Friday, January 1, 2016
My Midnight Darlings
But then there's never been much to this but the habit of doing it, and like any habit so long established, and as it seems to do me no harm, on it goes. I should probably consider the thing more closely, but no.
At my annual Christmas reading, my friend and boss, dear P. has taken to calling the event "a bookstore tradition." Very nice and thank you. It's a flattering description and makes me feel quite venerable, but really, I don't know that the word applies.
There's little enough I do that would actually rise to the standard of a "tradition"or any. Certainly in the religious or civic sense of the word I am observant only to extent of taking off the official -- meaning paid -- holidays. No guarantee even of so much as this, should the demands of the schedule at the bookstore where I work require another body to keep the place from looking deserted. Today, for example. I went to work. I did not mind. Nary a customer to disturb our meditations. Come to that, and to my complete satisfaction, New Year's Eve we passed reading in bed, the ol' man and me. We're not monks, you understand. There may have been a drink after dinner, but we now generally watch Kathy Griffin tease Anderson Cooper until the ball drops in Times Square, NYC, at nine, our time, and then a kiss again at midnight proper, should the beloved husband, A. be still awake (and he was.) In recent years, had I New Year's Day off, I've taken to "wile away the rosy hours" by binge-watching a season's worth of the British quiz show, QI in a day. Pleasure deferred this time, as I was tired by the time I got home at six, presumably from doing too little all day at work.
Watching all of season "L" of QI in my nightshirt and slippers I will do soon enough. No one to say me nay. The question remains though, can that be described as a "tradition" any more than my holiday reading?
I do have some things I do regularly enough, and some I do, as I've said, but once a year. Nothing notable in my reading Dicken's Carol every Christmas. So do, I should think, many, even in this, our illiterate age. I reread other favorites, some on the authors' birthdays, I blush a bit to admit. Sentimentalism, pure and simple. I like to think this noticed by their shades -- in which I do not believe, but there we are. Another of these is that every year for some years now I read Charles Lamb's essay, New Year's Eve, on the day.
"If I know aught of myself," says Lamb therein, "no one whose mind is introspective -- and mine is painfully so -- can have less respect for his present identity than I have for the man Elia" he says of his famous persona in the essays. "I know him to be light, and vain, and humoursome," he goes on, and a drunk besides.
Well, I don't drink nearly so often as that.
The essay is, among other things besides a masterpiece, a meditation on mortality and all the author stands to lose by it, among these, "my midnight darlings, my Folios! must I part with the intense delight of having you (huge armfuls) in my embrace?"
-- You can see why I like the guy, right there. --
Read the essay.
Here I sit then, surrounded by my own darlings, reading and rereading, writing a little, drawing a little, recording a little, and all of it by now at best, habit. I won't deny a touch of superstition in this reading the same thing on the same day, in reading and rereading my books, and the reassurance found in repetition, the comfort of my familiars. Lamb knew whereof he wrote. These things are a hedge against death, I suppose as much as they are meaningful at all. If none rise to the full pomposity of a "tradition" it is because I reject the word when applied to my own eccentricities.
A tradition requires, I should think, generations, history, more time than I will ever have. Even the homely modifier of "a family tradition" sounds to me like an advertising slogan, the origins of which are now lost in time, and all the better for that, as a tradition goes. Tradition requires ritual, and ritual requires a degree of forgetfulness; something done because it is something done. I won't deny the beauty of this or that set of repeated words or gestures, but I don't subscribe to any, unless unconsciously. A tradition -- I almost said in the traditional sense -- is to my mind a collection of such repetitive, indeed required dips, dunks and doings as only away with can religion get, you might say. What I do? Why I do what I do, over and over again? Perhaps the same instinct, same idea; to ward off the inevitable dark. If so I'm fine with that. The dark will be it's on reward when it comes, just so it doesn't come any time soon, thanks all the same.
Were I feeling more high-minded about what I do here, and at the bookstore, I might have recourse to John Ruskin rather than Lamb:
"Our duty is to preserve what the past has had to say for itself, and to say for ourselves what shall be true for the future."
I believe that. I also believe I'll say goodnight and go read a little more Lamb. Happy New Year, everyone. (Anyone?)