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.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas morning

We all settled on the couch last night for our annual Christmas Eve viewing of It's a Wonderful Life. The kids, older now by a year, seemed to grasp a little more of what was going on than in years previous, though there were still inane, constant questions such as "Who's he?" every time George Bailey appeared on screen.

As the movie wound down, however, and George began his frantic search through Pottersville for Martini, his mother, Mary and, ultimately, Clarence, the kids quieted down. They became rapt with attention at the drama unfolding on the screen and there even appeared to be a collective sigh of relief when George's mouth started bleeding again, ZuZu's petals reappeared, the bank examiner was found to be waiting at home and Uncle Billy finally came through the door with a big basket full of cash.

Whether the kids understood the message or not, I'm not sure, but they were at least focused enough on the outcome to not notice their father sitting in the dark with only the glow of the tree lights to spotlight that he, once again, couldn't keep it together when Harry Bailey toasts his brother.

I say "we all" settled in but, actually, JP didn't stick around long. As he is wont to do, he announced that he was really sleepy and asked if he had to stay for the movie. I told him to go to bed whenever he was ready, so he trotted off with visions of sugarplums and root beer in his head ... only to announce he was still awake several hours later.

Unable to sleep, and fidgety with excitement, it seems he lay in bed for hours imagining the possibilities. Sleeplessness at night is so foreign a concept to JP that it actually scared him when he wasn't able to drift off. He kept C awake with his worry and C, being the alternate parent he is, came in to let us know.

Kristy and I, of course, were busy as elves.

So, for the first time in 11 years as parents, we were disturbed while performing our Santa Claus duties. This was never a problem for all those Christmases we spent in a 1,200 square foot house. No, we had to move to one three times that size to have these kids up and wandering around looking for us at 1 a.m. on Christmas Eve.

I think the real problem was that JP knew there was a Wii in the house. Of course he hadn't seen it, wrapped and under the tree since his Nonna sent it to him, but he could sense it. He could smell that game console over the Christmas cookie aroma, through the wrapping paper and from two rooms away. He vibrated with the knowledge that something in the aura of the house had changed and it kept him awake, the Miis quickly outnumbering and overpowering the sugarplums for real estate in his electronically-wired mind.

So, that's right, the kids got a Wii this morning. For those of you who know us, you know how big that is. You understand why JP's head exploded when the paper came off, leaving bits of wishfulness and hopefulness that had been harbored there for so long all over the walls, the decorated tree and my bathrobe. Life, as the kids know it, is complete. To show just how surprised they were, they named their Wii console, when the opportunity was given to do so, Miracle.

Welcome to the family, Miracle.

And thank you, Nonna, from your Memphis grandchildren.

My column in yesterday's Commercial Appeal was all about managing expectations and I think we did a pretty good job of that this year. Our kids wanted a lot, we told them there was no way they'd get it all, they expected less and then got more than they ever could have imagined.

Another holiday season in the bag. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

This Christmas, I give you the gift of irony. In the vein of O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi," I submit a video of 3-year-old GK admonishing everyone else to be good and nice, to not pout or cry. As if she knew anything about any of that, for goodness sake.

Merry Christmas from my family to yours.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Do you remember the feeling as a child of being carried to your bed by a parent? Of a dreamlike hovering between sleep and wakefulness from the car or sofa, down the hall and into the comfort of your own sheets where the familiarity of smell and texture on your cheek from your very own pillow welcomed you? The arms that carried you there held you close, refusing to let you fall or wake completely as the gentle rocking of forward motion made the short, seconds-long trip feel like an ocean voyage on a ship with sails of flannel or silk, depending on its port of origin.

The only feeling I’ve found to duplicate that calm, that sense of security and closeness, is in carrying my own children to their beds. Hearing the soft, childish snoring, the feel of warm breath against my cheek as I hold them tight, though not so tight as to wake them, is the greatest gift I could ask for this time of the year.

With all the stresses of the season, of money and loss of time, work and uncertainty as a new year and decade approach, it is these short walks, with everything that is important to me in my arms, that remind me to slow down and appreciate the voyage.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Devon Hollahan

This blog is funny. Or, it's supposed to be funny. But some things aren't so funny and should still be brought to you anyway.

Devon Hollahan is, through a patchwork of marriage and genetics, a relative of mine. I'm not going to pretend that we're close, the fact is I've never met the man. But I know the Hollahans of Memphis, and my aunt Jeannie Hollahan knows the Hollahans of Arizona, of which Devon is one. It's a tight-knit clan, the Hollahans, and they need help.

Devon Hollahan is a 22-year-old English teacher living in Prague. On November 21, he and a friend went to Frankfurt, Germany, to see a band play and relax for the weekend. After the show, his friend stopped to ask directions and when he turned around Devon was gone. He hasn't been seen or heard from since.

His family, these Hollahans, have gone to work. His father and aunt have been in Frankfurt and put together an army legions strong, fanning out across the city with flyers, questions, descriptions and hope. Social media has proven to have a productive use, more helpful than for simply putting pictures of your cat or favorite recipe for bean dip on the internet. A Facebook page has sprung up as has a video about Devon that they hope will go viral. I'm not even sure what that means, but I'll link to all of that below. E-mail updates from the family are circulated continuously around the world.

I don't know Devon personally, but we are connected, each more closely at either end of our familial spectrum, and I am a father. I can't imagine anything more horrible than losing a child and having so many questions unanswered. We hope Devon will be found, that there will be closure and that so many of those questions will provide answers.

If you pray, please mention Devon. If you happen to be in Germany, keep your eyes and ears open. And if you have a computer on your desk, or in your pocket, please help get the word out.

Thank you.