Every year I’m surprised at the end of May when I find myself inexplicably even more irritable than usual. Like salmon returning up river to die, the run up to June comes on without me consciously taking notice of it. Or rather not taking note of it until I sit down and ask myself why I’m dramatically more agitated that normal.
Yes, friends, you guessed it. It’s birthday time again. You see, the fare that accompanies the traditional American birthday is just a little bit of personal hell as far as I’m concerned. A room full of people, dumb hats, forced polite chatter – it sounds perfectly awful. It’s more tolerable when I’m not at the center of it, but I’d just as soon the day slide astern with as little fuss as possible.
It does explain why I’ve largely been feeling “off” this last week or so. Once you’re past 21 – or maybe 25 if you’re really excited about being able to rent a car – the whole exercise of birthday celebrating takes on a decidedly “so what” flavor. Maybe that flavor is even worse this year because it’s one of the big ones divisible by ten.
I take more than a little comfort in knowing it will be past soon and once that happens my mood will improve dramatically if I can go out on a limb and use past performance to predict future results.
Usually Christmas Eve finds me threatening to take a week’s hiatus from putting up any new posts. Experience tells me that there’s no way I’ll physically be able to restrain myself from bitching and complaining that long. Observing people during this week of festivities invariably means no shortage of dumb decisions or ridiculous people just begging to be immortalized on the internet.
Honestly, I don’t remember Christmas Eve ever being a major event. Maybe there were traditions as a kid, but since leaving home it’s mostly the day for getting from Point A to Point B and rushing through all points in between to do last minute things before the world (except Sheetz) shuts down for 24 hours. This year has proven to be no change from the expected.
With early evening coming on and mid-winter darkness setting in, social media slows to a snail’s pace, and even international news seems to take a bit of a pause. None of that is a bad thing. The world needs the occasional moment to take a knee and maybe get a little reflective. As for me, it’s a sure sign it’s time to stick my nose in a book. That’s exactly my kind of festive celebration.
I have no idea if it’s actually going to be the darkest evening of the year or not, but it’s going to be the longest even if only by a few seconds. I post about the winter solstice just about every year knowing full well that the coldest days of winter are still a few weeks ahead. Maybe it’s important to me because I’ve always been more a worshiper of the light rather than the heat. Getting back to a schedule that feels a little less mole-like is just incredibly appealing after weeks of rising in the darkness, working in a cave, and returning home again in darkness.
The solstice at least marks where that trend starts slowly to right itself. You can say what you want about Christmas and the reason for the season, but maybe there’s just enough pagan left in me that solstice feels like something that should be a celebration. Solstice is the hope of spring and growth and warm afternoons tending the yard. The irony of the fact that I’m currently also working on a future blog post about hope and why it’s bad isn’t lost on me in the least as I type these words. Despite what I’ll soon tell you about the problematic nature of hope, for the moment, hope is going to have to be enough.
Independence Day week is, in my opinion, second only to the week between Christmas and New Years in terms of how little actual productive work takes place inside Uncle’s vast machine. It’s true that not everyone takes the week (or four days) off, but for the most part the number of people on vacation approaches the point of critical mass where it becomes nearly impossible to get anything accomplished if it requires more than two people to be part of the decision-making or work flow. I’m sure there are plenty of old hands who might deny what I’m telling you, but experience tells me that this week is a dead zone for productivity. No matter how many memos you cram into the pipeline, if there’s no one there to read them on the other end, it’s just so many trees falling in the forest.
I’ve always felt like this week was the civilian equivalent to an operational pause – a breather before the long march through summer towards Labor Day and the close of the fiscal year. There are still plenty of people giving the illusion of getting something accomplished, but I suspect that if they were all honest at least half the emails they send are greeted with an out-of-office message. By early in the day Thursday, you’re going to find even the most dedicated of employees giving up the illusion and watching the clock with the rest of us poor dumb working stiffs.
That’s just part of the magic joy that is the trinity of three-day weekends in the summer. They feel different. They’re special. Maybe they hark back to being fourteen and having the whole summer stretched out in front of us like a never-ending weekend. Or maybe we just appreciate the reminder of the life we can look forward to in 20 year, 11 months, and 1 day… if we were so inclined to count the amount of time until we’re eligible for retirement.
Talk about celebrating a real independence day.
This was not the post I had hoped to write. The best of birthday rants I had been working on just didn’t read right, so you’ll have a brand-spanking-new rant for the occasion.
For the record, I hate birthdays. Actually, I suppose that’s not technically accurate. I enjoy other people’s birthdays, but am more ambivalent own. Congratulations, you’ve managed to keep yourself from becoming a former human being for another 365 days. Well done. It seems a little disingenuous.
While others celebrate the turning of another year with reckless abandon, I have almost always looked upon mine as a moment of pause. Time to take account and reflect on the works left undone, those not yet undertaken, and those that will never be. By the time Alexander had reached my age, he had unified an empire. Others stood on the cusp of their glory… Jefferson and Hamilton were about to make their mark on the Republic. When he was two years junior to my age now, Theodore Roosevelt published a seminal work on the naval campaigns of the War of 1812 and served in the New York House of Delegates.
My war rages on; one side bent on perfection, place, and prominence and the other to accept what is as good enough. I’ve lived my life in pursuit of what’s next while never being satisfied with the achievement. I’ve repeatedly sacrificed the personal on the alter of the professional. I cannot fault the results, but the price has been terrible in its own right.
I’ll not resolve these battles tonight, or perhaps ever. But each year, with the coming of June, I will be reminded, and I will ponder them afresh.