Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Long Climb Upward

Greetings, readers! According to my refrigerator calendar, today is the Winter Solstice, a day which marks both the beginning of actual winter and the shortest day of the year. As Terry Pratchett has pointed out, it's a day to be careful of people who claim to be honest as the day is long.

I like Solstice. It's a lovely way to escape the growing clamor of Christmas v. Hanukkah v. Eid al-Adha v. Kwanzaa. I think Solstice slips under the radar a bit, which is nice. After today, the days begin to grow longer again. There are a couple of ways of looking at this. If you want to be confrontational about it, the bleak, cold darkness has been beaten back for another year and we as a species have survived to claw our way back into the sunlight. (I suppose we could say surviving the final trip to the shopping mall symbolically commemorates this event.)

I prefer to look at it a little differently, though. A long time ago, people were more attuned to the turning of the seasons - before the advent of electric light, there was a distinct difference between day and night that just had to be acknowledged. And it was understood that seeds, fields, and yes, people, needed to rest in order to store the energy necessary to grow when the time was right. Solstice marks the end of the dormant period - it's time to stretch towards the light and get ready to grow. It may take a while to see the results, but after all, flowers do a lot of work before we see the blooms.

So why wait until the calendar New Year to make some resolutions? (Yeah, I know. I'm not modifying my lousy eating habits until Epiphany, but that's beside the point. You plan on finishing that pecan bar?) Fresh starts require some effort; it's true, but you don't have to carry all that junk you've been carting around into the New Year with you. So maybe dig out your holiday cards one last time and send one to someone you've been on the outs with. Send it anonymously if you want. Or write down what you consider to be your bad habits and burn the paper in a Yule fire. Resolve to be the light this year; not the shadow. Climb up toward the light - it's where we all belong.

This is my last entry for 2007 - but I'll be back during the first week of January for musings and commentary from the holidays. Have a Merry New Year and remember - it's a brand-new set of three-hundred-and-sixty-six days in which to get things right. Just go a little easy on yourself and keep in mind that no one really has things figured out. While some folks are better at looking calm and collected, we're all just doing the best we can with what we have. So be a little kinder to someone who you don't think deserves it, even if that person is you.

Peace to you.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Joys of a Small Town!

The title of this post is a phrase that my mother is fond of saying when people are a smidge nicer than is strictly necessary for no apparent reason. (Then again, my mother is one of the most honorable people I know, so it's easy to be nice to her.) Anyway - I started thinking about it and I realized that there are quite a few things I really enjoy about living in a small (strike that, "itsy" is a more accurate word) town. I was born and raised in a small town and at different times of my life, I've lived in college towns, small towns, cities, and metropoli (that's the plural of "metropolis," right?).

So what is there to recommend small (I mean "itsy") town living? After all, it's not all apple pies cooling on windowsills and kids whitewashing the fence. (Thank heavens!) You tend to find what you're looking for, and overall, I'd have to say small towns have a certain tolerance for, nay, celebration of eccentricity. I don't just mean knowing who the local kook is - I mean honoring the oddities among us. Personally, I think this is more pronounced in the South, but I'll cheerfully admit to being biased. So, in no particular order, here are a dozen "joys of a small town."

1. Knowing that if you skid your car off into a ditch in an ice storm (we don't really get snow), just stay put. In less than twenty minutes, some guys will come along in a pickup truck with a logging chain. Don't offer to help - they live for this stuff.
2. Gardening in the back yard. (We still reserve the front yard for company; the back yard's for family.) Your burning ambition is to grow the world's largest pumpkin? Not gonna do that in a New York City walk-up. And yes, tomatoes taste better from your own patch. Just stay away from zucchini. Someone else will grow it and, trust me, they'll have plenty to give away.
3. Watching Christmas parades that feature baton-twirlers, cloggers, large Shriners in very small go-carts, as well as a horse-drawn hearse. Guess that's for the "scary ghost stories" lyric of "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year." And, on one memorable year, the Christmas Goat.
4. Understanding that the river has room for swimmers, turtles, and conversion experiences. Simultaneously.
5. Experiencing the traffic jam that follows a high school football game and marveling that it's much larger than any "rush hour" the town has to offer.
6. Driving around to see displays of Christmas lights, secretly hoping to find at least a couple of houses that make you ask, "What were they thinking?" but kind of liking it anyway, because you know that tasteful restraint has its place and Christmas isn't necessarily it.
7. Going out on Election Night to watch the volunteers climb up a ladder to post the precinct results on the world's largest whiteboard at the local fire station. People actually bring coffee and lawn chairs and treat it as a reality TV show.
8. Having a neighbor who keeps two horses in his back yard. In the city limits. In the winter, it's fine, but I don't want to be next door when the summer heat rolls in.
9. Strolling through the city cemetery to find the gravestone of the circus fat lady who died here. While sad to think she had no other family, well, she wasn't the first stray to be taken in and given a final, dignified rest.
10. Speaking of cemeteries, knowing that every well-bred woman has a "death casserole" that is either already in the freezer or can be whipped up in less than half an hour because viewings and funerals are social occasions and food must be provided.
11. Realizing that the original name of the town referenced the high degree of naturally-occurring lithium in the water. And having to consider that might explain a few things.
12. Knowing that adding "bless his/her heart" is the conversational equivalent of waving magical pixie dust. It's a universal balm that allows you to say the most vicious, backbiting things about someone, but still come off sounding friendly and sympathetic. For example: "Well, he can't really help it. His whole family have never been anything but shiftless chicken thieves, bless his heart." I've often wondered if that can be used as a defense as a slander trial - "But Your Honor, she said, 'Bless his heart!'" "Case dismissed!"

I like it here.

But I'm still going to Los Angeles in about two weeks. Home seems more like home when you're coming back to it.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

"I-Really-Liked-This-Movie" Pie

Last night, after experiencing what I can best describe as a "beige day" (you know, the type where nothing really bad happens, but nothing really good or lively or "well, that was cool" happens either), I needed something uplifting. And not Christmas carols - I'm overdosed on those at the moment. Love 'em; don't get me wrong, but sometimes you need the less-treacly ones - "Fairytale of New York" by the Pogues comes to mind, and that just gets you a lot of very strange looks.

So Stacked Librarian, who's always good at cheering me up when I'm on a downhill slide, stuffed me with pizza and we watched Waitress. Now, this is a movie I'd been meaning to see since it came out in the spring but, what with one thing and another, I never had managed. I wasn't sure about it - okay, Nathan Fillion, always good; one of my strengths is admitting my weaknesses. And a story about a waitress who pours her emotions into her strangely-named pies certainly has the curiosity factor going for it. But the story behind the movie is such a sad one. I don't want to go into gritty details, but the writer and director of the film, Adrienne Shelly, was murdered before the film was picked up for distribution, so she never got to revel in the well-deserved accolades the film received. She also had a starring role in the movie - it's hard to juggle those three jobs and often the results are overly self-indulgent, but not this time. Following her death, a non-profit organization was established to encourage other female filmmakers. No doubt a worthy goal, but I daresay her family, friends and fans would much rather have her among the rest of us.

Enough with the sad. It's a great movie. Really. Strong story, well-developed characters, funny, touching, and leaves you with that warm, fuzzy feeling without a nasty saccharine aftertaste. No need for a plot synopsis beyond telling you that I started thinking afterward about the term "happy enough" and being sure that I want more than that, even if it makes me unhappy along the way.

I think I need a piece of pie now.