January 1st, 2007

head shot

Happy New Year

Yesterday afternoon – a chill in the air and the year tightening to its final knot – we rambled across the 1st Street Bridge under a tinkling latticework of handmade bells. The bells hung from simple jute, and shone, like the heavy water below, in the late brassy light. A rower slid by. Ducks rasped in the grasses near shore. My husband lifted our littlest high above his head so she could strike a strand with her gloved hand.

We’d begun the ringing in of New Year.

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I’d been leaning into this day all autumn, through grief and overwhelm and illness. The usual fresh start of the school year sputtered early – I’d been overzealous in committing my time, and between teaching three classes and parenting, I’d penned myself in. Sometimes, in the early, early dark – on the way to meet my running partner on Town Lake – I’d think, “now is when I ought to write.”

In October I fell behind on work when we traveled north for my grandmother’s funeral and, later, fell behind on grieving when I went to bed for days with a cold gone wrong.

Robbery, always robbery, from one piece of my life for another.

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Stepping off the bridge into the usually busy intersection of South 1st and Cesar Chavez, we were enfolded by hundreds of skeins of yarn, all being twisted, pulled, tied and tossed over a little grove of trees.

“Is this a peace rally?” one of the girls asked. And it was. A peace rally with nobody raging or ranting or using a megaphone. Without a roll call of the dead. Minus the burning effigies. This was Austin’s New Year’s Eve party, celebrating imagination… offering a tangible way to mark the passage of time… bringing people together with mindful and creative intent. The city becoming canvas, stage, gallery, page. Revelers becoming artists. The old year becoming new.

We joined in the collective web-weaving and later, wrote wishes to add to a circular sculpture in front of City Hall. Already hanging: “I wish my birds weren’t mean” and “Better grades in math,” alongside “A healthy baby now” right next to “No baby now, please.”

“I wish we all spent more time outdoors,” I printed. Our five-year-old added, “I wish people would love each other.”

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When my grandparents were alive, they hosted a rollicking New Year’s house party each year. All their best friends would come to stay for two or three days of food and cards and jokes and walks on the frozen lake out front. As they aged, they whittled the party down to a single day. Later, as their numbers dwindled, it evolved into a dinner party and, finally, lunch. Still, until the bitter end, those still alive gathered to eat German sauerbraten, sing Auld Lang Syne and toss back a cup or two of kindness as they looked ahead.



As dusk fell last night, we found ourselves lying tummy-down on the pavement, adding our own bits of color to a long ribbon of chalk art that, by the end, crossed the river from north to south. My third eye next to one daughter’s peace sign and her dad’s ouroboro; down the way a bit, a portrait, a waterfall, initials and a huge hopeful 2007, dusty confetti everywhere.

We roused ourselves in time to catch a little street-corner marimba music and revel in a long, hilarious, mardi gras-like parade – complete with stilts and fire juggling, bagpipes and jazz, and a rag-tag bicycle corps disguised as giant ants, preying mantises and butterflies. One group, donning pink hats, capes, socks and tutus, spread Love.

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I have yet to resolve, in ink or blood, to DO anything this year, but here’s some of what last year taught me. I oughtta say yes and no to the right things. No to anything that requires laborious nighttime meetings; yes to anything that requires cards or dice, my kids and my love, and can be played on the living room floor. I ought not to rob from myself. If it’s time to run or write, sleep or grieve, everything else can wait. I ought to wear a little pink and invite all my best friends over for sauerbraten. Or salmon. Or something.

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Cold and bleary-eyed walking home, we still had the juice to help spread a few of the hundreds of tea lights that had been tucked into origami stars around the grassy shore. The city skyline hung, a shimmery backdrop. Look, there’s a movie of a living eyeball on the water tower! And there’s a hip hop troupe taking a moment of silence for James Brown. And there go the fireworks. And there we go home. I take my blue cheese and crackers and a glass of champagne to the hot bath. It’s only 8:30 at night but boy oh man, it’s a new year already. Cheers.