This nonfiction piece of John’s felt heartfelt and open to us in a way that perfectly captured the goal of our last theme, Return of the Roar. We’re about to embark on a new month, and despite the unsteadiness everyone is surely feeling right now, it is a beginning all the same. The hopeful yet hard honesty in John’s piece feels fitting. Enjoy.
New Year’s Day 2020
Almost every New Year’s Day, I try to get up early to write because the brand newness of the year conjures up fresh thoughts that I want to capture before they waft away with the usual distractions.
Today was not one of those New Year’s Days.
The three grandkids who live with their parents were over last night and joined with their two little cousins to turn the house on its ear, and I would have felt guilty if I had left the mess to Nancy to clean up all by herself. Usually, I go over there in the early afternoon to take down the Christmas decorations, get the tree out of the house, and return everything back to normal.
Today, instead of writing, I went directly over there and immediately started taking down the red and green streamers along the ceiling, and then I worked my way down until it was time to vacuum the carpets and sweep the floors. The house looks eerily cold and barren without all the jovial, warm, gleaming colored lights and festive decorations. Like most everything else in my life, I didn’t realize how much I would miss them until they were gone.
We had had one of our best holiday seasons in years, and I was thankful for that, but the stark reality of our impending future set in fast and hard and left me with an overwhelming sadness that has been hard to shake. Even with a bright shiny Southern California day allowing the temperature to set in by midmorning at a balmy 65 degrees, I just couldn’t pull myself out of this funk.
We had gone over to Phoenix for Thanksgiving to spend three days with friends, and that had been an uplifting experience. The two grandkids that live with us insisted on swimming in the outdoor heated pool at the downtown high-rise hotel even though the ambient temperature barely exceeded 40 degrees. We don’t have a swimming pool here on our property, so every time they have access to one, they are determined to take advantage of it no matter what.
Sitting to watch them in a deck chair poolside after sundown, I felt like I was freezing my ass off, but they were undeterred and ignored my pleas for them to come in. That we were even able to take this much needed mini-vacation was somewhat of a miracle considering that my marijuana grow operation was raided and completely chopped in early October one week ahead of harvesting what was promising to be a lucrative crop. We were gutted, but were fortunate that that was as bad as it got because no charges were filed. Money was really tight, but we had to come to Phoenix in what amounted to what could very well be a “now or never” scenario. My best friend had stage four bladder cancer, and my health has been somewhat touch and go as of late. Better to do whatever was in my wherewithal to see each other now, or perhaps we never would.
The hotel was short on parking and didn’t advise me of that fact until we had arrived and checked in. I wasn’t going to pay the $35 a day valet fee, which necessitated parking in a church lot nearly a mile away. I would drop Nancy and the kids off, pick them up at the hotel, and then go do what needed to be done.
Walking the streets of Phoenix, my old stomping grounds, caused the memories of my halcyon days to flood my stream of consciousness. In truth, I didn’t really want to ever leave Arizona or my entrenched friendships, but did it to appease my now deceased ex-wife who divorced me four tumultuous years after our departure. Then the years just peeled away like a cheap paint job, leaving me exposed and barren and not likely to be restored again.
On our way back home to California, we stopped to pick up our modest Christmas tree and at home the next day, we decorated it and put up all of our lights. In deference to the fact that I’m not really sure how many Christmases the kids will continue to have with me, we decided to just leave the lights on night and day. We weren’t going to shut them off. We rationalized our decadence by feeling that it would help to build the excitement in all the grandkids, and I like to think it really did. Anyway, those light are off today, and I’m feeling sentimental, fearful, and downhearted.
We were blessed with a very pleasant Christmas Eve. I had splurged — prime rib for dinner — and all the guests were gracious and accommodating. The grandkids didn’t complain about their meager gifts, but perhaps Nancy and their parents had forewarned them that things would be different this year. They sure were different in that everyone got along and seemed to be considerate of everyone else. From my perspective, that was the best and rarest gift of all. So when I couple that fact with the success of last night, it’s difficult not to be imbued with a sense of hope. But, unfortunately, I’m not.
Earlier in the week, I had finished the afterword to A Landscape Architect’s Environmental Poems and had mentioned among my earlier books that Environmental Cognizance: Towards the Year 2020 (2005) left me crestfallen, because at the time of publication, I felt that 15 years was more than enough time for America to right her listing environmental ship. But in reality, nothing much of anything that I advised has been accomplished, and with our current leadership in the White House, we are regressing rather than progressing.
As I sit here, hammering this piece out on the first day of the new millennium’s third decade, things are, in actuality, worse than they were when I originally published the book. With California, the Amazon, and Southeastern Australia now constantly burning due to climate change, I find it hard to be upbeat, and all the energy and enthusiasm that I had then is gone now. I just don’t seem capable of dredging it up from the depths that I’ve allowed it to sink to. And then again, I’m entering the seventh decade of my life, and it occurs to me that almost all men in the same situation — those, at least, reflective enough to consider their past aspirations — probably feel that they have lived through the most important period of human history and lament that they didn’t impact it more positively (if they impacted it at all).
Self-deflating feelings of insignificance and unbearable bouts with anticipatory anxiety rob me of my everyday happiness, and there is precious, little contentment to speak of. Most of all, I’m tired of constantly being afraid, of not having the confidence that all will be all right. Reflecting on my growing of marijuana, it’s now readily apparent that I was afraid because I was doing it and I’m now more afraid because I can’t continue to do it. Life is backing me into a corner, and cornered people can react in unpredictable and destructive ways. That it’s my personal reality that things could rapidly progress from bad to worse leaves me jaded, edgy, and the bitter old man that I don’t want the grandkids to see. Friends have been telling me recently that I come across as very angry, which makes me angry that they feel the need to tell me.
Considering all the people that I said “Happy New Year” to last night, how come I’m not happy? I do want them to be happy, and I want to be happy, also. I’ve come to realize that this is life’s greatest quest. To be comfortable in our own skins, and to actually like who we really are would be the greatest blessing of all as well as the first step toward being contented with what we do have as opposed to what we always want, which seems always just out of grasp or completely beyond our reach.
This evening, I watched a rerun of The Country Music Association’s 53rd Awards Show just to become informed on who’s hot. Things have changed very little over the past decade in that human love and anguish are front and center in our collective national consciousness… and the unwavering belief that cold beer provides the most reliable source of psychological comfort of all. With topics such as these sucking up all the air, is it any wonder that the challenge of basic human survival with any semblance of dignity, or the state of the world’s imminent environmental collapse, get pushed aside? Is it any wonder that I’m constantly afraid as I see my ability to cope becoming more compromised at the exact same time that my energy and health are failing me? Well… enough of all that, because even if I don’t occasionally like myself, I do like what I’m still capable of doing, if only I would get to doing it.
For 2020, I am determined to defeat fear by ignoring it. We are not bad people, and we do not deserve to have bad things happen to us, but when they do, we will somehow deal with them. That we are hanging on by our fingernails only makes me glad that we still have our fingernails. I am determined to live well and allow the grandkids to see me setting a positive example by caring for their wellbeing and the wellbeing of Planet Earth. In other words, I will love those people and those things that benefit because of my love, and above all else, I will like myself for making that effort.
John C. Krieg is a retired landscape architect and land planner who formerly practiced in Arizona, California, and Nevada. He has written a college textbook entitled Desert Landscape Architecture (1999, CRC Press.) John has had pieces published in A Gathering of the Tribes, Alternating Current, Blue Mountain Review, Clark Street Review, Conceit, Homestead Review, Oddball Magazine, Palm Springs Life, Pegasus, Saint Ann’s Review, The Courtship of Winds, The Mindful Word, The Writing Disorder, and Wilderness House Literary Review.