Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Old Year Musings

Christmas Eve may be my favorite day of the year. The family traditions are few; growing up we would have oyster stew for dinner (a tradition inherited from my mother's family), we'd usually get to break into the homemade caramels and fudge for the first time, and at some point in the evening carolers from our meeting would stop by for a song or two. The routine most years would include (earlier in the month) one of the regular carolers asking why we never came along. "Somebody has to stay home to hear the singing," we'd usually respond. Not sure why it was such a big agenda to get us out of the house, but it never worked.

The Christmas Eve traditions have been slowly changing. A few years back after we finished our oyster stew, we all looked at one another and realized we didn't want to have it anymore. Mom was the first one to voice it, which was all to the good since she was both the chef and the person with the longest tie to the tradition, but all six of us seemed to have the reaction simultaneously. We've switched over to clam chowder, and couldn't be happier. As of last year we've moved locations too; Mary and Tony now host the dinner at Hazelthorne. Mary was clear that she was delighted with this arrangement as long as Fang got brought over to be a part of the festivities. The resident cat, Eddie, was less than thrilled with this intrusion last year, but since Fang is not a fan of stairs, he has plenty of uncontested territory for the duration of the visit. Our change in location also means we're no longer on the carolers' path, and they too seem to have modified things a bit, setting out on the 23rd so everyone can be at home with his/her families on Christmas Eve. All in all though, the evening feels improved for me. It's nice when 'traditions' can evolve that way.

I can never decide if December or May is my favorite month, but right now, by lucky coincidence, December is in the lead. My inner Quaker still pipes up from time to time about how no day, no time, no PLACE is any more holy than any other. He blathers on about how every day should be treated as holy, each moment should be made sacred (you can see why so many Quakers become Buddhists, and vice-versa, perhaps). I hear him, and thank him for his thoughts, but it is definitely my inner Pagan Celt who is in the ascendant at this time of year. I love the Winter Solstice and all the traditions that have collected around it: the birth of the divine child, the Spring God, the longest night of the year triggering a counter-intuitive hope as we begin Winter but anticipate Spring, all the spectacle of evergreens, holly, mistletoe, wrapping paper, ribbon, the smells of good cooking permeating every indoor space, I love it all. I even love the bleak outdoors, where sudden flashes of red from cardinals and red-bellied woodpeckers shout exuberantly from the grey, brown and sepia landscape. I'll have to show you those photos later. It's almost fifty degrees right now, and pouring rain, but I love this kind of weather too. Walking in it for an hour gives one an inflated sense of accomplishment when one comes indoors to snuggle up with a cup of tea, and a Christmas cookie or six. The radio plays plainsong, or Bach's Oratorio, or Handel's Messiah, and even if I don't really share the theology underlying them, the sense of joyous celebration is one I can inhabit effortlessly.

And yes, there have already been a good couple of walks with Fang (herself a symphony of brown, grey and sepia, like fallen oak leaves), her galloping in big circles reminding me what total commitment looks like. Every fiber of her being is galloping at that moment, and loving it. A master of second-guessing and paralyzing self-analysis such as myself always benefits from seeing such examples of single-mindedness.

Truth be told, I am not looking back on 2008 with much fondness right now. Oh yes, there is plenty to be grateful for, not the least of which is the many true and wonderful friends I've made through this blog. There have certainly been plenty of good lessons learned this year, I won't deny, but let's not be too precious, I wouldn't say they were FUN. To be honest, I'm happy to see the back of this year. But this time of year usually brings with it a sense of renewal, of hope returning. I'm back in a place where it is easy for me to access feelings of serenity, artistry, purpose, community and love. This year I can feel some new thoughts brewing about how I need solitude as much as community, and how poor I am at filling either need in cities. That will be fodder for some useful thinking, I hope.

I've missed writing here. I'm letting thoughts come unedited right now, since my time in the college library is limited and I've been feeling like some internal censor has been preventing me from writing for a while. Father Tony asked an interesting question a few weeks back; he wanted to know why each of us blogs. I don't feel like I have a good answer for that, just yet, perhaps because the reasons are changing. When I started it nearly three years ago (!) I saw it as a way of staying active when I felt like I was doing precious little, especially of a creative nature. As I discovered, and was discovered by other wonderful bloggers, my sense of who I was writing FOR changed, and that certainly affected what I wrote. Entering into a larger conversation with people, most of whom I ONLY knew through the blogging, became a satisfying motivation. Then came the whole mess with Nicky; suddenly I felt I needed to write much more intimate, personal thoughts than I had before. I felt some sense of obligation to tell my side of the story. I had always wanted the tone of the blog to be personal, but suddenly it was taking on a level of intimacy I hadn't anticipated, and wasn't entirely sure I wanted.

So maybe in recent months I've been experiencing a delayed sense of over-exposure. Don't misunderstand me; none of you have pried into my feelings. I haven't felt pressure from you; no, whatever sense of over-sharing I had is purely internal. The humiliation and pain caused by the Nicky nonsense had more repercussions than I expected it to. I guess these sorts of things always do, especially such lack-of-precedent ones as this. Recently though I've begun to feeling a funny sense of lack. It seems as if something here has become a valuable tool for processing my life. I've been writing three pages of long-hand almost every morning since 1992 (a la Julia Cameron) and my day will feel off if I miss it. A similar sense has kicked in with this blog now. A different need is being filled; I suppose I write here for myself at some level, but your thoughts and reactions have been a wonderful part of the process for me, encouraging in me at least some rigor and structure (though it is obviously sorely lacking in this entry). One thing I will credit Nicky for; because of his (sic) blog I chose to focus on gratitude when writing here as much as possible. I've spent a lot of the last thirteen/fifteen years complaining, and it doesn't seem to translate into anything interesting in my life. Maybe some have found the writing here excessively pollyannish (as so many did at Nicky's blog), but it was a good exercise and provided me with a useful challenge. It may have run its course, that exercise, but I remain hopeful that any venting I do in the future will still have some structure, at the very least faith that solutions are possible. Ah, there we go, that seems key; so much of the venting I do in life (ask my non-virtual friends) can become self-indulgent and defeatist. I might be very funny while I'm doing it, but I'm denying any possibility that something can be done. In the past year the blog has been a venue for me to push myself. Believe it or not, seeking out reasons for celebration and thanksgiving is challenge for me, and one that I benefit from taking on. Maybe the blog is about to test me in other constructive ways.

I hope you're all with people you love, feeling the desire to celebrate rise effortlessly.


Java said...

Unstructured works well for you, too. I feel like this is a good conversation. I hope the replies feel like conversation to you as well.

It is good to see a new post from you. You have been quiet for a while, and I miss you. I enjoy the walks you have shared here.

This is a hopeful time of year. The days are getting longer, though they are still very short. We're moving in a positive direction. There is renewal brewing under the covering cold. Spring holds such promise! I wish you well as the ideas solidify, as you seek the path set out for your renewal.

Merry Christmas, Happy Yule, Happy New Year.

Butch said...

Happy Holidays, Patrick, and may this new year bring about peace.

Birdie said...

Don't ever let anyone steal your hope and gratitude. I've been called Pollyanna by cynics who have nothing more to offer me. I'm no fool; I see the evil and cruelty there is in the world. And yet there is always good to discover and draw forth. You have a capacity for great joy and complex thought and a gift for sharing it here. Keep writing as you seek to push yourself. Sometimes purpose finds you when you are looking elsewhere.

Greg said...

This is a beautiful depiction of your family traditions and celebrations, which are for many of us such a warm and enjoyable comfort this time of year!

And your year-end musings are touching and thought-provoking, two qualities for which I know I read the blogs of you and our other virtual friends.

Structure-schmucture. This post seems to do what you needed it to do...and as always, I thank you for a glimpse of your head and your heart.

I wish many blessings to you and yours in 2009!

MartininBroda said...

I have not a lot to say here, maybe it is allowed to say, this is a painful heartfelt touching post and a great one. I wish you a great New Year that’s worth your thoughts.

David said...

How you feel know is exactly how I felt this time last year. I feel you.