One Christmas I got a DVD of topo maps for all of Southern Arizona from my wife.
Oh, the excitement, the places I’d go!
I’d walk the whole area, explore hidden nooks off the trail, plan bike and horse-packing trips to know the whole region, make it mine, all mine! It’s like that feeling of walking into a bookstore, the promise of it all. I could learn about carpentry, blue-water sailing, tattoo art, or sacred sexuality. Here it is, all the world in one place, ripe and ready for me to consume, to fly above it all. Or there was the time, still recovering from hip surgery, when Rachel bought me a gift certificate to a running store. I had only just begun to walk for more than 20 minutes at time, but she believed in me, I would run, RUN!
The span of an entire week off yawns before me, and I feel the tendrils of my mind expanding to curl around various ideas of promise, taking flight to survey the landscape of opportunity. Perhaps we will soak in hot springs, take long hikes, have long mornings of lovemaking, eat delicious sticky buns, finally get the house organized. What a dreamer I am. This always happens when I have a break, but there’s something extra special about Christmas and New Year’s. Christmas, all the gifts, the maps and outdoor gear and instruments, the art supplies, all of this I will use in my new, richer life with more money and free time!
I will use these tools to make more money, and buy myself time to use them! I will build a boat, take a month-long hike up the mountain spine of Arizona. I will buy a piano and have whiskey sitting on it while I regale guests with wonderful songs, while I’m working on a recording and it goes viral and next thing I know….
And then New Year’s. A whole New Year!
Never mind how quickly the last one went, and that I spent some huge portion of it sitting in front of a computer just like this. Except doing even less exciting work, often avoiding meaningful and challenging work I could’ve been doing, perfecting spreadsheets so I didn’t have to write a grant proposal. But now there are 12 whole months ahead and it’s only going to get lighter from here on out, because it’s the solstice, too, dammit! And of course we can celebrate Christmas because it’s just a co-optation of pagan solstice celebrations, and we get the idea that at the darkest time of the year we must, must keep the light inside bright, inside our hearts and homes and families and everything. Oh, yes!
And we love Jesus too, because isn’t he just the most successful Guru and it feels good to have an icon on the wall that represents something that we actually grew up with? Versus the many-armed dancing hermaphrodites and the fat elephant that’s rich with another culture’s symbolism. Christmas is ours! The white folks, the Eurotrash who’ve spread everything all over the world and destroyed it all, the worst cancer in the history of the world. This is our holiday, and we love it and hate it.
The lonely hurried shopping, the tension. Will I find the right jewelry that’s meaningful, beautiful, and isn’t what I like but is what she likes? Will I measure up to the Christmas challenge of being sweet and giving and generous and knowing her so well that just the right gift or breakfast in bed or prayer will open her up like a flower in the morning sun, and I’ll plunge into the parallel Christmas in July of her light and love and my own confidence and radiance.
The hope and grindingness of it all. The vacation, the year, the hopeful gifts of creativity and splendor. Most of it will not happen. Most of the time will be spent sleeping, sitting in front of computers, driving, going to the gym, cooking and eating food. It will all be spent (as Byron Katie says) sitting, standing, or lying down.
Some dreams may become manifest. There I am next summer, gazing over the grandeur from the edge of the Grand Canyon, the Big Ditch yawning before me in all its sunlit splendor, impossibly huge, how did all this happen? Yet, I am standing there with something gnawing inside me. Why don’t I feel more moved? Why isn’t my heart opening, my eyes tearing with the timeless Essence of it all? It’s not enough to stand here on the asphalt, behind the guard rail with all the tourists with the cameras. Damn them, they’re even less in the moment than I am.
They don’t even know that they’re actually not even here until they get home and realize it’s all over and they weren’t even really there. But they’re so blissful in their ignorance, for them it’s enough to experience it all behind the tiny screen, the biggest fucking hole in the world reduced to a few thousand pixels to be stored for later and facebooked and tumblred and all the rest.
Fuck those fuckers! Here I am with the wind in my hair, wishing I could be as free as that squirrel lurking around the edge of the parking lot. He lives here! Never has to go back to grocery shopping, hangovers, disappointing relationship moments. He’s just here stuffing his face with potato chips and popcorn and colorful candy and the occasional piñon seed. Of course he’s not happy like I’d be. I’d be one of those wild squirrels who never even sees people, who is holed up in an undiscovered crag out in the wild emptiness, the whole grand spectacle my kingdom and my home, it all open to me and me part of it. Yet unlike the squirrel, I will know it and be happy, happy, happy.
Standing. That’s it. Just standing there at the edge of the canyon, these are where my flights of fancy and the money saved by my grandparents and parents and myself have brought me in all my freedom. And it’s just like the bookstore. The mind flies and soars with possibility and anticipation and anxiety, but the body, the real, is just standing, flipping some paper sheets through its fingers. Standing, breathing, craving whatever scent is coming out of the bookstore café.
Oh God a peppermint mocha sounds just perfect.
I’ll grab the perfect book that nobody else has ever read and find a comfy leather chair that feels just like my own study in my tiny New York City apartment with the view of Central Park and all the walkable delights below, and I’ll sip my peppermint mocha and read the book, which will of course open the world like that morning flower. I’ll be in ancient Rome, finally understanding it all, and I’ll glance up from my book, over my blanket-laden lap, over the freshly snow-covered trees and hills of Central Park. My wife will come up and rub my shoulders and give me a big, wet, loving kiss on the cheek, but not linger long enough to draw me out of my Roman New York reverie.
Standing in the bookstore. The emptiness of magazines. You can never learn how to do anything from a magazine. Not homesteading—gardening, raising chickens or goats, or setting up your own micro-hydropower setup. No, the magazine will tell you about the person more creative, more committed, more interesting and successful than you who is actually doing the thing for a living that you want to do as a hobby, in between the computer sitting and driving and cooking and eating and sleeping and dog walking and pooping and occasional fucking.
The magazine will point you to the book you need to read or the hundreds of hours of work and learning it will take to build your own goddamn chicken coop.
Which brings us to the much more tantalizing cover of Vanity Fair, which promises nude photos of Lady Gaga, who I find attractive in a strange not-Hollywood way, and who I am also interested in as a person because she hasn’t given in to becoming a worthless rag doll of the media like Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears.
She is somebody, so of course I want to read about her, and, see her naked. So good. I’ll let go of my deep-sea sailing dreams and my love of fine literature that I will surely someday read and sit here on this bench and read about Gaga.
But oh God, she too is just standing, sitting, or lying down. Yes sometimes she’s writing songs or singing them or cooking an all-too-delightful home-cooked meal for the first-ever reporter to enter her childhood home, but she’s just a person. Her $100 million hasn’t freed her from pooping and eating and sleeping. And, my wife is hotter than she is. The only difference is she’s always, always, wearing makeup and heels and high fashion at the absolute cutting edge.
So then it all comes back to the meaning of the season. The moment I have to take a breath and feel it, to sit down and write all this crap. Just this, it’s always just this and no, I’m not out on the trails. But if I were, I’d be walking on the ground and breathing, sometimes sitting and sometimes lying down. I’m not working on a work project, engrossed sitting at the computer with my shoulders up around my ears. But if I were, I’d be sitting and breathing. Just this, just now.
Hopefully all this hoping can end mercifully, without my mind having to completely break. Sounds like false hope to me. Hope is merciless in its promise of something better than right now, reminding me of all my potential and you won’t believe the deals at the stores on the 26th. Sometimes the moment is just so bad, that I need hope to just get through until it’s all a bit more manageable. But in the best case, hope can settle down softly like a thin coating of winter snow on the ground, and I can stop running around trying to catch the snowflakes on my tongue and notice the light playing on the blanket of pure white, and stand and breathe and marvel in awe, and in love.