This year I learned that romjul – the time between Boxing Day and New Year’s Day – is traditionally 5 days of no holds-barred. A kind of winter Mardi Gras without the parades or brass.

I have no idea if romjul is somehow related linguistically to rumspringa, but I’ve been staying up later than usual, drinking a bit more than usual, and not keeping to any kind of routine.

I’m feeling incredibly irresponsible.

And somewhat sulky.

More adolescent than menopausal. Is that a good thing?

S. preparing the Feuerzangenbowle on a Christmas Past

In recent years we’ve been lucky enough to have been invited to two gatherings of friends that have marked the start of the season for us. Both were cancelled this year to keep us all safe.

International quarantine rules meant I had no family members here on Christmas Day. E. and I ate takeaway, and I’m a little ashamed.

I haven’t even put the New Year’s beef in the brine yet. I keep saying I’ll do it “later”. I believe I may have procrastinated my way right past a decent corned beef this year.

We’ve run along the trail sporadically over the past week. We ran on Christmas day, but now that I think about it, we didn’t even say Merry Christmas to people we passed. We were focused on not slipping on the ice. (Note to self: time to pull out the yaktrax.)

Even my meditation has been haphazard this week. I’m feeling a bit disassociated from my own life. Off track. Maybe at a juncture?

In a strange way this romjul-feeling may be the only thing about Christmastime that is familiar this year: the chaotic-slightly frightening-freedom. Waiting for the world to get back on track. Back to work. Back to routine. Back to practice. Back to it.

And questioning what it really is.

This morning I got up early, filled a thermos with coffee, and walked Leonard down to the park in the moonlight. I left the phone at the house.

It feels as though I’m approaching this new year from an odd angle. A bit like hesitating on the diving board: here I go… in a minute. Later. Tomorrow. Do I want to do this? Really?

These last few days have expanded exponentially in my mind: into a huge space filled with should-haves. I should have hung the new blinds in the kitchen. I should have cleaned out the closets. I should have written a whole damn book to justify all this emptied space.

Instead I’ve been watching gimp tutorials for days.

When Leonard has been sleeping, or when he’s been intensely sniffing after another dog’s trail, he shimmies. It’s like a reset button.

Looking toward a New Year

It’s what I’m telling myself this morning afternoon: Shake it off!

Running isn’t enough right now. Maybe I need some loud music and a bit of real shimmying? Something extraordinary to force me to switch tracks?

And then approach to my practice with renewed intention.

The key word for our time is practice.
We have all the light we need, we just need to put it into practice.
PEACE PILGRIM

Happy New Year. I’m gonna ask E. to put on some music.

I read an article the other day about döstädning. It means death cleaning. But a literal translation from Swedish through Norwegian to English in my head is: standing in death.

And this is exactly what I feel a need to do this week.

For a couple of months now E. has been toying with the idea of moving. He doesn’t really want to, and probably doesn’t understand what a teasing his daydreaming is for me. He’s just been frustrated with the (previously) leaky roof and the shorted-out shower cabinet. (Who on earth wants disco lights in the shower to begin with?) I, however, am overdue for a move.

It’s my nature, or habit — which is the same thing I guess — to pick up and move every year or so. Sometimes 2 or 3 times in a single year. Not being entirely sure of how many moves I had been through before the age of 6 — I can count at least 53 to this point. I am itching to move again. I am 54, after all.

But the fact is, I really do like this place. The location is convenient for the train and for the trail, and this house is probably the nicest I’ve ever lived in. Three years ago I paid a student and his gym buddies to move a free piano from a dining room across town to our dining room. The piano is as far as I’ve come for my retirement plan, I’ll learn to play it when I hit 70. E. and I have talked about how we can convert the atelier to a bedroom and live on the first floor when we are too stiff to climb the stairs in the mornings. When we hit 85 or 90 — if we are lucky.

We built a new entrance hall last fall and closed off the third floor — already set to rent out the upstairs apartment when E.’s daughter moves out. This house is full of potential. The problem is that it’s also cluttered with abandoned ambitions.

Yesterday I found a cardboard box with six bottles of essential oils, almond oil, and a fancy glass perfume bottle. I never found a blend I liked. And, well, to be honest oils don’t really work as a replacement for perfume. In my experience, the scent of essential oils lasts about a half-hour unless I’ve dropped it into a burner in my little library.

Christmas Tea and Cinnamon Oil

My closet is full of blouses I never wear, shoes I can’t walk in, and coats with missing buttons and torn pockets. Stacked on the bookshelves, I’ve got empty ring binders — I’ve forgotten why I bought them. Novels I haven’t read. Schedules I haven’t kept. Charts with career plans that I do not even remember making. It is difficult to believe that this is only 5-years-worth of clutter.

When you move, you take a good look at everything you once started. You evaluate, and you choose what to let go of. It’s this deep-cleaning that comes with moving that I really want. It’s the fresh start. The moving on.

It hurts to be reminded of flashes of joy/optimism/vitality that became catalysts for self-recriminations. Everything changes. Grieving for what was, and for the hopes that were attached to what was is natural. We do it when a loved one dies: we compassionately sort through what is left in the wake of their life. We relish some things, forgive others.

A move is like confronting your own death. You relish, you grieve, you forgive yourself for whims that you let become unmet obligations.

One of the Buddhist teachers I listen to suggests that if you are approaching Buddha’s teachings as philosophy and not as a religion, the idea of rebirth can be a metaphor for every day of your life.

My greatest fear with regard to not moving from this house is that I will not continue to explore. That I will settle. That being content, which I long for, will come to be synonymous with complacent.

But it is all metaphor, isn’t it? My packing cardboard boxes again and dragging them into another house, making another house into a home could just be an illusion of moving on. It’s the thought that counts. It’s the moment of a rebirth, which will always begin in accepting a kind of death.

Wanderer, there is no path, the path is made by walking.
ANTONIO MACHADO

Yesterday after work I took a long bath without my mobile phone. Without earbuds. No podcast, no music, no news.

I can’t remember the last time I did that.

I had a rush of ideas. Most of them related to work, but that was fine really. Creativity feels good regardless of the arena. I got out of the tub, dried off, and worked at the computer until bedtime. I have a separate chrome browser for school-related bookmarks. At eight o’clock I closed it for the next 12 days.

Today though, I’m thinking about work again. About how I teach first-year drama students to be conscious of personal props, the items that become the habitual gestures and defining physical characteristics of their role’s personality. Glasses, scrunchies, cowboy boots, soda bottles, toothpicks. By the third year we are talking about Richard Schechner and our social behaviors related to personal props that prompted him to insist for a time that his Performance Group play in the nude.

For years now I’ve used my keys as an example of a personal prop. I have work keys. I don’t have a car, so I don’t have a car key. We have a code on our front door, so I don’t have a house key either. When I pull my work keys out of my backpack, I take on a role: teacher. My work keys are incredibly symbolic. Students will ask me to unlock the costume storage room, or a rehearsal room. Or by the third year, they may ask to borrow my keys so they can do it themselves.

At some point years ago, I became hyper-aware of my work keys. How I would actually cling tightly to them when I felt a class of 30 restless students taking control of a situation that should have been under my control. Weirdly, my noticing this – stepping back and taking on the role of the director in relationship with my “character” – I was able to access when control was necessary and when it wasn’t. I could make more conscious choices about my “role” as an instructor. These days, half the time I have no idea where my keys are – which I’m certain is not something my boss wants to know.

Yesterday finding myself in the bathtub without my mobile phone, I had the same kind of epiphany. We read and talk a lot about social media and how we can passively allow it to define us. But the phone itself – the device – has come to partially define me. My mindless connection to this object, and its ability to connect me to a world of ideas to occupy my thoughts every moment, is shaping my behavior. It is determining how I move in the world. Literally: in the bath, one elbow propped on the edge of the tub to hold the phone dry. My shoulder twisted slightly. My neck under stress.

I’ve believed for a long time that we are nothing more than what we do: what we think and how we interact with the world. And that thinking and interacting with the world are interconnected in such a way that one defines the other – reinforcing or challenging who are “are” at any moment. I believe this is how we can change. How we do change.

I’m going to stop grasping at my mobile phone. Stop clinging to my sense of self: the productivity shoulds and ought-tos.

I’m going to dare to be truly naked in the bathtub.

Maybe dare to drop my character more often, wherever I am.