Friday, December 31, 2010

Common rites

As I write this, the midnight hour sweeps round the world, ushering in a new year. It's a half hour 'til midnight here, and I'm the only one in the house who remains awake.

I'm remembering tonight the New Year's eves of my childhood. We'd spend the evening at my grandparents' house, a classic bright yellow, brick-porched California bungalow just a few doors down from our own home. Perhaps folks would drink a bit too much, but usually my sister and I didn't notice--we were drifting to sleep as my parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles laughed at The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

At midnight, we'd run out onto the porch, banging pots and pans with wooden spoons. Some of the older neighbors joined us in this rite. At some point during these years, my grandfather declared it was an old Scottish tradition to run around a tree three times at midnight for good luck. We're not a superstitious people, but we gave in to Pops's tradition, circling the block's palm trees.

Fang and I don't have any New Year's rites, though I suppose we will concoct some as Lucas grows more cognizant of the significance of a new year, and how in one moment we can be in (for the nation) a truly awful year like 2010 and in the next moment be completely free of it, at least temporally.

2010 has been a dynamic year for my little family. So that I might pursue a tenure-track job, we uprooted the family and moved to Boise. It's a move I don't regret, as I really do love my job and adore my new colleagues, but at least once I day I think of California and feel very much as if I'm in exile from where I ought to be. After all, California is more than just a place I was passing through--my family has deep, deep roots there. I suspect one day I'll return, though not any time soon, as I have lots of exploration and growth waiting for me here.

One of the things I've learned in my first semester here is that faculty here really do have a great deal of autonomy. I'm enjoying that tremendously, and I plan to write more here about how my teaching might change as a result of that independence. The expectations for my position really do seem to be wide open, and folks have seemed interested in whatever I propose. 2011 may, then, be a very interesting year intellectually.

On the home front, I have more work to do. We need more grounding in this place, as individuals and as a family. I need to help Fang find what he needs here—and that means both meeting physical needs and finding him greater intellectual and emotional fulfillment. He is, after all, a newspaperman in an era of newspaper extinction. What do you do when you're almost fifty years old and your entire industry disappears--especially if you don't have a college degree? Fang says he suddenly feels sympathy for hoop skirt makers, but I suspect under his humor there's a good deal of pain and perhaps even some fear about how he fits into our new life here.

So we need to spend more time together, to establish rituals and common rites, and to aid one another's intellectual, personal, and professional development in this next stage of our lives. I need to remind Fang that the advice offered to Seamus Heaney's narrator by the shade of James Joyce applies to both of us, even though our recent move was driven by my career, not Fang's:
‘Your obligation
is not discharged by any common rite.
What you do you must do on your own.

The main thing is to write
for the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust
that imagines its haven like your hands at night

dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast.
You are fasted now, light-headed, dangerous.
Take off from here. And don’t be so earnest,

so ready for the sackcloth and the ashes.
Let go, let fly, forget.
You’ve listened long enough. Now strike your note.’

Here's hoping 2011 brings both roots and wings.

I'm heading outside now to thrice circle a tree. I'll take an extra lap for you and yours. Happy New Year.


Seeking Solace said...

Happy New Year!!!

JustThinking said...

We skipped the tree and the banging pots this year, but I think of Pops every year too. Love to you and yours.

susan said...

I love this post, Leslie, and I hope all three of you find more grounding in 2011. It takes a while to settle into a new place.

My parents always banged pots at midnight on the new year, too. We don't do that here--not always being up at midnight!--but I have some really detailed memories running through my head now. I'd forgotten all about that.

fairbetty said...

Lovely, L. I hope your new year is full of all the promise and potential you desire.