Rooftop at night
Photo: Lori Nix
Here is my New Year's Rockin' Eve fantasy: A lipstick-red strapless dress (think Ava Gardner in One Touch of Venus) finished with a pair of Brian Atwood heels that make your legs look like the floor is the only thing that's stopping them from going on forever, a crystal flute of Veuve Clicquot, a little Auld Lang Syne, a lot of colored lights, and the man of your dreams (obviously, in this case, that would be my boyfriend—not Clive Owen, not Benicio Del Toro, not the green-eyed guy who sold me sunglasses at Barneys—and shame on you for dragging them into this) takes your face in his cool, confident hands and gives you the kind of kiss that makes the world fall away just as the clock strikes 12. Friends are giddy, caviar is glistening, the old year is ending, and the new year is whatever I say it is.

Here is the reality: Ava Gardner put on a housecoat the minute the director yelled "Cut," caviar makes my ankles swell, and New Year's Eve has never once lived up to its billing. I spent 18 years in a tiny studio apartment just a few short blocks from Times Square, and I'm here to tell you I saw things—ugly, hard-partying, throw-uppy things—that never made it onto any Dick Clark special. I mean, I like a disco ball and confetti as much as the next girl, but there's something about forced frivolity that feels so, well...forced. Then, a few years ago, I took a radical step: I quit. You heard me: I dropped out of New Year's Eve. I mailed my formal letter of resignation to Ryan Seacrest, explaining that the urge to go out and get crazy has been replaced by the urge to stay in and get sane (or a reasonable facsimile thereof). I said, "So long, sucker," and I never looked back.

Here's the routine I employed in the early days of my gala-free existence. I'd slip into something a little more comfortable (we're talking Detroit Red Wings jersey and tube socks). I'd cook a lovely meal and eat it at a table set so perfectly it would make Colin Cowie weep. I'd rent anything with Katharine Hepburn—The Philadelphia Story, Bringing Up Baby (hey, if Cary Grant happens to show up, so much the better)—and then—drumroll, please—I'd pick my worst set of drawers, my messiest closet, my highest mountain of old papers, and start chipping away at the chaos that had given me grief all year long. I was ruthless in my pursuit of clarity: dog-eared Crate & Barrel catalog from last spring, gone! Thomas Friedman article I meant to copy for everyone I'd ever met, out! The New Yorker with that incredible Art Spiegelman cover, bye-bye, baby—it was great fun, but it was just one of those things. My friends would wake up with hangovers while I would wake up with a clean closet and at least half a dozen bags of stuff for Goodwill. I felt calm, I felt virtuous, I felt really, really out of it.