Friday, December 26, 2008

Through the Looking Glass

Ah, the holidays are waning. I have always loved Christmas, but in a quiet way, not in the manic, get it all done way. I love being alone in the kitchen late at night concocting something, or even doing dishes, with the radio humming low with an old carol of some sort. I don't love the constant work that admittedly I make for myself -- someone has to cook and clean up and in this house, 80% of that work goes to me and the other 20% is farmed out to an underage crowd, who complete about 10% of it. But that's ok. We had a glorious time making cookies and enjoying a little down time. Yesterday was indeed a bit magical. And last weekend at the end of a day of baking we made a beautiful pot of turkey soup and watched "Silent Night", a movie about a little German boy whose mother moved them closer to the American lines and found themselves with a houseful of American and German soldiers one Christmas Eve. That got us to thinking how lucky we are to have such a bountiful feast all the time.

The last few days were hectic though wonderful, and now that all is quiet and I am finally back to my usual lower-wattage existence, I'm reflecting on this life I have alone. It has many perks to be sure, but drawbacks, like no extra person to run an errand or wrap Santa's presents. But most of the time I just worry that I'm not making the most of it and merely growing old while trying to keep my kids from turning into tyrants or misfits or serial killers. I just want them to be, you know, morally centered. And to help clean up without my asking once in a while.

Other than that, and trying to navigate the very murky and choppy waters of what started to be a fine career before I entertained the corporate sector, there isn't a lot left over for much else. It's only 8:30 now and I'm fairly exhausted. We had a lovely breakfast with family and to my surprise, rather than fighting the movie crowds, the kids elected to hang out with me and play a new game from Shameless and her family (Shameless, tell D and the girls that the kids "opened up a big can o' whoop-ass" on me!) before I delivered them into the hands of their worldly father.

At some point this morning I was alone and in the car and listening to one of my favorite albums, Darrell Scott's 2006 effort, The Invisible Man. It's a terribly painful album but beautiful despite its edge. I adore Scott, love to hear him sing and his songs get me every time. They call to my own Shadow with the way they shed their light on some of life's most difficult but meaningful experiences.

Growing older, now matter how we spend the time, is one of those experiences. Not difficult in its own right, it becomes moreso as we look down the barrel of the years unlived and behind us at the life we let go of every day. As Scott says in this song, we still have trouble living in the moment and taking in the "today" part of the deal. I've come a long way with that, but worry still comes a callin' now and then.

I wish there were a bailout for singer-songwriters. What AIG flunkie has ever given us something as pure and perfect as this song? Where is Darrell Scott's $4 million retention bonus? Oh, he doesn't need a retention bonus, because he knows we'll still love him and countless artists will continue to record his songs. He's actually one of the best at what he does and is excruciatingly underpaid. Those AIG guys, those Wall Street jackasses, they've never done anything this beautiful. They're all dead inside except for the bright shiny objects that catch their pitifully short attention once in a long while. I wonder what they must see when they look into the looking glass. It is not, I imagine, what the rest of us see.

This song is an end-of-year wish of begin-again hope for everyone -- especially Blueberry, Don, Pie, Fearless, Shameless, Shannon, Boring, Yarn Slut, Shadow, and Ipsissimus, and a few silent unnamed readers, friends and family who I'm grateful are out there somewhere.

Looking Glass
Darrell Scott; from The Invisible Man, Full Light Records 2006

Feels like someone's looking over my shoulder
I turn around, and no one's there
Lookin' glass is looking older and older
Lately I don't care
Looking Glass, can't you see what I've been through?
Slowly giving myself away
Run from the past, run for the future,
Miss the sweet smell of today

I play this song on my own piano
Helps make sense of the shape I'm in
I open the doors on a cool rainy morning
Songs come riding on the wind
Take me away on the clouds of sorrow
I guess I'll write it one more time
Go through the deluge to get to the promise
Songs are rainbows in the sky

Human longing, inspiration,
A woman painting canvas across the street
Got an old slouchy hat and a coat like Renoir
I think I'll bring her a cup of tea
Maybe light is the absence of Shadow
Maybe Shadow needs a place to sleep
We shine as much as we're going to
The rest the cats and angels keep

Me and this song we got a lot in common
Neither knows quite how to end
Just follow along, like a leaf on the river
We always can begin again


At December 27, 2008 11:34 PM, Blogger Blueberry said...

I avoid the Looking Glass and Christmas too, as much as possible.

At December 28, 2008 10:46 AM, Blogger DrDon said...

I hear a lot of people talking about living in the moment, looking back at life unlived, and looking forward, with a certain amount of dread, to the years ahead of declining health, declining earnings, and declining prospects. I have come to the conclusion that, aside from a select few individuals, this simply is the human condition.

I order to really "live in the moment," you need to have money, plain and simple. Anyone who doesn't have enough money to have no worries about the future cannot live exclusively for today. It's just not possible. Sure, there are people who volunteer overseas and seem to have absolutely no need of material goods. But those folks are rare, often don't have wives or children, and will still need to be able to care for themselves when they are 80 years old. Maybe they just don't worry about that and perhaps that's an admirable quality but it also seems a bit short-sighted to me.

The majority of Americans are middle to lower middle class. As such, we have enough money to aspire to better things but not enough to even be truly secure in our future. I think this makes it nearly impossible to live for the moment. I could probably live more for today than I do but I know people who live much more for today than tomorrow and they're no happier. They often have little money, little security, and while they enjoy today, they live with some fear of tomorrow.

Not sure what the best thing is to do. If you find a way for middle class people to not worry about the future, write a book and then at least you probably won't have to worry about the future. Or at least let me know.

At December 28, 2008 3:00 PM, Blogger Mando Mama said...

I don't entirely agree. I think people who are financially secure can lead pretty miserable lives. I'm insultingly happy compared to a lot of those folks. I think we all believe we can plan for the future, but the truth is, no one can control anything about the future. We just think that a good education will land us a good job and that we'll be fat and happy the rest of our lives as long as we work hard. Well, hell, I know a lot of people who've worked hard all their lives and saved like the Dickens but it's all gone now. So while I would say it's important to have your proverbial house in order and to shore up whatever you can, worrying about the future is actually a pretty big waste of time. That's not to excuse some of the dumb moves people make which we've discussed here ad nauseum with regard to cell phones and fancy tvs and the like. I'm talking about people like me -- other than my main concern of keeping my family intact and a roof over our heads for the next six months, my job is really to be as present as possible to myself and to the people in my life, especially the kids as we work through this messy and scary time.

Not a week after I had a new furnace installed, I was handed the news that my hours were being cut. Ironically, to that point I had begun myself to feel that my house was more in order than it had ever been, and I began planning some extra savings for myself and the kids. Not a week later my head was left spinning. I'm not giving up entirely and in fact am even more determined to create more security for myself and my family, but it's not going to be at the expense of living my life. It's also going to mean drawing some pretty serious boundaries and putting my own potential first for a change. That's not entirely living in the moment but it does require a different kind of conscious behavior.

But it's not worrying about the future. There is so little I can do right at this moment to determine the quality of my life when I'm 80. Based on my family's health history I might not even make it that far, and if I do, I suspect I'll manage to take care of myself until my time is done. The "future" for me literally is navigating through what happens over the next six months and holding myself accountable for more income. That may mean I say goodbye to the people I've worked with these last five years and who've pledged to support me -- it's a prospect that makes me sad but at this point my kids and I need more than someone's faith in my abilities, I need their investment in those abilities.

I guess the other point of my post was also that it's a gift if we can live our lives the way they really are intended. People like Darrell Scott don't have big houses or fancy lives. They make a wage writing songs that big country stars record so that they can keep their swank houses in Belle Meade. I remember Tim O'Brien saying once that one song he was about to perform paid for a new refridgerator. But I am so grateful for that kind of contribution and as self-defeating as it might be, the way I'm built is to try to make some kind of a difference before it's over. It's just who I am, the way Darrell Scott can't refuse to write songs anymore. Making money would be great but for the short time I tried it, a lot of it was fairly soulless. I'm not working up to my potential let alone earning up to it, and I would rather live a smaller fulfilled life than a more comfortable one like the one I left behind because for all the stuff and comforts and rooms to clean, it was unbearably suffocating, loveless, and empty.

I am sitting here at my family's dining table, looking toward the living room and the fat if overdry tree my son picked out weeks ago. I'm looking over to the right to games we played that filled our days. Those are the moments that really matter to them, and it's as much my job to give them those moments as to give them a place to enjoy them. Throw in teaching them how to balance financial responsibility with finding the right path in life, and hell, no wonder I'm so tired all the time! Ah, but I love it. I'm scared but happy. I really am.

And I wish more folks could be too (happy, I mean, not scared).


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