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Excerpt from piece, "Our Christmas Memories"

Saturday 9/24/22

As a kid I recall often encountering the phrase “frozen in time.” I think it was because I read a lot of books on baseball history, where the achievements of Honus Wagner were described as such, which sounded like an insurance policy against forgetting, even after the people who had been there were long dead.


Christmas memories were also written about as being frozen in time, but that always struck me as contradictory. Memories are supposed to be like what happens in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Back we go and the past inundates the present, spills through our breast, and it is there again, though we are not. Don’t be sad about the last bit, even if the memory is a good one, because we may be moving forward, and if we’re not, we still have the opportunity. Nothing in this life counts for more than a legit opportunity. Write it down, as your teachers used to say. Memories don’t get to be savored until they’re made. Live a life that produces the kind worth saving even when life is hard and you’re lonely. The path above the beach still exists, you may walk alongside it and witness the sun go down, and later when you are not lonely, you can tell someone about what you saw and how it inspired you, and you may visit that path together. You will then feel gratitude for that path. To feel gratitude for a path is to know what happiness is.


Life for me has become rusticated. That’s a way I try and put it sometimes, a joke I make with myself. A rusticated surface is a rough one. The hand does not pass over it smoothly. If you’re making internal jokes about the rusticated surface of your life, things are probably pretty grim. I am not able to enjoy Christmas as I once did, but my hope—and what I’m working towards—is that I will later be able to enjoy it more than anyone ever has. Not that this is a competition. Besides: I think I’d just be competing with myself, because my love for Christmas is bottomless. And my memories of the holiday still wash over me.


I had two sisters once, who, like myself, were adopted. They were biologically related to each other, being twins. And their biological mother decided that she wanted them back. I had two sisters, and then I didn’t. Later I had two other sisters, one of whom was adopted, and one of whom was not. The one who was was born around Christmas, and she died at thirty-three. The other day I was thinking that I should say to my mother that we ought to talk about her more. I know my mother always wants to, and I worry that she doesn’t because she believes I wouldn’t wish to do that. I didn’t say anything. Certain bad things had arisen, and I’m not pleased with myself that I didn’t make sure to say this to her anyway. I will. I am awash in memories of her. They are coming over me now. So, nothing is frozen, unless you allow it to be.


After the twins were gone, I was terrified that I, too, would be taken away. I thought there was a possibility I’d be snatched in the night. In the middle of one of those nights, I went wandering in our house, and came upon the TV set downstairs, still on, playing 1951’s Scrooge. I sat and I watched, and felt a comfort I needed. Many years later, after much rustication, I wrote a book about that film and that strange night when it was as if I was visited by a much-needed ghost that happened to be a movie.


The Christmas after the twins’ departure, my mom went all-out on the Christmas gifts. I came down in the morning and she still speaks of the look on my face when I saw how much was under the tree. That memory lives with me, and I hope someday I have someone I love, who loves me, whom I will view as the most amazing woman it he world, and I’ll tell her about this. I will be on the verge of tears, then I will probably cry, as I am nearly doing now, and I’ll be so happy that I took care of myself and never gave in when it would have been easy to do just that and we’ll have so much life and so many Christmases in front of each other.


Memories are not frozen; they flow. Let me tell you about right now, as this moment itself becomes a memory, one that I may revisit later, and even one I may reread later. It’s late September, and I got a late start to my day. Usually I’m working before five, but my back has been hurting me lately and the drama has intensified in my life with my career. Yesterday I had to do some very unpleasant things, and I know I will have to do more of them in the next few days, which are more unpleasant themselves. I’ve just written like another 10,000 words’ worth of short stories, features, op-eds, and posts on my website in the last couple days. I am wearing a woman’s Hockey East T-shirt and basketball shorts that are too big and keep falling down. I’m shivering because the window in front of me is open, fall weather has really settled in, and I’m underdressed, though I’m inside. My feet are cold on the floor. In a little while I will go to a park by the harbor and do push-ups, then I’ll walk to Charlestown and run up and down the Bunker Hill Monument. After I shower I’m going to take the train to Salem, because this is proper I-should-go-to-Salem-today weather, and wander the graveyards and stroll the Peabody Essex Museum, writing in my head, working on a new novel.


So that’s me right now. I’m thinking about Christmas, which is what I do when autumn weather settles in—and, frankly, what I do in February and also in June—and how I’ll get through it this year, daydreaming—morning-dreaming?—about future better times and the memories to make within them after they arrive. But that’s a long way from you reading right now, isn’t it? You’re probably seeing this piece sometime right around Christmas, and here is this version of this man writing to you from a different place, looking towards a certain day.


But on this current day, I am still a representation of that Christmas spirit. This coffee I drink from yesterday, chilled by the air in this hovel of an apartment, is far from the coffee I drank with my family on Christmas mornings when my dad and my sister were alive, and my own life was less rusticated, but it’s still connected, because of my memories. Connective coffee. One day I may be connected to this very piece, when I reread it in a different setting. I may seem as far removed from this person and this time as the version of me on this late September day seems from the child who came down those stairs and understood—though he still believed in Santa Claus (frankly I still do, in the larger sense)—what his mother had done for him and why. It really is all connected, when you think about it. Which is why, mere moments after awaking today, I thought I would write this piece.


I write a lot of pieces each year for Halloween and Christmas. I love them both and everything about them. I have ideas for those pieces more than a year in advance. This one is something of a departure. Remember how you’d have a teacher who at Christmastime would say, “Let’s do something different!” You were excited, right? Even though you were seven, you thought you knew what all of the possibilities were, but then you were swept up in a new activity with your little classmates, and what a blast it was. My mother said words of that nature to me once, and together we went into the woods and gathered different kinds of pinecones and made a display of them, each pine cone properly labeled. It was Christmas-y enough for me. The woods, the snow, the smell of those trees. I became someone who said to myself: “Let’s do something different.”


I have spent the last eleven Christmases alone. Entirely alone. To describe to you how hard that is would be a challenge. I don’t give in to the gun on those Christmases, I keep free of the grave. I do write. I can rise to that challenge, and I have elsewhere and in what I think of as the agonal aggregate, but I don’t want to here because that is not why we’re here.


We are here for something different, so let’s pretend we’re classmates. And though we think we might know what the available options are, we would still love to be surprised. Or let’s pretend we’re friends. No—let’s be friends. I feel like we are as I recall the words I’ve just written, and for whom I intend them. I don’t intend them for enemies, or if they are read by enemies, I hope that the enemy will then become less of one because of choices that person has elected to make in their life and in who they are. Let us be brothers and sisters for a piece. Let’s mix it up. Let me share with you some Christmas treats that you might bring into your home this year, and make a part of your Christmas memories, with your people—and I’d encourage you to bring new people into your preexisting group of people—and with yourself.


I’ve tried to think of Christmas-related works that I love, that aren’t that well known. They want to give everything they have to us—which is much—if only we knew them! They are a part of my Christmas memories, and may they contribute to my future Christmases and the memories that will be made there, which sounds like an oxymoron—a temporal oxymoron—but is more a goal I am working towards, with purpose, clarity of vision, and all that I am. These works below are works I’ve long cherished, and I let them wash over me as memories that are alive, and memories that foster memories. May they wash over you, too. The quality of being frozen is for blocks of ice. Not for memories, be they memories that already exist, or the best memories that have yet to come—which is the goal, yes?—and not for us, my friend.