“New year, new me” goes the common saying about plans for next year. Not surprisingly, the phrase has drawn a lot of skepticism; critics parry, “a leopard cannot change its spots”. For the most part, the kind of change that we want isn’t going to happen. No, we probably won’t be committed to exercising and eating healthy right away. No, getting organized isn’t going to happen overnight. No, our common tendency to procrastinate is, unfortunately, as stubborn as the pomegranate stain we procrastinated on soaking. Starting the New Year with a series of “no”s seems disheartening, but Seth Godin’s “The Art of Noticing, and Then Creating” presents “no” not as an indisputable end, but a segue into possibilities. It is not simply “no”, Godin says, but, a “no for now”.
For a while, I had called myself a realist, a firm believer in the classification of anything into one of two categories: the possible and the impossible. Life was a matter of sorting these things into the category in which they belonged. Eating? Possible. Dragons? Impossible. Going to school on Mondays? Possible. Cramming for a test the day of? Debatable, but depending on the topic, it could be ruled impossible or possible, quick and easy, no sweat. In a hurry, I was quick to take things at face value, quick to deem things unnecessary, quick to declare a flatlining idea dead. Its time in my brain, regardless of how long or short it dwelled in there, was spent. It was better to bury it immediately and let the earth tend to its grave.
But it is harder done than said, to let the dead bury the dead. I came across a number of things that I couldn’t put into neat little boxes and found holes in my boxes. Rats. Perhaps it was rats that chewed on the boxes in my brain, rats that could defy the laws of science and seep undetected like a gas into my head, fiddle with my synapses and scamper away. It was easier to believe in than dragons, anyway, and a lot easier to swallow than the possibility that brown, cardboard boxes weren’t the best things to put life in.
I have since put boxes behind me, but it was a phase I recalled when reading “The Great Gatsby”. I can’t claim I have much in common with the narrator, Nick Carraway, except a dual irritation and fascination with Jay Gatsby, a man who lived only through hearsay, the owner of the gorgeous palace next door. As the summer slips by, Gatsby becomes less of an enigma and more human, pitiable even, for his unrequited adoration of Daisy. I guess I can’t say it was wholly unrequited, but nevertheless, it was pathetic how Gatsby hankered after Daisy, despite being separated from her for five years and on top of that, learning that she was already married. What was even more foolish was Gatsby’s willingness to take the blame for Daisy’s actions leading up to Myrtle’s death and his subsequent death at the hands of a vengeful Wilson. However, Gatsby is never truly “solved”; there’s something to be had in his tenacity, first in transforming from a penniless soldier into one of the wealthiest members of New York’s elite class and then in his unerring love for Daisy, Gatsby’s ability to take “no”s for “no for now”. Yes, he thought. Yes I can become rich, though I might not have a lot of money now. Yes, I can win the love of Daisy. Yes, I am no longer James Gatz, but Jay Gatsby. So what if none of those “yes”s actually became a reality, save the first one? This new year, I too, want to dream crazy things and hope to achieve the impossible, to grasp the little green light at the end of the dock.