Quiet Night Thoughts, Late on Christmas Eve
Today I baked an apple pie, a key lime pie, roasted a 19-pound turkey, then made drippings gravy. It’s been a mostly quiet day. I’m enjoying the late night quiet now, near midnight. I think I’ll open one present tonight, before going to bed, and the rest in the morning. I’m listening to quiet Christmas music, the house is dark now except for the tree lights, and a few candles. It’s been a long day. I feel pretty good.
Earlier this week, more snow, then yesterday there was freezing rain, which coated everything with an eighth of an inch of refractive ice. Today it was above freezing, melting, partly raining, often very windy, and a little snow mixed in.
I went to a doctor’s appointment this morning, then on the way home decided to just go home. People were driving crazy, with those last hours of holiday stress making them not pay enough attention to the road. So I spent the rest of the day at home. I baked the pies in the morning, and roasted the turkey in the afternoon, carving it up with J. in the evening, preparatory to tomorrow’s afternoon Christmas meal get-together. If I feel like it, I still might bake some cookies, but probably not before the party. It depends when I get up in the morning, and what I feel like doing.
After dark, I lit the fire in the fireplace for awhile, for atmosphere, and for firelight and warmth. It’s very gusty out tonight, and still above freezing, so the draft was pulling up the flue and chilling the house, as I napped after making the turkey, and my own quiet dinner. I’ve put the fire out for the night, now, and sealed the flue, to cut down on the draft, but I can still hear the wind howling outside, and the occasional pellets of icy rain on the chimney’s tin covering.
I watched a little TV while eating my dinner. Not much worth watching, to be honest. I eventually settled and finished that great movie based on the James Joyce story, “The Dead.” John Huston’s last film, and a capstone and masterpiece to his long career.
One by one, they were all becoming shades. Better to pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover's eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.
Generous tears filled Gabriel's eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling.
A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
—James joyce, from "The Dead," from Dubliners
I cannot say it better than this, as an artistic credo, a modus operandi, and a way being in the world: “Better to pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.” Better to be bold, and passionate.
I think about my own dead, this time of year’s closing, the winter solstice, the festivals of light within the darkness. I think of the many ways that the dead stay with us: in memory, in song, in hauntings on nights like this. I think of my parents, now gone, and the many family memories from around this time of year, and its annual celebrations. We all have our dead: we are all becoming shades. We are all going quietly into the dark, with snow falling over, and softly falling on all the living, and the dead.
I spoke with the doctor this morning about what I’ve been dealing with lately. Our visit was more about my feelings than anything else. I know that I can be my own worst enemy, like many do to themselves, when I overthink and overanalyze some problem or fear. I know that makes it worse. The doctor pointed out to me how notably animated I become when I talk about music, or art, or writing. I write sometimes just to clear my head, of course. But when I told him about the recording studio party down in Chicago last weekend, where we jammed musically for much of the night—including a most memorable half-hour jam on the old song “What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor”—even I could tell how much more alive, more animated I was being. We talked about you’re not supposed to lose your passion and just go flat; you’re supposed to be able to still feel your feelings, even though the pressure’s reduced and you can cope better with them, and with stress. All this in relation to antidepressants. And it’s true. I don’t want to lose my passion, my intensity, my caring about life. Nothing is worth losing that. I will protect it with all my might.
Tonight, it’s quiet, and dark, and peace. The tree lights make that reminder of light in the darkest times, light still there, light returning, eternal light return.
It hasn’t been an ambitious Christmas. I mostly haven’t been in the mood. It’s been a hard year, full of difficult times and hardship. I’ve been feeling just as I am. It has been frustrating at times how much effort it takes not to give into the constant pressure to be traditionally joyous and happy, when you don’t feel like it. There’s a lot of expectation and conformity at this time of year, and a lot of guilt if you don’t feel like joining in. No wonder so many people find the holiday season difficult; no wonder the suicide rate goes up, and the general stress level. It’s understandable.
I haven’t been much in the mood. This year I finally got the larger Christmas tree set up in the living, on a table, the way they do in Holland. I have some presents under the tree, and I’ve limited the ornaments this year to be all celestial, like moons and stars, and snowflakes, and icons of the Tree of Life. It’s simple, and not overdone, and I’m actually rather pleased with the end result. I just haven’t had the strength to do much more than that; and I don’t expect that I need to.
I just turned the heat off under the gravy, which now needs to cool from its long simmer. It tastes terrific, just like turkey gravy is supposed to. This year I did my usual way of making the turkey, stuffing it with sliced oranges and lemons and onions. I also did the usual rubdown of the skin with butter. But this year I sprinkled Pacific Ocean sea salt on the skin, too, which came out crispy, brown, and delicious. Pieces of crisp turkey skin are a favorite part of cooking a turkey, for me. And the gravy tastes of the sea salt and butter, as well as the drippings, giving it extra-rich flavor.
The wind howls outside, now, and it’s raining hard. It will eventually turn to snow by tomorrow, certainly by afternoon is not sooner. It looks to be a bad day for travel. Which is just as well. Far better to huddle up inside, warm by the fire, sitting in grandpa’s rocking chair, reading, sipping hot cocoa with a dash of brandy in it. Some folks may not be able to drive to the get-together tomorrow, but that’s all right. It will be okay, no matter what happens.
I’m in the mood for a quieter, contemplative holiday this year. I’m in the mood to be reflective rather than hyperactive. I can ignore most of the usual cultural overstimulation, and have done so, this year. I will spend a few days, now, in silence, or with quiet winter solstice music. I hope to be able to work some on the new piano piece, in these quiet times. I’m not going to go looking for big party atmospheres with lots of people and loud conversations and music. I’m content to be inward, in the dark, windy night. The sound of the rain and wind on the roof is soothing.
I’m beginning to fall asleep now. I’ll finish whatever chores I still have to do in the kitchen before going to bed, then spend a few minutes sitting and looking at the tree. Then I’ll go to bed, and rest till the morning. And a blessed night to each and all may it be.