Wednesday, December 29, 2010

At the Threshold of Year's End

Yesterday I visited a childhood friend at her parents' retirement house, which is only 25 miles from where I live. Sitting in the dining room drinking tea, our conversation drifted across many topics--what we'd been doing over the last couple of years, what became of certain family members and friends. There was a curious blending of the past and the future in this comfortable threshold of the present. I was reminded of the fact that this was the family that shaped my childhood more than my own family. In my own family I was largely an outsider--6 years younger than my youngest sibling. My father was always working, and my mother too busy running around trying to keep tabs on the 5 of us.

By contrast, it seemed my friend's family was always going out doing interesting things, visiting new places. As I got older, I realized that they drank a lot of wine. I admired them for this. My family never drank. Sounds strange, but I have a great appreciation for good beer and wine. This interest of mine has never set quite well with my family, who have an underlying belief that anyone who enjoys alcohol is destined to be an alcoholic. Sure, they dip in themselves once in awhile, but it's pretty rare. It's odd when you consider that my father is of Irish/English descent, and my mother of Eastern European descent. Of course, my mother saw marriages and families within her own family ripped apart by drinking and its abuse, so perhaps her attitude is not so surprising. And my father's grandfather died of wood alcohol poisoning during Prohibition.

Really, though, it's not just the enjoyment of beer or wine--it's pretty much everything. I've always felt a bit out of step with everyone else in the family. And over the years I've learned not to be concerned about it. This annoys my mother, who feels I should put family first. Often I do, but generally speaking, there's no point. I don't consider this a problem. If my family had been more attentive to my life course, and we had ended up being more close-knit and traditional overall, maybe my life would have been a lot different, and I wouldn't want that. It was a wonderful moment when I suddenly realized that I didn't have to do things based on what others might think of me. There was no need to do what I was supposed to do by societal or familial decree. There's wonderful freedom in that, and also great responsibility.

In the course of my conversation with my friend, she mentioned a trip she took with friends to Berlin and Paris, once again whetting my appetite for Europe. She's heading for Umbria in Italy sometime this summer. I'm looking at financial logistics, and by Fall 2011, a week in Paris might not be out of the question. Still--too soon to say. But I was happy to be reminded that I should move forward, even when we'd been looking backward.

In the meantime, I'm still purging away. Got rid of 5 years worth of old papers, and I'm still cleaning out closets and drawers. This is an almost-vacation week for me (I still have an online class to teach). As the week progresses, I'm not sure if I'm getting lazier or just more relaxed. I find myself following the cat's example, and curling up in my bed for most of the day. I do have visits with friends, but not every day. Nonetheless, I have to snap out of it for at least some time, and get some writing, grading, and chores finished. Money is still tight, so I'm resisting the urge to go out. The recent snowstorm--which hardly affected us at all--has brought New York and East Jersey to a standstill. While not good for residents of those towns, it's been good for me--I have a reason not to go there.

I read today that New York City had a "good riddance" day--where they wrote down things they wanted to get rid of, and put it in a big ceremonial pile to be shredded. This is a great idea, and no better time for such a mass effort than the end of Mercury Retrograde (ends tomorrow, the 30th). 2010 has not been the greatest of years overall, though it did have its high points. I've never felt myself in more of a crunch than I have this year financially--not for at least 15 years.

On the other hand--I was going through some New Yorker magazines that I've allowed to stack up, and one had an article on North Koreans who defected to Yinji in China. One girl told her story--she was her family's one hope educationally, so they'd saved their money to send her to college. Then in one stroke--the North Korean government devalued their currency, and gave citizens 24 hours to cash in their won (North Korean money). In the end, the girl's family had only 15 dollars left to their name. Between that and the rampant starvation among the people there--I realized that my material difficulties in no way matched theirs. Even among Americans I'm not that bad off--I have a full-time job with benefits, and have the opportunity to get extra work. Being frugal will get rid of my debts. Others are not so lucky.

Let's hope 2011 is better for everyone. Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu.

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