Friday, December 31, 2010

It was the blankest year...

And it's over before it was done
There's nothing to fear
Filled with courage
They cannot conceive of wasting another year

  - Knapsack, "Steeper Than We Thought"

Normally I hate New Year's. New Year's Eve, specifically. First off, it's a couple's holiday, and I hate holidays that try to make you feel excluded for being single. Second, no matter how good a time I have, I always feel like I should be having a better time. It's nearly impossible to go out because every place is packed and the covers are always extravagant. On a good New Year's Eve I can swing an invite to a friend's party, which is usually OK but sometimes kind of a mess because I end up packed into a room with a billion other people trying to find conversation topics with a bunch of strangers and drunk, distracted friends. And some years I just end up at home with whatever roommate or roommates I have at the time, Dick Clark and the ball on TV, and a bottle of Miller High Life (the champagne of beers). Honestly some of the New Year's Eves at home have been among the best. It's relaxed, I'm among friends and I don't have to find a place to crash or drive anywhere at the end of the night.

I think New Year's Eve 2000 is probably the classic example of why I hate New Year's. It was the year after I had finished college and I was briefly living with my parents in Western New York. I think I only had about one close friend still living in the area at the time (most people with other options don't choose to stay in Buffalo, no offense to Buffalo - leaving home is just a Rust Belt reality for most people) but he went to Chicago for New Year's. I can't remember why I didn't try to join him. Might have been Y2K bug paranoia for all I remember. Probably had more to do with being young and broke. Anyway, this great punk band Libertine (not to be confused with that other UK band The Libertines that ended up getting a lot more famous) was playing at Mr. Goodbar in Buffalo so I drove into the city for the show. Apparently nobody else in Buffalo thought that seeing a band upstairs at Mr. Goodbar on the commonly accepted last night of the millennium was a good idea because the only people at the show were me, Libertine, the opening band and maybe one other paying customer. The great part was Libertine didn't blow off the show, they played their asses off for two paying customers. Still, it seemed a little ridiculous for the night of the most over-hyped New Year's Eve ever.

The other thing I don't like about New Year's Eve is that it has this inherent, overwhelming sense of loss. I know it's supposed to be a time to look forward and ring in the New Year and all, but I can't help but feel every year that we're throwing a big Irish wake for the previous year. We laud its accomplishments and pay tribute to all that will be missed, and in the morning we bury it and get on with our lives. Good or bad, the previous year is gone and it's never coming back.

2009 was a notably shitty year. The only really good thing that happened all year was the inauguration of the first US president in my memory that I've really respected. The 2008 financial collapse started 2009 on a bad note. I was already short on work when the stock market tanked in fall of 2008 (back in LA I used to work in entertainment, mostly temp or freelance), so I decided to start taking accounting courses online starting in January 2009. Because I figured I wouldn't be able to do 13-hour days on freelance gigs and still do my coursework I told all my work contacts that I couldn't do long-term gigs any more and I started looking for a full-time job as an accounting clerk or assistant. I even had a retirement party of sorts to celebrate my failure as a freelancer. No accounting gigs ever came, other than a couple days every month at one of the smaller studios. I actually ended up doing more freelance work in 2009 than I did in 2008, which still wasn't really enough to pay the bills. Around March I found about EPIK and teaching English here in Korea, so I decided to apply through an agency in LA that will remain nameless. It took forever to get my paperwork together - partly because getting anything done in broke-ass, Arnold-fucked California took forever and a day and three follow-up requests - and by the time I had it all together it was past the application deadline but the rep at the agency assured me that I was likely to be accepted regardless. (Apparently after the EPIK deadline he tried to submit my application to ETIS, the Seoul program, without telling me what he was doing.) By the time I got the final message that my EPIK application hadn't been accepted I had lost my roommates, thought I might be losing my apartment, and because of the timing I ended up getting fired at lunch on day one of a temp-to-perm accounting gig and in the process burning one of the world's biggest temp agencies because they didn't want anyone with any future conflicts. (To anyone who's ever looked at a dude living on the street and said "why doesn't that bum get a job," I will tell you from experience - it's not that easy to just "get a job.") Luckily I got some friends to move into my place with me, and I re-applied to EPIK in October directly through EPIK (and subsequently learned that all th expensive paperwork I had submitted was missing and half of it was wrong). Christmas Eve 2009 (the first day of the blog), when I learned I had finally been accepted, was probably the best day of the year for me. So a year ago, New Year's Eve 2009, I drank this toast to the evening: "Fuck 2009."

New Year's Eve 2010 was a lot better. I didn't even realize that it was the 31st until I got up in the morning and started making plans to go to Daegu to see Tron. Neither Mo nor I had the energy or the wherewithal to spend the whole night partying in Daegu so we made it a quick day trip. We talked about going to Busan instead - there's this Korean tradition that it's good luck to see the sunrise on New Year's morning, so we talked about catching the first morning train to Busan, but the earliest train arrived one minute after sunrise. So instead we stayed home, split a bottle of French sparkling wine and watched some K-Pop thing  and the ringing of some big temple bell in Daegu on MBC at midnight. In the morning we went up to the roof with our cameras and a bottle of cognac and watched the sun rise. So hopefully that means 2011 will be a luckier year than the last few.

All and all 2010 was a good year. There were mistakes and shortcomings, and there was stress, but I've been working, saving money and paying down bills; I've traveled; I've met some new people and I've seen a new part of the world. It's not always easy living in a strange culture in a place where you don't speak the language and there aren't many people that understand what you're trying to say, and it's unfortunate that some of the peculiarities of Korean culture seem to make it hard to make close friends with too many of the locals. (Korean friendships tend to be restricted to people of your age and social class, and Koreans tend to have tightly-knit social groups based on pre-existing relationships like school classes. So even above and beyond the language barrier it's really difficult to get into someone's social sphere here. But once you're in you've made a loyal friend for life.) I've been missing my friends and family in the States a lot, and I'll be happy to sink my toes into some California sand when I land for a visit in less than a week. But all things considered I'm very grateful to be here.

Goodbye, 2010, I'll be missing you. If any of you happen to be in America and you're reading this while waiting for the ball to drop, please enjoy yourselves, and drive carefully if you have to drive. I'll see you again soon. In the meantime... Aw, fuck it. We're gonna have a party.

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