Friday, December 17, 2010
I'm not a Christmas letter person.
You probably could have guessed this given the ancillary data: I am not a Christmas tree person, a Christmas lights person, a wreath-purchasing person, a Halloween costume donner, a gift wrapper, a manger arranger, or a spreader of holiday cheer. (I always picture the holiday cheer as butter, the kind you forget to take out of the fridge resulting in a block the texture of a pencil eraser, impossible to distribute evenly over bread.)
I am, it should be noted, an enthusiastic consumer of eggnog, but that's about all I've got.
Still, I've been thinking about Christmas letters. My Great Aunt Marian and Great Uncle Fred, both of whom died in 2009, were enthusiastic and literate composers of Christmas letters, and I always enjoyed curling up with their offerings. Fred was a retired Shakespeare scholar, Marian a retired poetry journal editor, and each of them, always, felt that the year they'd just passed deserved commentary, dissection, summation, beauty.
If we don't transmute our days into words, how do we know we've lived? Pictures are not the same. They're casual, the brushing up of the world against your senses. Words are for keeps. And by words, I don't mean diaries, which have always struck me as shouting in the dark. Rather, communication: the conscious delivery, via language, of then into now. I am reminded of Calvin stepping into the transmogrifier, emerging as a subtle variation of himself.
(I have lately become preoccupied with Calvin and Hobbes. Or perhaps a better word is occupied: they inhabit me, urging naps and mischief.)
Last year, no letters came. The year trundled past, a train with every window dark. We don't keep addresses, anymore, or at least I don't: mailboxes seem outmoded, like the ultimate bones of your spine. If I want someone's address, I ask via email. But you can't solicit addresses for Christmas letters. Part of the ritual is faith: you scribble a direction, let the letter go, and trust your words will fetch up at friends' doors.
This year I closed doors and changed places. By which I mean I took a place I understood the worth of and broke it into silver quarters. Or maybe I mean I left a place and it closed behind me like a door. There is a lot of silver in the world, and some of it is here, in rivers and pools and rain against the roof of the porch. Every time I drive north from the city I wish I were somewhere else and in 10 years I'll wish that somewhere else were here. Never mind: You're mine out there somewhere, you with your worlds and your ears.