The First of the Year

Here we go, 2022. On the first day of the year, after the muted (or not) celebrations had passed, we moved on. Jan. 1 is a day that asks to be marked, and because of that, some of our colleagues took some time out of their Saturday to write about it.

“I could take them.”

Beginning in the mid 1990s and continuing for the next 26 years, I made the same resolution every January failing to keep it, first out of laziness and then out of paralyzing neurosis. I had let my driver’s license expire in 1994, and I would have to retake both the written and road tests to get a new one. Living in New York left me with few reasons to believe this was worthwhile.

Twenty years later would find me in Brooklyn with a young child in a city that was very different for all the well-known reasons but also because it felt bigger. My son had places to go in this vast landscape, every weekend — places like BounceU in Dyker Heights, which was the Grand Prospect Hall of birthday parties for 6-year-olds. Adults drove. Mothers drove. It was embarrassing that I did not. At the same time, driving with a tiny creature in the back seat felt to me like leaping into a riptide during a storm.

Parenthood had multiplied my anxieties, but the pandemic reordered them. Now the weight of confinement bore down so heavily that it had crowded out space for my fear of sudden, high-impact catastrophe. I had been spending time on and off in Rhode Island and one day in August, I went to the D.M.V. in Cranston and took the permit exam. Passing would allow me to drive only in this small, navigable state and only in the company of a licensed adult, stipulations that suited my ambitions.

Returning for the holidays, I got in the car for the first time in months. A few days after Christmas, my husband and a friend who had joined us for a light show encouraged me to drive home — a half-hour at night, a ride that would include a stretch of 195, a highway. It was as if they were suggesting that I try out for a professional gymnastics team when I had merely been cartwheeling on the lawn. Pulling out of the parking lot onto a narrow country road, I felt an immediate sense of my own competence that had eluded me for a long time.

On New Year’s without the amplified labeling of a resolution, I got online and scheduled a road test. With my husband chaperoning, I then drove to the store and bought chicken, chorizo, potatoes, a lemon, salad greens and a red velvet cake. Our friend Stephanie and her family were coming for dinner.

That morning, she and her son had engaged in the annual ritual of the polar plunge, dipping into the gray Atlantic at Horseneck Beach, 50 minutes away. Shunning wet suits, they wore only what they would have had on in July. I envied this steeliness and aspired to it. Perhaps I could join next year. I could take them. — Ginia Bellafante

Santa Monica, Calif.Credit…Michelle Groskopf for The New York Times

“I am tired of time.”

For the last eight years, I have enacted a strange fiction on every January first: that I can sleep and rise at a human hour; that I clean my apartment more than once in an eight-month period. This charade is partly out of middle-class indoctrination and partly because I don’t want my mother to be right, but today, pretending that I am not an insomniac and a slob feels arduous. Today, I am tired of time. Sprawled between my two fat cats, I sleep the sleep of the dead until my itchy brain jerks awake at 3 p.m.

My cavernous, coal-mine-blackened under eyes recall that I slept at 7 a.m., after a night spent ignoring everyone at a party to grin foolishly at my phone instead. When I catch myself doing it again, some lost instinct of self-preservation tells me to kill this foreign feeling of effervescence. But it is irrepressible, and blooms in my stomach until I give up and just let myself feel riotously drunk on possibility. Of the many delusions fighting each other in my head, I decide then that if I must indulge in one this year, I have far more fun ones than cleaning my apartment to choose from. My phone buzzes again. My foolish grin won’t die. — Iva Dixit

ManhattanCredit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

“Finally, peace.”

My partner and I hole up well. When the Omicron variant swept through the city, we returned to what we know best and stayed inside.

During the last two weeks of December, our initial plan to greet 2022 surrounded by a handful of friends at a gathering fell apart. Our phones dinged with exposure alerts, and friends texted with news of contracting the virus.

On the last morning of December, we packed the car up and drove three hours to Downsville, N.Y. I did not want the frustrations of the last few weeks to be the mood at midnight on New Year’s Day.

I came up with a simple answer: nourishment. We stopped at a supermarket and picked up the necessary ingredients to make a sancocho, a Dominican stew. I got yucca, rice, avocado, corn. I wanted it to be the way my mother would make it on nights where she would serve me a bowl while I sat on the floor, in front of the television.

When we arrived, the cabin was bone cold. My partner made a fire, and I started on the sancocho. As the cabin warmed up, we watched “The Lost Daughter” on Netflix while nestled on a couch hugging bourbon hot toddies. After dinner, I did what I do on most New Year’s Eves: I sat down and wrote my intentions for the next year. I tend to paint those manifestations with a wide brush in my journal.

I set an alarm for 11:59 p.m., handed my partner a pair of 2022 novelty glasses I’d bought at my local 99-cent store and put on my own. I wanted to be outside at midnight breathing in the fresh air, feeling the cold of winter on my cheeks. Soon, my alarm went off and I clicked on a livestream of the Times Square ball drop. I’ve been watching that thing drop since Y2K, when I had a panic attack because I thought the world would end, and it doesn’t feel like New Year’s to me without it.

As the ball dropped, marking the final seconds of 2021, it was quiet in the woods. It felt like we were the only people around for miles. Finally, peace. — Sandra E. Garcia

ManhattanCredit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

“I cringe to confess that I loved the new me.”

When I discovered that I would be ringing in the new year in quasi-isolation, I was crestfallen. Hoping to pick up my spirits, I tuned in to Netflix, intent on catching up on Season 1 of “Emily in Paris.”

My binge, it turned out, was ill advised. Watching the show’s dizzy title character dine on grilled savories, shimmy her nights away and cavort with friends on the beaches of St. Tropez, I wondered sourly: Where is my kitschy wardrobe of cacophonous prints? Where is my lover?

As it happened, I didn’t need to search far. Sandro, my husband, a stage designer in an earlier life, insisted on welcoming the holiday in style. Improvising his own variation on a palmy seaside getaway, he slid the fig and olive trees circling our loft to center stage, covered the table in a fruit-patterned cloth and whipped up a Mediterranean spread of roasted red peppers, oil-soaked chickpeas and trout. There was Champagne, to be sure, or its close approximation, a bottle of Bouvet Brut.

Dinner, by any standard, was an event. To mark the occasion, we raised our glasses, then snapped a few selfies. Wearing a fresh-laundered dress shirt, Sandro looked grand as a duke. Was I a proper consort in my beat-up old T-shirt? Maybe not. So I made a few iPhone adjustments, aiming for the kind of glow-up that only a finely tuned filter can provide.

I cringe to confess that I loved the new me, my turnout silky, my complexion as pore-less as an ingénue, and my pout as fat and glossy as it had been in my teens.

The image was cheering for sure and reminded me of an adage my friends and I tweaked in the day. “Put some slick on your lip,” we liked to goad one another, “and party on.” — Ruth La Ferla

ManhattanCredit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

“Life now often feels as though it’s a great river, rushing past me.”

I’m a new mother — my baby is nearly 7 months old — so I went to sleep before midnight on New Year’s Eve and woke up at around 6 a.m. the next day. I’m visiting my parents in the Bay Area. As the sun rose, I stared out at the bay that opens onto the Pacific and held my son in my arms. In the afternoon, my mom and I baked a poundcake with the Meyer lemons from the tree growing in their yard. I took a walk, texted with my friends. We ordered Korean fried chicken for dinner. It was an intimate but completely ordinary day.

Having a baby is many things — exhausting, emotional, demanding. Time feels like water; life now often feels as though it’s a great river, rushing past me. These last few months have been defined by the milestones of my son’s life — his first smile, a new tooth. I find it all absolutely wonderful because I am his mother, of course, but it has made me realize something else. The pandemic has not only made us isolated, but antisocial. In these last two years, it has been all too easy to ignore important occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, the new year. To let the day go by like the one before it, like releasing a balloon into the air.

Two years ago, my husband and I drove down from my parents’ house to Los Angeles for New Year’s Eve. We got dressed up, had dinner with good friends, and bounced around from one lackluster party to another — chasing the fun and not the other way around. Afterward, I complained in an offhand way about the night that still made me feel glamorous and cool — we should have gone to that party instead of that one, we spent too much money on cars.

The truth is, I don’t really remember entering 2021 because we didn’t do anything to celebrate it. It was a slip of a year, many of us alone and hoping for the pandemic to end. I’m happy to leave it behind. — Thessaly La Force

Santa Monica, Calif.Credit…Michelle Groskopf for The New York Times

“It wasn’t the rice, it was what the water became.”

I woke up thinking about my dad. It’s been four years since he died from complications brought on by Parkinson’s. His death was years in the making, beginning with my folly of thought that his search for the right word in an achingly slow-moving sentence was due to the effects of a lifetime of trilingual competence (Korean, Japanese and English) and ending in him aspirating his food, which led to pneumonia, which led to a ventilator. In the end, it took all of 10 minutes, after my brother and I had to decide when he’d had enough.

My parents were born during the Japanese occupation of Korea, my dad fought for South Korea during the Korean War and soon after they married, they moved to Vietnam during its own war. Maybe it’s this moment in history we find ourselves in now, the collective sacrifice with fellow citizens that is as close to wartime practices that I’ve come upon in my lifetime, that keeps bringing me back to his words these days. But a lesson I learned from him, one I’ve returned to during this time, is more practical in purpose: a dish I find myself making over and over again.

Koreans call it jook (which is also the Cantonese word for it), but it’s also known by East Asians as congee, zhou and okayu. There are countless recipes. My version includes three simple ingredients: sesame oil, short grain rice and water.

“Jook water kept me alive,” my dad told me countless times. It wasn’t the rice, it was what the water became — thick and filling — that he referred to.

Food was in short supply where he grew up. Making jook was the way mothers made hungry babies feel full, by letting them drink the “milk” extracted from the rice. He used to say it was the only thing we’d ever really need, because it was one of the only things he ever had.

I spent New Year’s Day like I spent many of the early days of the pandemic: making this for my family. I don’t make jook because it’s easy; I make it because it tastes good, and it’s what I need. At the start of this year, my hope is to return to this idea that it’s not the grandest of actions but the smallest that endure. — Minju Pak

“My favorite song from ‘Dreamgirls’ played on a gay-bar television.”

I’ve always liked New Year’s resolutions. I’m not one for ritual, but I appreciate resolutions because they help mark and move forward time. We went into 2021 nostalgically, expecting some kind of return to whatever had come before Covid. Instead, everything just became entrenched, endemic.

We adjust. We make last-minute plans. We move on.

My husband Tony and I spent New Year’s Day in New Orleans; work aside, we hadn’t traveled beyond New York in nearly two years, and the idea of discovering a different city — one where it was warm enough to eat and drink outside; one that seemed like it was taking vaccination and testing and mask-wearing seriously — sounded both appealing and unsettling, a fitting coda for this provisional year.

We do something just to have done it.

Throughout the week, we hung out with an old friend, Parker, who moved back home to Louisiana 10 years ago. We hadn’t quite lost touch, but we also weren’t really in touch.

One night, as my favorite song from “Dreamgirls” played on a gay-bar television, we met a group of guys who were also visiting from Brooklyn. They all live a few blocks from us, and we passed hours roaming around town, an adopted local acting as a tour guide of sorts. Who knows if I’ll see them back in the city we share, but I hope so. Who knows if I’ll stay in regular contact with Parker once I’m back home, but I hope so, too. That’s my resolution this year: to recognize that friendships — new ones, old ones — can be one constant amid the chaos, and to nurture and deepen them even when it feels impossible.

In New Orleans and elsewhere in the American South, there’s a tradition of eating black-eyed peas and collard greens on New Year’s Day. It’s meant to encourage luck and money in the coming year, Parker’s friend Marc explained. I didn’t end up eating any — I’m not one for ritual. But maybe I’ll come back next year. Until then, I guess I’ll just try to stay in touch. — Kurt Soller

“The eye is the most promiscuous organ.”

When the new year finally rolled around this week I would, I knew, greet it as I had most days of last year and the one before: by powering up my phone and tumbling into Instagram. Infested with ads, governed by sinister algorithms and prone to micromanaged censorship, the social media app is anything but a neutral force. And yet I wonder how else I would have made it through the temporal slog of an era when neologisms like Blursday entered the language with good reason.

And so here I am automatically checking in on those I follow — actual friends and the other kind, the random strangers I track in a way that serves to confirm my long-held suspicion that the eye is the most promiscuous organ. On this particular morning, I thought I might record at random fragments of what I found as I scrolled to use later in reflecting on where my head happened to be on a mild January morning more than 600 days after the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a global pandemic.

So it is that I may l look back at Jan. 1 and note that on this day @kingofthefruitflies, a person I do not know but whose followers include the writer Wayne Koestenbaum — whom I sort of do — has taken a baptismal dip in frigid Lake Huron clad only in gray underpants, his intention to “wash away 2021 and receive 2022 cleansed.” And I will see that David Carrino, or @carrino.royale — a new addition to my feed — has deviated from the offbeat beefcake shots he scrounges from the internet slipstream to post a trippy film clip I will Google to identify as Ginger Rogers singing “We’re in the Money,” from “Gold Diggers of 1933,” though in pig Latin.

I will find myself wondering how the actor Michael Shannon came to be sitting shoeless on the performer Casey Spooner’s kitchen counter in an image taken by the fashion stylist Julie Ragolia; and why another stylist, my diaristic pal @billmulleninc, chose today to deviate from his often splenetic musings to post a moody Robert Mapplethorpe portrait of the actor Frank Langella from the 1980s.

And I will question the taste of the my many Instagram friends who “liked” the work of the prickly patriotic Welsh artist @bedwyr.williams who today has drawn some outlanders taking a New Year’s dip and accompanied the drawing with a cranky thought bubble.

And I will be baffled, as always, by the mysterious mental workings of @rg_bunny1, who has posted another slice of downtown Bohemian arcana that remains one of his enduring fixations. Then, I will fall across a post by Alana Petraske, a lawyer for a nonprofit whom I have never met but whose mother was a colleague of mine for decades, in which she shares a line that I learn is by Hafez: “Most speaking really says, ‘I am hungry to know you.’”

And it will suddenly occur to me as I rise to begin another year of social distancing that one could probably say the same of these routine daily acts of scrolling and liking and forwarding and hearting. — Guy Trebay

Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles.Credit…Michelle Groskopf for The New York Times

“A Dua Lipa song blared out from below”

My first day of 2022 was a powerful reminder that what we want and what we get are often wildly different. In an ideal world, I would have spent my day leaning into self-care. There would have been an overpriced espresso drink, some casual online shopping, a nice book. Instead, I found myself climbing up my fire escape and trying to break into my own apartment.

I am a serial key loser. Let’s skip over the when, where, why and how I lost my keys, thank you. This time the person who had my spare set was still away on holiday. I thought about my French bulldog inside and decided I had to do something. With my friend Isaiah watching from below, I leapt up into the air, grabbed onto the thin staircase and shakily climbed up to my floor. I never looked down and told myself there would be time to be scared later, hopefully inside my warm apartment. A Dua Lipa song blared out from below — my friend thought it was a useful contribution.

The windows did not budge. After numerous phone calls, I finally found a locksmith: a quiet, stern Eastern European man who said I had to pay him through Venmo. “But don’t write what it’s for,” he commanded. He pulled out a power drill, long silver hooks and needles, and airbag contraptions from an oversized duffel. It worked. I was reunited with my dog, Virgil. — André Wheeler

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