Old spirit, in and beyond me,
keep, and extend me. Amid strangers,
friends, great trees and big seas breaking,
let love move me. Let me hear the whole music,
see clear, reach deep. Open me to find due words,
that I may shape them to ploughshares of my own making.
After such luck, however late, give me to give to
the oldest dance....Then to good sleep,
and—if it happens—glad waking.

 — Philip Booth

The Oxen

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel

"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

— Thomas Hardy

Blessing the Boats

(at St. Mary’s)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back       may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

– “Blessing the Boats” by Lucille Clifton

2014 resolve

My only goal for next year is to live it up like these cats. Also to stop paying attention to the news. The news is categorically horrible from top to bottom and never fails to give me an existential headache, especially the BBC Radio Hour on NPR which is MISERY in deceptively dulcet tones. Jesus Christ I hate those BBC fuckers. I wish them nothing but phlegm and laryngitis in 2014. On the other hand, may your new year, as ever, be zippy as hell. p.s. Remember the condoms.

At the blue hour

There must be a German word for that feeling of lying in a dark quiet room at twilight, out of sight yet within earshot of the people dearest to you in the world. Some word with 30 vowels and a clutter of hard competing consonants that means wonder and gratitude and safety, nostalgia and temporality, melancholy and joy. But it turns out in German it's just plain ol' Staunen und Dankbarkeit und Sicherheit, Nostalgie und Zeitlichkeit, Melancholie und Freude. 

Natürlich, my little gingersnaps! And a merry Christmas to all. Live long and prosper, find someone to squeeze, and laugh just as loud as you can.

Sample mood

I keep having this nagging feeling that there's something I forgot to do this year, like get married or learn Russian or "understand finance." If I'd hopped the bus instead of the train on some random day in April, I might be ambassador to China by now. Maybe I would've found some secret tunnel to a magical french fry factory inside the trash can if I'd taken out the garbage last Sunday, only I decided to nap instead. My point is I'll never know how many lives I missed while I was busy making other choices or sleeping.

A couple of years ago I was waiting to meet a friend for lunch, and she canceled at the last minute. I was standing in the lobby of her office building when her fax came through, and a second later this guy standing next to me looked up from his phone and said, "Well, my lunch date just canceled." I shrugged in solidarity and we smiled at each other, and then I walked away. That was a mistake, I think. A failure of nerve that could have been a "meet cute" that might have led to a meal and subsequently netted me both a man and a million dollars as a major motion picture starring Emma Stone and Some Guy. Probably Ryan Gosling! Although I would also settle for James McAvoy or TBD. Whatever, even with a million dollars I can't afford to be choosy. (Is this a word? Choosy?)

Ugh, the end of the year always makes me thinky.

It’s hard to know when changes are happening

Things have been slow at work this week so I've had plenty of time to add articles to my reading list (current Readability queue: 98 and counting, which is both tragic and hopeful and therefore an encapsulation of The Age). Some recent saves:

2013: The Year the Stream Crested "Stand on this rock in the stream." Also: robots. p.s. save yourself now.

Why Our Online Persona Is Needier Than Our Real One Do I crave validation via some pathetic self-perpetuating rats' nest of interlocking social media crutches? Probably.

Kenny Mellman Treats Himself to Double-Dipped Roast Beef Sandwiches The natural habitué of the Grub Street Diet is a name-dropping, trend-chasing food lunatic, but they occasionally cough up a charmer. All in for coffee addictions and pinball leagues.

The Thought Leader Few writers get lefties and thinkers worked up on Twitter like David Brooks, and when enough of them pen outraged diatribes in response to one of his columns, I feel honor bound to see what the fuck is going on. Once again I fail to summon sufficient outrage of my own (who expects David Brooks to make sense?), but I always appreciate a free ticket to the circus.

On the other hand, Ross Douthat's Book Club: do join.

Waxing Extravagant I am absolutely one of these horrible people I hate so very much.

Slouching Toward Neck Trouble Did you know Nora Ephron and Joan Didion were longtime friends? Here's Heather Havrilesky on the difference between their writing (and life) styles: "When life gave Ephron lemons, in other words, she made a giant vat of really good vodka-spiked lemonade and invited all of her friends and her friends' friends over to share it, and gossip, and play charades. Whereas when life gave Joan Didion lemons, she stared at them for several months, and then crafted a haunting bit of prose about the lemon and orange groves that were razed and paved over to make Hollywood, in all of its sooty wretchedness—which is precisely what this mixed-up world does to everything that's fresh and young and full of promise." I'm on Nora's side, obviously. Do you know if Joan Didion ever laughs? I would like to see some evidence.

Lenny! by Robert Gottlieb I'll read anything that comes with an exclamation point, which should surprise no one.

'Splat!': The Oral History of Sex and the City's Most Shocking Episode True confession: I watch this episode maybe once a month, usually on sad Sundays. It's everything I loved about the show at its best, as the characters got older and life got harder and everybody started playing for keeps. Plus it ends with a sleigh ride in the snow in Central Park with Mikhail Baryshnikov, which just might be at the top of one of my many stupid fantasy lists.

Die Hard works because it's only Christmas-adjacent "Rain, shine, snow, sleet, birthdays, Halloweens, Tuesdays: Any day is a good day to watch Die Hard." Amen, brother.

Deep Inside Taco Bell's Doritos Locos Taco There's an enormous picture of a taco right at the top of the page.

Cormac McCarthy's Three Punctuation Rules, and How They All Go Back to James Joyce The headline functions as a sort of literary cliffhanger, so I'm saving this for Christmas.

Snowden and Greenwald: The Men Who Leaked the Secrets Ditto!

How to Take Good Photos for Under $1,000 One way or another I see this one costing me some hard-earned clams, followed by tears, regret, and ennui. The stuff true gifts are made of.

And finally: Postscript: Peter O'Toole. This is a gem: "And that voice! By what miracle of instinct did Lean manage to cast a man who sounded, even before he reached the desert, as though his words had been naturally sanded? He could strike his consonants hard, as Laurence Olivier did, but with less of a cluck, and that soft, rasping croon of his, when he chose to deploy it, had the ominous effect of making you want to stop the action and offer him a drink. This may be sheer coincidence, but one thing that bound O’Toole to the pack that he ran with, in his lurid years, was that all of them—Richard Burton, Richard Harris, and Oliver Reed—had speaking tones so rich and nectared that the rest of us could get drunk on them as they poured into our ears. What drove the hell-raisers, heaven knows; were they wasting talent, drowning sorrow, making hay, or raising their glasses as a complaint against the world for not being a fraction as beautiful as their words would have it be?"

The amateur

Perhaps there is no perfect word for the kind of people I have raised my children to be: a word that encompasses obsessive scholarship, passionate curiosity, curatorial tenderness, and an irrepressible desire to join in the game, to inhabit in some manner—through writing, drawing, dressing up, or endless conversational riffing and Talmudic debate—the world of the endlessly inviting, endlessly inhabitable work of popular art. The closest I have ever come for myself is amateur, in all the best senses of the word: a lover; a devotee; a person driven by passion and obsession to do it—to explore the imaginary world—oneself. And if we must accept the inevitable connotation of hopeless ineptitude that amateur carries, then at least let us stipulate that we shall be hopeless and inept like Max Fischer, the hero of Wes Anderson’s Rushmore: in the most passionate, heedless, and whole-hearted way.
— Michael Chabon

Jingle Bell Jog

In preparation for our New Year's Eve midnight race, Roxie and I ran the Jingle Bell Jog in Brooklyn yesterday. Outlook: cold and victorious with a monster side of jingle. Too much, maybe. It's a fine line each jingler must draw for her/himself. We did get Scrooged out of the hot chocolate at the long end of a cold road, though, so thanks for that, NYRR. Bring more next year, there's my free tip for you, and I am, as they say, no genie/us.