect a lot from it. 

2016's poem. At the time I thought it would be cool to stick in my first cigarette of the year, but it was actually gross and took days of lighting candles to get the smell out of my room.

After weeks of feeling like I should be willing to do just about anything to avoid spending it alone, just because that's what people in their early 20s are supposed to do for New Year's, I finally started to plan my night. I am going to treat myself with a face mask and my favourite films, before writing another 100-line poem and going out to the porch again at midnight.

So, here's a list of ideas if you too are alone tonight, by choice, or not. Of course there is always the option not to acknowledge tonight at all. We are, after all, just floating on a rock through space so what even is a year? What is time? Who cares? But, if, like me, you still like the idea of a fresh start and want to make tonight special, read on. 

Write

Even if writing is not something you usually do. You don't have to write a hecatomb or even full sentences. You can write out your goals for 2019 or reflect on your achievements in 2018. Create a bucket list. Make a list of things you are grateful for and things to look forward to. 

At parties, midnight to 3am is bursting at the seams with spoken words. Slurred sentences, spitting out drug-fuelled epiphanies, sharing secrets. I used to try and collect stories at parties, sitting in living rooms, sipping lukewarm beer, confessing and being confessed to. But, as I’ve got older, I find I forget the specifics in a hungover haze. Tonight, billions of “Happy New Year”s will be uttered across the globe. Schemes will be started. Plans will be hatched. All to be forgotten in the beautiful impermanence of drunk enthusiasm. The spoken word is so transient. Writing provides a centre.

I use the written word to keep track of my life. I think of phases of my life in chapter metaphors. Perhaps this is why I still love the start of a new year. It lends itself so well. Tonight I will finish my 2018 journal with a poem and start my 2019 one with my goals for the year. A year closes like a book. Which leads me to my next point. 

Read

A habit to take into 2019. I have been reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt this month. I am going to finish it this evening. It is one of the best, and longest books I have read this year. Over 800 pages in, I feel so attached to the characters and I will be sad to finish it, so it seems poetic to finish it as a year ends.

Even if you don't have a book on the go, try and read something that will set an intention; be it a poem, a newsletter, a Twitter thread or a blog post. 

There is never a reason to stop self-educating. Learning for the sake of learning is enough. Whenever I can’t sleep, I end up in a Wikipedia hole. Recently I’ve been researching old Hollywood and uncivilised tribes, among other topics. Whatever interests you, make a decision to find out more about it.

Turn off your phone (at least until midnight)

There's no point spending this evening (or any evening, actually) endlessly swiping through Instagram stories. Switch off your phone for the night. Delete social media apps if you know you’ll be tempted to compare your night with someone else’s. Be present.

Turning your phone back on at midnight to wish loved ones a Happy New Year can be comforting. It can be cathartic to speak to those important to you on the phone even if they are celebrating elsewhere. It will remind you that being alone is in your control and alone-time does not equal loneliness.

Watch your favourite films

There are certain films that I can watch over and over again. They are ingrained in my sense of self. Watching them is centring. Figure out what those films are for you and have your own personal movie marathon.

Give yourself permission to do exactly what you want to do. The great thing about being on your own is that you don't have to compromise. You don’t have anyone to impress either. Watch the films you actually want to watch, not just the ones you tell people you like to sound cool. I’ve really got into period dramas this year.

Prepare for the New Year

I never really understood the obsession with celebrating the New Year in the way we celebrate other occasions (i.e. getting drunk.) New Year has always felt like a reflective time to me. Throughout my early teen years, as soon as midnight had passed, I would rush up to my room to write in my journal. New Year's Day was the start of the rest of my life and I did not want the rest of my life to start with a hangover. 

Spend New Year’s Eve manifesting your goals, treating yourself with your favourite skincare products or running a soothing bath. If you still can’t break the habit of comparing yourself to others, at least think how much better you’ll feel in the morning for having looked after yourself rather than spending the night at a crazy party.

However you are spending New Year's, I hope you have a good one. Thanks for reading and Happy New Year. 

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