I took my dog on a walk the other night, and it was SO foggy out. The whole time, I was mesmerized by it.
It was like the neighborhood was closed for the night, like the curtain had been pulled and we weren’t walking on actual streets, but a set, a neighborhood backdrop on an empty stage. It felt like the world had been turned off. The fog muted / swallowed / absorbed all sound. The only thing I heard was the dripping of rain drops, which was odd because I didn’t feel any. It felt like we were walking in a bubble of light made by my phone’s flashlight, but as if that were fake too, a light just bright enough to illuminate us for the night, not the other way around. It only shone down, at our feet and the sidewalk. If I pointed the beam up, it bounced back in my face like hitting a force field.
I sneezed once, and it was the loudest sound in the world.
Nothing looked right in the fog. I thought I saw a branch or an object in the road, but it had no definition, and when I tried to shine the light on it, the light bounced back on me, keeping the thing in mystery. Later, I saw what could have been a snake in the street, a blurry dark line stretched across the asphalt. When my steps took me closer, I discovered it was a manhole cover, something that doesn’t look like a snake at all. Once, I turned around, and at the end of the street behind us, in the cone of moist light from the streetlamp, I saw another figure or two, and for a moment my breath caught. Their shapes looked so scary, and they made no sound in that weird empty quiet place. But then I blinked, and they became normal silhouettes, two people and a dog, but still their silence and shadowy outlines felt unreal and ghostly. Only now, do I realize that’s how my dog and I must have looked to them too, or to anyone peering out of the fake windows of the fake houses as we walked by in our bubble.
I love the idea of fog. It’s mysterious and creepy and beautiful and suggests rainy nights and cool weather. But in practice, it’s never quite what I expect. The first moment of encountering it is one of amazement and joy and eeriness, but I quickly get confused and frustrated by the very characteristics that make it fog– its blurriness and visual depletion. I find myself peering at / through / around it trying to see it better, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. I don’t know what I expect fog to look like, what I expect familiar locations like my neighborhood or school to look like in the fog, but whatever I expect, I’m always wrong somehow. Because that’s the whole thing– you can’t see it BECAUSE of the fog.
It reminds me of how I always thought it would be fun to watch the rain through the catwalk at my former middle school. But the beautiful sunny catwalk, on a rainy day, was– you guessed it– rainy. It was cloudy and gray and sometimes covered in condensation, and the rain falling and running on the glass obscured the view of the sky, which makes complete sense but always somehow amazed and disappointed me. Somehow I thought I’d be able to see the rain falling as well as the sky beyond it.
The mystery of fog is part of its attraction for me. Of course it’s that glowing fog off the ocean you really have to watch out for. That stuff is a killer. Literally. Also be wary of gold coins that turn into driftwood and 100-year-old curses. Looks like it’s time to watch John Carpenter’s The Fog again. And then to avoid walks in the fog for awhile…
When I was a kid, New Year’s Eve was spent at home hanging out with my family, playing games or watching TV. At midnight, we’d go out in the backyard, and my dad would set off the cannon. It was a real cannon, but was only about the size of a desktop tape dispenser. He’d pack it with a small amount of gun powder and light the fuse, and we’d all stand back and cringe in anticipation. Some years it wasn’t much more than a loud pop. Other years, depending on how much powder he used, there’d be quite a little explosion, and the next day the paving stone where it sat would be scorched black. If I remember correctly, once the blast sent the cannon flying several feet and it took us a couple of minutes to find it.
This might be one of those “only in Texas” stories. I don’t know because I’m from Texas and have always lived in Texas and people sometimes roll their eyes and say “only in Texas” about things that seem completely normal to me. Then again, it could also be one of those “only in my family” things as well, like the stocking tree or calling the things you use to cut up small limbs “jaloppers” instead of “loppers.” (You haven’t been embarrassed until you’ve been corrected by a Home Depot employee half your age on the pronunciation of a garden tool. Thanks, Dad.) Perhaps I should collect some data on the subject. If you or anyone you know ever had a tradition of setting off a small but mighty cannon in the backyard on New Year’s Eve, please weigh in with a comment. Thanks.
Anyway, that was how we did things.
When I was in junior high and high school, our house was the place to hang out, and New Year’s Eve was no exception. If you’re picturing a wild party and a keg, you’re way off. If you’re picturing a six pack of beer and a football game, you’re still way off. If you’re picturing Dr. Peppers and non-alcoholic sparkling cider and loud games of dominoes and cards, then you’re welcome at our kitchen table any time. Even in college, I spent most of my New Year’s Eves at home with my family, so it wasn’t until I was an adult (a real one with an apartment and a job) that I realized New Year’s Eve was a THING, and there was a certain way you were supposed to celebrate it, and it didn’t involve miniature cannons and Dr. Pepper. Thus began my complicated, often disappointing relationship with the holiday.
I don’t know if there’s any other holiday with more pressure placed upon it than New Year’s Eve. (Ok, maybe Valentine’s Day, but I don’t celebrate that one, therefore it causes me no stress.) Society tells you that in order to have a successful December 31st, you must do at least 6 of the 7 following things:
Go to a fun party with more than 12 people.
Look great no matter the weather.
Drink a lot but not enough to embarrass yourself.
Kiss someone at midnight.
Set inspirational, achievable, trendy resolutions.
Leave the party at just the right time (neither too early or too late).
Wake up on New Year’s Day either A) Really hungover with a great story to tell or B) Refreshed and energetic and ready to tackle all your inspirational, achievable, trendy resolutions.
That’s a pretty tall order.
I did okay for a couple of years. The year of Y2K, my boyfriend and I went to a party at a friend’s house and had a good time. A few years later, I rang in the new year with some friends at the Carousel Lounge, where the seventy-five-year-old legendary “dancing waitress” Stella Boes, a longtime fixture at the Carousel, served us drinks with a smile. That was a good year.
But there were plenty of years where plans fell flat or parties petered out or the party itself was fine, but I wasn’t in the mood for it. There were years when I had someone to kiss and years when I didn’t and years when I told myself I didn’t want to go out only to change my mind at the last minute and not be able to find anywhere to go. I think those were the most disappointing because I wasn’t being true to myself, wasn’t able to accept that what I wanted was different than what other people wanted and that was ok.
Marrying my homebody husband in 2010 should have made things simpler, but somehow it didn’t. I had someone to be with, and neither of us really wanted to go out, so the choice to stay in on the 31st was easy, but even when we decided to stay home, I still placed expectations on how the evening should go. We’ll ring in the new year watching a marathon of scary movies. Or… We’ll camp out in the backyard and sleep under the stars. Or… We’ll drink a bunch of wine and play board games all night. Those are not such tall orders, but sometimes they still fell flat. We got bored of the movies before midnight or the weather wasn’t right for camping or we just weren’t in the mood to play games.
Some years, we’d put off the festive activities until later, so as to experience them at the correct hour of celebration. Around 11pm when I was happily writing in my journal and listening to a horror podcast and hubby was happily playing a computer game, I’d suddenly look at the clock and realize we were running late for our planned night of fun, at which point I’d stop us from doing the things that made us happy, and force us to do something that I deemed an “appropriate” homebody NYE activity.
Yes, I’m weird. I know it. But that’s what I did, year after year, until finally, FINALLY, I got it. There wasn’t a specific moment that changed me. I don’t remember a conversation or event that drove this message home. It just came to me spontaneously in that “You’ve had the power all along, my dear” sort of way, like a lightning strike to my brain. I just got it. And what I got was this:
I can celebrate or not celebrate the new year ANY WAY I WANT. (Cue light bulbs, sparkly music, and one small firework.) So, the big question is… what do I want?
For me, the passing from one year to the next is about reflection and contemplation. It’s about setting up for the new year in whatever way feels right, whether that’s cleaning my house, writing resolutions, or planning a cool lesson for my students. Sometimes it’s about being around friends, but more often than not, it’s about enjoying some relaxation and me time after a week of family visits and traveling. It’s about thinking about who I am and who I want to be, without judgment (if possible).
Ever since this epiphany, I’ve spent my New Year’s Eves doing things like walking the dog and writing in my journal and watching movies and playing games. Yes, a lot of those are the same things that were on my list before, but the difference is the lack of expectation, the forced “meaning” in them. Sometimes I nerd out and spend the whole night making a new planner. Sometimes I do an elaborate tarot card reading for myself. Sometimes I read and nap and do a whole lot of nothing.
Whatever we’re doing, a few minutes before twelve, hubby and I get together and step out onto the back porch with a beverage, and we kiss at midnight while listening to our crazy Texas neighbors set off their crazy Texas fireworks. And then we begin the new year by going to sleep or going back to whatever we were doing before. The transition is a smooth one, marked by very little pomp, and we’re more than ok with that.
So what does this year have in store? It’s 6:37PM and I’m writing this from the hammock in my backyard. A little while ago, I decided it was a nice night for a campfire, so I made one. I’m currently on my second glass of prosecco. The temperature is dropping, and the illegal fireworks are already starting. I have a new game I want to play tonight and some leftover pasta I want to eat. There’s an owl hooting somewhere and a dog barking somewhere else, and about six hours to go until midnight. How will I spend them? Any way I want.
I opened my first Christmas card today (Thank you, Julie!) and taped it to my laundry room door– the traditional location for displaying holiday cards in the Juettner home. (I usually leave them up until June.) This year, we sent Halloween cards instead, so I won’t be sitting in front of The Muppet Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life, writing notes and addressing envelopes. I did that in October while watching Scream and Happy Death Day. But I still love snail mail– will forever love snail mail– and can’t wait for my laundry room door to fill up with cheerful greetings and friendly faces. And even though I said I wouldn’t, I’ll probably send out a FEW holiday postcards this month. How can I resist?
In honor of Christmas traditions and snail mail, I’m re-sharing this post from five years ago about how my dad used to respond to Santa letters when he worked at the post office. I hope you enjoy re-reading it. I did.
That makes sense, I guess. After all, handwritten letters have mostly gone the way of the passenger pigeon. But, while I certainly appreciate the convenience of modern forms of communication, I still really love “snail mail.” That’s one of the reasons why I cherish the holidays. It’s the only time of year when my mailbox is stuffed with more than bills and ads and the occasional postcard.
I know some say it’s a waste of paper and for many people sending a large stack of holiday cards is just too expensive. I also understand how silly it seems these days to send mail to someone who lives ten miles from you, someone who you’ll see at least three times on Facebook and maybe even in real life before the letter arrives. I don’t care. I love mail. I love hand-addressed envelopes and stamps and…