Sunday, December 31, 2006

Everywhere & Nowhere

For days now, I've been trying to come up with a good post. My mind is conspiring against me. It has always had a mind of its own. The problem is that it has contrived to be everywhere and nowhere all at the same time. It has been consuming novels and nonfiction like it hasn't eaten in weeks. It is quite happy watching movies even television. It is just having a difficult time settling down enough to produce anything of its own. It's like a food processor on high speed. The thoughts are in the well, but by the the time the Mindomatic 3000 is done with them, they are an unrecognizable, formless purée.

That is not to say that I haven't been trying. I have about six half-written posts on topics as diverse as Klezmer music and plumbing just waiting to see the light of day. They simply are not ready to be finished. I suppose my mind isn't either. 2006 still has so many loose ends that it is still scrambling to tie up (like who shot J.R., will Nancy Drew be successful in solving The Mistletoe Mystery, and what ever happened to the familiar yellow covers of my youth? This new Nancy Drew is missing something. But I digress...)

When I look back at New Year's Eve last year, things felt pretty different. I remember C. sending me a lovely note about all of the wonderful, new things 2006 would bring. Indeed, it has been a year of change. When I read that note, I never dreamt he would be gone before the year was half over. I never dreamt that I would find myself being completely honest on the "Are you satisfied with your current position?" portion of my self-review or that I would stand up to my boss and tell her that my job has evolved into something that I didn't sign on for and that if it didn't change, I would be seeking other employment. I did not dare hope that her response would be "Don't quit on me yet. Let me see what I can do", yet that is exactly what it was.

Looking back,I know that my life was not perfect, even before the baffling events of early summer. It's just that I had someone, something, somewhere to channel my hopes and that made me happy. That makes the more than imperfect far more bearable. When there is abundance in one area, it makes a person less inclined to notice the drought ridden plains onto which it has overflowed. It also makes the world come crashing down far harder when one's objet d'esperance disappears.

While I don't regret them, because they brought me much happiness, the truth is that I've spent a lot of the past four years waiting. In doing so, I put off dealing with certain areas of my life, because it seemed that if I waited long enough, they might drift into obsolescence. As it turns out, they were there waiting for me all along. So, now on the precipice of 2007, I don't know where I am going.

If one looks at life as a cabaret, it is exciting. From cradle to tomb isn't that long a stay and the possibilities are endless. There are so many directions in which 2007 could go. Too many directions. But I am no Sally Bowles. I cannot ignore the ill winds of the future, even winds of far inferior ill to Fascism and Nazism. I take things seriously; sometimes too seriously. Sometimes my mind creates ill winds, even when the air is sweet and fragrant.

Maybe that is my goal for the coming year - to not worry so much about what will happen, but rather to enjoy what is happening and not be so afraid to just say what I and go for it. Life is short. I still miss C. I'm sure I will for a long time to come. I have no desire for new romantic entanglements. That is okay, but it is also no reason to miss out on the other parts of living. Tomorrow there will be time for resolutions and plans, but for today I think I'll go for a walk in the sleeping rose gardens on the hill, wrapped in the warm, as yet shapeless hope of better things to come in 2007.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas!



Powellhurst abuzz with activity - baking, gift wrapping and plumbing crises (more about that later!), so there is little time for rumation and writing. So, instead, here is some favorite Christmas poetry:

Nothing will ease the pain to come
Though now she sits in ecstasy
And lets it have its way with her.
The angel's shadow in the room
Is lightly lifted as if he
Had never terrified her there.

The furniture again returns
To its old simple state. She can
Take comfort from the things she knows
Though in her heart new loving burns
Something she never gave to man
Or god before, and this god grows

Most like a man. She wonders how
To pray at all, what thanks to give
And whom to give them to. "Alone
To all men's eyes I now must go"
She thinks, "And by myself must live
With a strange child that is my own."

So from her ecstasy she moves
And turns to human things at last
(Announcing angels set aside).
It is a human child she loves
Though a god stirs beneath her breast
And great salvations grip her side.

- Elizabeth Jennings

Ground lapis for the sky, and scrolls of gold,
Before which the shepherds kneel, gazing aloft
At visiting angels clothed in egg-yolk gowns,
Celestial tinctures smuggled from the East,
From sunlit Eden, the palmed and plotted banks
Of sun-tanned Aden. Brought home in fragile grails,
Planted in England, rising at Eastertide,
Their petals cup stamens of topaz dust,
The powdery stuff of cooks and cosmeticians
But to the camels-hair tip of the finest brush
Of Brother Anselm, it is the light of dawn,
Gilding the hems, the sleeves, the fluted pleats
Of the antiphonal archangelic choirs
Singing their melismatic pax in terram.
The child lies cribbed below, in bestial dark,
Pale as the tiny tips of crocuses
That will find their way to the light through drifts of snow.

- Anthony Hecht

Put out the lights now!
Look at the Tree, the rough tree dazzled
In oriole plumes of flame,
Tinselled with twinkling frost fire, tasselled
With stars and moons - the same
That yesterday his in the spinney and had no fame
Till we put out the lights now.

Hard are the nights now:
The fields at moonrise turn to agate,
Shadows are cold as jet;
In dyke and furrow, in copse and faggot
The frost's tooth is set;
And stars are the sparks whirled out by the north wind's fret
On the flinty nights now.

So feast your eyes now
On mimic star and moon-cold bauble:
Worlds may wither unseen,
But the Christmas Tree is a tree of fable,
A phoenix in evergreen,
And the world cannot change or chill what its mysteries mean
To your hearts and eyes now.

The vision dies now
Candle by candle: the tree that embraced it
Returns to its own kind
To be earthed again and weather as best it
May the frost and the wind
Children, it too had its hour - you will not mind
If it lives or dies now

- Cecil Day-Lewis

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Found it!

After weeks of dreading the holidays, I found today at approximately 2:52 p.m. that the ice around my cold, cold, grinchy, Christmas shunning heart has begun to crack. Actually, it's slowly been melting for about a week now. I think it must've started the day I went to the craft store and spotted two teenaged girls manning (girling? womaning?) the Salvation Army bucket, singing Angels We Have Heard on High at the top of their strong, young lungs. What they lacked in pitch, they more than made up in sheer joy and enthusiasm. They were so obviously having fun that it was impossible to pass them without feeling uplifted.

While I have philosophical differences with some of the Salvation Army's beliefs, thinking about these girls in the days since, it strikes me that they are what the holiday is really about - friendship, laughter, community, joy, generosity and human capacity to do good. Call me a hippie if you want, but it's about love, all about love, and I think I can say that this close to Christmas without anyone playing the hippie card!

So, what has conspired to persuade me that I am more Christmas-friendly than I thought? A few things that I will present in listy format, because I am feeling uninspired to write much (especially after having already lost this post to the Internets once before):

1. International Human Rights Day/ Amnesty International's Global Write-A-Thon
After spending a day reading various cases regarding prisoners of conscience who have been locked up and tortured for things as innocuous as being Buddhist or having a political opinion, it's difficult to feel that I (or anyone I know) has it too bad. We all have our problems, but we also many things for which to be happy, and Christmas is one of them!

2. The Liedertafel Harmonie Christmas Concert
When I was a kid, I used to attend the German Saturday School every weekend. At Christmas we students would attend the German Society's annual concert and sing a song. This year the children sang Schneeflöckchen Weißröckchen, which I remember singing at the concert when I was their age. Hearing them (as well as the adult choir) singing all the Weihnachtslieder (Christmas songs) I grew up with took me back. My favorite parts were a song called Wenn ich ein Glöckchen wär' (the soloist had a clear, captivating voice, which made me forget the announcer's mistranslation of the song's title which is not "When I was a Bell", an ode to transmogrification, but rather a wistful rumination, "If I were a Bell"). There was also a sweet melodied Austrian song that I suspect was a Ländler. Blame it on too many Sound of Music viewings, but Ländlers always manage to charm me. The sum effect of the concert was a nice, warm feeling that makes me think we at the Powellhurst Compound need to incorporate more German traditions back into our holidays.

3. Children's Christmas Play
The beauty of excited children performing a play is that it is difficult not to be affected by their enthusiasm. Sure, there were a few dazed looking sheep and a couple of hyperactive little boys who threatened to derail the proceedings, but for sheer joy, a small child thinking about Christmas is difficult to outjubilate (I almost wrote "difficult to beat", but somehow "beat" and "small child" don't seem they should ever in close proximity!)

4. The Fröhliche Weihnacht überall CD

Browsing on iTunes the other night, I came across this innovative cd. It takes traditional German Christmas song and arranges them in various international styles. My two favorites are settings of Ihr Kinderlein Kommet (aka Oh Come Little Children in its English incarnation) and Lasst uns froh und munter sein (which I don't think exists in an English version, but is still worthwhile, in no small part for the amusement of hearing a deep, dark, almost growly toned Ivan Rebroff singing a carefree "tralalala"). Both are traditional, but arranged in the style of Greek and Russian folk songs respectively. The cd. which also features Brazilian, Indian, and Native American arrangements is a delightful mix of famliar and unfamiliar. I only wish that everyone could be familiar with the songs in their original format, so they could see just how cool the arrangements are!

And so begins my holiday spirit. May it continue to grow!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Not Ready!

Thanksgiving has passed and December is upon us. Despite the fact there are those stores that jumped the gun and have had Christmas decorations up since the day after Halloween (I'm looking at you, Target!), it is only now that the Holidays (with a capital H) have officially started. Maybe I've been numbed by all the early Christmas decor and music, but I am finding it difficult to get in the spirit. Try as I might, it seems to evade me. It feels like any time of year, but with the added aspect of tinsel, increased traffic, and impatient people scouting crowded parking lots for a place to leave their cars as they prowl our city's malls and shopping centers in search of fabulous buys.

Not being a big mall shopper to begin with, I especially try to avoid them this time of year. It is, however, sometimes unavoidable. Yesterday, having finally decided to break down and buy a pair of jeans (I'm not a big wearer of garments of the non-skirted variety), I found myself at the store my friends and I affectionately call Fat Ass Alley. When I got up to the counter to make my purchase, the somewhat frazzled clerk actually thanked me for being nice to her, even though I had done nothing special. Apparently she was understaffed, having had a hard day and appreciative that I did not get angry at having to wait in line. Because I was (for the moment, anyway) the last person, we got to talking about the perversity of people behaving so badly as they shop for a holiday that, when stripped of all its consumerism, is about commemorating the birth of a teacher who taught a philosophy of goodness and kindness.

She proceeded to tell me a story about her grandmother, who had gone shopping this past Black Friday at a store that was supposed to have some great sales on toys. The old woman spotted the last teddy bear in a bin. As she was making her way to the register with it, some mother actually grabbed it right out of her hands and ran. I am no Bible scholar, so maybe I will be shame faced when someone points out to me that she just was reenacting some lost gospel that tells the story of how the Wise Men led the shepherds to a Walmart, where they all brained each other for the last Cabbage Patch Kid, but if you ask me, it all seems a lamentable counterpoint to the purported reason for the season (and far moreso I might add than the debate of "Happy Holidays" vs. "Merry Christmas", which has always struck me as...well...just plain dumb).

But it's not even just that, somehow even the non Christmas Incorporated fueled aspects of the holidays are just not jelling for me this year. I've watched The Sound of Music (in sing-a-long form, no less! It is a form I can highly recommend!) and part of It's a Wonderful Life (as is my tradition, I've never actually seen the full movie...if I saw it now, I think I might feel less special). I've listened to Christmas music, which while it has for some good car singing, has not as of yet filled me with an irrepressible sense of holiday joie de vivre. I've also started shopping, making gifts, and even gathering materials for Amnesty International's Holiday Card Action thinking that maybe doing something nice for someone else would put me in the spirit, but haven't been able to get much further than going through the motions. Perhaps it's just a residual of the past week's malaise, but my inner Christmas elf is just an empty shell, a charade. A charade, I tell you! (Note: If you're going to read this speak U.S. English, I really do insist that you pronounce "charade" in your head in the 40's film star manner of "sh&-'rAd" and not "sh&-'räd" as the former is far more dramatic. If there's one thing hollow Christmas elves insist upon, it is drama).

But back to holiday malaise. After googling "holiday blues", I am convinced that I don't have it, at least not according to the definition provided by the University of Maryland Medical Center, which also offers a link to tips for managing holiday depression, but doesnt't really address the blahs. Further googling ellicited additional psychology oriented websites, an article that informed me that it would not be atypical for me to feel "less 'holly and jolly' and more 'strained and stressful'", but I am feeling none of the above. I'm just not feeling it. The best site I found contained a list of the Top Ten Holiday Blues Records. While interesting, it unfortunately did not really address the problem at hand.

The problem at hand is that I really don't want to feel numbed to the good sides of the holidays. I don't want my deepest feeling about the Christmas to be apathy or that it is a real pain in the ass to have to go shopping. So, I will just have to keep trying to force jollity and hope it turns into the real thing. Perhaps I will get down the box with the Christmas decorations this afternoon. Or maybe I'll just write some Christmas cards and think about how fortunate I am to have the friends and family of choice that I do. There, see! Just writing that last bit makes me feel slightly less apathetic already. Maybe there is still hope!