You’ve got to leave room in romance for people to not know what they’re doing. I understand that. You’ve got to leave room for people to feel whatever they feel and act in a moment on account of that. I know it. I know it and I am generally in favor of it as a rule. I was sitting in Martin Mack’s on Haight Street at 7:30 on New Year’s Eve and I fell into a conversation with a girl who was also there by herself. We talked a little and danced a little. It was New Year’s Eve. Nobody knew anything about what the new year was going to be, so we could tell them what it was going to be as much as anybody – it was going to be a place where the same old things like romance were nice and sad and beautiful.
We went outside to the night, and they got to see that the new year was a place where something could suddenly happen, and nobody could tell anybody how it was going to be because people were in charge of their own hearts. People were in charge of their own hearts to a ridiculous degree, maybe more than they were even capable of, although they could hope to catch up to their capability. I didn’t need a New Year’s resolution because I had an all-the-time resolution, to catch up to my heart’s capability and know that I would never stay caught up.
We walked up the same street as always, which was new for it being us together. We walked to her house, where I knew of a party nearby. The world did that thing it always did when I could take a deep breath, all its heaviness and slowness rushing back to me until I told it to stay light because heaviness and slowness would be there on their own anyway. And there were some moments as we walked that she seemed to be talking things over with the world and its lightness and heaviness both and we both noticed that and wondered if we were having the same conversation. It was close enough. Under the circumstances, it was close enough, and we did not want to get too caught up in New Year’s Eve because we had our own measurements of time, having to do with the rhythm we wanted to keep between heavy and light, but it was nice to think we might be having similar conversations on New Year’s Eve, because doing the thing we did all the time but doing it together was a good way to go into a new year.
I thought we would go to the party, and we might stay till midnight or we might not, but either way we would smile at the way the new year meant all the things it meant to people. It meant almost everything and hardly anything, and just like always, the fun was in trying to keep both of those things true.
We came to her house. “Hold on,” she said. “I have to go inside and call my boyfriend in Boston. And then we can go to the party.”
I looked at the world and if I wanted to, I could have heard it laughing at me. But its laughter was not the most relevant factor just then. The most relevant factor was what I was going to do about it, so if the world was laughing, I didn’t hear it.
I thought about Boston. It was just as alive as San Francisco, I knew that much. I had been there, and seen it for myself. There wasn’t anything in San Francisco that wasn’t there as well, in terms of the places a heart could go. A guy could’ve gone there and set out to be a writer, the same way that I came to San Francisco and set out to be one. And then the whole city would’ve come alive for him, the way San Francisco came alive for me, not the things that were unique to the city but the same things that were everywhere, because they were coming to him in a new way, as his, as nothing that anybody had chosen for him, and they were asking him how they were going to stay his, which was the question that everybody had to answer whether they were a writer or not, whether the things that started off as yours stayed yours by giving or by taking, and all I knew for sure was that every inch of San Francisco was something that I wanted to give, and whatever happened tonight, I would sit down at my desk tomorrow on the first day of the year and try again to do it.
I thought about Boston and how it was just as alive for somebody, and it didn’t have to be the girl’s boyfriend for Boston’s aliveness to be the deciding factor in what I was going to do. I didn’t know it, but all this time in San Francisco I had had Boston too, and if I lost Boston, I would be coming awfully close to losing San Francisco too. And neither loss would have to be forever, but if I saw the loss ahead of time, I had to be honest about that.
She came back outside after a few minutes.
“Okay,” she said. “Let’s go.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m going to go to the party by myself.”
She looked surprised and a little understanding.
“A man needs rules,” I said. “If he is a man who is a writer, then he especially needs them. If he is a Middle-Eastern man who is a writer living in America, then he needs rules so badly that he may overshoot them sometimes. It may turn out that I’m wrong. But all I have to work with is the rules I have.”
“Okay,” she said. “Happy New Year.”
“Happy New Year,” I said, and I walked the quiet walk to the party.