is the narrator of over 50 audiobooks, including The Sweet Relief of Missing Children by Sarah Braunstein, which was listed as a Best Audiobook by AudioFile Magazine for 2011. She has also earned 3 Earphones Awards. Over the past couple of years Xe and I have become fast friends. First via Twitter and then as roommates in New York City during BEA. I can’t say enough about Xe. She is as warm and as caring as her voice. She puts her heart and soul into all that she narrates. In fact she dressed up as a character from a recent narration for Halloween this year. Each Friday she adds to the community through her Going Public series. I’m so pleased to have her here today to close out the Baby, It’s Cold Outside series.
I have listened to three of Xe’s titles, Angelina’s Bachelors: A Novel, with Food by Brian O’Reilly, The Silence of Trees by Valya Dudycz Lupescu, and Fire and Ice by Anne Stuart. I’ve also been wanting to give Objects of My Affection by Jill Smolinski a listen. She also narrated one of my favorite novels of 2012, The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro. Many people would be familiar with Xe’s work through Jacquelyn Frank’s Nightwalkers series. For lovers of classics, check out The Bostonians by Henry James. Finally, Xe recently was awarded an Earphones Award for Magnificence by Lydia Millet.
Hello! I was going to go with a clever turn on “The Narrator of New Year’s Past/Present/Future” but you know, “clever” can get really tiring after about a paragraph.
So let’s just do this old school. You and me. Sitting here/there, chatting. Just us. It’s New Year’s Day. We’ve got our slippers on, we’re cozy in our comfy pants, got our favorite comfort beverage at the ready. And our hair is most definitely down.
Oh! And a soundtrack…must have a soundtrack. No, not from me this time, but instead a treasured recent discovery. Composer David Lang wrote an exquisite choral piece, The Little Match Girl Passion, and offers a full preview on his website. Just hit the play button and it will autoplay while you and I chat. Be sure to plug in your ‘phones for the full effect. It’s gorgeous. Disconcerting, but gorgeous.
Got it playing and all settled in? Wonderful…
You know the story is set on New Year’s Eve, right – not Christmas? Most of the time, this beautiful, haunting story is discussed in terms of judgment and recrimination – a cautionary and tragic tale of our collective callousness toward the poor and desperate. And actually, that’s a pretty valid message for our times. But I’m going to step aside from that for a sec, and offer it up as an allegory for the way most of us deal with year’s end/year’s beginning.
Because I’ve been thinking about resolutions, about this “Ritual of Resolving” many of us participate in, in which we sit in judgement of ourselves as we look back on our personal year, and for the most part, find ourselves lacking. Hey, I’m certainly in that camp and I don’t know many that aren’t. Even if we have personal successes during our year, when we settle in on 12/31 ostensibly to reflect, do we really acknowledge our growth along with our shortcomings, or do we instead toast the whole process with a potent cocktail of guilt, regret and reproach?
Enter The Little Match Girl. We are, each of us, that little girl, by year’s end. Whether it was amazing or devastating, we come to the end of our personal year spent and tattered – just the cost of living, really. It’s time to reflect, repose, resolve and renew. But I’d wager that’s not what most of us experience in the darkness of our souls on New Year’s Eve. After the festivities have finished and all is quiet and it’s just us alone with ourselves, many of us also become the abusive father who shoves that unfortunate girl out into to cold…”Why couldn’t you get your s**t together? You had a whole year, you worthless lazy arse!”
And so we make passionate, often untenable commitments to ourselves, promising ourselves the world, promising to do or BE better.
This my friends is just messed up. This is not “reflection,” but merely “reproach.” And from reproach too often comes guilt and self-loathing, not resolve and renewal. Where’s the “Grandmother” from the story – the one who takes in our regret and confessions with acceptance and compassion? Completely AWOL at this point.
So I’ve rebelled and taken my family with me. We do our reflection and resolving just before Christmas actually, when the sun makes a turn for the better, so to speak, even if we can’t immediately tell the difference. It’s an act of faith, if you will – a sign that even when darkness dominates (personal, global or astronomical),there are shreds of light, of hope.
We gather as a family (for moral support…and FOOD!) and each spend a few minutes silently reflecting back on the year. What worked? What did we like? We acknowledge those good bits and move on…to the crap. What didn’t work? Why? How did we stand in our own way? THAT’s what needs to go. No blaming, no bemoaning of missed opportunities – just tossing the garbage that kept us from taking those other roads, from changing what we wanted to change. It’s ours to toss after all…why hold onto it?
Toss it. Burn it. Flush it – well, we don’t actually “flush” it, although that might make for a hilarious party game! Whatever you call it, we just get-rid-of-it. We don’t wallow in it, we just acknowledge and release it. Did I suck this year? No, and likely neither did you. But did we stand in our own way? Possibly. Were we horrible parents? No. But is there space for an uptick in patience and compassion? Probably. You get the picture…
After all that unpleasantness (growth isn’t usually “fun”), we spend time quietly dreaming about the new year: our hopes, dreams, wishes, plans – global, personal, professional. We’ve already “burned” away our regret and any self-loathing over the past year, so these new plans are drawn with fresh ink on new paper, not on the ashes of negativity. They come from a place of hope, not recrimination. You could say that we call on that inner “Grandmother,” offering ourselves acceptance, compassion and space for renewal, quieting those more abusive, unproductive inner voices.
The traditional approach to year’s end/beginning just seems engineered for our failure, and in failing, most of us give up. We don’t calmly evaluate and accept responsibility for the bits that are ours to own. No! We wallow. We wail at the unfairness, at the hopelessness of it all.
So we try to rally on 12/31 or 1/1. We go on a crash diet of change. Yeah, anyone who’s ever done the crash diet thing, give a nod. Ha! We’re a comfy-pants-wearing sea of bobble-heads now. Point is, they don’t last. “Crash resolving” is the same – just part of the cycle of failure, not the solution to it.
Here’s my last pitch from the soapbox: stop this self-destructive nonsense. Take a look at yourself honestly without judgment. Just look. Acknowledge where you rock (do not skip that step – it’s crucial, not indulgent). Acknowledge what went to blazes this year and why. Target the “why” – that’s where you can grow. You don’t suck, but maybe that habit or defense mechanism, etc. does.
Baby, you’re a beautiful person. Chances are you did beautiful things in 2012, even if you didn’t do all the beautiful things you wish you had. Take a minute to thank yourself for what you got done, take responsibility for what’s yours to own, and decide what beauty you want to manifest in 2013.