There are really two ways to handle holidays–any holidays–of larger social significance. I’m not talking about National Pancake Day, although that holiday is awesome and should totally get more play. I’m talking the kinds of holidays that get folks the day off: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, etc. St. Patrick’s day is a lot bigger in Ireland than it is here in the States, so I also want to point out that I’m not talking about American culture here, either; I’m trying to talk a little bit about the way we look at ourselves over time, and indeed, it boils down either to losing one’s self in the moment of the holiday or to thinking about where we were last year at this time and where we’ll be when we do this whole thing again.
Quite often, when we get together for the holidays, it can be hectic and loud. Those are the kinds of Christmases I remember from growing up. Christmas Eve with friends, Christmas morning with my parents and my sister, Christmas breakfast with Dad’s side of the family, and then Christmas dinner with Mom’s side. It was an all-day thing, and I was always utterly exhausted by the end of it (and I refuse to admit that it was because I was up at 4:30 AM, vibrating with anticipation and Christmas joy), so I didn’t really think about the way Christmas had played out the year before, nor did I think about what might be coming by next December.
It was loud and busy and tiring, but it was also comforting and warm. I don’t know if I just hadn’t gotten to the point where I could think beyond the now yet or if it was really just the fact that things were good and I could focus on them. To be fair, many of those years didn’t really have much in the way of years to look back on, either, for I was young once, too.
…but now I always seem to spend more of Christmas thinking about where I am, how I got here, and where I’m going. It’s very much that same sentiment in John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)”: “Another year over, / a new one’s begun.”
I never thought I’d be where I am, and to be utterly fair, I worked pretty hard to avoid some of this while working pretty hard to rush along other parts. I’m divorced, I live alone, and though I have friends with whom to spend some time during the holidays, I also am conscious of the fact that I’ll come, spend that time, and then leave again.
I’m also not where I want to be with regards to the dissertation or the program. If all things were as they should be, I wouldn’t still be a graduate student; I’ve kind of taken the long way ’round there. I also don’t really have much in the way of employment prospects when I do graduate because I don’t want to divide my attention between finishing the degree and looking for work. (Oh, and I’m going to be poor forever, but this is supposed to be about things I didn’t know about where I was going to be).
It takes some effort to turn my attention to other things, then, and appreciate that sometimes things do go right, even if you don’t know they will. I’m still in the program, working on the diss, true, but I have funding thanks to the Bilinski Foundation, so I can focus on writing and work. Indeed, though there isn’t a lot of writing to look at from the past year, I do have a lot of work that I’ve accomplished. I’m pretty proud of that.
There’s no way in a million years that I would have anticipated that the folks at Exeter Cathedral would have agreed to let me use the actual Exeter Book, either. I also wouldn’t have thought much of the possibilities that I’d be working on a project to 3D scan objects and use them to make points about the material culture of the Book. I wouldn’t have thought that I would receive the kind of support that I have from the English department, UNM’s GPSA, or even my friends and family (to clarify: I knew they were crazy, but I didn’t know they were this crazy).
So who knows? By this time next year, I’ll be done with grad school. That much is clear: either I graduate or they kick me out. What I hope is that I’ll be Dr. Larsen by that point and I’ll be working on some weird DH project at a university somewhere in the wider world. Maybe I’ll be living in a trailer and traveling throughout the country, looking for work as a freelance Old English specialist (probably not). Maybe I’ll take a weird government job and consider myself lucky. There’s just no way to tell.
So Merry Christmas, weak and strong, rich and poor, old and young. I’ll check in again next year and we’ll see how things have gone.