December 4, 2010
One of my favorite writing exercises is one in which I imagine the characters in a given piece as they were a year before the present action, and as they might be a year beyond it. Sometimes I do variations, taking them backward or forward two years, five years, ten.
I typically write nearly daily for this space in December, the season of Holidailies. A year ago I wrote about change and resistance to it. That’s a frequent topic for me, a frequent problem. I was in my studio overlooking the river, a place that gets somewhat spooky at night, with city lights dancing off the water and strange shadows on the walls. I remember finishing the piece, checking the spelling, pressing “Publish,” and then posting the link to my Facebook page and my notify list. I turned out the light, gathered up my things, and headed down the first flight of stairs. It was about 5:00.
I was going to Lancaster to attended a reading of a play by a writer friend. It would take me an hour to get there. I’d need to get something to eat. I had sent another friend a note the week before suggesting that we have dinner, but had not gotten a response, and maybe that’s what I was thinking about as I descended the second flight, maybe I was trying to figure out if maybe the message hadn’t been delivered, or if maybe the invitation was unwelcome.
At the bottom of the stairs I missed a step, turned my left ankle under and fell on it, and heard a loud snap! What happened next — the decision to continue my journey as if nothing had happened, the struggle to get around downtown, the ultimate abandonment of the effort to find the venue for the play reading — is narrated in detail at If On a Winter’s Night. And now here we are, a year beyond. The ankle wasn’t broken but it was so badly sprained that it didn’t heal until nearly July after a long course of water therapy. I’ve been on Gallivants for an aggregate of eight weeks, and this Monday night I am headed to Lancaster again for the reading of a different play by the same writer friend. I have dinner plans again, but with Lynn instead of the person with whom I never did straighten out what happened, although we’ve been in sporadic contact over these months.
I typically pay attention to my life (another way of saying I’m self-absorbed, I’m afraid), but never more intensely than at this time of the year. This is probably because of Holidailies. A year ago I nearly broke my ankle. Two years ago I gathered random details from that day in my life that I intended to put into a story, but never did, although I think the vodka bottle in the craft store bathroom might have been the trigger for an existing character’s drinking problem. Three years ago I was in Wyoming at the bottom of Ten Sleep Canyon talking via cell phone to a friend back home in Pennsylvania whose acquaintance I had made exactly one year before, when we met for lunch on the day of another of my December gallivants to Lancaster, that one for a program about Amish funerals (fa-la-la-la-la, la la la la!).
I chose the title for this piece last week, when I started to post a meditation on the First Sunday in Advent. It recalled the way White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs made fun of the notes Sarah Palin had scrawled on her hand for the speech in which she smirked about what she perceived as the failure of the present administration’s “hopey-changey thing.” I’d gone to the early service at church, a decision which represents a change for me, and then to an unusual (for me) Sunday meeting of Weight Watchers, so I could get the new program, the new materials, and capture some of the hope that starting again, refocusing again, can give.
And now here we are on the eve of the second Sunday in Advent. My tree is not up (according to established protocol, we’re a week late), but there has been one ceremonial showing of the 1953 Dragnet Christmas Episode, for a friend who had never been subjected to it. (“Subjected” is Lynn’s word for the experience. “I hear you were subjected to the Dragnet Christmas episode,” she put on our friend’s Facebook wall, knowing I would see it. “I’m so sorry.”)
But Holidailies is here, and I am moving forward, that hopey-changey inclination seeing me through.
Thank you for reading, so much, so often.
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