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December 16, 2012

Last week I saw a blog post by Daniel O’Brien at– 5 Videos That will Brighten Your Day— and the first video, along with his commentary, made some things clear to me that had not been so clear over the past year.

Surely many of us have moments when we feel like the guy who saw a flash mob starting and (in the words of O’Brien) must have thought “oh, life is a musical now?” Eleanor and I are always waiting for that moment when life is going to become a musical, except I believe that when it comes, I’m going to be able to dance the way I imagine it in my head, rather than the way my body usually responds when I get excited and try to join in.

I’ll give you another example.  One time at a fancy holiday gathering at the house of Ron’s boss, I was sitting down at a table as someone mentioned the movie Elf. “Oh, I love that movie!” I said, loudly and enthusiastically, just at the moment I sat down far enough to see the face of a high muckety-muck who had been about to say how hokey it is.

Particularly during the holiday season, we expect happiness. As we get older, we think of people who are gone. I am still missing my friend who “unfriended” me, especially as the others in the group where she used to create great conversations have gotten too busy for talking as often. She was never too busy to talk to me, I thought–except she was, and I drove it to the point where it had to be all or nothing. I see that; I was like the guy trying to join in a choreographed dance without knowing the moves because he thought the world had turned suddenly magical.

But that doesn’t mean I think I can bring the friendship back from the dead or that I’m going to be less ardent about anything in the future.  What I’m realizing is that the degree of fervor (devotion, exhilaration, impetuosity, joyfulness, passion, relish, spirit, vehemence, zeal) that I put into relationships can make them briefer. Ron says I have the most exacting standards for friendship of anyone he knows; certainly I have the worst teeth, as in this poem by S.E. Smith:


Briefly, it is possible. The rain shines down,
the bucket is ready. It makes a nice click,
the last snap on the jacket. It doesn’t have
to be a particular kind of jacket. But it has
to be November, and you must be at the zoo.

I’m just telling you what I’ve heard from others,
others who seem to know. I know a little
about teeth and what happens to them
around a surfeit of candies, but that’s
about it. It can be any kind of candy, as long
as there’s a lot of it. And this is what happens:

light lurches around the lawn like a maiden wasted
by too much pastoral goodness, heavy is her harp
which she has lugged along for company.
But such music, such ungainly sweetness!
Muchness becomes moreness, at which point
her friends show up, a gang of bilious shepherds

who toss her among themselves when they get mean.
It becomes clear that you must wait until they fall asleep
before attempting to make your exit, and by this point
your teeth have already begun to leave you,
so impatient are they.

This holiday season I’m going to try to be a little less impatient, a little less full of sweets and a little less loud about my expectations. Maybe I’ll try to look harder for the quieter kinds of happiness. Because at the point where my friends show up, I want them to be able to stay for a little longer than they can when I’m in the kind of frenzy that the character of Harris, in the movie LA Story, describes: “when I’m around you, I find myself showing off, which is the idiot’s version of being interesting.”

Still less do I want to end up like Pearl Tull in Dinner At the Homesick Restaurant. I’ve always felt like her daughter Jenny before, trying to lose my intensity, trying to learn “how to make it through life on a slant,” but lately I think the greater danger is that I’m getting like the mother, who thinks

“so much of herself had been invested in those children, who could believe how briefly they’d been with her?

When she thought of them in their various stages–first clinging to her, then separating and drifting off–she thought of the hall lamp she used to leave on so they wouldn’t be scared in the dark. Then later she’d left just the bathroom light on, further down the hall of whatever house they’d been living in; and later still just the downstairs light if one of them was out for the evening. Their growing up amounted, therefore, to a gradual dimming of the light at her bedroom door, as if they took some radiance with them as they moved away from her. She should have planned for it better, she sometimes thought.”

Planning to let go of things doesn’t mean I’ll be able to call, text, or comment less, but I’ll try to say less and leave others room to say more.

It doesn’t mean that our holiday games of telephone pictionary and charades will be less intense and hilarious–that’s one place I can let myself go, and that makes me happy.

What is a small thing you do this time of year that makes you happy?

31 Comments leave one →
  1. December 16, 2012 8:48 pm

    I drink my coffee out of Santa mugs I got for me and my best friend before we left for Boston.

    I told her to drink out of those mugs between Thanksgiving and Christmas and think of me and our friendship. She dropped me a text message the other day about how much she loves those mugs, even now that I’m back in the same town she’s in.

    • December 17, 2012 7:36 am

      That is an awfully good small thing; I might have to imitate it.
      I have two wine glasses with Christmas trees on them that my high school best friend Iris gave me one Christmas when I was home from college, and I still use them and think of her this time of year. Maybe I can find some like them to send her.

  2. December 16, 2012 9:04 pm

    I pull out my Christmas pins: the one I got at my last job, the one a dear friend gave me, the silly button that makes me smile like a dork every time. It’s the one time of year I remember to wear pins on a regular basis.

    I relate to so much of what you have to say, but knowing the Non-Necromancer makes my reply bolder, perhaps: When the musical starts, let’s both jump in! Odds are, four smiling dancers will come and take us by the hands, one on each side, and show us the steps, excited by our enthusiasm! And, those in the crowd who were too timid to jump in will think, “Rats! If I’d known they’d teach you, I’d have jumped in, too!” as we sail past down the street, kicking up our heels, breathless with excitement and joy.

    • December 17, 2012 7:38 am

      Oh! Christmas pins are a good thing to remember. I also thank you for passing along the bacon ornament from my former friend. You make me feel like dancing.

  3. Carol Schumacher permalink
    December 16, 2012 9:19 pm

    Dear Non-necromancer: Those of us who love you, love your enthusiasms best of all.
    Signed, the only person you know who is as enthusiastic about a trip to the beach as you are.

    • December 17, 2012 7:40 am

      My longest-lasting friendships are necessarily with other people of enthusiasm who read carefully and well. It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of reading in a friendship. Or of going to the beach together.

    • magpiemusing permalink
      December 17, 2012 9:42 pm

      wait! i LOVE the beach!

  4. December 17, 2012 6:58 am

    I suppose I am in an emotional state today (dear friend in hospital – major surgery after two years of being bedridden) – but I have tears in my eyes reading this post. Sometimes when I want to feel happy, I pretend I have nothing – like a forlorn Little Match Girl – and then every small thing that I take for granted – my husband’s kiss, my daughters’ thoughtfulness, my outstanding Americano from the local cafe – hits me with absolute freshness. It’s a surprisingly delightful way to alter my attitude. (Plus, I enjoy pretending to be the little match girl. Some things never change.)

    • December 17, 2012 7:45 am

      That’s the spirit! Pretending to be someone fictional is always a good way to find some happiness.
      I hope your friend gets better.

  5. December 17, 2012 9:20 am

    This is a lovely and perfect post, and you’ve introduced me to yet another poem that I am glad to know. My favorite little thing — getting up early and turning on the tree and sitting in front of it with my coffee. It’s that moment of quiet I never think to do at other times of year.

    • December 17, 2012 9:55 am

      The poem is from a new volume entitled “I Live In a Hut.”
      Your small thing is something I also do. I also take a moment when I’m going to bed and turn off all the lights upstairs, as usual, but leave the tree on for Ron to see when he comes up a bit later.

  6. freshhell permalink
    December 17, 2012 9:43 am

    I look at the sky, take a walk, find solace in the unchanging things. I help Red clean her room and praise her ability to do so. This is the time of year where all I seem to have are the tiny little lights left on – hallway, bathroom, porch..

    • December 17, 2012 9:57 am

      Your Red has some of the same intensity, and similar teeth. Her light will never be all that tiny, and as she gets older I hope you will find it more endearing and less difficult, as my mother claims she has.

      • freshhell permalink
        December 17, 2012 10:04 am

        Some days, she’s my favorite child. But don’t tell! She is the greatest thing ever. She’s the family’s moral compass. She notices everything and tells it like it is. Which I love about her. It’s so much easier to talk about what’s on her mind in a no-nonsense way when she is so frank and open about things. She noticed M was mad at me last night. Mentioned it twice. Dusty was slacking off and I had called her on it. “I think she was embarassed,” Red said. Probably true. I rarely get very angry at either kid. But, Dusty was fine later. We haven’t talked about it yet but whatever storm was brewing, it passed.

        • December 17, 2012 12:19 pm

          I have several friends who notice almost everything, and sometimes I forget what a big deal that is and start expecting more people to be able to do it. But it’s rare.

  7. December 17, 2012 8:10 pm

    I can’t remember whether you watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There’s an episode in which life does turn into a musical, and the results are not so good–but cathartic, too, so maybe a good thing in the end.

    The small thing I do that makes me happy is to listen to all the Christmas music I want for the entire season. I have friends who won’t listen to Christmas music during advent and others who shut it off on December 26 or January 1, but I take advantage of the whole season to enjoy it. From the day after Thanksgiving to Epiphany on January 6.

    • December 17, 2012 9:48 pm

      I don’t watch Buffy, but I’ve seen a few episodes because Eleanor does, and she showed me the musical episode because it is so great.
      We tend to stick to December for Christmas music, except for the “this is my box” song from Amahl and the Night Visitors, which we sing year-round, as appropriate.

      • December 18, 2012 1:46 pm

        HA! I absolutely LOVE “This is my box.” My brothers and I sang variously altered versions of that for years during our growing up times. We still occasionally lapse into it over the phone. There’s really no situation that, at some point, doesn’t warrant a rousing “This is my box.”

  8. December 17, 2012 9:29 pm

    I’m always trying to tone myself down a bit … but you know what, enthusiasm and happiness isn’t a bad thing. I say “let us be bold with our likes and our loves!”

    I’m finding Christmas a very melancholy time as my mom died two days before Christmas two years ago. That is always going to hang over the holiday for the rest of my life, and I think I just need to create a quiet space and accept this blue feeling and let it have its moment.

    • December 17, 2012 9:52 pm

      Bold can be good; what I’m trying to rein in is more about holding other people to my exacting standards and not letting them have enough space.

  9. magpiemusing permalink
    December 17, 2012 9:40 pm

    i like all the red votives on the mantlepiece and re-read the christmas books, while the tree sparkles in the corner.

    • December 17, 2012 9:58 pm

      Rereading Christmas books is fun. We often get out an old William Joyce picture book entitled “Santa Calls.”

  10. December 18, 2012 7:15 am

    I’m still trying to find something genuinely good to do over the Christmas period. I fell sick with the viral pneumonia that ended up as chronic fatigue over one Christmas, and I realise now (far too late, years later) that it was properly traumatic for me. So even getting the Christmas cards starts to make me feel a bit peculiar. I tend to go through the week with gritted teeth. BUT! I can’t tell you how good the New Year looks once Christmas is out of the way for another 300 or so days.

    • December 18, 2012 8:05 am

      Do you have to stick around and do a little celebrating because of your family? Otherwise, it sounds like the thing to do would be to take the week off and curl up with some books, or travel somewhere tropical.
      Jenny’s solution came after a nervous breakdown (in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant), but she never takes anything seriously; she lets it all slide off her. I’m not good at that, but it’s something to aim for, occasionally.

  11. December 18, 2012 1:54 pm

    Without any master planning (that I’m aware of), my go-to little thing that makes me happy is to thank someone for something. It’s little because there’s almost always something I can find to thank someone for. It’s big because it reminds me to appreciate my life. However much gratitude is out there in the world at any given time, there’s always room for more. So thank you for finding such cool poetry.

  12. December 19, 2012 6:40 am

    A small thing this time of year that makes me happy is getting out all the presents I got for people and inspecting them. Having them all in one place makes me feel successful and suspenseful and very extremely happy. Because, presents! Yay!

    I’m glad my parents raised us to put a high premium on, I guess, sincerity and liking things. That it’s worthwhile to be excited about small things that provide a small increase of happiness. I have found that to be useful in my life.

    • December 20, 2012 8:09 am

      For the last two nights, I’ve gotten out different piles of presents (one to take to a local friend’s house on Christmas Eve, one to take to my brother’s house) and looked at them before wrapping them up.
      I do think that parents have to teach by example, and when my kids are starting to go out in the world and make their own way, I have to model some behaviors besides wild excitement and silliness anytime we’re together.

  13. December 24, 2012 2:01 pm

    Alas, happiness is a bit elusive for me this year. I won’t go into details, but this has been an extremely stressful year. What I am hoping for is less stress – contentment and peace, which will be a form of happiness, I suppose. I have learned to appreciate the little things along the way that can fill you with great joy, like a good poem or birds singing in the morning or a small, unexpected kindness.

    • December 24, 2012 8:41 pm

      I’ll try to find a good poem or two, and hope that you find more kindness in the new year.

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