It's a sin to kill a mockingbird but it's also a sin to turn down a 7-year-old who invites you to "Alvin and Cipmunks: Road Cip."
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
I don't mean in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Wizard of Oz, or The Lord. I mean in community, in possibility, in beauty/art/science, in small leaps and big gains, in new vision with old eyeballs, in taking chances and making choices, in yes over no, in yourself most of all. And by "you" of course I mean me. But also you. And me.
Merry Christmas, my little gingersnaps! Get out there and tie one on.
I don't even know what to say. December 13, it's 65 degrees outside and I'm wearing shorts. Shorts! In December! Something has gone very wrong, yet I press on, for the good of America.
Here are the songs that mean Christmas to me, and without which the season would be only a lump of gray, existential, Scrooge-ish coal. Don't worry, I like lots of jingle-jangles and horns, plus melancholy and a little hint of desperation, so there's something for everybody!
+ the only Christmas albums I really care about:
I read 57 books this year, which is a 42.5% increase over 2014 (don't check the math), and the year isn't even finished yet. I'm happy to pat myself on the back for something, believe me, although I'm not sure what sort of achievement this counts as. I can't swear that it made me wiser or cooler or better at anything. Did it? Maybe. Should it? Maybe not. Who cares? Do whatever you want.
I won't go nuts and commit to reading more than one book a week for 2016, so my next resolution is to read with a more critical eye—less to make judgments than to see how and why—and then to actually write about what I'm reading (as my 2016 list grows and grows and grows). Seems like time to cash in on that valuable English lit degree, so look for Kari's Thoughts on Books & etc., right here at a future near you.
In the meantime, these were some of my favorites from 2015 and come very highly recommended (by me). Only two of them are novels, which seems new and surprising for a person who used to read fiction almost exclusively and would never have imagined otherwise:*
- The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
- Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe
- Laurel Canyon by Michael Walker
- The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks
- Poverty Creek Journal by Thomas Gardner
- The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander
- 100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write by Sarah Ruhl
*I listened to this "On Being" podcast while I shopped for groceries this morning; it's a conversation between Krista Tippett and Mary Catherine Bateson, who's the daughter of anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson. They talk about marriage at one point and Bateson says something about how marriages need to evolve and grow in the same way that babies evolve and grow: parents understand that their children will change from week to week but people in relationships don't necessarily expect that from a partner, which is one reason marriages fail (as Lillian Hellman puts it, "People change and forget to tell each other.").
It's so easy to get stuck in the mindset that we are who we are, that we like the things we like and hate what we hate, but how much easier it might all be if we remembered that nothing about us is settled or static, regardless of our age; we shift every day (per Wendell Berry, "we are either beginning or we are dead."). Maybe I read to remind myself of that.
I cut through ROCKEFELLER PLAZA two weeks before CHRISTMAS to get to the POST OFFICE at LUNCHTIME and didn't lose my cool. Those four entities are all discrete hot buttons for me, so the fact that I survived them simultaneously qualified as a major breakthrough.
Impatience and short tempers are glamorous & all and I excel at both but my goal is to not use them as an excuse to ruin someone else's day. Working in midtown can be exhausting any time of the year but right now it exists on a whole other plane of insanity, and when I'm in a hurry or not paying attention it's so easy to forget that there are thousands of people who come out here to look up at this tree because it's this tree. That's an amazing thing! And I may just be on my way to buy stamps or coffee or Potbelly or whatever but surely I'm mature enough to keep my irritation to myself while I do it. Surely I can succeed at not fucking up somebody else's exciting New York City holiday trip that they probably planned months and months ago and dreamed of and spent $$$$ on and lost sleep over and jumped out of bed for and may never get the opportunity to do again. Surely I can step around and not through. Surely I can take a breath and wait. Surely I can stop and remember what it was to see what they see. SURELY that's possible.
Never fear, I will remain the same good-natured curmudgeon you know and love today, convinced that the world is a cesspool and the people in it compliant if occasionally amusing numbskulls, but I plan to make a conscious effort to remember that this is never 100% true, or at least never 100% of the time. I do believe the brain feeds on itself like an ouroboros, and that cynical thinking begets cynical actions, that eventually it seeps like a slow-acting poison into your bones, and then what do you have? What are you wasting your thoughts on?
Here's to making resolutions willy-nilly in December and not waiting until 1/1/16 like some sad hungover desperate lame-o.
The first of my many old year's resolutions is to learn how to cook like a boss. Note that I've made this pledge before and failed. This time I shall not fail. "Failure is not an option!" said every lunatic ever. I actually mean it though.
Obviously I have no intention of deep frying or baking anything, but do look forward to searing and roasting and whatever "braising" is. I also have issues with handling raw chicken parts that sooner or later will have to be dealt with. That's okay, life is about facing your fears and the flesh of dead poultry.
As with all things, success will depend on setting boundaries and resisting expensive single-use gewgaws, as well as finding and following a few trusty guides who pass the critical test of not pissing me off. (Surefire ways to piss me off include but are not limited to: recipes with more than 12 ingredients; blog posts that feature photos of the same plate of food from 35 different angles; anything low-fat, low-cal, or low-carb.) Here are my key resources thus far:
Brothers Green Eats – these guys remind me of my favorite scene from "Master of None," when Dev makes fresh pasta for himself in his Brooklyn kitchen while he waits for his lady to return from Chicago. Bonus: both brothers are super cute and very hairy!
An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler
Twelve Recipes by Cal Peternell
The commonplace miracle:
that so many common miracles take place.
The usual miracle:
invisible dogs barking
in the dead of night.
One of many miracles:
a small and airy cloud
is able to upstage the massive moon.
Several miracles in one:
an alder is reflected in the water
and is reversed from left to right
and grows from crown to root
and never hits bottom
though the water isn’t deep.
A run-of-the-mill miracle:
winds mild to moderate
turning gusty in storms.
A miracle in the first place:
cows will be cows.
Next but not least:
just this cherry orchard
from just this cherry pit.
A miracle minus top hat and tails:
fluttering white doves.
A miracle (what else can you call it):
the sun rose today at three fourteen a.m.
and will set tonight at one past eight.
A miracle that’s lost on us:
the hand actually has fewer than six fingers
but still it’s got more than four.
A miracle, just take a look around:
the inescapable earth.
An extra miracle, extra and ordinary:
can be thought.
— Wislawa Szymborska (trans. by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh)