Tuesday, January 03, 2012

"With the most possible vigor and imagination," Or, To the new year!

I'll let Dmitry Samarov lead off the new year, with this bit about the holiday from his book Hack: Stories from a Chicago Cab:
No one threw up in the cab. In other words, my most fervent New Year's wish had been granted. An indication of a fairly restrained evening. The hordes went about their celebrating with workman-like efficiency; collecting fares did not present any special challenge or above-and-beyond effort, every last rider remembering where he or she lived with a bit of encouragement, no unwelcome advances nor invitations to tussle.
I tend to refer to New Year's as my least favorite holiday of the year, for the simple reason that any holiday whose high point is pegged to an hour that represents the outer limits of my potential bedtime is inherently suspect.

It's not as if parties are really my kind of scene to begin with. I'm much more of a quiet-drink-with-a-friend, long-dinner-party kind of socializer; full-scale parties always leave me a bit at sixes and sevens, feeling that I ought to make an effort to meet strangers but stymied by the fact that they're, well, strangers.

That basic discomfort caused me to smile when I read, in Joshua Foer's Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, about the plans that Ed Cooke, a memory contest champion from England, drew up for his twenty-fifth birthday party. Held in a barn on his parents' estate (always a good first item for the party checklist, no?), the party was designed as "an experimental vessel fo his philosophy of parties," a framework, in Cooke's words, "for manipulating conversation, space, movement, mood, and expectations so that I can see how they influence one another." Foer, drawing on notes presumably taken early in the evening's imbibing, explains how Cooke did it:
Glittery textiles hung from the rafters to the floor, dividing the room into a collection of small rooms. The only way in or out was through a network of tunnels, which could be navigated only by slithering on one's belly. The space under the grand piano was turned into a fort, and a circle was formed around the fireplace out of a collection of raggedy couches that had been stacked on top of tables.

"The people who actually get through the tunnel networks have been through an adventure. They have had to struggle a tiny bit, and therefore upon arrival, they feel a sense of gratitude, relief, and accomplishment, and are committed to the project of having a good experience, with the most possible vigor and imagination." . . . I crawled behind him through a ten-foot-long pitch-black tunnel and emerged into a room filled neck-deep with balloons. Each room, he explained, was supposed to function like a chamber of a memory palace. His party was designed to be maximally memorable.
Clearly, Cooke's party wouldn't be for everyone, but I find it attractive: a party with an unusual purpose, a focus, an odd component or three would at a minimum provide strangers with a few minutes of conversational material before the awkward pauses begin to predominate.

This new year's found me laid up with, judging by my cough, some vigorously horrible bastard child of TB and the croup, so I was already asleep when the neighborhood's symphony of illicit fireworks and wailing sirens was just warming up. Dmitry Samarov, I trust, was out all night, just as on that earlier new year's:
The sky is beginning to lighten when I open the mailbox. A letter from the AARP, complete with member's card, awaits my attention. Had this night really lasted a decade? In any case, it is time to reset the calendar and start the whole damn thing over again . . .
Here's to 2012, folks. May it bring you good reading.

1 comment:

  1. Mercifully, I was able to avoid a cab-bound New Year's Eve this year by being out of town.

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