It’s Christmas, but you wouldn’t know it by my house, which has no tree, no wrapped presents, no fauxflake or stocking or stray spray of tinsel. It’s not because I’m a curmudgeon. I just started thinking: What do we need that we don’t have? What do we want that we don’t get nearly as quickly as the thought pops into our heads? While this condition is much the same for us every year, it’s the first time I have been stricken by the absurdity—of frantic shopping, of wrapping surprises on the same pre-scheduled day as most of this country and some of the world, as if we’d deprive our child, now too old (not to mention too Jewish) to believe in Santa, of her reasonable heart’s desires for an entire year, as if we should have waited on Hendrix the Creature, her pet bearded dragon. As if guitar picks should be stocking stuffers rather than tools of her trade.
As I sit here, my daughter is pounding insanely on the drums while her friend makes repetitive keyboard sounds, my husband is watching some dull war documentary, the kitchen countertop is covered with crumbs, my back is sore, and my dogs are where they always are—beneath my feet, a perpetual tripping hazard—one of them, Cleo, snoring so loudly that I can hear her over the drums.
But I am practicing a new craft. I am waving away the fog of depression, turning the ugly floaters into the swirling glitter of a snow globe. My daughter taught herself how to play the drums, and she’s good; she has a friend with her, and they are making music, not noise. My husband is watching the movie on our brand new shiny iMac. My counter is crumby because I’ve just made warm, delicious brownies filled with the free bag of chocolate chips Safeway gave us for spending twenty bucks on the ingredients for brownies and chicken stew. My back is sore because I’ve been standing up playing guitar, something I couldn’t do a few months ago. And my dogs are beautiful; at fourteen, Cleopatra’s cacophony is a comfort because it means she is still alive.
If I have a resolution for the coming year, it’s to practice more of this kind of witchcraft, to discover a way to transmute anxiety and sadness into something bright and gleaming, something the crow dragged in.
I have spent far too much of 2009 listing the things that have gone wrong. It’s not that I didn’t earn the right, but pacing back and forth along this path has put a rut in it. Sometimes I wonder if it’s as awful as it is habitual. Now the rut is a damned trench, which makes the climb out a little tougher. All I really need to do is start filling it with each good thing until that, the filling, becomes my groove.
Habits, old or new, are hard to break; however, I’m wise enough to know that my blessings are many. My family, friends, and social networks have literally kept me alive when I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay that way. We had foster families at the beginning of this year, people who fed us and drove us around and made sure we were safe.
Before I sat down to review the year, I’d already panned 2009, in my mind worse than at least forty other years. But some pretty remarkable things happened this year.
• I knitted and sold enough scarves to help pay for an expensive chair, which was instrumental in my recovery.
• I ran almost two miles six months after back surgery.
• I felt the force of several thousand crows lifting off from a field where I stood.
• I have written at least five really good songs this year and will record them in the studio soon.
• My daughter, Serena, got straight A pluses (except for the A in religion), improved her saxophone, guitar, and drum playing and her singing. She landed the acoustic intro to one of my favorite songs ever, “ Crazy on You,” by Heart, for the Seattle Sounds show in January, and she’s nailing it.
• The Book was published! Let Me Eat Cake was not the best book ever written, and I got down on myself a lot after negative reviews, but you know what? Simon & Schuster liked it enough to pay me for my words and to publish them with a beautiful cover and pictures inside. I don’t know too many people who can say that. So there!
I’m not completely skipping gifts and holiday cheer, but I am finally questioning them in light of our dwindling bank account and increasing debt and dismal prospects for employment. And all we have already and all we discard every day. For instance, this week, I’ve received ten Christmas cards in the mail. Half were store bought; the other half were personalized with family photos. Not a single one of the senders wrote more than a generic, nameless greeting and a signature. I appreciate that you thought of me among the mountain of friends who give your hand a writer’s cramp each year, that you’d truly like me to have a blessed holiday, that you’d share your beautiful family with mine. But tell me something—that I’m a good neighbor, a good friend. Tell me you love me and my family, that we’ll make an effort to get together more this year, that you hope my back heals, that I write another book, that I stay with my husband for the 28th year. Make me laugh or think or cry over your sentiment. Those are the cards I save and reread when I need a quick reminder that I’m worthwhile. Unfortunately, my recycling bin fills up first.
So many of you have touched my soul this year. Telling you each might take me the majority of 2010. Until I do, please enjoy the card I made from photographs of the beautiful snow, an icy windshield, and the birds I love. Print it out if you’d like to keep it. When I see you next, I’ll write on the back of it what I love most about you.