Everything in Between

Is there anything more in-betweeny than the week between Christmas and New Year’s? The hoopla and anxiety surrounding Christmas is gone, and we all glance sort of tiredly towards New Year’s Eve, wondering whether to go out and celebrate or stay home, maybe order a pizza and watch the ball drop.  The first day of January arrives and we are grateful because January gives us permission to eat less, buy less, simply do less and be less in the world.  Right now, caught about halfway between the holidays, we sort of wander, go to movies, work shorter days or don’t work at all, half-heartedly visit those we didn’t see on Christmas day and if we are really, really lucky, spend some time on the couch quietly reading. 

I’m even more in-betweeny than I normally would be since my last day of work at the hospital is next Thursday. I chose to work a couple of extra weeks to get everything in order but it’s really hard to get everything in order when almost everyone I work with took this week off work.  Everything feels off-kilter right now. This is partly due to the exhaustion of holiday travel and the fact I need to pack tomorrow for our New Year’s weekend, and partly because I’m transitioning into a new phase. Plus in December I don’t write and I had to cancel my gym membership since I won’t be in Detroit anymore so things are all off-balance.

Our trip went well.  Both sides of our family seemed happy and healthy and appropriately grateful to see us.  There were definitely some….moments….mainly with our days in Pittsburgh but we all made it through and quite frankly with all of our disparate personalities that is saying something. 

As much as I like spending time in New York and Pittsburgh, I still experience a thrill in crossing the Ohio border into Michigan, coming home. I love the way more easternly cities look – all those row houses built into hills, all those hills resting beneath thick billowing clouds, everything sort of bleak and damp and rough around the edges…I’ve never been one to be overly dazzled with sunshine and blue skies and long stretches of beach, no – dark dirty cities are the swamp to my frog, so to speak.  Pittsburgh is a wonderful city to live in as a writer – the cost of living is incredibly low, every other building is a restaurant or bar, it rains all of the time and so there is never any reason to do much other than read, write and meet up with friends.  I always feel a pang when I return there, but since my brother owns a restaurant there and he and his girlfriend are hoping to buy a house soon, it looks as though I’ll have enough reason to return for a very long time.  And frankly, growing older really must change the body because I had my first ever case of acid-reflux after devouring my first cheeseburger in over a couple of years, and I had an allergy attack from all the cigarette smoke in the bar.

I’m not sure what it is that makes Michigan, with its many foibles, home for me. S. and I were trying to pinpoint reasons last night but couldn’t really verbalize what we felt. Is it the way the cattails freeze in the ditches next to the highway, paralyzed for winter but promising spring’s return? Or is the way the air smells, like warm pine needles, sand and water in summer and like ice and soot and snow in the winter?Or is it the way the amber evening light glints through miles of pine and birch trees?  Or is it the way the roads widen when you cross the border, the desire to open your arms wide and spin around flooding you, because you are home? There’s no rhyme or reason to it, but for me Michigan has always felt like home, and no matter what adventures S. and I have before us,  it will probably remain that way.

Regarding reading, I’m still working on the incredible Country of My Skull, which is hard to read for long periods of time because the material is so intense. I finished T.Jefferson Parker’s The Fallen, and I’m happy to say he recovered nicely from California Girls and created an incredibly engaging character in Robbie Brownlaw, who tells the story in a touching first-person narrative. Parker’s creation of Brownlaw puts the readers in the hands of a very reliable narrator, a very nice place to be indeed. Other than that, it’s a California mystery which Parker excels at creating.  I’ve started Gilead and THANK GOD I’m enjoying the narrative voice because otherwise…no chapters? I’m sorry but I simply can’t get behind such a structural choice no matter how much white space the author provides.  S. took one look at the text and swore there was no way he could read it. 

I have some reading plans for the New Year.  I hope to read 13 new classics in 2007, and during my 30th year I hope to spend some time reading old favorites again.  I have one month left to finish my From the Stacks challenge, which I think I’ll make, and I hope to read most of Hemingway’s work (separate from the classics challenge) because I need it for an essay I’m writing. 

I sat down last night to review last year’s resolutions and draft new ones and I found it interesting that the only resolutions I met for 2006 were my writing resolutions, and I met all of them.   Last year I resolved to find a writing group in my area for workshop, and I found the BEST group, full of talented, smart writers.  I also resolved to have one piece of writing accepted, and I had two. And finally I resolved to attend two writing conferences last year, and I met that one as well.  All the others – take a self defense course, volunteer steadily, etc. went by the wayside. I’m perfectly okay with that.  I won’t share all of my resolutions with you, as I tend to be fairly resolution-happy and make a lot, but my writing ones include publishing more in 2007 than I did in 2006 and attending one interesting writing gathering, be it a colony or conference or something. I also hope to go one place I’ve never been before and begin reducing our eco-footprint on the world.  Yes, there are more. I like the structure.

Normally I’m not a huge fan of Christmas form-letters but this year S. and I received some lovely ones which helped me change my mind and even entertain the possibility of one of our own next year.  One of my favorites came from friends of ours in Pittsburgh, and while I intend to blog Saturday morning about a couple of books I want to talk more thoroughly about, this is really my end-of-the-year post, and so I am sharing the last line of the letter we received from Abby and Art, which I found powerful and perfect and  true:

May you all be happy and healthy in the New Year, and may 2007 bring us all together in a world that is peaceful, whole and just.

Amen to that. Amen to that.

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11 Responses to Everything in Between

  1. Well done on meeting those writing goals, Courtney! You have inspired me to set some of my own. I’m sure 2007 is going to be a wonderful year for you. Happy New Year wishes to you, from me.

  2. yogamum says:

    Congratulations! I need to set some writing goals, too! Maybe I’ll do that, since I’m not going anywhere anytime soon…more snow…

  3. Kerryn says:

    Very impressed that you not only made resolutions but met some of them. Here’s to a 2007 that brings many more good things your way. Happy New Year Courtney!

  4. litlove says:

    Happy New Year Courtney, and here’s to it being even more successful writing-wise than 2006. I do feel very in-betweeny at the moment. I ought to be using the time more productively, but mostly I’m lying about and reading bits and pieces. I’m not very good at the structureless-ness of these kind of vacations!

  5. Cam says:

    I loved reading this post this evening. Your description of Eastern cities — all those row houses built into hills, all those hills resting beneath thick billowing clouds, everything sort of bleak and damp and rough around the edges is so accurate. And your description of Michigan — yep, that’s it! It reminded me of traveling to Michigan for summer vacations as a child — Michigan smells like water to Indiana’s soybeans. When driving north on 75 and you cross the 45th parellel, it is so pristine, so northern and remote and then you realize that it’s ONLY half-way between the equator and the pole so no wonder the sky seems so big, no wonder the glaciers dropped the fertile top soil. Who wouldn’t want to stay there?

    I’ll be interested to hear what you have to say about Gilead. I read it a few months ago & never got around to posting about it, but I liked the book a lot, one of my favorite novels read in 2006. There is a wonderful scene about 1/2 through the book the describes the light on the prairie stunningly. You’ll see what I mean when you get to that point. Another scene where the old man recalls an incident as a child with his father feeding him. It is reverent and almost sacremental. Beautiful.

    Congrats on meeting your writing goals. Whatever they are for 2007 I hope to be reading many posts from you here!

  6. Emily says:

    Pittsburgh sounds like the perfect city for me. I love places that provide good excuses for never having to spend huge amounts of time outside, doing productive, outdoorsy things, when all I really want to be is inside with a book or a laptop and my pot of tea.

    Congratulations on meeting your writing goals for 2006! And I like your idea of having so many resolutions, you’re bound to meet some. I usually have about two, and then become crushed when I can’t even manage to keep THOSE.

  7. Carl V. says:

    Coming home is a wonderful feeling. I actually enjoy this in-between period mostly because I do alot of reading and family-time stuff plus I love the planning stages…cleaning up and organizing and making goals for the new year. I wish you all the best as we leave 06!

  8. Andi says:

    Very glad to hear that you came out in one piece. Your reading resolutions are lovely. I think I’m sticking to the basics in the coming year: buy less, read more. I always shoot for 52 and sometimes I exceed it and sometimes I fall short (this year at 48 or 49).

  9. What lovely responses.
    Charlotte, and a very very happy new year to you as well. I’m looking forward to many posts from you!

    Yogamum – I’m thinking of you! It looks like the snow arrived…are you able to dig out alright? Everyone home and safe and happy enough?

    Kerryn – thank you! And a happy new year to you, as well!

    Litlove – we are much a like. I always want to enjoy the down time of Christmas vacation but too much down time makes me edgy – I thrive in routine.

    Cam, THANK YOU! And how funny you grew up goign to northern MI for vacation. I grew up on the 45th parallel,actually. Did you vacation on the east or the west side?

    Emily, I recommend PIttsburgh to all writers who need to save money. it’s truly an astounding city to live in.

    Carl – I’m so happy you are enjoying your vacation! there is something wonderful in all the New Year planning.

    Andi – I think buy less, read more is a wonderful resolution and infinitely more attainable than my own goals! I’ll try not to enable you any more.

  10. Dorothy W. says:

    Excellent job with the writing resolutions! Congrats on the good year.

  11. bloglily says:

    Ditto! I liked your description of Michigan — I think you’re living in just the right place. Happy New Year dear Courtney.

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