Claire Mutchnik

2020 marks a new decade which means, apparently, that everyone uses 10 years of perspective instead of 12 months: a CV of past, an open prairie of future. I didn’t know about this fad and was shocked by the long-form narratives that lit up my social media in the first days of January. Since I’m 21, these posts detailed glamorized progressions from prepubescents reading young adult fiction to young adults’ first excursions into the world. People began schools, transferred or graduated. Athletes have quit, non-athletes have taken up marathons, braces are shed, retainers forgotten by crowding teeth, hair grown or cut, genders aligned, interests revealed, styles finally falling into labels of urban goth or pastel pretty or plain. The physical landscape of my friends and acquaintances has swelled, cracked, dribbled away, become distant and polished like an inbox of text messages aging into politely-signed emails.

On birthdays, people like to joke, “Do you feel older and wiser?” waiting for the perfunctory “Oh, you know it, man” and a smile or, for the less amused or more serious: “Not really. It’s strange that way. Inside I will always be twelve.” Or maybe they’ll say, “16” or “21,” or whenever they went off to college or lost their first friend, moved out of the house, married the wrong man. The feeling of aging requires an emotional weight; a birthday does not bring a feeling of progress or restarting.

With the new year, as opposed to a birthday, each person feels a reason to celebrate. This conglomerate joy gives it mass; with mass comes pull, sway and an event. A birthday marks time passing, while a new year marks a fresh start. People don’t make resolutions to improve themselves on their birthdays, but on January first, flocks of latex-clad bodies shuffle onto treadmills, start their screenplays, bring a duster into the garage.

The thing about this decade in particular is that for the first time I do feel older, older than I did in June when I sat around strangers at a breakfast table on the side of an unfamiliar mountain and aired my solitary voice: “Today’s my birthday.” It rode on silently in the breeze. The weight of 2020 comes from literal mass, not only of a collective celebration around the Western world but the hefty mass of “decade.” In December, I looked over the edge of 2019 and saw flapper dresses swishing off stage right to reveal Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald smoking long cigs. I saw impassioned conversations, long nights and showgirls. I saw “Midnight in Paris.” A new decade is shiny and romantic in that cinematic sense, especially in contrast to recent tragedy.

As 2020 arrived, I stood by a bonfire in a mass of people all wondering what these next 10 years will bring us, wondering what we will craft out of the life-material slabbed before us. Years are always a mix of making and being made. After the fire, we danced and tipped back rounds of tequila. I woke up in 2020 having marched into new space like a conquest, as if I’d been suited up since my civilian times walking alone in June.

A new year is a communal celebration for history becoming another year older. People gather in sequins and party hats, no one dressed quite their age, a tight skirt against dimpled thighs, a red lip drawn halfway to a chin. Everyone gathers to count down the last few degrees of Earth working her way around the Sun, our human dance on a cosmic scale.

Julia Leatham | julia.leatham@yale.edu