There really is no such thing as a clean slate. You can have a piece of slate that is free of bacteria and mostly unstained, sure, and anyone who uses a whiteboard knows that a chalkboard is easier to clean because permanent markers are pranky little twerps and the sun sets ink into scripted ghosts all too often. But a slate, even still, also keeps some informative dust at the corners, some faded patterning under the milky surface.
And yet, every year, here we are, convinced we can wipe it all off and start over from some beginning that never existed. On a day in the middle of winter where nothing grows and everything feels a buried sort of stuck.
Zora Neale Hurston’s words, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer,” has been constant on my mind since September. Mostly because September is when the year starts again for me, and in the space of these months everything has tumbled into what seems like either a great many questions or a few definitive answers. And the fact that I can’t tell which feels troubling and leans me toward questions. But trouble itself is sometimes an answer, and now we’re back to the beginning, except we’re at January, and how sure is anyone of when the year starts new?
What we seem drawn to, with this slate business, is this idea of spontaneous hope. That something wonderful could happen if we clear enough junk off the table to display it.* That at some point, the clutter in the kitchen is just too much, and you have to decide that this is the day you are sick of your own bullshit, and no one is going to read those nine Crate + Barrel catalogs you’ve been hoarding all year. That now, with a smooth counter and a silent mind, you can sit at the table and wait for something truly fabulous to happen.
And here is where I would like you to know two things.
1. You can clean the counter off anytime you want. Maybe it’s the New Year, maybe it’s a random Tuesday, maybe it’s September. You will get sick of the clutter and it’s a good thing, too. Wipe the slate mostly clean, but not because someone told you to, or because this is a thing that people do. Do it because you feel charged to make space.
2. The really wonderful thing can still be written on a dusty chalkboard. It might happen on a random Tuesday, or in September, or in the twilight hours between 2017 and 2108. No matter how clean you think you scrubbed everything down, what happens now is, and will always be, informed by what happened before.
The best part about New Year’s is not this recommitment to making ourselves better or setting goals or even the cathartic release of a year not meant to give us answers. The best part, at least for me, a few months into whatever kind of newness I have allowed myself, is a reminder to believe in this collective hope that the next moment might be something wonderful.
*There is also a purification aspect at work with resolutions in particular - that we are only deserving enough of the wonderful after some serious atonement - which is found in several religions and cultures, particularly toward the end or beginning of a calendar year.