Monday, January 2, 2012

In with the new (out with the old)

A long time ago, so begins the story, an English expat settled in the town I would one day call home. It was just after Prohibition was repealed, and sensing an opportunity, our young protagonist opened a bar. It was a classy joint. He named it Ruby's. Maybe for his mom, maybe because it sounded like a romantic name or an honorable one. It wasn't for his wife, because I knew her and she was a Lillian. He served his customers their libations in crystal stemware, ruby-colored, of course, at the foot, and etched in intricate art-deco Rs.

Sixty years later, when he was gone and she was dying and the children they never had couldn't claim an inheritance, she gave me the last remnants of Ruby's, the etched stemware. It's an uneven and well-loved set: seven shot glasses, five cordials, eight wine glasses and six champagne flutes -- the hollow-stemmed kind that fill right from their ruby feet. For my first initial, she said. For my dowry, she told me.

The girls begged to stay up until midnight. How do they even know about that? we wondered, and then we lay down some terms. Mandatory long naps. Healthy dinner. Pajamas and books and vitamins and brush teeth at 8:00, not 12:00. No bickering or whining or all privileges would be revoked. They were so enthusiastic.

We watched an early movie and said goodnight to their brother and the girls played while I tried to organize toys. At about 11:50 we turned on the television and I poured a fine 2011 sparkling apple juice.

The girls loved to toast, loved the ball drop, loved the glamour of drinking from crystal and staying awake far past bedtime. And we slept and awoke: a new year.


A mid-century building I've long admired housed a business that recently closed. At first that only added to its grandeur; for once it was emptied of contents I could enjoy the glass walls of the wedge-shaped structure so much more, and every evening as I drove home I'd glance left, admiring the lights of the plaza behind it through two walls and an angle of glass.

One day, I always thought, I want to stop and take pictures of that building. And complacently I repeated that thought five nights a week, for about a year.

You know what I hate about the photo above?

The chain-link fence. That only appeared within the past two or three weeks. I hate it because I worry that this building might be demolished; and selfishly I hate it more because in a year of complacency I never stopped to get pre-fence photographs.

So on January 1st, at the dawn of a new year, I twisted in my telephoto lens and went for a short drive.

Sometimes issues are big and complex and sometimes they're startlingly simple. I know we can't save everything. But I'm prized-possession glad my Ruby's stemware was thoughtfully saved long after a bar closed, and I wish someone would save this building even though Marvel Cleaners has closed. All-or-nothings are easy, though, so I just trigger the shutter and ponder. It's balance, I think, that's always most elusive.

If 2010 was the year in which we had our third kid and I realized I can't be the control freak I want to be, then 2011 was the year in which I ceded too much control to the entropy of life with three small kids and grew numb to any desire to plan for anything. I keep thinking about the cortisol in people who experience stress a lot -- how their bodies are accustomed to stress and therefore experience stress quickly and easily; or adrenaline junkies who have to maintain adrenaline. I was the stasis junkie of 2011, not thinking big or saying yes or joining spontaneously or making time for socializing with friends or any anything outside the nucleus of our family and the laundry, school needs, meal plans and other ordinary detritus of its orbit.

Running a five-person ship is hard, y'all. (It's 2012; I decided to go for it.) And I convinced myself that because it was hard, it was all I could do. So 2012 is the year of pushing back that complacency, and finding the corners of time where I can take photographs, or sew, or figure out my next career aspiration.

I have some ideas about 2012. I'm pretty excited. I hope your 2012 is making you feel excited, too.
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