As long as I can remember I’ve hated New Year’s, for hiding in the midst of every New Year’s Eve gathering is an undercurrent of sadness. Sadness for the passing of time; sadness for lowered expectations; sadness for not finishing what you started; sadness for all the things you didn’t start in the first place; sadness for the realization that Dick Clark is basically a talking robot, and Ryan Seacrest is the person this generation will most likely remember as the face of New Year’s Eve. And finally sadness for the crappiest of all holiday theme songs: Auld Lang Syne. Could there possibly be a more maudlin tune to ring in the New Year?
But all is not lost to me around this occasion. I value any moment of reflection and the end of the year is as good a time as any. I could sit and ruminate over the good, bad, twists, turns, jump and false starts of the year, but I won’t. I like to find that one hidden bit which, when magnified, encapsulates some truth, motivator, or revelation.
Although it was a fairly recent event, seeing the room of maps in the Palazzo Ducale (a/k/a the Doge’s Palace) in Venice is one of these moments from 2011. It connects to a theme I’ve hit before that in this age when we have our noses glued to the navigation apps in our smartphones, it’s truly amazing to see evidence of a time when people mapped the world using the stars, science and their wits. The level of detail was extraordinary. I’m not sure when the maps were done, but I’m assuming before the end of the 15th century. The shape of the world was essentially as we know it today. The cities were plotted, the New World documented. I saw California – which bore that name even then. Sitting in that room at the dawn of the Age of Exploration must have been scintillating and intoxicating. The whole world was literally at your fingertips. You couldn’t help but feel powerful. When knowledge was in the hands of the few, it was as valuable as gold. Now, we have everything to hand and it’s as useless as stock in RIM. I, myself, “google” everything under the moon (so much so that my friend Jessica has suggested that I title my memoir She Googled It) but just as soon as I google it, that kernel of information leaves my brain and I struggle to recall what I just looked up. I don’t remember that happening very much when I actually pulled a book down from the shelf to get the information I needed. But this is a circuitous way of reaching my point: Namely, that having knowledge is meant to drive us forward, not confine us in a state of inertia.
Every city, country, and continent plotted on the maps of the Doge’s Palace probably represented an innumerable amount of suffering, failure and hard slog. Hardly any of us can really imagine what it’s like to map the world. Most of us just sit in it. This year the only resolution I’ll make is to put my knowledge to good use. There’s only so much our brains should hold without expressing it in action.
So, my final words for 2011: Skip the Auld Lang Syne. Instead, look at the stars, then plot your own point on the map.