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.

15 thoughts on “One year ends/another begins

  1. There is tenderness and hope here, though you may have felt neither when you penned this. I can feel the room where you may have written this; the beauty of the trees as the sun tapped them awake. Were they sleeping? Standing sentry? Persevering, unaltered?; Cohen’s face a silent reminder—of what?

    I must jump on your pristine writer’s wagon. I too am stilted by pre-dawn news that often hijacks not only my words, but also my heart. An angry poet I am not. Perhaps I should be.

    I wonder now at my ‘live and let live’ philosophy, questioning its motive. The trees, as I let their memory course through me, seem to ask: What do you have to say? How would you like to say it? But why are they asking, ‘Who are you?’

    Newsless, FB-less, no email dawns is what I need to figure it all out. Just as we protect, nurture and encourage friends and loved ones, we must encourage our writerly selves.

    Thank you for the poignant reminder, Deb.

    • Indeed I’m working up in that treehouse more and more — in fact, a desk has a been added since you were here. And writer/photographer that you are, I can see why the trees really speak to you. There’s so much we see when the leaves are gone — could be what I love about winter trees.

    • Thank you, Tracey. As a writer, you’ll appreciate this — I happened to be at the gym yesterday when a friend who reads my posts said she hopes she’ll get to the place I am re: our political state of affairs. I reminded her that I really am as upset as she is and maybe writing about it gives at least some creative outlet for my distress and a chance to process where we are in the grand scheme of it all.

  2. Beautiful Deborah…..not a writer, I’m just a reader who loves your words ………

  3. Deborah:
    I love this–thank you for making these connections and reminding me about the power of welcoming the light each day.
    All the best,
    Kathy Curto

    • Thank you, Kathy. Speaking of light — a favorite quote of mine to appreciate winter: the greater the external darkness, the greater the internal light.

  4. Deborah, when I read this post yesterday, I had just finished crying over a variety of things and had turned in on myself, beating myself up over perceived failings. Your words were just what I needed and will be re-read a few times as a reminder. I stopped writing a month ago and have felt frozen. This is helping me start, again, to put ego aside and start again. We know each other only from she writes and Facebook, but we are kindred. All these people here feel the same! Now I see your post on ekphrasis and am excited about it. I’ve written a collection of ekphrastic short stories and am hoping someone will be interested in them. Let us enjoy the silence and darkness of the season and witness the birth of the sun on Dec. 21st as it lights our path anew.

  5. “Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”


  6. Your words nourish my soul, Deborah. I often awaken just before dawn. No curtains to hide the mountains to the east, I watch from my bed as the first orange and pink flames of the new day appear. Another miracle in these very dark times. Much love to you, my friend.

    • And lucky for me, I get to picture you doing that. You inhabit a very special place, indeed, and it has to leave an impression on anyone who has a visited you. Takes a certain presence of mind to really cherish where you are/who you are, especially in these dark times.

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