Saturday, January 1, 2011

The days are long, the years are short

Sandy Banks nails my feelings toward New Year's Eve and the new year to the wall:

I figured I would write this week about the holiday's meaning and memories. But I think New Year's Eve has lost its allure with me.

I tried to amp myself, but finally accepted the reality: This holiday seems to come around too often, too soon for me.

Years ago, the holiday seemed like a shimmering reminder of new possibilities. Now it feels more like a reminder that time is slipping away from me.

Research shows that the older we get, the faster the years seem to go by. And it's not just fear of our own mortality that troubles us.

Professor Meck blames the brain's "neural conduction velocity" slowdown. Our brains pulse more slowly as we get older, and we rely on those pulses to calculate the passage of time. That (paradoxically, it seems), creates the sensation that life is speeding up.

I will continue to refer to it as getting into the "short strokes" just before the, er, climax. Heh.

Another theory relies on the mind's mechanics. Our brains record new experiences in exquisite detail, then carefully preserves them in our memory. But when a similar experience occurs again, the brain recognizes it and responds with a quick sketch that is crammed into an overstuffed drawer.

Nobody has ever called my 'drawer' overstuffed!

So milestones dominate our memories. The Technicolor moments of youth persist, while recollections of the mundane fade. That's why later years — sprinkled with fewer vivid first-time experiences — can seem to pass in a blurry haze: quickly, with less to hold on to.

I'm casting my vote for the milestone theory, because the last New Year's Eve I clearly remember was the night the 21st century began. I gathered that night, a decade ago, with family and friends in my living room, champagne glasses poised for celebration and flashlights at hand for the catastrophe that Y2K was supposed to bring.

Today it seems unfathomably quaint that we believed a programming glitch could have unraveled our computerized country. And yet we have come undone, instead, in ways we couldn't have foreseen then.

We mastered the technology, but in the decade that followed, we were vanquished by old-fashioned demons — greed and hubris and inattention.

We certainly were. It continues apace.

So it seemed right to skip the party this year. I'm not sure if this is one I'll remember, but it's one that I will fully enjoy—on my couch, with my dogs, a blazing fire and a glass of merlot—and my eyes closed as I try to adjust my mind's perception and try my best to slow down time.

It's like trying to slow a river. Best to just go with the flow but not be in a hurry to get to the sea. We'll all get there.

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