The past couple of weeks, through the holidays but around/after Sandy's death, have been different than they usually are for me – no travel, not much activity, no real holidays; only a bit of peripheral participation in other people's holidays (Bennett & Merrie dropping by, Chris Wood's concert, dinner at blahfeme's – and tonight New Year celebrations at a colleague's house, if I go). As a result, although it hasn't been depressing, the quietness has emphasized the character of this time of year, the character that the holidays are intended to alter – the dark of the year, the depth of winter, the time when the sun is furthest and we huddle around the stove, waiting for its return. (Thank God for central heating of course.)
As I'm about to begin about eight months (or, if I'm very lucky, a full year) of time off to write, with just a couple of scheduled research activities and perhaps a trip or two, this has meant a sort of retreat to take stock, especially over the past three or four days – as is appropriate for year-end; to think about time and planning and the near future.
So: messing about with calendars, with lists and plans, even with new organization software (I've fallen for several products by the fashionable Omni Group), I try to keep my future in line: to measure out in segments of time a space of focused writing and reading, free of the needs of most other people, and hopefully of the more useless distractions. We'll see if I can actually do it.
I was also thinking about another kind of list, the 100 Things To Do Before you Die kind of thing that's all over the internet. My younger sister pointed out that Sandy and her husband went to Hawaii last year, and that that trip was undoubtedly on her 'list' – a 'bucket list' if you keep up with current movies – and was not trivial, as she already knew about her prognosis; which made me think about what my own list might entail.
The problem is that, of course, most of the existing lists are cluttered with passive inanities (going to a Super Bowl?) or extreme sports (only interesting for the young and physically oriented). If I throw all that stuff out, a lot of the remainder has to do with travel, seeing places, learning languages – I've actually done more of that than most people (as I typically boast to my students, I've lived and worked on four continents now), although I'm definitely willing to do more. And of course all of the learn-an-instrument, give-a-public-speech, or performance things are already checked off, repeatedly; and we won't mention the sex and partying activities, which though long in the past are mostly, well, checked off. Then there are items that seem to be related to self-awareness and experience – I think I've actually done plenty of that too, although again one can always handle more.
I might mess around a bit and try to put together a list for myself; but I suspect that, if I died tomorrow, I wouldn't feel I hadn't lived an interesting life. I would still complain, irritably and fairly pathetically, that the last few years of my life have been too isolated and boring – but let's face it, I have a lot of rather lively memories that most people would envy, even if some of them are tied to situations that would scare the heck out of many. But that's the price you pay, I guess.
So that's my New Year's Eve, I guess: looking backward, with a certain tempered satisfaction....