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Friday, December 27, 2013

A Raging Blizzard in My Head as Year's End Nears

The world Up North is big and white and cold

What has become of your Up North blogging bookseller’s forays into the realm of thoughtful essay? Gone by the wayside? I hope not. It’s just – I mean – it isn’t that my thoughts are exactly just lying around on the surface of life like bodies in a tanning salon with nothing to do but soak up rays. It’s more that there is too much going on right now in mind and heart and life for me to settle down, narrow my focus to a single topic, and explore it in depth. Each snowflake may be a uniquely wonderful – literally, full of wonder, or, that is, we are when we contemplate it -- work of nature, but in a blizzard, who can take the time to contemplate each one?

Holidays have been one obvious focus lately. Presents, mailing presents, calling and e-mailing and writing to and generally being in touch with family and friends, planning holiday meals, attending social events, not to mention (but here I go mentioning it) keeping up with book orders and bookshop hours. It’s all quite lovely but does not exactly encourage or allow hours of quiet reflection.

Which tree is creaking and ready to fall?
Then, this is not much of a holiday topic, but I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately. A lot. I’m remembering friends lost long ago, as well as those who have died more recently. I’m thinking about what a friend calls the mysterious “here/not here” phenomenon that makes death of a loved one so difficult to absorb, much less accept. I think about how difficult holidays are for those dealing with loss. At the same time, one does not want to deny holidays and the cheer and comfort they can bring to so many. It’s all there at once – life, in all its ambiguity and contradiction and sun and shadow, babies being born at the very moment others are dying. Those are some of my background thoughts this December, ebbing and flowing.

Books don’t stop coming at a bookseller because of the holidays or thoughts of death. Marjorie Farrell did one recent book review for me, but I have another hanging fire and another review book coming in the mail soon. I’m thinking I’ll save the former to publish after the first of the year, even though the release date is December 31, because how many of my little coterie of readers will be up for leisurely book review reading as New Year’s Eve approaches? My Christmas Day and day-after treat was reading a friend’s YA novel manuscript. I mean it. It really was a lovely treat. None of this is complaint! It is, I hope, some kind of explanation. Reading and writing can feed each other, but they can also compete for available time.

Winter itself both encourages and discourages quiet reflection. Once the holidays are over, there will be many quiet hours and quiet days; for now, however, holiday bustle combining with frigid temperatures and very deep snow make every day and every errand a challenge. Strategies must be plotted, campaigns carefully planned in advance of effort. My sorties with Sarah into the cold world of deep snow – those alone require a lot more than just sailing out the front door. Sarah may sail, of course, but I must first bundle and then trudge and pay close attention to footing.

My one calm, contemplative winter meditation, not forsaken even during the holiday season, has been drawing. In 2012 my solitary project for the year was to go out and sit still for an hour once a week, soaking in and sketching the small world I call my home ground, Leelanau Township from roughly Fischer’s Happy Hour Tavern to St. Wenceslaus Church. It was cold going out in the winter for those stillness sessions – but easier to find time then than during spring planting or summer tourist seasons.

The new drawing project I have purposely left more freeform: no daily or weekly hours that I “must” fill or try to meet; no limits on subject matter or locale. Calling the project “Morning Drawing Meditations” set the tone I wanted to establish, and so far, beginning ahead of the new year, it’s going well. On mornings I get up too late to fit in a session, I don’t beat myself up, and whenever I do sit down with drawing pad and pencils I love losing track of time and leaving all other concerns behind.

When I draw, the blizzard in my brain subsides. I’m not in my brain or my thoughts at all, reflective or otherwise. There is simply a subject in front of me – a butternut squash, a few yams or pears, a crumpled potato chip bag, a mitten – something to look at carefully, seeing its complexity and uniqueness. Like that snowflake, you know?

Sustained reflection and even argumentation will revive again with the new year. For now, sigh ....................


Dawn said...

Lovely post. Had not thought about the problem of focusing on the small details when we're so busy with the big overall blizzard of holidays. Glad you are going to draw in 2014. Good goal! Happy New Year to you and your family!

P. J. Grath said...

Started back to drawing in November, Dawn, deciding that I didn't need to spend the winter in Florida to find time to draw. Happy new year to you in return!