Long-time readers know that every December 31, I put up a post titled “Looking Back/Looking Forward.” It was compilation of predictions for the new year and reckoning with the ones I made the year before. Well, I’m not going to be doing that this year, at least not the comprehensive listings. The reason is simple. It’s like my classroom teaching: I enjoyed doing it, but I’m not very good at it. So what will follow is a rumination on the fact that the number on the calendar is changing and I’ll note that passing with some thoughts on the twelve months gone by.
The picture was taken fifty years ago today on Northport Point, which is on the tip of the Leelanau peninsula in northern lower Michigan. It’s the place where my family spent nearly sixty summers and where my parents lived year-round for fifteen years. We were up there for Christmas and New Years in my grandmother’s well-insulated cottage. I had been visiting some other friends out on the point and was walking home. It was very cold — remember, in 1972 I was in my second year of college at the University of Miami and acclimated to subtropical weather — and as I walked back home, I stopped in front of the Harper’s place, saw a snow squall heading across the little bay, pulled out my Yashica TL-E loaded with Kodak Tri-X Pan, and snapped the shutter. I trotted the rest of the way back to warmth. It was another week before I got the film developed and saw what I consider to be my best photograph.
That sums up how I feel about this year that will soon be in the books. It was a contrast of light and shadow, gray and black, thin ice forming, lowering clouds and snow, but clear afternoon daylight as well. (How’s that for chasing metaphors out onto the porch with a stick?) I had some amazing highs, such as the production of “The Sugar Ridge Rag” at Lab Theater Project in Tampa, a great time at the William Inge Theatre Festival in Kansas — my twenty-ninth visit there and meeting up with new and old playwright friends — and another amazing week at the Valdez Theatre Conference in Alaska with the reading of “Tucumcari Tonite!” on stage, “Stop Laughing Without Me” in the fringe portion, and “Quite the Connoisseur” performed in the monologue workshop, and making new friends and learning from them. “Tucumcari Tonite!” was chosen as the best short comedy at the Legacy Play Reading Festival in Stony Creek, Connecticut, and four plays — “Can’t Live Without You,” “All Together Now,” “The Sugar Ridge Rag,” and “A House by the Side of the Road” were published by Next Stage Press. I am enjoying my part-time job supporting the students as the grants administrator for two charter schools in Miami, and in September I turned seventy and continued down the road of socialism by collecting Social Security.
That was the light. But with it must come the gray and the black, and that includes visiting my mom as she began to fade and then quietly slip away at the end of October. Were it not for the cancellation of a theatre conference at the end of September, I would not have been able to sit with her as we remembered the past and gently help her into bed and know that it was probably the last time she’d hold my hand. My brothers and sister gathered a month later to celebrate her life as she wanted: with barbecue and good Scotch, and we’ll do it again next July when we put her ashes in the chapel wall next to Dad on Northport Point. As I said at the time, the gift she and Dad gave me was the appreciation of the small and quiet things in life and the ability to share them in my own way.
A lot of other people will be writing about this year in terms of politics, social upheaval, inevitable changes and passings. But when you get right down to it, it’s all about how much it affects each one of us in our own way. I didn’t get to be seventy years old without knowing that the previous decades shaped my life in profound ways that only come with those years, and that means taking the loss of friends, a partner for life, and family and somehow balancing it out with the good things that we cherish, and write about them all. I thank whatever karma or higher power or whatever it was that got me through the light and shadow to be able to stand on a lake shore in the last day of a year and snap a photo that captures it all.
Happy New Year, Friends. What’s next?