Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanks And You're Welcome

I'm back in New York City after four days in the benign sensory deprivation/regression therapy experience that is the ancestral home in New Jersey. Me, the wife, my parents, and the excitable bathmat pictured at left, hanging around a weirdly cold house -- the 64-degree setting on the thermostat was seemingly non-negotiable, with my mother going so far as to offer a sweater to a small/elderly/beloved Thanksgiving guest rather than goosing the temperature a few degrees. Eccentric parents are going to be eccentric parents, though, and I brought sweaters. And that giddy little shag carpeted animal is going to be cute, but it's also going to be fed weird things by my parents -- cheesecake? goose-liver pate? -- and then my parents are going to blame each other for feeding it weird things. And then the dog is going to poop in various places throughout the home, usually on or near one of the half-dozen or so wee-wee pads(tm) that have been scattered about the house in an attempt to both minimize carpet-related damage and define down the definition of "housebroken." This is all normal. I know it doesn't look that way, but it's normal.

It's actually not at all normal, I know. But the ways in which my annual Thanksgiving trips to the happy, underheated, secretly weird home have become normal -- the unconscious rapprochement I've realized with my family and hometown and past, and which you probably have, too -- has been much on my mind of late. In part, this is because -- belatedly, so incredibly freaking belatedly -- my novel is finished, and in the hands of my estimable agent, and because my novel is (subtextually, I guess) mostly about that topic. I write what I know, just like anyone else, and while I don't necessarily know what to make of the passage of time's effect on my family and myself, or on that cluttering, chilly homestead, I am at least aware that it is happening, and that the fact that it is happening makes me feel something.

The easiest label for that "something" would, I guess, be nostalgia or regret. This is because a sort of vague melancholy is my default mood/mode, but also because that's a pretty normal response to the passage of time and the inexorability of change and all that. We, or at least I, tend to struggle for a sense of control and equilibrium all of our days, but the accretion of all that time is something we can't control, no matter how on point we are about calling people back on time, getting up when the alarm goes off, et cetera. I battled myself to get the novel finished, while all around me my life rose in great teetering piles, and it has been a strange sensation, facing all that accumulation and wondering what to do with/about it, what to do next. And if I hadn't been alternately anxious and busy, if I hadn't spent all this time knee-deep in lame-brand scotch and inertia, the same accumulation would've happened. I'm not totally sure what I'm writing about, here, but I think I could write a lot more about it if given the opportunity.

I was given such an opportunity by my good friends at The Awl before Thanksgiving, as part of their Real American Thanksgiving Cookbook project -- a sort of compendium of essay-fied recipes by Awl staffers and commenters and adjunct semi-regular humperinos such as myself. I'm pretty happy with what I wrote, which was an essay about my parents' house and Thanksgiving -- still and probably always my favorite holiday -- wrapped around my second grade teacher's recipe for cranberry-orange relish.

Kate revealed to me, after the essay went up, that she has always found the recipe a little too tart. We made a half-recipe this year, and made it a little sweeter -- the guest list was smaller, and 20 percent of said guest list bashfully/finally went on record with her it's-just-too-cranny sentiments. I complain about my parents' house and weirdness because I worry about them getting old, I guess, and because I'm noticing myself getting older. But, as the Awl essay points out, it's a hopeful and happy thing that all this weirdness has proven so enduring, and so adaptable.

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