There’s a great line in a George Walker play about growing older. A character, somebody’s crusty mother, remarks that as we age, we either get more like ourselves, or less. “I’m going for the more,” she snaps. Me too. Is there really any other choice?
Take for example, my tendency to live in the future, create a plan and head for it doggedly, paying only scant attention to the blur of time passing. For years, I’ve tried to change and failed, consoling myself that at least the flaw promotes productivity.
Recently, though, I’ve begun to see living for the future as a sophisticated form of procrastination. The present becomes a litany of small duties, leaving larger goals sitting on a far-off horizon. And so I resolve to …
But surely making New Years resolutions is a form of living in the future.
Last night my daughter told me she likes to spend New Year’s Eve (her favourite holiday) looking back on the past year, an act of consolidation. We’re spending the night together here in Vancouver, where she lives, so I’ll be perusing my agenda for evidence of where 2011 went.
Meanwhile, let me tell you about our plans for next Christmas. If all goes well, the theme will be Russian, the location, Berlin. My husband’s daughter Rhiannon has just accepted a position in Potsdam, on the outskirts of the German capital; her brother Rhys will be moving to London; Fiona (my daughter) and her husband are planning to spend a year in Berlin, living near her father. The Russian theme was proposed by Rhys, reached us by Skype from Johannesburg this year.
Theme Christmas started last year when all three of Gwyn’s children joined us for the holiday in Montreal: a vegan, vegetarian, a gluten-allergic vegetarian, a guy who doesn’t like fish, and me – the cook – who will eat and apparently cook anything. Other years I’ve offered a traditional meal with an elaborate chestnut loaf (glamourized turkey stuffing) for the vegetarians. Instead, Rhys declared we should wipe away the past and embrace somebody else’s tradition. The Greeks won out, and so we had three different kinds of Moussaka, surrounded by various Hellenic delicacies available right in Mile End.
Imposing a new layer of drama to Christmas is one way of papering over the cracks in a tradition that – as Rover writers have so ably described over the past week – is in serious need of makeover in our secular, multi-ethnic, consumption-obsessed culture and complicated blended families.
Still, certain old chestnuts remain, and I cherish them. For example: the Christmas fight. The moment when my husband blows up at me and declares a line has been crossed. It simmers during a meal, and erupts after we go to bed, when he announces he is sleeping on the couch. I follow him and the blanket into the living room, accuse him of wrecking Christmas, and drag him back to bed for a vigorous, whispered argument which ends in mutual derision and giggles.
Our most memorable Yuletide fight dates from 2004, La Roque Alric, France. It was New Years Eve. Gwyn, his daughter and I were sitting around the fire drinking wine, the two of them speaking Welsh (I haven’t managed to learn). When I slipped away to the bathroom and drew a hot bath, he was furious. The upshot was his proposal of marriage, followed by a champagne breakfast.
This year’s argument was over a (perhaps too lengthy) account at dinner of my travels in Poland, and how my “friendship” with a certain esteemed Polish theatre critic had inspired me to write plays about Quebec history. I told this story because we had a young woman of Polish origin present, and I wanted to draw her into the feast of anecdotes.
Later, I was criticized for having withheld important information during an otherwise quite happy courtship and marriage. “I’m sorry,” I pleaded. “I didn’t know literary influences were part of full disclosure.” The argument pretty well collapsed when I told him I’ve also won the Nobel Prize, but chose to keep it to myself, out of respect for the male ego.
Seriously, though, whether we realise it or not, we are all as 21st Centurians, doomed to re-invent Christmas. That’s how the season survives. Wild, whacky, personality-driven family gatherings are essential fodder for novels, mid-life crises and other pivotal human events. They are all better in the telling than reality.
I was shocked and thrilled this year when Rhiannon (on Skype from London) told her father (in Welsh) that last year’s Greek Christmas was the best yet. I thought it had been a fantastical shambles, what with her protracted career crisis and a blow-up over her brother’s choice of a double-breasted suit jacket for a James Bond-themed birthday dinner at which the birthday boy chose to wear pyjamas and the menu was eggs benny. But that’s another story.
Well. Enough looking back on 2011. Apparently the 12-course traditional Russian menu is completely vegetarian.
Marianne Ackerman intends to focus on creating revenue streams for Rover and completing two books in 2012. All donations to Rover sincerely appreciated. See www.roverarts.com.