The lights are down, every decoration packed away. The last remnants of The Holidays 2012 are dumped on discount tables at Fred Meyer entrances or leaking out of trash cans. The elves pick up after themselves with speed.
Not so long ago the holidays ending sent me into a deep depression. In high school and college it was paralyzing. I was able to do little more besides sit and watch the clock count down to school restarting, or go for walks and feel desolate at the sight of trees and bags of colorful garbage waiting for pickup. I have pictures from 1990 or so of walking through the town’s tree recycling drop off. Clouds press down and the mesquite and other spiny trees resemble bales of wire. Strands of tinsel blow in the wind, the trees green on the burned-out Texas grass. The stumps are white with fungus. They reminded me of bodies. It was impossibly sad.
During some dark years in the last decade Christmas was similarly sad, with a different quality. There was a grasping for childhood. I discovered the Seventies Japanese stop-motion animated classics in endless cascades on ABC Family, and was transfixed. There it is. Something palpable shone out from the screen I could not touch: innocence, wonder, hyperconsumer expectations of joy in a lighted box. Christmas 2005 or so was a slipstream period of merged eras: mom hauling in homebaked goodies from her students; the semester’s last exam taken; staying up late with Letterman and HBO standup; and somehow the now of HD cable and lights on the deck spilling down the hill. The previous five years had been dark ones tied up with illness and joblessness. Before that had been a difficult, grinding time of marital fights and confusion. In front of that TV, my subconscious made a big reach to find the Christmas we are trained to need.
Holidays 2012 broke the pattern. Christmas was a strange, suspended day, but a good day with a good friend and presents more meaningful than expensive. (Isn’t that the point of presents?) Christmas evening, even in childhood an undefined time, was a time of release and throwing out. The next day I worked five hours and felt great walking away. The rest of the week was a constant patter of calls and texts from friends, good walks, rewarding visits by the water, colored lights shining out over the dark. New Year’s Eve I was tired, but the need for a big sendoff won out. I was glad it did. It was a spectacular show.
Yes, some anxiety, some feeling of loss. But not overwhelming. At times, peeking out of a corner and sometimes walking the room’s edge, I felt: light? Aware? Happy? A little like I did in college–released and excited, ready for next. This time was set aside to be liminal, on the outside, open to exception.
In the picture above, the trash man is making the year’s first pickup. Delayed a day and with recycling left over from last week, he’s still there at his regular time. Cars whiz by. It’s Thursday in the new year–get back to work. The truck groans and clears its diesel throat.
Even last year, to peek out the window and see this might have set off hopeless depression. This year I took this picture. I watched him push the bins into the metal dumpster and then the dumpster hoisting the catch up, over and inside. My bin was full with the last of my Christmas purge. He dumped it in like anything else and the truck roared slowly up the hill.
Mornings are an undefined space. Every day we wake to a great boundless opening. Thursday, January 3rd, 2013, was darkest winter, but the sun rose two minutes earlier than two weeks ago. I had to get to work but made myself watch. Old things were being picked up and a new thing was coming together, and it was important that I see.