Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Welcome, Year of the Bunny!

One might have expected, given this sunrise on the last day of the Gregorian year 2022, that the new year might bring dramatic events. And in view of current news, it seems already to have done so. But since many of my formative years were spent in Asia, I developed a particular fondness for the Lunar New Year as celebrated in Taiwan and Japan. I tend to save any resolutions and reflections involving new beginnings until Chinese New Year, and this one has brought my favorite: the Year of the Rabbit, beginning on January 22. 

What I hope for in this new year might better be suggested by this view:

Or this:

When I was ten, we lived in Taipei, and I was pretty much a free-range child--allowed to go about the city with my friends, walking or using public transport and pedicabs to get around. We lived on Chung Shan Pei Lu, one of the main drags then, not far from a club frequented by GIs from various US services.  I passed it with a friend on my way home, just as a young serviceman and his pal came out. At the same time, a local fellow selling pets from a bicycle stopped to let us admire his wares. One of these was a small white rabbit, and I asked to hold it. The GI, who was maybe eighteen, said I reminded him of his sister, and asked if he could buy the rabbit for me. Being a trusting sort of person, and inordinately fond of small, furry creatures, I let him. My friend and I took the rabbit home, where he was promptly accepted by my family and named "Harry"--after the rabbit in Jerry Lewis's best film ever, Geisha Boy.

Rabbits, in the Chinese Zodiac, symbolize many traits I admire: peace, tranquility, empathy, rest, intellect, reserve. This year's element is water, which lends a Taoist/Heraclitian sense of process, flow, and reflection. The last Water Rabbit year I actually celebrated, 1963, occurred during my first full year back in the US, and was spent mostly with my Grandmother, who was the calmest, wisest woman I have ever known. But because I was fifteen, the year was characterized more by self-absorption than self-reflection; still, it was also a watershed year for a newly repatriated child on a new path toward womanhood.

In the sixty years between then and now, I've grown up, raised two children, outlived almost everyone in my immediate genetic family, survived numerous life-threatening events, and have finally learned to appreciate rest.

Several years ago, I discovered the quirky, smart, amusing, and informative British journal, The Idler. I subscribed for a while, but only resumed regular readership after I retired. Editor Tom Hodgkinson and his gang espouse a life of enjoyable work tempered by repose. The bi-monthly journal promotes philosophical thinking, artful leisure, and eschews soul-destroying capitalist ideas like constant, unrelenting work. Meaningful work, like husbandry, craft, writing, learning, teaching, music-making, and the like lie at the core of genuine idleness. Resting because you're exhausted by 9 to 5 life is not being idle--it's trying to stay alive.

I suppose that one reason I originally wanted to become a teacher was that it would allow me to read and write, with time off to pursue interesting projects. And so it did, to some extent. But it was still exhausting and, in the end, much less satisfying than it had been in the beginning. When the opportunity came to retire with a nice severance package and a bonus, I took it. Within a couple of years The Beloved Spouse followed me out into the Happy Land of Idleness, where we (mostly) toil not, but reap peace and quiet. We made it through the Plague without catching it, and have kept enjoying our hermetic existence ever since.

As read through the New York Times these days, I notice articles focused on "laziness." The most beautiful of these is Elliot Kukla's "The Most Valuable Thing I Can Teach My Child is How to be Lazy" (Jan. 2022), a paean to quietude, warmth, and parental love. But the numbers of essays on "quiet quitting," resignation, laziness, work as a false idol, four-day (and fewer) work weeks, and the existential price of the American "work ethic" are piling up. They're also pretty compelling, after three years of hearing how well some people adapted to working at home, at their own pace, and accomplishing more.

This certainly hasn't happened for everyone, but I do hear frequently about people who, after the lockdown experience, have learned that they can make do on much less income, have become better, more frugal cooks because of inflation, and don't feel the need to go out to dinner, visit bars, go to theaters, or take expensive vacations. 

I've argued for many years, here and in other venues, that in order to save our planet for future generations, we really must learn to do with much less. My own life has become a long-term experiment in frugality, wastelessness, energy management, and designing a revised vision of political economy, and we have both been thriving in the effort.

Despite all of the bad news that has occurred in the first month of the Gregorian year, my only resolution stems from the character of "rabbitness" that flows out of the notion of the water rabbit.  If we could only slow down, stop striving for monetary wealth, become more empathic and tolerant, learn to want less and to place need before desire, perhaps we can effect more positive changes. I'm not convinced that doing so will change anybody's mind that's already mired in modernity, but becoming more bunny-esque seems a laudable--and attainable--goal for a newly-minted seventy-five year-old. 

I haven't seen our own resident rabbits this year, but expect to come upon them, emerging from the habitats we've been fostering for them. If we get the real snow (not just sleet) the weather-folk keep promising us, I expect to see a few bunny tracks when next I venture out into the Accidental Garden.

Happy New Year(s) everyone!