Talk about deadline problems: this started as my Christmas post, and I'm finishing it on the night of New Year's Day. But, as with The Undressing of America, which was originally due to my editor over a year and a half ago, being late is no excuse for not finishing....
I like this time of year. I like the fact that my son, at 16, is still enough into Christmas to whip his mom and me into some enthusiasm. I like the chintz: the lights, the tree, the wooden Santas, the stop-motion Rudolph, the Bing Crosby, the mucous eggnog. I like the way we draw inward as a family but also go caroling with friends, and I like the fact that the friends we carol with are mostly Jews. (One year an annoyed woman yelled at us, "We're not interested! We're Jewish!" And half our group yelled back, "So are we!") I like my own odd rituals, like wrapping presents at 2 or 3 AM Christmas Eve with the over-familiar dialogue of It's a Wonderful Life running in the background. ("Paste it, Daddy!") Most of all I love the day after Christmas, year after year my favorite day on the calendar, when all the crap is done and I can lie on the couch under the red-and-green knitted blanket and watch something like Remember the Night or Holiday Affair for the too-manyth time and not feel a single stab of panic that there's something I haven't done.
But it's not a simply "merry" time. I've always felt a deep, sweet melancholy around Christmas, too. I loved Christmas as a kid, but for several years they were very lonely: my depressed parents liked to disappear into the high desert, just the three of us in a deserted campground far from anywhere. Sometimes I feel sad for my kid, being an only child (a sadness he doesn't seem to share, fortunately). I wish my mom was still around, and I'm sorry that my dad is so unaware of everything around him now. I'm sorry that it's so hard for me to make myself go see him.
I always feel an end-of-the-year sadness: the sun swings low and the days are short, and I remember so much I haven't done (this incomplete book is huge this year). This year everything's scarier and tougher because of money issues. Nicky's been having a brutal wave of migraines since October, and his winter break is weighed down by academic worries and make-up work. It's a time that the sad and the uncompleted and the frightened stand in sharp relief against the Christmas lights and the shiny new calendar.
All season long I've found myself humming the most melancholy Christmas song of all: Someday soon we all will be together, if the fates allow. Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow...so have yourself a merry little Christmas now. Hugh Martin wrote it in 1943 (maybe with an assist from Ralph Blane) for Judy Garland to sing in Meet Me in St. Louis. The movie was set in 1904, and the sadness of the song reflected the uncertain fate of the characters in mid-story, but clearly it was channeling the mood of World War II, the uncertainty of the future and the separation of loved ones. Faithful friends who are dear to us will be near to us once more. It's just a pop tune, but it's been a wise advisor.
Where this comes into play in regard to this slow, late book is here: in many years past I'd have responded to a shortfall like this by making frantic new year's resolutions to jump on the book instantly and intensely in January, to push it through to completion as quickly as possible. In fact, last year precisely that about this very book. But of course I fall through. Already these next few weeks will be consumed with catching up on this kids' chapter book I'm contracted to write and staying a stope ahead of the artist on this on-line comic strip I'm writing for Privacy Activism and helping my son get back on top of his school situation. So any resolution to make Undressing happen quickly and immediately is a set-up for frustration and renewed despair. I need to stay with Anne Lamott's advice, to write it bird by bird.
Will it be true, as the song holds, that next year all my troubles will be out of sight? Not likely. But it's a calming thing to pretend at the beginning of the year.