the diary thing 
EVERYBODY I KNOW -- WITH ONE NOTABLE EXCEPTION -- dreads Christmas. It's the season that drains our bank accounts, or forces us to make unpopular stands to prevent these bank accounts from being drained; the season where family confrontations we'd been avoiding, perhaps all year, become inevitable; the season when those who are alone, for the first time or not, are reminded of their socially awkward status wherever they turn; an inevitably elegaic season that tries to hide its morose, backward-looking nature with a gaudy display of generous bonhomie.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I used to love Christmas, not only as a child but into my late teens and early adult years. Maybe it was the two years in Toytown at Simpson's, or the year at The Last Wound-Up. Or maybe the successive holiday selling seasons in the classical music department at A & A Records. I'm certain my mother dying just after New Year's some fifteen years ago had something to do with it, along with all those years bitter and single, but I can say that by the time I'd left my twenties, my love of Christmas had diminished almost to nothing. 

In any case, even my dislike of Christmas has started to feel tired and rote, and I'd move on, if I could find a good enough reason. I had a chat with a friend (and editor) over the holidays who said that, since becoming a father, his Xmas grump started to seem like the sourest kind of indulgence, and he's had to break himself of the habit. Perhaps that'll be the medicine for me. In any case, I have to report that this Christmas came and went just quickly enough to minimize the pain. Perhaps only just.

(The notable exception, I should say now, is K. She loves Christmas, sings carols to herself, longs for the tree and presents and all the holiday rituals down to the tired t.v. specials and screenings of White Christmas and Alastair Sims' Scrooge. I'm hoping that, when kids arrive, she'll know how to drag me into the spirit necessary to keep their enjoyment of the season preserved, at least until they wander into the sandstorm of anti-nostalgia that scours you clean of most, or all, childish joy.)

THE DAY WENT OFF WITHOUT A HITCH, if you don't count the screaming fight at the dinner table between the soup and the turkey. The details, suffice to say, are best left vague, as we're still pondering just what happened, but I had the revelation that, shockingly, I may be the sanest person in my family. That should give anyone pause who knows me well.

The meal was nice, though -- K. made a kick-ass turkey and stuffing from an absurdly over-complex Martha Stewart recipe, and I think celeriac is a pretty tasty addition to make to mashed potatoes, though the candied carrots have to go, next year.

I got my present from K. early this year, after coming home from the antique district a few blocks away hinting not-so-subtly about it. It's a recliner and ottoman, a sort of cross between the classic Eames recliner and something in which Blofeld would be first seen, stroking his white Persian, in one of the Roger Moore Bond films. It's made of bent rosewood plywood and upholstered in black leather, and it's been dubbed by those who've seen it as "The Man Chair". It's also thrown off the rest of the room awfully, dragging it towards the late sixties and away from its fifties genesis, and so K. has come over all restless about re-decorating. Stay tuned.

"I have often thought, says Sir Roger, it happens very well that Christmas should fall out in the middle of winter."
- Joseph Addison

The holiday re-cap, and a load of introspective rumination. 'Tis the season.

WENT TO A WAKE, just before Christmas. How's that for cheerful?

Well, it wasn't, obviously. My friend Bob, an old high school pal along with his brother Mike, lost their father barely a week before Christmas. They seemed to be holding up fine, though the strain was obvious, especially on Bob, who doesn't have the distraction of a family of his own. I don't know what to say to anyone when they lose a family member, mainly because I've lost so many of my family, and know that nothing you can say really helps. 

And so we struggle through the wakes and the viewings and the service -- well, maybe not the service -- with a look of drained nonchalance on our faces, going from one polite conversation to another after the inevitable "I'm so sorry" and your ritual response: "Thank you for coming." You struggle to remember names of old family friends whose memory of your parents might date from a more youthful, vital time than your own, and thus are forced to glimpse little flashes of a long life, resembling in no small way the progress of your own. 

You might have remembered them being around when you were very small, and might have gotten some pretty nice toys from them, but for some reason they came around less and less as you grew up, though the acquaintance might have been kept segregated from the world in which you lived, seemingly prime in importance, with your parents. 

It's a sobering kind of encounter, when you mull it over later. Which of my friends will share stories with my children, edited slightly, of trips and dinners and carefree times before the regimentation of family responsibility makes us appear, at least to our children, as eternally disapproving and anxious? 

I WORKED NON-STOP up until the last moment on a couple of features for the free weekly, and so coasted into the holidays with a remarkable feeling of accomplishment. It's gone now, of course, and I'm looking at a pretty dark couple of months, with no particularly lucrative jobs lined up for awhile. This new year promises to be one where a lot has to get done, now that the wolf seems to have scratched the finish off the door and has gotten to work on the lock. 

The burst of pre-Xmas work cleared out most of the overdue work, but I've promised my editor a piece on the city's Olympic bid sometime in the new year, preferably before the winner of the 2008 games is announced in May. I've also got a travel piece on Spain to finish, and soon, if I stand a chance of getting another place on a junket there again. Travel writing isn't a bad way to make a few bucks, if I can just get my leg up on it, but I've been saying that for years.

In any case, travel junkets mean photos, and the photography side of my business has been suffering more than a bit, lately. I feel bad about it, not the least because a shoot -- a few hours of work, including darkroom time -- pays much better than a feature that can take a month or more to write, and rarely nets me more than a few hundred bucks. Complain, complain.

I STOPPED DOING MUCH PHOTOGRAPHY, if only to preserve the enjoyment I get out of taking pictures. Like too much of what I was doing, it was starting to feel mechanical and uninspired, especially while I was at the other free weekly, shooting endless restaurants and local actors. I needed a break, of sorts, to figure out just what I still liked to shoot and, in any case, the business was getting on my nerves.

It's not that I didn't like photography any more, though I have to admit that I'd long since begun to hate other photographers. It's not a profession filled with dazzling intellects or searching minds, I'm afraid, especially in a provincial centre like Toronto. Too often, my acquaintances with other photographers, tinged with an air of competition at the best of times, degenerated into endless talk about gear, about the business, about trends and getting ahead of them before all the art directors in the city were tired of seeing ring-flash portraits or cross-processing or whatever. 

When we moved out of the old loft I lost my studio, which has forced an inevitable bit of re-evaluation of my work. I used to think that a studio space was essential to my work, and I still find pushing aside the living-room furniture to make room for my lights and backdrop a bit of an unhappy compromise. In any case, most of my work is on location, anyways, and if somebody wants me to do something that requires a complex studio set-up, I'd like to think they can afford to pay for the expense of a day's studio rental time.

To be honest, the work I've been enjoying most of all has no people in it, from the still-lifes in the garden, to the architectural work I've done for travel and news features, to these desolate little landscapes I've been shooting with a $25 plastic camera. Perhaps I'm finally turning into that thing I've always dreaded -- a fine-art photographer. 

WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE TURN OF THE CALENDAR YEAR that prompts such flurries of navel-gazing?

writing ©2000
Rick McGinnis
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