Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Quiet Days of Auld Lang Syne

I find myself this week at the end of another year, another decade.

It’s the time of year, these days between Christmas and the new year that there is a general melancholy and wistfulness in the air, when sentimentality is the order of the day. This feeling stems from those purgatorial days as a kid that I loathed, when family would pack their things to return home, leaving me in a wake of torn red paper, tattered bows and a discarded tree at the curb. It was a return to real life that was like a wintry cold slap in the face.

I’m not one to greet January making resolutions for the new year as the clock ticks out. There will be no list beginning with the hopeful and specific “lose weight” and ending with the lazy and blasé “be a better person,” though both would be on such a list at any time of the year.

Rather than look ahead, this is the time I tend to look back. Not necessarily at 2009 or at the decade it ends, not at any set frame of days, weeks and months, but simply backward. Thoughts, conversations, actions, dreams, hopes, mistakes, music, friends, stories, fears, loves, hates … it’s all in there, everyone and everything that has come to make me who I am over the course of my four decades.

These are days when I look out the window to see the trees sketched in black against a bright blue winter sky while reflecting on the sun-dappled leaves of spring, and I carry around Somerset Maugham’s “The Summing Up” and my old friend Jim’s, creased and coffee-stained copy of Salinger’s “Franny and Zooey,” pilfered and treasured after so many moves together so many years ago. I carry them from room to room the way Franny carries her volumes and I recite passages to myself the way she repeats the Jesus Prayer over and over to herself. It’s a way for me to feel close to the past, to old friends and to become reacquainted with the language.

There is no list for the upcoming year, but there is an outline, a vague notion with Roman numerals and bits and pieces of alphabet, of what the year ahead might bring. Something I’ve been working on for the past year should be finished in 2010. I’m not saying it will be published (any increase in optimism would be further down a list, were there to be such a list), but I will finish it if only because I’ve become intimate with its characters and their stories, and I need to know how and where they all end up, how they fare from the troubles I’ve given to them and the obstacles I’ve selfishly placed in their way.

Losing weight is in the outline as well, though as a subset of exercising to better manage stress and patience levels. Spending more time – one on one – with the kids, cooking more, travel and reading more and better are all in the outline to varying degrees. Spending less time online is in this ephemeral plan of the new year, slipping off the grid for days at a time could help with a boost in productivity being the idea. Even becoming a better person is there, buried, possibly not even written and, if so, lightly in soft lead pencil because it’s something that’s been worked on for so many years to some success and some failure.

There are people in my life who make it possible for me to make a living, both through words of encouragement and financially since it isn’t much of a living, really, at something I love. Their willingness to read, to consider and to impart criticism, and then to understand when I skulk off and pout due to that criticism, is invaluable. Part of being a better person, a subset of that subset, is making sure they know that I do appreciate it. A kind of everyday, ongoing and informal dedication page.

Another wish for the new year is that you will all stick around, pass me around and share my thoughts and family with each other. Stop in any time, both literally and figuratively, here, in the newspaper or wherever I may end up. We’ve left the door open, the welcome mat in place and a cold drink waiting on the bar.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Wishing for a bright and happy New Year from my family to yours.