Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy Arbitrary Moment in Time! And an Announcement.

Counting down to the New Year has got to be one of the silliest things our culture does.

Our world is artificially segmented into time zones, which cause the entire planet to function as a 24-hour clock, the hours clicking along from zone to zone as if the planet was rotating like the ticking second hand on the 60 Minutes watch. In fact, the planet rotates smoothly, its orientation to the sun shifting constantly. To experience it in real time, one has to be watching a sunset or, much better, a total eclipse of the sun. Instead, we rely on devices to tell us what numbers go with any given moment in time. Once a year, those numbers click over to a new year. The fact that our Julian calendar new year comes a week after the winter solstice, and has no relationship whatsoever to planting or harvest cycles, just underlines the arbitrariness of celebrating a shift of digits in the naming of the year.

And yet we celebrate with great abandon. Two nights ago, Amy and I attended a concert at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall that featured performances by a number of Portland celebrities, some of whom could actually sing quite well, and concluded with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, a work that is in my top five all-time favorite pieces of music. As the inevitable standing ovation (it's Portland, after all) began to peter out, the orchestra kicked into a brief encore, playing "Auld Lang Syne," and balloons tumbled from the ceiling. It was fun, festive, and frivolous, just as an end-of-the-year gala should be. Last night, the actual New Year's Eve, we performed in a show at ComedySportz, then attended a party that featured eating, drinking, socializing, and the game "Cards Against Humanity." We somehow managed to stay awake until midnight, shot off some small fireworks, and drove home.

It's always struck me as odd that we lend so much significance to this artificial phenomenon. The media I read are crowded with lists of best/worst of 2013 and predictions for 2014. Critics, pundits, internet curators become more list-obsessed as the trumped-up year-end draws near. Some of it, I'm sure, is post-Christmas hype: that holiday ends so abruptly that there's still plenty of pent-up energy longing for release. There's also the lame duckiness of the last week of the year. Except for shopping malls crammed with the recipients of gifts eager to cash in their pre-Christmas value and apply it to a marked-down clearance item, both public and private sectors take a deep breath and coast until the first Monday after New Year's.

I'm sitting on the couch in our living room. The tree has been stripped of lights and ornaments, and now lies forlornly on the patio, awaiting its recycling this weekend by a local Scout troop. Alex has taken Amy out to lunch, and Sarah is at her father's house, so I have the place to myself. I've already blogged once this morning, and yet I feel drawn back to the keyboard. As arbitrary as this date feels to me, I am being sucked into the year end/beginning punditry vortex.

2013 was a year of huge transitions. I went from half-time band director in a rural district to full-time general music teacher in a district that has a more urban population than any other in the Portland area. Alex went to college. My children grew more deeply into adulthood, with jobs and responsibilities that came them away for even longer periods of time. Amy and I took our first steps into backpacking, and found the wilderness opening up for us as it never had before. Time and health issues have cut back on our exercise since September, though, and I'm carrying an extra ten pounds as a result--though honestly, I could stand to lose thirty.

2014 will be kicking off in a big way for me on Friday when I have laser surgery to correct my lifelong myopia, as I wrote this morning. Beyond that, I am looking hopefully toward having my contract with Reynolds renewed by the end of January, at which point I'll be transitioning to a different school in the district, with 500 new children to meet and teach. Amy and I may be traveling at spring break, perhaps to New Jersey, though we've not yet looked seriously at the idea. We will be backpacking as much as we can this summer, though where remains to be seen. (Amy would like to see Saguaro cactus, though I think the places those grow will be too hot for us to backpack in July or August, when we'll be able to get there.) When I was in Denver for the AOSA conference, I learned of a continuing education opportunity that will have me traveling to Ghana for two weeks to learn drumming and engage in a cultural exchange--assuming I can get the financing together.

All of that is thrilling, but there's one huge thing I want to share here involving Amy. You don't have to talk to either of us long to realize we're both marriage skeptics: been there, did that, have the scars to show for it. We have, however, been together for nearly five years, a non-marriage record for both of us. We are deeply committed to each other, enough so that we are beginning to do retirement planning. I've never felt this deep a partnership with anyone, a love-bond so strong that I am always aware of it, no matter how far apart me may be physically.

Love like this demands public acknowledgement. So we're going to have a ceremony. We're calling it a Not Marriage. There will be rings, but nothing to sign. There will be a gathering, but not in a church or chapel. There will be vows. There will be witnesses, and some of them will likely be strangers. There may be singing. There will be a party.

The where of this is important: our lives together have to a great extent been defined by our adventures outdoors. One of the first places we hiked was Dog Mountain, a minor peak in the Columbia River Gorge, on the Washington side. It's a tough hike: there's a ridiculously steep trail up the south, river side of the mountain; and a gentler, but also longer, trail up the north side. Our plan is to climb the mountain together, with any friends and family able to join us, and have a ceremony at the summit. Those who cannot will be welcome at the party afterward, which will be much closer to sea level.

The when of it is harder to pin down at this time. Due to the unpredictability of June weather, and my likely trip to Ghana, the not-wedding will probably be no earlier than July. We'll shop around some dates to see what works best for the people we most want to join us. If you're reading this, you're invited.

To conclude for today: 2013 has been a good year for me. 2014 is looking to be even better, though I think it is more of a continuous extension of what has taken plus up to now. In the words of one of my favorite folk songs: I know where I'm going, and I know who's going with me. I know who I love, and my dear knows who I'll (not) marry.

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