Holidays

Dave’s been after me to write a new entry because it’s been a month since the last one. He’s right, really — the whole point of this blog is to keep my writing chops in shape with some informal exercising. But damn, I’ve been busy and feeling pretty drained for a while. Work has been exhausting, with a big many-part project behind schedule and a lot of pressure to catch up, and us still a bit understaffed. I’m trying to concentrate on editing these difficult books on a technical subject I know little about, while every 15 or 20 minutes someone comes by with a question or, worse, something that I have to do immediately that only takes five minutes but breaks my train of thought so that when I come back to what I was working on I have trouble remembering exactly what it was I was in the middle of at the moment I broke off. I have taken to leaving a lot of sticky notes around for myself: “Ck TOC pg nos” or “perms?” to remind myself that I was about to check all the page numbers in the table of contents or do a page-by-page pass through the galleys to make sure that my list of what figures and tables are reprinted or adapted from other copyrighted sources — in others words, those things we need to be sure we have obtained permission to use before we put the galleys in final form — isn’t missing anything.

The holiday season was nice, though to some extent I spent a lot of it just crashing. I took a few vacation days so that I could be away from Christmas to New Year’s — an 11-day weekend — and it took me seven or eight of those days before I really felt rested and recharged. And then of course I get back to work and things are just as intense as I left them. I will be extremely relieved when the last of these eight books is off to the printer.

My holidays were good all the same, I just could have used a few more days of them. Christmas Eve was spent at a dinner table of in-laws, Dave’s mother and middle brother and his wife. I used to find holidays with Dave’s family harder to deal with, but with age I have realized that it is much easier to deal with someone else’s dysfunctional family than your own. It’s easier to learn how not to take things personally, not to let things cross my own boundaries. I suppose perhaps the next step ought to be to take that practice and apply it to my own family. Can one learn to be with one’s own family as lightly as if it were somebody else’s, not having any expectations, not taking any disapproval to heart, and confident that when it’s time to go home you won’t be taking any of the leftover angst home with you?

Christmas Day was pretty quiet, which is how I like it. Christmas was one of the most horrible three days of the year for me when I was growing up (the other two were Easter and Thanksgiving), and nowadays I’d be happy just spending it with Dave and maybe a couple of friends. I’d even be perfectly happy to spend it by myself, staying in bed and reading or playing computer games all day. Big holiday gatherings wear me down too easily. For Christmas this year, Dave and I were just going to do lunch and a movie with his mother (his brother and sister-in-law were going to spend Christmas Day with her family, which Dave’s mother didn’t want to do), but then the night before Dave had the idea of offering to drive his mother to Davis — an hour and a half away — to visit her mother’s grave, which she hadn’t been able to visit in nearly two years. She’s Chinese-American, born in China, and that’s an important thing in Chinese culture. Me, I can’t even remember where any of my grandparents are buried and my last visits to their graves coincided with the days on which they took occupancy.

Then dinner for just the three of us in a really good Chinese restaurant on Solano Avenue in Berkeley, Kirin. Dave’s mother seemed determined to find faults in everything about the restaurant until the food came, at which point she stopped finding nits to pick, so we must have picked a good place. And I seem to have accumulated a bushel of Good Son-in-Law points that day. Dave pointed out to me later than some of what his mother had said over dinner, she never would have said in front of me if she didn’t feel I was family. Well, that’s what he says anyway. I still don’t really know enough about Chinese culture to notice all the indicators, and Dave often has to translate for me.

Thursday after Christmas I left for a Billy Club gathering in the redwood country a few hours’ drive north of San Francisco. The Billys are a partly social, partly spiritual group that holds five or six of these gatherings each year. I got a bad headache on Thursday morning and drove up a bit queasy from all the Vicodin and coffee I’d swallowed in order to dull it (unfortunately I’m not one of those people who gets a pleasant high from Vicodin; it just upsets my stomach, though that’s still better than hurting). It was still lingering mildly by Friday morning but by Friday evening it was finally gone and I slept well.

I was in charge of creating and leading the rituals this time around, which was a lot of fun and kept me connected with others. But I also spent a lot of the time by myself, reading or writing or just napping. We’d created a lounge in one of the cabins by spreading out mattresses and a hundred or so pillows and cushions around, and draping fabric on the walls. It was cozy and warm and I spent a lot of time there, writing in my journal or napping in a corner or chatting with a friend.

Leading the rituals was a great experience for me and I learned some stuff. Mostly though this gathering for me was less about doing stuff and more about retreating and restoring myself. I got back New Year’s Day.

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