Sunday, January 1, 2012


My daughter Rozzie and son Elliot think that New Years Eve suffers from a lack of ritual. There is too much froth and not enough substance to the celebration – so this year they proposed a new tradition.

Everyone would make an effigy of themselves. This effigy could be made from clay, cardboard, cloth or paper, but should represent a version of yourself which you are ready to discard. It should be something you identify with, might even have a fondness for, but which you want to outgrow. We could begin making the effigy early in December and live with it a bit. Then, at some point on New Years Eve, burn it, release it, and start the year with a new improved version of yourself.

Rozzie returned to England a few days ago, and spent the holiday with her boyfriend Atli – but the two of them sent us photographs of their effigies yesterday afternoon. They were great, and spurred us on. We got to work making ours and sent them pictures back. Rozzie laughed so hard at mine, she said, that Atli wondered what was wrong.

This is what it looked like.

Elliot and his friends spent yesterday afternoon making their effigies down in the basement. They burned them early this morning, at a party across town. This one was Elliot's.

Ben and I spent New Years Eve with our neighbors Sara and Jacky. We sat outside around the fire pit, drank champagne and ate a cold supper. The effigies made for heartfelt conversation and also quite a bit of laughter.

Then, at one point, I checked my iphone and saw that my mother Judy had sent a photograph of her effigy from San Francisco. It was great that she was participating! Then, to my dissapointment, I saw a letter from a publisher in my email inbox.

Dear @#$%, it read.

Thank you for sending us @#$%. We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, we have decided not to publish your manuscript. Please know that we afford careful consideration to every manuscript that we receive. However, we can only accept a few titles for publication each year.

We wish you luck in finding a publisher for your manuscript.


Wow. Happy New Year to you too, I thought.

And yet how fitting that my effigy was the very writerly version of myself who is undone by rejection – stuck forever ruminating about why no one picks up a particular project or other for publication! This made the burning of my effigy more than theoretical. How was I going to let go of this version of myself? It might be harder than I thought~

About an hour before midnight we stood around the firepit in Jacky and Sara's garden. It was temperate outside, with the stars overhead, and the orange lights of other houses shining across the neighborhood gardens. We all had our effigies in hand. I went first. I said a few words about how I didn’t want to be stuck in the mindset it represented. Then I threw it in the fire. I watched as the paper body shriveled in flames, until that whole picture of myself had been consumed.

Next Sara went. She had drawn a picture of herself in a cube, with her tangle of hair – back hunched over the computer screen – and heat rising from her head. “I have much more to offer,” she said, “And this year I’m going to claim it.”

Ben and Jacky committed their effigies to the flames as well – after short explanations. The whole experience was quite cathartic and we intend to do it again next year.

When we went indoors, I found myself wondering where that picture of myself had gone. I still felt a bit of attachment to it. But this morning, when I woke I felt refreshed. Ben went for his usual run and Sara, Jacky and I went for our customary Sunday walk in the woods. We all agreed the experience with our New Years Effigies had been rewarding and fun. It gave us something tangible to think about and we’ll do it again next year.

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