Is 56 the new 26? It seems that way for me as my current professional and existential quandaries mirror the ones I faced 30 years ago. These posts are a series of ponderings trying parse the difference between now and then.
Like a lot of people, my fondest holiday memories are from when I was a kid. I don’t mean unwrapping presents, but rather the energy of having all of my siblings and many of their friends charging every molecule of air in the apartment or duplex or where ever it was that my parents lived. Not that I didn’t get good presents that set me on my life path as a music journalist—for instance I received Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, Nina Simone’s To Love Somebody and the Soundtrack to The Harder They Come, as a gift from my eldest brother in 1973, but the camaraderie was what I remembered best.
Around the time I was 26, I had begun to realize that I would have to create different types of holiday traditions. My family’s gather holiday was Thanksgiving, which is sometimes complicated given my food business obligations (on a sales per hour basis, Turkey Day is one of busiest days of the year at several places where I’ve worked). In the best years, however, I made it back, first to Dallas and now to Chicago for the big meal, and in the very best years I arrived early enough to cook some of it.
Christmas was always another matter, and as an adult I searched for a way to give it meaning. My professional life, a balance of cheesemongering work and freelance journalism had no discernable precursor, and it appeared early on in my adult life that I would have to develop my owns ways to celebrate “the very best time of the year.” Things began to take shape in 1985, a good friend came over and we watched as the Knicks fell hopelessly behind the Celtics and decided to wander into Chinatown for a meal (yes, we missed a stunning comeback, one of the Knicks major highlights of the era).
NBA games became an integral part of my holiday tradition er, habits. So too did a movie binge. Xmas Eve and Day were usually great times to catch up on art flicks I’d missed upon their release but were still around since everyone else was crowding into the blockbusters. But the most important thing about the holidays were that they became a time of solitude, not in an Edward Hopper sense, but rather in a simple retreat and regroup manner, a chance to not be Martin from this food place or Martin from that publication or website. Instead it was a chance just to be well, Martin. Sometimes you don’t know how loud the din in your head is until you turn it down. A yoga class or a bike ride typically fit into the mix. A cooking endeavor, usually a pot of mussels or some homemade ramen figured prominently into my plans. In other words, I did stuff, but my real agenda was to increase my clarity. You might say that you can do that anytime and I’d say YOU can do that anytime, for me, I needed the dialed down volume of the city and the lack of work pressures.
It was stunning how quickly and abruptly my professional world shifted into that mode this year. On Friday the 23rd, before 10 a.m., I received 50 music journalism related emails. From 10 til Noon, I received only 15 more. Between Noon and 1, I was discussing a cheese class with my contact at the 92nd Street Y when in mid dialogue, I got an auto response: out of office until January 3. An hour later on my walk to the store, I could hear the sound of the city quiet from its usual roar to a gentler croon. The store I work at is unusual in that Christmas isn’t a busy season; we’re still somewhat dependent on the five nearby collegiate dorms. This means Yuletide is slow, and we make it all back on New Year’s Eve and in early January. My beer aisle has an older, more consistent following, but still I was able to leave an hour earlier than usual and take Sunday off.
Christmas Day did involve a bike ride to Chinatown for brunch and a long winding walk back to the East Village that took us by the apartment that housed me in the mid ‘80s (yes, where my friend visited in 1985). And yes, a Knicks-Celtics game was going on at the time. The rest of the day was devoted to NBA, cleaning and cooking. Still after two and half days where the loud pressures of “PRODUCE, PRODUCE, PRODUCE” were replaced by softer priority of renewal.
I think I’ve figured out how to make what seemed so strange 30 years ago, holiday solitude, into a welcoming ritual. If my life changes in a way that I’m not so able to have a quiet Christmas then I really will have to figure out how to have this measure of tranquility some other time of the year.