A visual expression of the mixed emotions of the holiday season.

mixed emotions at year’s end

December is a month of layers. Not just the warm shirts and sweaters of my Northern Hemisphere locale, but layers of feelings and memories, love and loneliness. In 2019 it brought resurrection, when I smiled my first genuine, spontaneous smile after nine months of wearing a public face and privately drowning in a black lake of tears and despair. The feeling of that smile, the difference of that smile, broke over me in gentlest waves of astonished pleasure and hope for the future.

While my brain was recovering from its neurological crisis—medically described with the worrying language of lesions and the –oma suffix that sounds as though it should be as warm as a childhood friend’s grandmother, but instead bodes ill—a neighbor’s actual brain cancer was worsening, her confusion and dependence advancing. She was only about twelve years older than me. The last time I saw her, her face seemed transformed, broad and blank where she was once focused and lively with extroversion and kind wit, as her husband slowly walked her up the sidewalk near their house. His right arm around her shoulder, his left hand clasping her left arm. That was before the darkest dark, balsam fir and wood smoke suspended in cold air, the extra cars parked up and down the street and the telltale lit windows of that same quiet house, seeming kindled as if all the light of their lives together were gathered there, where friends and family gathered after her memorial service.

I’ve been wanting to write about that smile, that neighbor. I was going to try today. Then I learned that a beloved mentor who has been battling cancer is now preparing for hospice and death. Someone who, after that resurrection, helped me find the ground under my feet and a path forward, in the space of one long beautiful conversation in February 2020. I met him in person for the first time late this summer, among people who’d known him much longer, at a party whose theme was “Why the Fuck Not?” I’m an introvert and had to compel myself to stay three hours until his speech, then left when the dancing began, music and voices rising above the grass to the roof-line and beyond. My windshield needed replacing, so it was better to drive the hour north before dusk and the refractions of oncoming traffic. That was my official logic. —And here I feel I should have more to say, but I see no way, I really see no way, to uncouple the joy and the pain, the love and the hurt of this life, and no way to capture it whole. Layer upon layer, wave after wave.


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Growing up in a city I saw lots of graffiti, but one message sank into me. Words full of social despair, a betrayal so big, its reach seemed to stretch in all directions.


That spray-painted scrawl, reduced here to orderly type, was phrased as defiance but felt like naked pain writ large. If this was the message of a young black man, what became of him after? Did he somehow meet with a balm for his wounds?

This country is full of cities and towns and suburbs, shelters and tents and alleys, resounding with betrayal both voiced and unvoiced. Prisons and cemeteries. Desecration of human rights. Families broken, hearts riven with loss.

At a peaceful protest last week, we were asked collectively to take a knee, a gesture now haunted for me. A timer was set, 8 minutes and 46 seconds, so that we might understand more viscerally what a long time that is. Our breath filtered through masks. For an unimperiled crowd, 8 minutes and 46 seconds is restless. For cruelty, for terror, for torture, for murder, 8 minutes and 46 seconds is remorseless.

I haven’t watched that important video—for a number of reasons having to do with my personal feelings about privacy, dignity, media, and desensitization—but I saw a still of the man, an officer of the law, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck. That hand in that uniform pocket. Please, vote for sweeping change, and do all the good you can.


Text and image copyrights held by me. I value your time and appreciate your reading. There are many things to do in a day, and I’m often ambivalent about posting my monthly contribution to this overwhelming world of content; for a little more on that, see my updated About. Meanwhile, feel free to share this post. Take care, and give care. EA


…then I thought about those who suffer at the holidays for losses that abundant love didn’t prevent, and I changed my mind. Love doesn’t always save lives, and I think it’s important to be sensitive to that. Losses aren’t always deaths, either, though they can hurt as much and feel as absolute. Loss of partnership, friendship, regard, connection, career, independence—regret and futility, whatever the source, are quite ruthlessly painful. Nonetheless, love can save lives at times, and what better use of a heart? I was reminded of its redemptive quality when I read this piece.

Best wishes for 2020, with 20/20 vision, clarity, purpose, health, and l-o-v-e.




I, for one, will be glad to see the end of 2019, despite the challenges that lie ahead. Text and image copyrights held by me. My posts have gotten shorter as I deal with other things. As ever, I’m grateful for your reading. If you enjoyed this piece, please consider sharing it with anyone you feel might like it, too. Bonne Annee, Tanti Auguri, Freues Neues.