One year ends/another begins

Barely a week into December and already my thoughts are turning to the New Year. Can’t say I feel its approach with a sense of the promise I was counting on. But a certain resolve has crept in. Never one to rush time, I can’t help seeing the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year as packaged and pressure-sealed—even as I relish time spent with family and friends in the spirit of it all. Short of a humbug frame of mind, the waning days of 2016 have me wanting them gone. ASAP.

One of the many lasting impressions I took away from a Toni Morrison/Paris Review interview I first read many years ago was the discovery that she wakes before dawn to start her writing. A habit begun out of necessity when her children were young gave rise to a ritual: a cup of coffee made while it’s still dark and sipped as she watches the light come. “Light is the signal in the transition,” she says. “It’s not being in the light. It’s being there before it arrives.”

Until you do that—watch the light arrive—even once, night and day are entities unto themselves (i.e., you look up at the night sky, stars twinkling/ you wake up and they’re gone). All it takes is one all-nighter to grasp the subtlety, light gradually encroaching, for it to dawn on you—the stars never really disappear, they’re simply outshone by a far brighter one.

Metaphor aside, we are our own stars, the constellations we belong to a mix of circumstance and choice. I was a daughter when my parents were alive. I am a sister/sister-in-law/cousin/aunt/wife/mother/friend/writer. The unconscious, in all its wisdom and mystery, gives me no room to deliberate in rattling off these roles of mine. If the whole truly is greater than the sum of my parts, it’s that singular one (last in the list, with neither least nor best qualifiers) that allows me to step outside of my own story, stand back/observe/try to make sense of the world.

Again, the inimitable Toni Morrison to the rescue. The time is Christmas 2004, and in the very first paragraphs of an essay that appeared in the 150th anniversary of The Nation, she writes of an “extremely dark mood” precipitated by the reelection of George W. Bush. She has trouble writing, feels almost paralyzed, something she’s never before experienced. A friend insists no no no, times of dread are exactly when artists need to get to work, after which she writes:

“I felt foolish the rest of the morning, especially when I recalled the artists who had done their work in gulags, prison cells, hospital beds; who did their work while hounded, exiled, reviled, pilloried. And those who were executed.”

The wisdom of the greats indeed feeds me.

It was the 7th of December, 1993, that Toni Morrison delivered her utterly eloquent lecture/speech on accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature. The heart of it is a parable of sorts that speaks to the complexities of language and the consequences of its manipulation when we don’t pay attention to what we’re really hearing/reading. Elections, alas, are won on the bastardization of language. On the 10th of December, 2016, a master of more than language will not be there to deliver his acceptance speech. We can speculate forever on Dylan’s silence and evasiveness, but truth be known, his words are needed more than ever. Can’t ask for much more than Patti Smith as a pinch hitter of sorts. Turns out she’ll be singing a song of his at the ceremony.

I’m writing as day gives way to night and a different light, deferential in a way, fills the sky. If I seem to be channeling my literary/music heroes, it’s out of need, not grandiosity.img_4876 The freshness of winter—trees stripped of leaves, a touch of snow on the lawn—is the starkest reminder I have that there’s no hiding from oneself and regeneration is a given. Climate change naysayers may never see the forest for the trees.img_4874

Bruce Springsteen, in his very telling memoir, writes, “In all psychological wars, it’s never over, there’s just this day, this time, and a hesitant belief in your own ability to change. It is not an arena where the unsure should go looking for absolutes and there are no permanent victories. It is about a living change, filled with the insecurities, the chaos, of our own personalities, and is always one step up, two steps back.”

“The year 2017 may be a time for some stepping back, doing things a little differently. For one thing, no more news—real, fake, Facebook, or otherwise—until I’ve had a (reasonably) productive work morning. For a time I tried clearing the fluff out first—check email, say hello on Facebook, read the headline news—and there’s something to be said for that strategy. Except when what passes through a newsfeed clouds my brain, messes with the synapses. (Just seeing the face of he who shall remain nameless makes me physically ill.)

img_4882A tree is uprooted, it falls against another that keeps it from completely tumbling. Hermits are a rare breed but they do exist. More of us, thankfully, fall into the “No man is an island” trope given to us by the great metaphysical poet John Donne. If there’s any hope these days, it’s in the broader view, more encompassing. For all the disappointment, I remind myself that it took a wise woman to remind us it takes a village.

Gifts

The first week of 2016 found me at a cozy local restaurant, four friends who do our best to keep ties from disappearing completely even when time and circumstance bring separation. One of the women, a gifted poet/photographer/visual artist handed each of us a small box, wrapped and ribboned in her inimitable way.  “Just a little thing,” she said as we tore open the wrapping to find beautiful tiles, each a different image of a woman reminiscent to me of cameos. Aside from how lovely they were, she loved that they fit perfectly into little tin boxes she’d put them in.tile

We caught up on lots of things, including the daughters who really are responsible for bringing us together. How lucky we all know we were, in the early school years especially, when the public school our daughters attended was small and parent involvement (mothers more than fathers) as meaningful as it was welcome. None of our daughters lives nearby, a fact we rue even as we accept the nature of changing times. A fact, too, that makes 2015 something of a gift year for me—the first in the seven my daughter has lived on the Other Coast that my husband and I got to spend every major holiday with her. Passover had us flying to California for a West Coast family seder. A boyfriend working on a film based in New York brought her here, with the kind of timing you don’t often get. Labor Day was too close to Rosh Hashanah not to insist she stay. Then there was a friend’s wedding the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Christmas week was a given, what with it being a quiet time in the entertainment world.

A day earlier a friend from SoCal left after a visit that carried us through New Year’s weekend. It was a gift of a different kind, and I was admittedly touched by her wanting to visit. In the years we met via blog posts we wrote for an online site, our web of writers connected in ways beyond our words has grown. It is indeed the World Wide Web at its best. Her visit had a certain serendipity to it, from its timing (ring out the old/ring in the new) in the macro sense to the micro moments that marked it: There was Pavarotti’s voice filling my living room, bringing us to tears, as we sipped wine, the memory made even more pronounced by the woman singing opera under a bridge in Central Park on New Year’s Day. Minutes later would come a text exchange with my daughter.

Where are you? What’s the plan?

We’re in Central Park.

We’re in Central Park too!

Central Park is a big park, so what are the odds that she and her boyfriend were five minutes from where we were?Alice and Lew copy

We were a party now—my husband and me, my CalGal (Britton) and my BFF from NYC (Joan) who had joined us, my daughter and her boyfriend—on our way to Alice in Wonderland, a statue Sara climbed many times as a young girl when we lived in the city.

You reveal things about yourself in concentrated time with friends and family. Good a writer as Sara and Britton think I am, they’re now convinced there are parts of my past I would do well to tap, fictionally or otherwise. So when they left, how could I help looking through those albums of old clippings? I remembered well the piece I wrote about visiting Jim Morrison’s grave in Père Lachaise, but how could I have forgotten that I interviewed Patti Smith? To read through that interview just as I begin reading M Train is another kind of gift.Patti Smith interview 2

Life is riddled with disappointments and struggles, and, yes, joys, all of which I can’t help but internalize. My daughter suffers a disappointment, I take it personally. My husband is in pain, I’m frustrated at my inability to ease it. A friend is suffering, I give her my undivided attention in a phone conversation. Maybe it’s true, actions speak louder than words, in which case it makes all the sense in the world that my sense of self as a writer can’t help, at least sometimes, but defer to my sense of self as someone who takes care of people. Better yet, doesn’t
each sense of self feed off the other?

All of which makes it all the more uncanny to get three particular books for my birthday, not to birthday giftsmention Bruce Springsteen’s latest compilation, which I get to enjoy on the sound system of that
spiffy new car (if you missed the birthday surprise video in Sara’s last post, trust me, it’s priceless). And if there’s a message here, maybe it’s this, a gift in its own right: those who love me won’t let me forget who I am. Even as I write what I think are the last words of this piece on the very day of a rock icon’s death, a friend sends me a text: You will write something that weaves in David Bowie, won’t you?