Saturday, November 21, 2015

No special plans

It seems like I've been getting asked the question "do you you have any big plans?" a lot lately. Friends, colleagues, people I meet in casual encounters ask this question in a friendly, non-threatening conversational tone, querying me about my weekends, my Thanksgiving festivities, and perhaps soon about the upcoming holidays. I find myself feeling puzzled by the question and a little perplexed as to how to answer it. I'm puzzled because at age fifty-three I thought I had passed the point where I was supposed to have "big plans" (beyond perhaps retirement). I'm perplexed because, well, I do have some plans, but they don't particularly involve anyone other than my husband and me. We celebrate virtually every holiday that exists in the Hindu, Christian, American, Indian, and sometimes Jewish, Muslim, and Pan-African calendar. We carry out these almost weekly festivities to honor abundance, harvests, social justice, and perhaps most importantly the value we seek to build in ourselves.

We began talking about Thanksgiving sometime in September. Actually, we began talking about Thanksgiving sometime last winter when we argued over whether or not to raise ducks, with the goal of having one of the ducks we raised for a festive Thanksgiving dinner. We are in fact having a duck for Thanksgiving, though it is not one of ours, as the project became one we decided to defer to 2016. (We will do it next year!) But, because we arranged to get the duck from another couple who farms, we were unsure as to whether to have it on the actual Thanksgiving Day or on the Sunday before. This is because we thought the duck might arrive fresh -- not frozen -- and would be best roasted and eaten as soon as we received. So we had initially planned to have it tomorrow night, five days before the great turkey day, until we discovered this morning that the duck was coming to us frozen. That caused an alteration in plans, which made me feel grateful that we had not made any "big plans."

The idea of "big plans" calls up a certain level of anxiety for me. As a child growing up in Indiana with immigrant Indian parents, "big plans" didn't really cohere well with the normative American and Christian festivals. Our family did have a Thanksgiving meal, but because my parents were vegetarian it was always embarrassingly devoid of turkey. We did celebrate Christmas, but because we were Hindu, no midnight Mass or celebration of Jesus being born in a creche was part of our yearly ritual. In my teen years, the absence of celebration mounted because my parents -- as the owners of a small hobby and craft shop -- usually were working around the clock during the holidays to ensure that others would get the gifts and the pleasures to make their festivities lovely and memorable. Ours were mostly about taking a day off, a day of rest.

In young adulthood -- namely my twenties and early thirties -- I compensated by creating "big plans": elaborate dinners, sometimes three or four Thanksgiving dinners that would spill out over the four day weeks; holiday parties and gift lists and card lists that would grow more elaborate each year. These were fun years but ultimately tiring ones. There's only so much grog and eggnog that one can ingest before it seems like too much. As my thirties melted into my forties, I often found myself volunteering to work the holiday shifts at various jobs that I held so that others could be with their families and loved ones. I usually was living by myself in these years. I had friends and I had family but usually no one nearby. I never minded this situation, except when I was reminded of its oddity. Being alone over the holidays was simply not perceived as a normal state of occurrence. Hence, the reminders raised more anxieties for me.

At age forty-two, I got engaged to the man who is now my husband of ten years. We have been together for eleven-plus years, and together we are usually alone. I could choose to believe that this is the result of the two of us being social misfits who have no friends or of being itinerants who moved too many times in the early years of our adult lives to put down the kinds of roots that holidays together seem to demand. I prefer to think of it as being the result of simply enjoying the quiet solitude of being alone together and of being able to use a holiday as a day to celebrate the ordinary without added extravagance. Every day, I like to start the day with coffee and writing. Every day, I like to exercise and spend some time in fresh air. Every day, I like to cook and eat very good food. Every day, I like to meditate a little, relax with my cats, check up on the chickens and goats cavorting in the yard. Every day (stop reading if this sounds insane), I actually do like to work a little bit. A holiday seems like an opportunity to do these daily things without the pressure of being someplace on time (I usually am late); without the obligation of doing it all right (I usually mess up somewhere); and without the sometimes tedious tasks of life like meetings (those necessary aspects of professional life that are, well, frankly things in which we partake more out of necessity than joy). It is an opportunity to hit the snooze button on the alarm clock four times instead of three times -- or perhaps just to turn the alarm off entirely. It is an opportunity to make a possible plan -- like the two hour special Thanksgiving yoga session that looks awfully appealing right now but might not feel so appealing when 7 a.m. rolls around next Thursday -- and not carry it through. It's an opportunity to indulge in laziness without feeling guilt, or an opportunity to work without feeling the pressure of what one "should" be doing.

And so my "big plans" for the holidays are perhaps big in their radical state. They are about nothing -- and everything -- all at once.