With the frenzied festive winter season behind us, I am pondering the idea of holiday gatherings and what the placeness factor of them might be. I mean, the point of such events appears to be to foster a sense of placeness; of having a place in the world (or the myths and rituals of a particular world), or having a traditional place in a family unit, or, by extension, a tiny place in a larger group with shared experience. The odd thing is, that whenever there is inclusion among humans, it often results in exclusion and the sad feelings of left-out-ness that many people experience around these winter celebrations. I am all for humans feeling happy, truly happy; not with false expectation or a hyped happiness that causes people to spend more than they have. Nor do I want people, out of some sense of obligatory duty, to seethe with an emotional resentment for what they perceive they have to present or perform that will go unappreciated for, yet, another annum.
I am not, here, referring to myself. But I think about my mother at times like this, and all the other mothers and others who have tried to make occasions special for everyone but themselves, somehow thinking that it will rub off on them, as well – the endless preparations made in offering up a stage for all the players and, in the end, the producer being left spent and let down.
And, too, I think about all the hosts and hostesses who put together parties, wanting to stimulate good cheer, but also approaching the events as investments of sorts, hoping against hope that their efforts will be reciprocated. Maybe next year.
Part of the problem seems to be the overinflated sense of what constitutes a good time. Can it be measured? Must it include lavish expense? Is the event, in all its glory, substituting for what people seem unable to share, like meaningful conversation and intimacy? New Year’s celebrations are so fraught with expectations, of … what? That some artificially designated night must either determine your fate, or else alter it? Are you with the right someone at the magical stroke of midnight, or, on this night, is being dateless the most horrifying predictor of a lonely future? In our collective DNA, these holiday observances and the thoughts surrounding them are often no further evolved than they were when our primitive ancestors sacrificed something out of fear and dread – resolving nothing except for having fear, dread and death inflicted on some poor other creature. And is it mandatory to consume large quantities of alcohol in order to enjoy oneself?
My significant other and I were trying, this year, to remember some of the highlights of New Years past. It’s funny how there were not that many that were memorable (and there have been many), very few depositing any sense of placeness in our hearts. There were now-laughably silly ones and plenty of uneventful ones, and even the occasional elegant ones. All were pretty much forgettable. But one that has stayed with us both is the one that we spent in Seattle in 1981-82. We were living there for a six-month period, and while one of us was working, the other was taking a class in stained-glass making. It was an intense but fun class with a good group of people from varied backgrounds – all with a common purpose. One of the classmates was a man named Kenji who was a graphic designer but who had a desire to try a different craft. Kenji had a winning personality and seemingly boundless energy, and could have been teaching the class, but he was there to learn. The term was due to end in mid-December and as the finale approached, all of us felt like the time had gone too quickly. Sometimes you can have, in a classroom setting, a nice mix of people and you hate to see the dynamics end. Kenji, being the most gregarious, invited us all to his house for New Year’s Eve. It was sort of impromptu. No expectations except prolonging our friendships.
Most of the classmates came with their others, if they had them. Kenji had a beautiful design-y apartment that had a placeness to it already. There were edibles brought by everyone, and drinks, but the food was not the main event. We were adults but we played the game Clue all night. Part of the magic was that we all felt like children enjoying ourselves, and not because we were tanked and out of control. We were very much present, in the moment. We all generated a creative energy in the room. There was a glowing fireplace, and the company was at that perfect cusp of knowing each other a bit but not so much that we annoyed one another. We had wonderful, sometimes meaningful conversations over the game board, and we laughed easily and together. It was the right mix, the right time, the right casual nature of the party. No roles, no pretense. We all felt at home in a place of warmth and beauty. Right there, placeness. The memories are strong and the glow of Kenji’s smile and his modern fireplace are still warm in our hearts. Happy New Year, Kenji et al.