“Well done is better than well said.” –Benjamin Franklin
Season’s Greetings Dear Ones,
“I want to open a Finishing School,” I say.
“Oh Goody!” pipes up Prudence. “Are we going to teach people not to slurp their soup? That proper tea is made with BOILING water added directly to the tea, not some cup of tepidness with a dry bag perched on the edge of the saucer? Or how to dance over their OWN feet, and not their neighbors’?”
“No,” I say, “It’s not that sort of finishing school. It’s where people can gather together to Finish Things. A communal workshop of sorts, where people can work on their PhDs… You know—Projects Half Done.”
“Oh…” she says, non-plussed. “And just who do you think is going to teach this little school? YOU? Pah! You never finish anything! Just look around you—you are surrounded by Nothing Done.”
I slump. It’s true. I am Un-Done again. Christmas is only six days away and here I am, buried in a small avalanche of needles, pins, yarn, scraps of fabric, and BIG, BIG plans that are rapidly dissolving into eggnog and tears. How do people Finish Things? I would like to know. Those of us with high levels of Creativity, Inspiration, and Ambition present an awful lot like manic, sleep-deprived lunatics at this time of year as we pull all-nighters to finish knitting a pair of socks, or suddenly decide to hand-embroider new Christmas Stockings for all the farm animals we know. (I don’t even want to contemplate those poor souls living with the additional tyranny of an “elf on the shelf!”) We abandon all capacity for rational thought and simultaneously begin baking twenty dozen cookies and knitting eighteenth century thrum caps out of indigo fleece that we dyed in a traditional manner by soaking it in our ex-brother-in-law’s urine. (Ok, maybe that last one is just me…) Then we panic and run to Target or T.J. Maxx anyway, hastily buy a bunch of rubbish that doesn’t reflect our value system, then wait until the last minute to wrap it. As Nana Kennedy used to say, “the hurrier we go, the behinder we get” all month long. I have convinced myself that there is no time left even to bake the cookies—we should just eat the dough raw and call it a night.
Speaking of night, when is it going to be time for that “Long Winter’s Nap” the poet tells of? I would dearly LOVE a nap! My cap and kerchief stand at the ready but apparently, according to other maxims we must obey, I am Wicked so there is No Rest for me. Thanks to a bunch of Teutonic Victorians, there is shrubbery outside that needs to be chopped down and dragged inside. There are doorways that need to be festooned with garlands of fresh laurel, cedar, and twinkling lights with extension cords to be tripped over. There are Battenburg lace angels awaiting their colo-rectal appointments with a Douglas Fir. There are pine needles that must mingle with the dog hair on the carpets, carols to sing, and cider that needs to be mulled. There are two cords of “Yule-tide logs” in the driveway that still need to be stacked before the snow plow comes again... And Christmas cards to write…I am like an exhausted undergraduate at the end of term—up all night, incoherently scribbling drivel, trying to get my final exam in under the wire.
Smug customers come into the tailoring shop, hand us more work they need done “in no rush but immediately would be best” and say, “I hope you ladies have all your Christmas shopping done!” and we groan collectively behind their backs as they leave. We don’t shop! We are Seamsters; we seam. We spend eight hours a day or more on Other People’s Projects. And yes, we have Nothing Done for ourselves. A customer suffering acutely from PPS (Precious Princess Syndrome) announces that she’s had everything done for a month now. It’s all I can do to resist the urge to poke her with a pin. Prudence promptly puts me on the Naughty List.
It’s that time of year when I need a little pep talk. It’s not even officially “Winter” yet and already I am sick of the dark and the cold. We leave for work in the dark. It’s dark when we emerge from the shop to chip the ice off our cars and drive home under the stars. The days don’t just seem short—they are. This Friday night, December 21st, the day will be the shortest of the year and the night will be the longest. The coming Winter Solstice is the physical embodiment of one of the oldest, if not the oldest, story human beings have ever told—the story of Light vs. Dark, representing Order vs. Chaos. For now, it certainly seems that the Chaos and Darkness are winning. Perhaps we create all this seasonal mayhem to keep ourselves warmly distracted with all our rushing about and list-making. (Santa isn’t the only one making a list! Prudence makes lists of her lists.) Even though we know, intellectually, that the Light will return, the primal parts of us want to hunker by the fire, lured by light, warmth, community and grandma’s fruit cake. (Ok, so no one actually wants the fruit cake.) Still, we want to be together. The part of us that fears the dark wants to make something beautiful to give, to share, so that we will belong forever to that circle in the light. Long ago, we did this with ceremony and rituals that included feasting, carols, candles, and bonfires which have transformed over the centuries into garish neon Christmas lights, clay-mation T.V. specials, and such enchanting musical compositions as “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” (Well, that’s one less fruitcake I guess…) Prudence gets panty-bunches in her backside when she hears real Christmas Carols before Christmas (like, the day after Halloween). It drives her batty. I have always called our family the “Jingle Bells” around this time of year, while she vehemently protests that “Jingle Bells” is NOT a Christmas carol! (I’m turning into more of a Silver Bell anyway…) She reminds me every year that December 25th is the FIRST day of the twelve days of Christmas, not the last. She is NOT a fan of Jingle Bell Rock, nor does she think that manipulative minx purring “Santa Baby” over the loud-speakers at Wallmart should get anything but a lump of coal and a quick trip to Confession.
But I digress… My inner pagan, the Shadow side of Prudence, (wait…how can a shadow have a shadow? Perhaps I am taking this too far) adores the ancient druidic traditions of bringing both the fire and the forest within. On Friday and Saturday, I will be lighting candles all over the house (and little old-fashioned ones on the Christmas tree too!), singing, and playing music with my children, who are grudging participants in my rituals. The Advent season is all about awaiting the coming Light but I like to pause and honor the Darkness too. Did you know that chickens lay their eggs according to the cycles of light and dark? Mine stopped laying in October and usually start again on February 15th, the day after Valentine’s Day. I’m pretty sure that’s when the sheep start growing their wool again too, as you can perceive their new growth by March. I love how the seasons of light and dark regulate my little world, even me, and create necessary spaces for rest and suspension of the relentless forward momentum of “doing” rather than “being.”
I have been feeling the darkness deeply this year—trying to embrace it, to see my internal lethargy and melancholy as the part of myself that needs to rest and go to seed. It is time to go inward, be a small “something-that-is-not-yet”—not a pumpkin or a flower, or a vine, or even a shoot— held by a rich, mysterious darkness. We are all like a bunch of garden pumpkins, softened by the frosts. Our flesh sags and pulls us towards the earth and we grieve the loss of recognizing ourselves as we once were. We have aged and sometimes not for better. But inside us, after everything else rots and falls away, is the seed, a condensed blueprint of all we really need to grow once more from our former ashes towards everything we love.
We must take the time we need to grieve the passing of another year, and all the sweet memories that may never come again. This year, we have known dear Loves and lost them in the tides of time. It seems treasonous to release them too soon, so we are given this moment with the Darkness to dwell with our sorrows and regret.
It’s challenging to consider the differences between Finishing and “quitting” at a time like this. It can be hard to continue to press ourselves onwards towards our goals at harried times when we feel simultaneously rushed and suspended, despondent and depleted…Waiting. This is why I want to start a Finishing School. (Yes, I am aware of the Irony inherent in that statement!) The dream is to have everyone drag his or her unfinished projects to a shared workshop space where we all help each other FINISH what we’ve started, lending tools, talents, and communal as well as moral support. Both the physical and the metaphysical require that we somehow bridge this gap between Beginning and Ending so that the eternal Cycle may continue. Some of us get stuck and need a little push.
How do we know when something is done? Calling something Finished that is not quite as good as we had hoped it would be is really hard. You know that by “finishing”—either by completing or abandoning a project—you are saying to yourself “I really can’t manage to do anything better than this right now” and if that is not perfect, that can be really hard to accept. When something ends, when something is complete, when you finally Finish—it is to give you new space in which to grow a new dream. You are on the right path to Create more of everything that makes your heart sing. Even Sorrow is here to redirect our efforts towards a Better Good.
In this liminal space, take a moment to meet and feel the Darkness all around you with openness and curiosity, with your own breath as your only companion. This is Ancient Magic. Your breath is the oxygen you are giving to help burn all the tiny fires inside of you. Dance then with the Cold and the Dark, knowing that you yourself are warmth and light. It’s true, you come from dust, and to dust thou shalt return—but RIGHT NOW you are dust that is magically on fire. You are dust mixed with Light. You are Magic and absolutely anything can happen. Any sort of Miracle at all—like getting all those presents finished, wrapped, AND to the post office on time or making peace with cousin Betty!
In the midst of Constant Change, lie deeper things that never change. We are part of something Bigger than we could ever imagine. Let your inner tree-sprite sink her toes deep into this darkness and anchor you firmly, as you reach towards new seasons coming with the returning Light. May you too find your rest, your bliss, and your new growth—perhaps your heart’s own Love—in the stretch between the two. You are not alone in the dark. I’m cheering for you from over here! When we Finish really well, what do we do but usher in a New Beginning?
Solstice Blessings Dear Ones! May you be Merry and Bright and do Good Work!