Like everything else, Christmas is different now. Holding on to childhood or youthful ideas about how it should be–what we should feel, or the sequence of events that should happen–is a trap. I fell into it for years, and it retains an alluring tug. Lights are everywhere, and cookies. If you don’t feel the magic, something must be wrong with you.
Giving up the magic feels right, and easy. Grasping for how magical high school or college felt, that warm but bounded freedom with school on either end, is old clinging. Monkey has muscle memory and I instinctively, thoughtlessly grab. Now, though, is now. What is this like?
Christmas is good. I spend the morning with a friend unwrapping presents from our parents. Her dog gets a hat for which he looks no more aggrieved than usual. Decades of Christmas emotion roll by, but at a great distance: the hysterical elementary school delight, the more measured but still half-crazy high school happiness, college about what bar or music you’re meeting up with later, and then the long, strange, bleak plain after college when nothing was quite right. Sitting on my friend’s couch was none of those things: pleasant, the TV on, deep grey rain outside. She rented A Charlie Brown Christmas to cheer me up. I am glad I don’t need cheering, and that watching that bit of cultural time warp had no echo of past grasping in it, desperate to find something.
Chores fill up the rest of the day. The kitten gets his first vacuum cleaner exposure, and he is less put out than the maximum. Kitchen paper litter is discarded, the refrigerator–to the amusement of women who laugh at its meager single guy contents–is cleaned. Everything takes longer to answer Christmas Day texts and phone calls, and I am glad for it.
My dad bought me a large, extra-deep file cabinet after college. Its black mass has been a fixture, holding credit card statements and old tax returns. My ex used it for her considerable teaching materials. Some drawers hold folders of old writing projects, notebooks, papers from my failed graduate school bids. I avoid it for that.
Old records have a strange draw to them, at least for me. Old paystubs and tax returns are artifacts, proof of living through a time. I don’t mind their dead weight. The dead weight of past writing, all kept in neat folders and not looked at, is far heavier. That old writing is everything negative voice I know: why did you stop? why didn’t you follow through? oh, no wonder–look how bad it is.
Christmas is different now. I don’t want to watch the old animated specials I saw as a kid, goggle through stores, stay up with late night TV. What is the new grown-up Christmas? Christmas afternoon is a great time to find out. I start cleaning the files.
I go through the plain-jane first: everything current. Old insurance policies go, old mutual fund statements: easy. Then, in the back of this topmost drawer, old school folders. My German CLEP test results, where I remember a favorite history professor badgering administrators into accepting my barely passing grade as, in fact, barely passing, letting me graduate on time. My GED results, the reading test surprisingly low. (History and science are highest.) Copies of college transcripts, each semester’s classes from twenty-five years ago still distinct, each half-year fat with study and work and weird books and late weekends and trips I didn’t take. This slows tossing down. I remind myself to not think. The wastebasket fills.
Fall 1994 to spring 1995 I spent in Victoria, BC, at graduate school. I was lonely, isolated, exhausted from studying. I find a thick sheaf of papers: copies professors had graded. I flip through and read the comments. Almost all are good. A very good presentation…thoughtful and provoked thought….An intelligent and interesting paper….Crisply written and wide-ranging….A rich and sophisticated treatment of the topic…. One professor is an asshole: If your writing and presentation had been on par with the research effort, this would have been excellent indeed. Even he gives an A-.
A voice starts, not Monkey, somebody older. So why’d you stop? You could have a master’s degree.
I was lost. I felt like a fraud after college, and slightly lower then from leaving graduate school a year before. I didn’t understand what the classes were really about or what the degree was for. Why I was living in a university library reading books I hardly understood and didn’t care about? I realized I really wanted to move out of my parents’, and when my thesis was rejected again, I realized there were better ways to do that.
I don’t toss the papers.
Writing files–the start of a confused and abandoned novel, many short stories, even exercises writing scripts for The Simpsons and Pinky and the Brain. (Just as exercise: I knew there was no way to get them read.) Files are spread over two drawers, going back to my early twenties. I flip through The Simpsons script: three drafts over the course of 1999. The voice reads with me. Hm, maybe. Not so bad, but maybe it is. You didn’t know anything. Heh. Sure was a lot of work for nothing.
I realize this is a lot for one day.
Boxes of cancelled checks, file folders so worn the tab crumbles in my fingers, a fat pile of unemployment records go. Texts and calls from friends sprinkle in. Someone else plans to clean out. Some things have bad energy that needs to stay in this year. When the basket is full, I stop. I still have almost a week of 2012 to get to the rest.
Before bed, I write out a multi-year schedule: work on a book, do a solo show, help a friend with his movie, take some trips. The friend and I had a talk. Vision makes reality. I fill one page. Looking at it, streetlight streaming in the window, it captures an old energy. I made lists before. The voice is quiet.