This holiday season is proving an unsettling mix: it started with the hopeful return to old ways of celebrating, shopping for treasures to give or feed people, thrilled at the idea of hanging out with family or friends. It turned into exhaustion and disappointment at yet another wave of a scary variant as we find ourselves in a limbo laced with dire possibilities and conflicting information. Again.

Right now, we want relief from it all: momentary escape, joy, illumination, uplift.

We dove into a young Eddie Izzard’s sweet, funny “Guide to Last Minute Christmas Shopping”. We delighted in our vicarious descent into the gloriously unmasked past:

Then we hit the inimitable James Brown in a 2006 concert with his astonishing dancing: pure energy and defiance of the bleak. We GOT OFF THAT THING!

Get up offa that thing,
and dance ’till you feel better,
Get up offa that thing,
and try to release that pressure!
Get up offa that thing,
and shake ’till you feel better,

Our friend Lisa Morphew sent us a photo of a blind Algerian poet we’d long ago wandered the countryside of southern France with. Fearless, he would walk with us in the mountains guided by his companion, along rough dirt paths and steep inclines, as Lisa described, “looking at nature with his heart and ears”.  Accompanying the photo were these words:

It feels like this Christmas is about remembering the people that somehow changed my life.

That’s something we’re going to do to dispel this fearful climate, to remember amazing souls we’ve crossed paths with who are always there to help us to a new place. Along with that, we’re thinking about a big question Yoko Ono asks in her tiny potent book Acorn:

Tell us if there is any story that helped you survive.

Life Piece VIII, Yoko Ono

There are MANY in our life, and many this year. We thought right away of the story Tony Morrison told in an essay for the Nation in 2015, an extraordinarily fitting message for THIS very dark time.

Christmas, the day after, in 2004, following the presidential re-election of George W. Bush.

I am staring out of the window in an extremely dark mood, feeling helpless.

Then a friend, a fellow artist, calls…he asks, ‘How are you?’ And instead of ‘Oh, fine…and you?’, I blurt out the truth: ‘Not well. Not only am I depressed, I can’t seem to work, to write; it’s as though I am paralyzed, unable to write anything…I’ve never felt this way before…’ I am about to explain with further detail when he interrupts, shouting: ‘No! No, no, no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work…not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job.’

I felt foolish the rest of the morning, especially when I recalled the artists who had done their work in gulags, prison cells, hospital beds; who did their work while hounded, exiled, reviled, pilloried. And those who were executed… This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

It contains within it a bigger view to temper our immediate one, a potent reminder: All human life is cut through with times of dread. Our history is about how we find ways through, creating beauty and meaning in the midst.

We remembered Christmas Tree by Shirazeh Houshiary, exhibited at Tate Britain in 1993 and 2016, and found this on @Tate:

“Houshiary decided to move away from the traditional notion of the Christmas tree and instead chose to focus on the natural qualities of the tree itself such as texture, colour, smell and shape. She achieved this by turning the tree upside down and exposing its roots and hanging it from the ceiling, creating the impression of the tree floating in air with the roots free from their earthly constraints. The roots were covered in gold leaf to reflect their beauty and intricacy.

​She described her tree as taking earth back to heaven’.

Christmas Tree by Shirazeh Houshiary, exhibited at Tate Britain in 1993 and 2016

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