Four Homes, One Beard: 2022

Oh, and I grew a beard this past month for the first time in my life. I should have led all this with THAT news.

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Last month I posted my annual birthday essay in which I searched for a possible correspondence between my age and the equivalent element on the periodic table; this year I am 54, and xenon is the 54th element.

As I explained, it is an idea that I credit to the late Dr. Oliver Sacks from one of the last essays, “My Periodic Table,” (here’s the link; subscription required) that he published before his death.

Some friends took me out to dinner the night before my birthday, which was very kind, and one of them asked me whether I had written anything recently. Whenever I live a year like 2022, the one we are about to see off, a year in which I wrote little and published less, I will admit to you that my replies to this friendly question can sometimes make me sound like a job applicant who knows there is nothing he can say to win the job: for several months in 2022 my answer has been, “No, I haven’t written much, but I’ve been learning how to edit video …” and my voice would trail off in the direction that I perceived my questioner’s attention had drifted off toward.

But on my birthday, I had indeed written something, and I explained the age=element concept to my friends, several of whom are between the ages of 24-30, and told them that this is a series that I have undertaken for several years. It elicited the unmistakable sounds of their approval for my clever brain: an “ooooohhhh” seemed to come from each one of them.

And then one of them asked, “How many more elements are there? Are there enough?”
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A Year Concludes

When HBO’s John Oliver “blew up” 2020 for viewers of his comedy commentary show Last Week Tonight last year, I actually grew teary-eyed, which is perhaps not the reaction he and his staff might have wanted from the average viewer, but it is understandable, I think: 2020 was difficult for each one of us in ways unique to each one of us.

That endless year had featured several deaths of family, friends, acquaintances, and my father’s death of COVID in the first wave of the pandemic, as well as the first of many responses to the pandemic: lockdowns, local businesses shuttered, friends and family on video calls, recovery meetings on video, funerals on video, the first tentative steps out of lockdown (a cosmetologist friend came here to cut my hair a few times), experimentation with mask styles, and the wait for a conclusion that we would all know was a conclusion and/or new start whenever we might see it. Oh! and there was an national election campaign followed by a constitutional nightmare.

The year before this one also saw the start of a creative collaboration that continues to this day (new video up this evening!), which is probably only just beginning even after almost two years.

So when Mr. Oliver blew up 2020, I grew teary-eyed. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I get choked-up quite easily, and the signs of an imminent cry are obvious: my voice cracks, sniffles start, my eyes darken. And then nothing happens. The emotional explosion never comes, unlike the John Oliver’s farewell to 2020 (Last Week Tonight had run the same joke before, but 2020’s goodbye was a bit bigger):
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‘You must learn to bluff, too’

2014 was (is) the Unpredictable Year in The Gad’s house. For one thing, I had resolved to not start a sentence with a number this year (I just failed that right there in front of all of you) or address myself in the third-person using the amusing name I gave to this blog (fail numero two).

There is an expression, “The only constant in life is change,” and the person in my life who used to utter this expression every single day that I saw him died in May. What a terrible way to illustrate a notion. There were “I love you’s” spoken in the hospital, so that friendship ended as a completed thought for us both.

At this time last year, I was living in a different house in a different town altogether and even though I had plans to move house in 2014, it was not to where I am living on this December 22.

So it goes,” wrote Kurt Vonnegut, many times. Often it was a sigh spoken by one of his characters, a philosophy of acceptance in three words and not one word more because there was nothing more (for them) to say, and at other times it was uttered with a tone of defiance: Acceptance as defiance. “You want me to fight back? Don’t hold your breath.”

From the birth of the calendar, in the year before counting, cultures have connected two opposite modes of thought to the new year. It is a time for reflection and even atonement, for clearing the wreckage of the past year if there is any, and it is a time for resolve, for aspirations and plans for the coming year, which are usually desires to make plans to be somehow different than one was in the immediate past.

No one resolves to perform deeds for which they will have to atone the next new year, at least no one that I know does, but the coming year is the territory in which one will make mistakes or cross people the wrong way. So it goes.

There were other goodbyes in 2014. Because I moved to a town that is forty-five minutes from where I lived for the last several years and I do not drive, there are some friends I have not seen in eight months. Sometimes friends who live a cross-country flight away can seem closer than those who live an hour drive away. Do not feel sorry, or anything, for me: I’m not exactly using up anyone’s phone batteries.

One goodbye was a surprise, and I wrote about it a few months ago: “Requiem.”

Because I work at living my life in the moment, expecting success, this year has in fact been a great, interesting, love-filled year. If I had even tried to make a resolution at the start of 2014, it would have been something like that statement: Accept the year to come as great, interesting, and love-filled, but also work hard at presenting life as great, interesting, and love-filled to those around me. I have no clue if I achieved that second clause, other than the working at it part. I worked at it. As a result, most of life is a pleasant surprise and those things that aren’t are that way for a reason I will figure out. (Anyone reading this who is a parent can probably tell that I am not one.)

I keep returning to a charming story about Auden (more from him later this week) that was published last year, an anecdote about his kindness. I want to work at being more like this:

Sixty years ago my English teacher brought me to London from my provincial grammar school for a literary conference. Understandably, she abandoned me for her friends when we arrived, and I was left to flounder. I was gauche and inept and had no idea what to do with myself. Auden must have sensed this because he approached me and said, “Everyone here is just as nervous as you are, but they are bluffing, and you must learn to bluff, too.”

So it goes. Let’s bluff our way together into 2015.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for December 22 asks, “We’re entering the final days of 2014—how did you do on your New Year’s resolutions these past 11.75 months? Is there any leftover item to be carried over to 2015?”

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