Saturday, December 20, 2008

Lessons for the holidays

1. It does not matter whether or not spiders are good luck. When company is coming over, everything must be vacuumed.

2. If you go skiing, you are not allowed to put your wet snowy boots next to the fireplace to dry out until after people leave, so they do not think we live like slobs. (Albeit slobs with warm, dry feet.)

3. Who would be so silly as to gather the pine boughs with the long needles when only the obviously short ones make appropriate decorations?

4. Thou must not encourage the cat to play with ornaments.

5. Only festive cut-out cookies this time of year. Dinosaurs are unacceptable (not just because the Stegosaurus's tail always breaks off when you try to frost it.) No, you cannot just squint and say the Diplodocus looks like a reindeer with really short legs and a long neck and tail. Wreaths and trees and stars only. (Maybe the occasional airplane, for Dad, so long as it's red and green.)

6. Never ever admit to your mother that you're happy to be home, that you too find a sort of joy in fussing over the little absurdities that make the season special. Your job is to rearrange the "N-O-E-L" blocks and steal camels from the Nativity scene.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Landscape in shades of white and brown

White, dark white outside with the faintest shadows of tree trunks fading off into the distance. Although the snow is coming down sideways, pine boughs whipping in the wind, there's an eerie muffled silence -- no cars, no planes, just the clackety clack of this keyboard and the insistent whispers of words in my head.

As Dad said, "a nice day to just sit by the fire and watch the snow fall outside."

Part of me agrees -- the part that took the dog for a walk this morning just so I could come back inside and take off my boots and wipe off my foggy glasses and heat up a cup of hot cocoa and nestle in -- the part that wants to say that winter is so delightful because the cold reminds you to be happy for warmth. Then part of me argues -- the part of me that says ahh, but it's only so pleasant because you know you have enough wood, enough chocolate, enough time to come in out of the storm, to be comfortable. My fingers are cold, out here in this room away from the stove, sitting in this midday darkness, where's the sun? I've been away from the warmth for too long and will tire of the season before it begins.

Dad just came in from snowblowing the driveway, has brushed the blizzard from his coat, is poking at the fire, unloading logs he'd spent so much time piling up. The work that went into those, even with all sorts of tools -- dragging the fallen trees from the woods to the yard, cutting them into manageable sections, then splitting them one by one, wheelbarrowing them over to the pile then neatly stacking them in an orderly cross-cross-layer patterns, the rhythm, the monotony, the backache, the tendon strain, just so we can toss them in and watch them burn. While he was doing all of that work, was he thinking of a day like this, knowing that he would be able to enjoy a day of sitting by the fire and watching the snow fall outside? I didn't do anything to earn this warmth, to earn the hot cocoa and the puppy and this view of white white white wind. Brown eyes, cold.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Science = sparks of creativity

It's that cold, dry time of year when everything just vibrates with static electricity -- sweaters and socks and bzzt I remember getting shocked every time I touched the climbing wall. Last night, watching my blanket sparkle with little blue bursts, I knew that it was just atoms neutralizating their electronic charges, not fairies dancing or elves winking or even lost lightning bugs. But I also knew that the phenomenon can occur on a much larger scale -- in effect, I was creating mini lightning bolts. That made me feel like Zeus in Fantasia, snuggling into a thunderstorm.

"Knowledge" doesn't dispel magic.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Little things should make you happy, no?

Smoothed rocks and driftwood and rich autumn leaves. Puppies and warm socks and piles of wood dry under the blue tarp. The smell of pine trees. Seeing the sun rise, seeing the sun set. Soft rain and softer snow. Chocolate chip pancakes, a warm cup of cocoa, a mug that fits in your hands. A bottle of red wine and bread baking in the oven. A fresh box of crayons, a new book, a letter from a friend, a phone call.

What do you do if these things don't make you happy, if you surround yourself with photographs and quotations and sensations and still feel empty? If you can never feel happy with what you have, where you are, can never be content with contentedness but crave require adventure, are doomed to forever seek something elsewhere? Must keep moving, every few months, pile all of your plants into your car and try out all of those places you've never been, maybe happiness will be there?

They say that happiness must glow from within, that your environment, your possessions, even your friends and family can never illuminate your core. Surrounding yourself with little delights -- nope. Striving ever onward, if not upward -- nope. Asking questions, delighting in thoughts and words -- nope. Reveling in tastes, smells, sights, sounds -- nope. Simply turning inward, thinking like a rock in a stream, letting life flow around you as it will, sometimes cold and wet, sometimes dappled with sunshine, what kind of rock would I be? I wouldn't be one of those giant granite boulders, just a happy little pebble, smooth and grey, swirled with ribbons of color from eons past, sitting a pool of water, watching the fishes and skies dance above, forever wondering what it would feel like to be alive.

(I'm sorry, all of you rocks and branches and leaves, that you're sitting on my desk, removed from your place at the bottom of the stream or on the lakeshore or in the forest's carpet in a futile attempt to make meaning tangible.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I feel like breeding chaos. (In the form of a blog?)

This morning, while waiting for class(es) to start, fretting about the confluence between Martian warming, maps of sea-monsters, and butterscotch-flavored coffee, I realized how much I must relish that sense of stress, test of my extemporaneous ability. No time to plan ahead, just discover right then and there what sort of facts are careening around my brain and how well I can extract and communicate them. (Think trying to locate electrons in an atomic "cloud.")(Doing so apparently involves lots of arm-waving, digressions, and diagrams.)

The challenge! the importance! more than just floating along, drifting away, a waterfall! the roar, the mist, the splendor!

It's like insomnia (bear with me, I'm in "synthesis mode," do believe I might actually have just told people that understanding global climate change involves understanding The Grand Theory of Everything) -- really, it's a terrible habit, but when you find yourself waking up at 2 a.m. again wondering about the universe, you can't do anything but smile and shake your head and pick up a book on cognition. Same as when you find yourself telling people that there's obviously some innate human love of moving large rocks (evidence: Stonehenge, Easter Island, your grandfather's perennial battle with concretions on the lakeshore)(scientific theories must always have three examples to make them sound), you again can't do anything but smile and shake your head. Or when you find yourself interrupting your own typing with parenthetical comments. (Sorry.)(No, not really, that's how I think. Abstract references make the point hard to follow, but at the same time are the point -- such delight, inspiration, color in chaos.)

Apparently a significant proportion of humans dream in black and white? I find that sad. I dream in full color, and smell, touch, taste, sound as well. Sometimes makes it hard to separate the real from imagined, but why would anyone want to?

Hooray for the parentheses, exclamation points, question marks, commas, and dot dot dots of life...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Question I'd really like to leap up and ask instead of sitting quietly in class

Are people really content to just plod through life without thinking about it,
engaging in it,
enjoying it?

So many beautiful mysteries, out there, in the real world, the open sky

Monday, December 1, 2008

Happy December!

Perhaps we shouldn't need a calendar to celebrate a fresh start, just as we shouldn't need a holiday to remember to give thanks, but there's something inherently delightful about starting a new month -- every new month, not just every new year.

Some months are happier to begin than others, though. The first day of November feels heavy, grey, and bleak, trees and animals finally succumb to the cold, prepare to hibernate. January knows it can never live up to its expectations, it becomes too involved, too far into the season, snow already accumulating in salty piles of slush by the side of the road. But December! What balance, December! It's the month for swishing angels, lacing up ice skates, stacking the wood-pile, sipping hot chocolate, frosting cut-out cookies, rearranging the N-O-E-L blocks so that they spell L-E-O-N, decembering!

This month always holds such promise. This first morning is like standing out at the edge of a snowy field, ready to inscribe footsteps across an expanse of pure whiteness.