Friday, December 11, 2015

Playing Hooky as Christmas Approaches . . .

Another passage from Karl Olve Knausgaard's A Man in Love (the 2nd volume of his My Struggle series) illustrates some of that gradual fading we observe of the intensity of a time away from home, the remembered sensations and experiences of elsewhere. The narrator speaks here of his friend: "At the end of April Geir returned from Iraq, we had dinner at an expensive American restaurant in the Old Town, he was so excited and full of life in a way I had never seen before, and it took several weeks for all his experiences, all the people he had met there, whom gradually I became utterly familiar with, to begin to fade so that other matters could occupy his mind and his conversation" (294).

To have become "utterly familiar with" the people his friend had met, with all his experiences in his time away, Karl Ove (the author's name is the same as the narrator-protagonists in this autobiographical novel or fictionalized memoir or whatever this hybrid genre might be) must be a more accommodating listener than anyone in my immediate circle. More fair, I think, would be to say that he has much more free time. My experience, and my husband's as well, has been that we might get a chance to describe one or two travel vignettes -- an amusing misunderstanding that arose from our clumsy wielding of a foreign language, a frustrating struggle through an airport with a near-miss at the boarding gate, -- perhaps we might be tolerated as we wax enthusiastic about a particularly magical meal or stunning example of contemporary architecture or a particularly lacking hotel room. But our listeners have been living full lives during our time away, and they have their own tales, and there's less conversational time available when we meet for coffee than we sometimes imagine in setting up that date.

Speaking about this phenomenon the other day, a friend suggested that it was rather like having waters close back over an experience --- not tidal waters, because then they would be back with us freshly each day. Rather, her analogy was more like when a small village in a valley is flooded in the construction of a major dam, so that you can still look down, on days when the deep waters of the resultant lake are still, and glimpse the ancient church fathoms below you, and imagine the villagers walking to the bakery from the little houses whose roofs you can just make out (if I remember correctly, Anne Michaels'  beautiful novel The Winter Vault sketches several such scenes).  Our travel experiences are still with us, but they're submerged under our daily activities, there if only we find a quiet moment to swim down to them, but altered forever by the waters of time that must close over them.

And the waters have been so busy here, with part of me reluctant to stay on the surface. . . So much I still want to think through, remember, write about, here, but I've been feeling very out of synch with my blog readers. I know that like me, you're having to prepare for Christmas, and I feel a pressure to write about all its preparations, its party clothes, gift-buying, parcel-wrapping, favourite recipes. I just don't feel particularly interested in doing so at this particular stage, instead spending far too many hours writing ever so many words about exhibitions I visited months ago. And believe, me, there's Much More where that post came from!

Today, though, Pater and I are heading off on a lovely pre-Christmas weekend. After yoga this morning, we'll visit our son's family after a leisurely drive through a scenic mountain pass with stunning ocean views. We'll watch our granddaughter show off her new mobility, which so far we've only seen on video and FaceTime. We'll stay in the grand old hotel where we spent part of our honeymoon (most of that trip 41 years ago was spent canoe-camping),  We'll do some Christmas shopping as long as it doesn't get too frantic (I'm thinking bookstore!); we'll run together in the morning and go for a long walk in the evening, admiring the festive illumination downtown; we'll have lunch or dinner with our son, daughter-in-law, and Baby E, and then try to chase off the adults so that we can have Baby Girl to ourselves.

In some ways, it feels a rather bold or reckless move, taking a weekend away little more than ten days from when three young families arrive at our place for Christmas. The tree will be delivered while we're away, and we only have two half days together here next week before we slip away to "the other city" for some scheduled Christmas season activities with the rest of the family. Two half days to get the tree up and the lights strung and the boxes of Christmas decorations brought down and sorted through. The plan is that he'll put the tree up for me, and string the lights before he leaves on Monday, and I'll hang the decorations on my own, surprise him with O Tannenbaum! when he gets back on Wednesday for dinner with a friend.

We'll leave the next morning, and when we get back from that trip, we'll only have two days to grocery shop and to cook and bake and make up beds. I can't pretend that part of me's not whirring away anxiously, spitting out lists and schedules, and tasks. He, on the other hand, reassures, minimizes, reminds me of what's worked before and will work again. Part of the reassurance -- especially the minimizing! -- infuriates. But I know he's right. The most important parts of the family Christmas have always come magically together, as long as our priorities are clear. 

For now, a top priority is enjoying the season's pleasures together, rather than fussing a month away over its preparations. So we're off, now . . . I expect I'll post a photo or two on Instagram, and I'm going to see if I can get Pater to finally capture a shot of me in my new, wide-legged jeans.

In case I appear entirely cavalier, I should tell you that I have a very clear, tightly edited gift list and confidence that I can pick up everything on it (I've called toy stores to have items held, ordered items online, and am knitting my fingers and wrists to the bone!). I've booked anchoring lunches for daughters' Christmas shopping expeditions, the Christmas day menu has been organized into a grocery list, and there's already one tourtière made up and waiting in the freezer. But I also have a long list of Don't Bother Anymore items as well as a list of Remember These Items/Activities are Choices, Not Obligations! See Annie's amusing post on same

 Comments, you know, are very welcome. But I suspect you're all either working your way through the lists or devoting your time wisely to your own priorities, which might not include blog visits or comments. Just remember to Enjoy the Festive! Have some fun while you're fighting the shopping crowds (or get out of the crowds entirely!). Happy Penultimate Weekend before the Big Day!




22 comments:

  1. As they say in youthful films: you go, girl! plus funny hand movements. It all sounds wonderful.

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    1. I need to see the funny hand movements! ;-)

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  2. Frances,simply enjoy! Everything will be fine
    There are so many beautiful moments before you,you will collect new beautiful memories ( and don't worry,all Paris,Rome and Bordeaux memories will be still here,listen to me , not to Karl Ove :-))
    Dottoressa

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    1. You're right, Karl Ove isn't the cheeriest inspiration.

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  3. Not about Christmas (which seems to be approaching at a manageable pace this year), but I should tell you I have parted ways with Karl Ove. He hung around my house for weeks, following me from bedroom to living room, struggling and moping. I took him for a walk last Sunday and threw him into the return slot at the library.

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    1. Good for you! If he hasn't grabbed your attention by now, life's too short to torture yourself with his presence. I'm certainly impatient with him/his narrator-protagonist regularly, but I'm mesmerised by what he does with structure and story and perspective.
      Glad to hear you're finding/keeping Christmas manageable . . . it can be a challenge.

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  4. First, I love travel stories and am always saying to my friends "start at the beginning, tell about packing and the airport..." and trying to get straight what day they did which thing.

    Second, your holiday approach sounds wise, I hope there is a nice solid rest built in at the end. We have a fairly simple end of the month planned, most of the shopping done or planned (concentrating on consumable gifts this year as no one needs more stuff, better to have gifts that one can use up!). The only slight stressor is dinner for 25 here in our small house on a day after Christmas sometime to be determined by ongoing negotiation and the availability of out of town grown children. Planning ahead is the theme of the dinner, needless to say.

    Looking forward to more travelers' tales.

    Ceci

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    1. If we lived closer, Ceci, I'd talk your ear off about our travels -- so much I'd love to share, but the world is too busy, it seems.
      That's a large dinner group, but I always love those events that begin with such obvious constraints that everyone somehow relaxes. We semi-regularly host our 4 adult offspring, their partners, and their children in our 500 square foot apartment, and even with plates having to be balanced on laps and children playing Lego underneath the chairs, we always have a good time. Planning ahead, yes. Or takeout! ;-)
      Consumables are smart -- I really try to keep landfill sites clearly in mind coming up to Christmas. I don't want anything I buy and give to contribute to their growth. So easy to get sucked into Buying More! (Whoops, my Grinch is emerging . . .)

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  5. In general everything seems so of-the-moment. Many people are used to instant play-by-plays on the minutiae of each other's lives on social media so if/when they meet for coffee, what's left to discuss? - which may explain why each person around a coffee shop table is immersed in their phones as though they are alone.

    I know this is not the case for you - you are clearly a reflective person who enjoying plumbing the depths of experience. But the preciousness of many things seems to be diminishing with so much competition for people's time. Do you think so? Or maybe it's just my mood at this moment. Heh.

    Great post. Many points to think about.

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    1. So true, Melanie. I think of this especially with books and book publishing, especially when I was teaching. The backlist is so quickly pushed aside in favour of the new, and one has merely to browse the Remaindered section in a bookstore to see that even the very good gets brushed off over a very short cycle. Online discourse seems to follow the same rhythm, and I long for the luxury of a sustained conversation that might continue, might even be picked up through a long correspondence. . . . But should it become a possibility, there's a good chance I'd be looking at my watch, right?

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  6. Good for you, Frances. Enjoy your weekend. Sounds lovely. I may try to convince Hubby to do something similar next year. We've edited our shopping lists too... and have much, much less to do than you do. Buying gifts for sisters and brothers, and grown nieces and nephews, and brothers-in-law or grand nieces and nephews who live far away is a thing of the past for us now. We exchange best wishes or just enjoy our time together. I make up a huge box to ship to my mum, and buy a few small things for Hubby. C'est tout. Looking back on the frenzy of earlier years...even without kids of our own...organizing holiday parties for staff, buying tokens for every member of my department for our holiday lunch...shopping for sisters and brother, and their spouses, and seven or eight nieces and nephews, not to mention my parents, all of which had to be shipped ...early. Except on those years when we made the long drive down to NB on the 23rd...packed to the roof in my little car with skiis and gifts and hoping we didn't encounter freezing rain around Quebec City. Phew. I need to take a rest after that litany:)

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    1. I miss some of the busy-ness of past years, those work parties and carolling parties I'd host for 30 or 40, parties for the kids and their friends, dress-up affairs with live bands. . .But it all got so frantic at a certain point, with everyone claiming so much stress and most of us forgetting that none of the partying or buying or wrapping or sending was truly obligatory, although there might be some initial awkwardness in knocking over a few social hurdles.
      Sounds as if you experienced some very amped-up Christmases over the years -- and having done the drive from Ottawa to NB in summer once, I can't imagine doing it with carful of gifts and ski gear in winter!

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  7. You don't seem cavalier. If there is one awesome thing about retirement it's that you don't have to fit your day job into the holiday planning equation (or anything!). With all that time liberated, you can be organized AND have fun!

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    1. It's true! It's the first sane Christmas season in decades for me. Not sure how organized I'll be, but I'll do my best with the fun.

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  8. Like Sue , our Xmas is very relaxed . I buy for sisters & brothers in law - but we have an agreed limit of £10 , not easy but fun . Not many children now as we stop when they reach twenty one ( none of our own ) & , sad to say , all our oldies have gone . The family gathers for Xmas & Boxing Day & we all contribute food to ease the load . This year there will be six dogs & they have little presents to open too ! I know Mater , it's silly but we all love it :) Enjoy your own time before the rush
    Wendy in York

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    1. Thumbs up for relaxed Christmases and for you Wendy and Susan :-)
      Dottoressa

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    2. We don't even buy for our siblings, only our immediate family, although my siblings do a fun exchange game (gifts under $15) for all who attend my sister's place on Christmas Eve. Sounds like a wonderful gathering at your place with some canine cacophony carolling up some extra joy -- why shouldn't they get little gifts, just to make the occasion more festive!

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    3. Must weigh in here and say... love that canine alliteration:)

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  9. I am trying to fit in my Xmas preparations with my classes and loads of papers to mark, and our holidays only begin on wednesday(!). (Not complainig, just trying to say that I am looking forward to the time when I have a choice as to how I spend my time, especially in this season.)
    You are doing the right thing, just enjoy!

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    1. Eleonore, I remember this too well, and I'm very grateful not to be invigilating exams and marking papers right up until the 22nd, then trying to file grades by the 27th, then getting ready to greet four new classes on January 4th. I do hope you get a few quiet days to catch your breath -- you work hard and you really deserve a break!

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  10. Hi Frances ..I think your run up to Christmas sounds wonderful. Spending time away with Pater...seeing family and friends. So much more festive than the shopping ...more shopping and frenzied house cleaning which seems to be what a lot of people do.Then they wonder why Christmas passes so quickly!
    I m glad to hear your first post retirement Christmas sounds like such a fun one. Like you I remember Christmas's where I worked ..as a nurse on Christmas Day and Boxing day then into the car for the long drive north to Yorkshire laden with presents but always shattered! I was reading this post whilst slightly sleepy last night and somehow tapped a link that transported me back to your Christmas 2010! How I enjoyed reading about your Christmas's. Seems to me you and your family have got it "just right" It should definitely be about family and friends and the happy memories we all make together.
    Enjoy the next few weeks ....wishing you a truly wonderful Christmas and peaceful happy times for all of us in 2016.
    Rosie

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  11. I think your Christmas sounds wonderful, and perfect for the two of you as well as your family. You don't sound cavalier at all. I am finishing off the last hand-made gift, and it should be done by tomorrow, then a bit of wrapping and cooking and packing and I'll be off.

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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