Day 365: Starting Over

I love New Years’ Resolutions. Or Resolutions, period. Birthdays, spring, fall, you name it. I love a good overly-ambitious goal. Unfortunately, I also tend to be out of touch with my own feelings, which means I tend to miss the boat. Like the worst kind of stereotype, I tend to fail on the follow-through.

Saying things publicly is supposed to help, so I’ll tell all of you. Not that I think anyone reads me here. While the dog blog gets a reasonable number of visitors, I don’t even check the stats over here. I kind of like it that way.

I have a couple of resolutions for the dog, which I’ll post in his own space, and two of my own.

First, the easy one: Get back on the bike. Literally–three years ago I biked something like 1500 miles. Last week 20 minutes on the bike trainer almost killed me. My muscles can’t support real bike posture anymore, after I put most of my fitness efforts into jogging this year. And, in the spirit of confessing and starting over, that mostly in the first half of the year, too.

More broadly: be a more conscious consumer. I mean something larger than just “trading up” for more “eco-friendly” versions of things we already buy. (Can I confess that after years, I finally gave up on “green” toothpaste, and I have never been happier while brushing my teeth?) Greenwashing a generally extravagant lifestyle is something that I hate, like people who idle their SUVs in the parking lot of Whole Foods. At a certain point, you are supposed to know better. I mean, instead, really thinking hard about need/want, radically reformulating the way we eat, and paying more attention to my passive consumption of media. Do things and buy things because they need to be done or bought, or are worth the doing and the buying, not because they’re handy. I’ve never consciously shopped to fill an emotional void (I feel bad; a new blouse will make me feel better), but at a somewhat larger level, I was a poor rural kid and buying pretty little things makes me feel well-off and sophisticated. And, I don’t know, is that bad? Am I fighting the good fight against consumerism, or am I trying too hard to toe the line of American Puritanical virtues? Maybe that’s what I should be asking in the checkout line, rather than the too-easy “need/want.” On the other, more understood, hand, killing time I excel at because with the utter failure of my career ambitions I became kind of uncomfortable in my own head. That I am totally level with, and need to work around. I suspect it will take filling up my life with better things.

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Day Three Hundred and Fifty-Six: Light

It matters very little here, the returning of the sun. Our shortest days in the winter are still “long enough,” a luxurious ten hours or so of daylight.

Most of the year, in fact, my biggest worry is how to avoid the sun, which beats down with a blistering intensity. I welcome the shorter days and their corresponding drop in the UV index.

I never understood people who celebrated the solstice, growing up at a similar latitude. The years we lived much further north, though, found me counting down the days at an almost instinctive level. “Soon it won’t be getting darker, it will be getting lighter,” we would tell each other, looking out at the cold darkness.

No wonder people celebrated. There is a blessed relief in knowing that something is as bad as it will get. That, too, I suspect was beyond my childish understanding.

We adopted the solstice as our own holiday then, not because we’re pagans of any stripe, but because it seemed worth celebrating. It was also conveniently personal, arriving as it did before the big rush of family Christmas.

Living here, my most relevant reminder of the changing light is the dog, who looks eagerly forward to the time when the sun will hit his favorite corner for sunbathing. I don’t usually ascribe a metaphysical wisdom to a creature who routinely traps himself in the pantry, but there’s a lesson there.

Even here, the light changes, and time passes, and the world turns. Even here those things are worth marking.

Day Three Hundred and Forty-Eight: Homesick

My father is very sick. He has been for a long time. Years of smoking and welding and working in coal power plants have ruined his lungs. His doctors shake their heads and say, “Those lungs, they’re bad.”

He is fifty four years old.

Last month a sudden onset of pneumonia left him on a respirator for eight days. All of his muscles atrophied. Even now he can’t walk, although his strength is coming back.

He’s been sick for a long time, but suddenly he is an old man. Frail. As he was coming off the respirator, my mother asked his doctor how long his condition would be so tenuous. “When will he be out of the woods?” she said. “He won’t be.”

I’ve been “his baby” all my life–he loves my brother, but the two of them don’t click. Even with that, there’s a lot of reserve between us. He’s the strong silent type. Yesterday on the phone he rushed to make our Christmas plans before my mother could intervene. She thinks my dog would be afraid of the wheelchair, worries that the little anxious guy will scratch Daddy’s thin skin. “Your Mama is worried about you staying here, but we’ll be fine. I want you to stay here anyway.”

He worries, too, that this will be his last Christmas.

I hung up the phone and e-mailed my husband. “He doesn’t ask for things. This is now non-negotiable.”

Later, I was making a batch of scones and burst into tears. I wanted to go home. Not just for Christmas, but move back forever. It’s a ridiculous thing. I spent my whole life wanting to leave, and I love the fact that I made it out. Moving back would make me crazy. People there disagree with every single one of the things that matter to me. My extended family is a vortex of awfulness.

At one o’clock in the morning, I looked at my sleeping husband and almost woke him up to say that it was time to leave. We’d had our adventure, now it was time to go back where we belong. Of course, we don’t belong there anymore. That’s the downside of moving around: you don’t belong anywhere.

Today the big news at my husband’s job is that the only person standing between him and the promotion of his dreams is leaving. Moving away now would be imprudent.

But the feeling remains–“time to go home, time to go home, time to go home.”