In terms of her 1992 ANNUS HORRIBILIS, Queen Lizzie II didn’t have a clue about how horrible HORRIBILIS could be. Randy middle-aged kids, uncontrollable daughters-in-law, Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid hit men and even an anus horribilis (not a pretty sight) were small potatoes compared to the dangers ordinary families in Somalia and young female students in numerous Arab countries currently face on a daily basis. Even the misadventures, loss and life-threatening illnesses within my own family might give HRH and the other royals a run for their pound sterling.
That said, this is no time of year to obsess about circumstances far, far beyond my control. Instead, I would like to exercise my right to denial, a strategy that has served me well through life thus far, and concentrate instead on the nine or ten experiences, people, or products I enjoyed most this year.
In no particular order, my list includes
• Four months in Nova Scotia where the weather was lovely and only intermittently wet, where the people are, as they say about Newfoundlanders, “ever so sweet”, where the scenery is light years beyond beautiful and where fresh lobster weighed in last summer at $4 a pound.
• Two weeks in Hawaii, one spent with two of my smartest, most decent, low maintenance girl friends, and one spent with four of my favorite relatives (one of whom regularly cooked spam and eggs for everyone at breakfast). Both weeks were spent in an enchanted rundown house smack-dab on the beach at Laie Bay, a house owned by my calabash brother and his wonderful wife who appeared only to start us off with a bottle of good wine, some fresh papaya and assurances that their stockpile of 1000 books was still high and dry and keeping us all amused.
• Dates, far too few and infrequent but always appreciated, with grandchildren, one of whom has exquisite taste in music, books and food and appreciates artists like Lou Reed; another who loves film noir (extreme noir), works with the poor and disadvantaged and also appreciates the late, lamented Mr. Reed; another who is an athletic, long-legged beauty with a tender heart, and the youngest of whom is already a carpenter / reader / gardener who will be able to meet the challenges of climate change and more.
• Books, books and more books: Through my buddies, I “met” authors Louise Penny and Margaret Coel for the first time and now am as impatient with them as I used to be with P.D. James and Martha Grimes to write more faster. Zen Master Phil Jackson wrote a new book, my friend, Amy Larkin, wrote a terrific book called “Environmental Debt”, and “This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral Plus Plenty of Valet Parking” was entertaining, albeit alarming. I gobbled up the new Reacher and Maisie Dobbs books, reread The Traveler and Isabel Dalhousie series, compared Steve Jobs to equally driven and neurotic people in my life, found the Doris Kearns book on the Roosevelts enlightening and was delighted with “Where’d You Go, Bernadette”. We can’t always choose family members but we can always choose the friends we revisit in literature. What a luxury!
• An autumn road trip from Canada to California was wonderful, particularly because my husband, now officially a senior citizen, no longer drives 16 – 18 hours a day. In previous years, I would spend most of those long hours trying to figure out ways to kill him, preferably in a way that would not land me in jail and would still allow me to reach my destination without taking over the wheel myself.
At a safer, saner, more leisurely pace, I was able to concentrate on the fall foliage, the gorgeous rivers, the canyons and mountains and even a few truly beautiful cities like Santa Fe. We were also able to spend time visiting family and friends in Baltimore, Ohio, New Mexico, Arizona, La Canada and Long Beach, each visit better than a gift-wrapped holiday.
For the time being, my husband is in no immediate danger of being slowly poisoned or garotted with a silk rope. I will, however, keep my notebook nearby with handy tips for wives with homicidal tendencies just in case he suddenly gets a spurt of senior citizen energy and tries to drive from Memphis to Amarillo in one sitting.
• An internship in Annapolis Royale for one of our more charming Sias grad students had so much spin-off value for everyone who met her, the provincial government should have paid for the rubber boots she needed to track the near-extinct Nova Scotian wood turtle and test the cleanliness of the water in the Annapolis River. We felt we had inherited a daughter and the citizens of Annapolis County suddenly developed a new and lasting appreciation for Chinese food.
• Speaking of food, Sue’s hamburgers, Tiiu’s Coquilles St. Jacques, and Lillian’s fish, Mexican food, and Brussels sprouts are always a cause for celebration and could be included on Top Ten Lists for almost anyone with a discriminating palate.
• Free Moving Services: Throughout my adult life, I have moved frequently and grew weary of packing papers, furniture, dishes, books, art, clothes, linens, and three tons of odds and ends about three decades ago. This year my son and grandson packed up a small household for me. The only thing better would be getting them back to unpack or hitting a jackpot large enough to pay for strangers to move everything across a continent and unpack everything without chipping a single wine glass.
• Writing Jobs That Pay: Several lovely people with questionable journalistic standards offered me money in 2013 to write essays, monographs, and even books. Getting paid to work at home, dressed in sweats and slippers, is almost as good as unsolicited and responsible free packing services.
• Wayne Shorter’s “Without a Net”, saxophonist Chris Potter’s “The Sirens”, “Everything Must Change” on Claire Martin’s album “He Never Mentioned Love” , anything by Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra as well as songs written by Bobby John Henry or sung by Ray Price should all be included in Best lists by anyone who appreciates musical authenticity.
So, to recap: interesting grandchildren, hamburgers, good books, good music, a little paid work, good friends and family members with whom you actually want to spend time, helping hands, beautiful places to live and play…that’s a break-even year. Much more like an ANNUS MIRABILIS than either an anus or annus horribilis.
Laguna Beach Sunset by Carole Zavala; Liting and the Wood Turtle courtesy of CARP.