In a little while, my house will be full with family and friends for Christmas dinner. Fortunately, I won’t be the one cooking for fourteen – just providing the meeting place this year. That’s because half of them want to see what I’ve been doing the last couple of months. Some of you here might be wondering, too.
I believe mentioning before that the view from the back yard is delightful. (In fact, somewhere around here is a picture or two featuring that view.) While the breakfast area, the master bedroom and another bedroom all have large windows through which one can enjoy that view, it has always bothered me that the one room I spend the most time in, the family room, doesn’t.
At the end of September, two able-bodied and knowledgeable friends and I embarked on a project to rectify that situation. We removed a door, moved a window, put a new 8′ tall sliding door in where there was once a window, moved the gas fireplace from the center of the back wall to the corner, added a large window where once the fireplace and a well for an old-fashioned large TV set, and finished that area off as a window box seat.
As we finished only last week (and still have much “touching up” to do), we obviously weren’t in a huge hurry. The project was most definitely entertaining, often educational, and rarely tedious or bothersome. It was a great way to take my mind off other things. Suffice to say we had lots of fun.
Here’s what the room looked like before we started:
And here’s what it looks like now:
We couldn’t resist adding a twist:
Ron here. I, too, will be having a melancholic Christmas, but I think for different reasons than Amba. My best friends mother passed away suddenly, almost 2 weeks ago (!), and this has caused her and her family considerable difficulty, as Grandma was a big part of financially helping a family with 2 kids and a lot of struggling themselves. I just saw her mother at a wonderful Thanksgiving and now… gone. I’m still having a hard time grasping it myself. And me? Things are bad for me and may get worse….I’m trying to keep myself in my home of now 26 years, but I’m having a hard time doing so. Even I’m unsure what will happen, as I have no family of my own to turn to.
But while Peter, Paul and Mary are one way to look at a Gloomy Tinsel Season, I’ve always chosen another song: Fairytale of New York.
My first thought was, hey, shouldn’t this be an Amba song, too? Sure, why not. It’s a duet between Shane MacGowan (poster child for British Dentistry) and Kirsty MacColl, and rapidly becoming a New Holiday standard, one I hope to record with my friend CamieVog someday. So, let’s hope the New Year brings better things for us all, God bless us.
Mary Travers was 45 when this clip was made. How beautiful she still was! So sad how time carries it all away. I heard this song in a church in Chapel Hill a year ago, still raw and fragile from J’s death. Now I’m sitting here draped in cats, who look at me lovingly (or maybe forgivingly) when I sing along, surrounded by pictures of people who are gone. I myself am going, going . . . but not so fast, Louie.
This, quoted by James Wood in The New Yorker in a review of John Jeremiah Sullivan’s book of essays, Pulphead, is as good as it gets for me. It’s Sullivan admiringly summing up the worldview of “the early-nineteenth-century French explorer and botanist Constantine Samuel Rafinesque”:
What’s true of us is true of nature. If we are conscious, as our species seems to have become, then nature is conscious. Nature became conscious in us, perhaps in order to observe itself. It may be holding us out and turning us around like a crab does its eyeball. Whatever the reason, that thing out there, with the black holes and the nebulae and whatnot, is conscious. One cannot look in the mirror and rationally deny this. It experiences love and desire, or thinks it does. The idea is enough to render the Judeo-Christian cosmos sort of quaint. . . . [This] works perfectly as a religion. Others talk about God, and I feel we can sit together, that God is one of this thing’s masks, or that this thing is God.
Sullivan: what a writer. This is him on reality-TV shows:
This is us, a people of savage sentimentality, weeping and lifting weights.
I FUCKING ICE SKATED. For the first time in possibly 40 years. I am so psyched.
I told Chris, my visiting friend from Chapel Hill, that Citibank had turned Bryant Park into a skating pond and maybe we could go there and watch. She liked that idea since she wanted to pay a visit to the library, which Bryant Park is of course right behind.
As the time approached—today—I found myself saying to Chris, “If we are watching people ice skate, I am probably going to have to rent skates and go out there and try it.”
To Chris’s great credit, even though her mother would never let her and her siblings learn to ice skate for fear they’d get hurt, and even though in recent years her sister actually broke an arm ice skating at Rockefeller Center, she said without an instant’s hesitation, “Go for it!” And when we got there, and I was looking for a way to bail (maybe they’d be all out of skates my size?), her look of delighted expectation left me no way out.
* * *
First, of course, I fell on my ass.
I got out on the ice and was shocked. I jerked and wobbled back and forth spastically and went right over backwards. Got back up and lunged for the railing. Thought, “There is no way I can do this. My balance isn’t good enough any more. My reflexes are too slow. I’ll just hobble around the rink a couple of times holding onto the railing.” So that’s what I did.
The second or third time around I noticed I was doing a little better than the adults and kids who had obviously never skated before. Hmmm.
I lost count. Maybe the 8th time around, I did not go near the railing once.
I was even kind of tentatively gliding, and windmilling had shrunk to an occasional tiny balance correction with the arms.
I never took lessons or anything and was never a really good skater, just good enough to have fun. They’d freeze over the park across from our house and we’d go over there and scramble around for hours. 40 years of disuse, and that motor pattern was still intact in my brain, folded in tissue and mothballs, needing only to be awakened and shook out.