It’s December 21, 2012 and, again, the world has not ended. Do I sound disappointed? I swear, I’m not hoping for catastrophe, but it is a little sad, waking up on yet another morning when there was so much talk of something otherworldly happening, and finding that instead it’s just an ordinary, dreary, rainy day. Which means that you and I and all of our friends and family will get to keep living, so, again, I promise that I understand that this is a good thing. But, come one, wouldn’t it have been cool if we had woken up this morning to a green sky? Or friendly aliens wanting, finally, to tell us all the secrets of our existence? Some large event that didn’t kill anyone, but did change the world, plus proved that the Mayans had been tapped into the knowledge of it all those years ago?
But there is no Santa. Y2K was a marketing hoax. The Mayans just ran out of space. And we still don’t know why we’re here. Here’s something that is true: Today is the solstice. Which means that it’s the shortest day of the year, and it means that every day after today it’ll get lighter a little bit earlier. I don’t know about you, but that will make my life nicer and nicer and nicer because I hate the creeping darkness. Plus, you know, in the absence of the cataclysmic, it’s good that there is refuge to be taken in the humbler miracles of nature. No?
It’s the holiday season. My nights have been filled with cozy parties and I’m looking forward to many sweet reunions in the coming weeks. As I write this, the dough of the pastries that I will send off to my grandfather and pass around to my friends is rising in my oven. But I made it while listening to one after another radio host and his or her expert guests try to make some kind of sense out of last week’s shooting. As I kneaded my dough, clips played of my president crying.
We, as a nation, will spend the rest of this holiday season in mourning. Simple sadness, though, is not enough. People want to know why this happened, what could have been done to prevent it, what action can be taken to make sure it never happens again. On that subject, there is one thing that I’ve read in the last days that gave me an actual moment of solace, as opposed to stoking my grief for one or another pre-existing political purpose.
To give you this quote I have to confess to following a Chinese astrologer on facebook. It’s fun, you know, and he’s kind of a cool, quirky guy. And a couple of days ago he posted this little paragraph that made me feel like I could go on with my preparations for a happy holiday, that I didn’t have to feel guilty for the joy I was trying to cultivate. I’d like to pass it on to all of you, in the hopes that it will help you the way it helped me. I copied it as I found it, so forgive the grammar.
“People asked me about the incident shooting in my country and I said on the same day many many kindnesses were made … Great numbers of basically good actions … But they do not reach news media so we should celebrate every good act with joy n gratitude bec it is true we are all doing the best we can … To obsess with wrong or dark action will only bring that darkness into your heart … Thank you to everyone who has not killed anyone today in action, thought and energy … I feel fortunate to live in the world you are helping to create”
Reading that quote gives me the courage to try to be happy in such a broken world. And sending it to you on behalf of this little hotel feels even better because, as only just a little blip in the operations around here, I can say to you in good faith that this is the kind of place that’s helping the world become better.
So, in order to spend the next year enjoying the benefits of being a part of my family, which I do, actually, really enjoy, in the next few days I’m supposed to go out and spend a not insignificant sum of money taking more or less random guesses at little objects that each of them might want. Historically, those guesses have mostly been wrong, and there’s no real reason to think that this year should turn out to be the exception. All of us have sections of our closets full of clothes that are almost our style, but not quite. There are the gag gifts that everyone laughed at when they were opened, but have no actual life function. Accessories for hobbies bought by someone who knows nothing about the activity they’re accessorizing are thoughtful, but end up stashed someplace where no one can see they haven’t been opened. I don’t know what’s worse, the stress of trying to find something to buy, or the guilt of owning and not using all these thoughtful but superfluous things.
I like gift giving, though. I like the act of generosity. Maybe it’s the need to spontaneously generate ideas out of nowhere that’s plaguing me. Or maybe it’s all the outside pressure to buy, the non-stop stream of ads that make me want to shut my wallet forever, just at the moment when I’ve got this obligation to spend. These thoughts have led me to this great idea that I’m wondering if I’ll be brave enough to execute. What I’d like to do this year is to give everyone in my family something out of my own house. It seems to me that giving something that I like, but that I think that my sister, for example, will like more, is kind of a purer action. Or I can argue the point, in any case. And it’s not like I’m inventing the idea; my stepdad’s aunt did it just last year. Of course, she’s 88, Jewish, and sat complaining that she didn’t understand why she was being forced to give Christmas gifts the whole time. Still, I’ve really enjoyed wearing the scarf she gave my mother. The only danger I can foresee, aside from insulting the lot of them, is giving back something that one of them gave me.
Every December, when I was growing up, my mom would take us kids to see the Nutcracker. It was a little bit of wonderment to look forward to, a world of pristine princesses on pointe shoes. Plus it was a link in the magical chain called Christmas, a whole month of special outings that all led up to a day devoted to presents. Unsurprisingly, as the years went by, those links started coming undone. Maybe not believing in Santa opened the way for not believing in sugar plum fairies. A statewide campaign preaching energy efficiency dampened my enjoyment of the annual light shows in our neighbors’ yards, not to mention the invention of giant, inflatable, light-up characters. And then, in college, suddenly having to spend my own money on gifts, a mortal blow was dealt to my love of the giving and receiving part of the holiday. I guess because up until then I had only just been receiving. Participation in the family rite of Christmas is non-negotiable, especially since I didn’t move very far away from the lot of them, but as time passed, I started figuring out what the bare minimum requirement was and shooting just over it. And so, I haven’t been to the Nutcracker in something like 20 years. Honestly, I never missed it.
This year, though, I accidentally contracted a bit of nostalgia. Earlier this week, in a moment of weakness or insanity or something, I called my mom and asked her if she wanted to go see the Nutcracker with me. We’re going next Thursday.
What I tried to do, actually, when I suggested to her that she and I go see the some seasonal dance, was to make a compromise between childhood memories and, you know, adulthood. Mark Morris made a ballet called the Hard Nut, based, as he says, on the original story of the Nutcracker, before it was made kid friendly. Plus, it’s set in the 70’s, draws imagery from comic books, aims at gender neutrality where appropriate, and uses all of Tchaikovsky’s original music. My mother’s obvious disappointment at that idea made me immediately abandon it. You, though, here visiting, away from your family, if you find yourself possessed by a similar cautious wistfulness and a free night, can go see this updated classic. It’s playing in Berkeley and it’s what I would be doing, if I had been a little more careful.
This last weekend, going for food on Murphy Street, I saw a very strange sight. At somewhere around four in the afternoon, a pretty average little bar on this more or less random street was teeming with Santa Clauses. There were ten or fifteen on the sidewalk and a peek inside showed nothing but red. Some were old and stout with real gray beards, like the genuine article. Others were young and kept the unflattering Santa jackets tied around their waists so as not to hide broad shoulders and the possibility of six-packs. There were lady Santas too, though it didn’t look like many of them would like to be called “Mrs”. It was as if the Hindus, with their thousands and thousands of gods, had adopted Christmas and then demanded that Santa Claus show himself in all his many aspects.
I have since learned that what I actually saw was some version of a Santacon. Do you all know about these? Are some of you participating in them? From what I can gather, or, let’s be honest, from what google tells me, a Santacon is a pub crawl where everyone comes dressed as Santa Claus. Which sounds kind of festive and fun, like a Christmas party full of new, free-spirited people. This one that I saw was a little strange, though. It was broad daylight and some of these Santas’ suits looked suspiciously like Christmas themed fetish gear. And apparently they’ve gotten to be controversial because neighborhoods will suddenly find themselves overrun by drunken Santas. When I start to remember that Santa Claus was invented for children, I get a little uncomfortable with all of this. I remember going to the mall when I was a little girl to sit on Santa’s lap, how special it was to get a glimpse of him. I remember laying awake on Christmas Eve, thinking of him sneaking into my house. I don’t so much like the idea that some little kid, naïve and excited like I used to be, will have to get prematurely confused when she comes across one or another band of belligerent Santas, smoking, vomiting and making out with each other. Is this overly-sensitive of me?
I did something very cool last night that I’d like to tell all of you about. And, to be clear, by cool, I mean something hip and fashionable. I do not mean to say that it was enjoyable or worth my time. Sorry to sound like such an old fuddy-duddy, but I really was not impressed by my experience at the famous Sundance Kabuki Theater. Famous is maybe not quite the right word, but it’s got its very fancy name and around here it’s supposed to be kind of a special experience. The idea is that if you buy tickets for the balcony, your seats are assigned and there’s a bar for hanging out in before and after. You can even bring your drinks into the theater with you, and there are little tray tables to put them on between every two or three admittedly very comfy seats. Maybe it’s meant to be like a lounge that also screens new releases. Maybe it’s meant to mimic the experience of being at a big film festival, like Sundance, for example. My own personal experience was that I paid $17 for the privilege of buying a $10 beer to forget about until it was too warm to be interesting anymore. Maybe I was better off, though, than the friend I was with who didn’t forget his beverage and ended up in the bathroom during a key dramatic moment.
Even if I were of the mentality that alcohol makes everything better, which, to be honest, some days I am and some days I’m not, still, when it comes to drinking in the movies, I much prefer high school style, that is, to keep a little flask in my purse, buy a soda, go into the dark theater and make a mix to pass among my friends. There’s still the risk of ending up in the bathroom at the wrong time, but at least I haven’t paid a luxury tax for it.
And, hey, don’t forget, now through January 4 we’re exchanging non-perishable items for drink tickets!
2012 was, for me, the year I discovered the e-reader. What a transformation it was! Little problems, like the awkwardness of keeping a book open without always having to hold it in my hands, and constantly falling asleep with the light on because as I feel myself drifting off I can’t be bothered to reach over and flip the switch, just disappeared. And when I started traveling, I thought I was hooked for life. All decisions about which books to take, not to mention the question of whether lugging around books, plural, is justifiable, knowing that there’s no real way that I’m going to get myself through even one whole book in any given week of travel, let alone three, but being unwilling to commit to any particular one and, anyway, it’s always possible to have a huge reading spurt and in that case, wanting to be prepared. How releasing to carry as many tomes as my heart desires in one wispy little tablet.
Today, though, I’m wavering. Don’t get me wrong; I’ll stand by everything I just said. But now I feel like I need to confess to the things I’ve spent the last months reading. It’s a little embarrassing, but relevant, I think, so here goes. I read the entire Game of Thrones series. Then I read a book by some music critic, who was trying to understand why anyone could possibly like Celine Dion. After that I moved on to a biography of an author I like. Light fare, one might say. Last week, though, with a bit of space in my life, I decided it was finally time to get around to Ulysses. I downloaded it and set in, glad at first that I wouldn’t be hefting the real thing around for the next month. But, did you catch that? There’s the problem. I don’t believe I’ve got the real Ulysses loaded onto my iPad. Not that I don’t trust that I have a correct version of the text, but that, to me, after all these years of putting off reading Joyce, I want the full experience. I want to hold the thing in my hand, dog-ear nice or confusing parts, and be able to write in the margins. And, yes, I know you can make notes and highlight text on an e-reader, but with my handwriting goes the intimacy, which I didn’t notice was missing until I got to this book that I want to really be intimate with.
So now I find myself in a quandary. There’s still so much I like about reading on the iPad. I feel like I could pretty easily find a comfortable balance between the two. I’m worried, though, that if I don’t take a more activist stance, insisting on paper books only, that I’m going to end up being part of the destruction of this thing that I now know I don’t want to live without. Can any of you relate to this? Or are the rest of you just easily accepting this new way of being? The book, after all, is the words, not the object, or so they say.