Titles by Kij Johnson are available for purchase online

(The dead finch, or sparrow? in the photograph was a strange discovery a few weeks back. I was walking across a field on West Campus, and I found it laid out on the grass with no apparent injuries, but quite stiff. I didn’t like the thought of lawnmowers or soccer-players disturbing its rest, so I carried it to a bush and settled it in the bark there, and took this picture.)

It’s been a weird week. For one thing, things felt off-center:

  • Coffeemaker broke, and couldn’t be replaced any time soon, so after a couple of days of using my Oxo as a very clumsy pour-over, I have returned to Chemex.
  • I accidentally ordered two Chemexes. Which is good, I guess? I have a spare now?
  • Three other things I ordered online arrived broken. Getting a refund or returning patio furniture is much harder than getting a replacement game sent.
  • I voted and then, weirdly, panicked: what if it doesn’t work?
  • Late at night, the sounds of animals fighting in the woods behind the house, the sounds of barred owls, the sounds of coyotes.
  • Conversations with Hollywood about some of my fiction, which are very high-excitement and energy — but we’re still three perfect d20s from going anywhere, so also very randomizing.
  • Made plans for a pre-holiday visit to my mom, including renting a car, plans which changed within 24 hours.
  • I suspect a friend of mine is about to do something stupid, which will probably crater our friendship — but maybe they won’t?
  • The weather is exhausting. High on Wednesday was 50, high on Thursday was 85, high on Friday was 40 something, with frost warnings. The animals are really struggling with this, I think.
  • On Wednesday morning, the trees were filled with songbirds I couldn’t see, a huge flock resting for a few hours before heading south again. Okay, that was magical — but I never saw a single one of them, unless they were robins? Do robins flock?
  • No writing got done, but then, neither did any of my usual stalling activities, like organizing or cleaning or going for long walks or naps. Where’d that time go? I guess some of it went into making Chemex coffee, which takes longer than pushing the button on a coffeemaker.

There was a lot more than this, but I’ll stop.

Thinking about being in Rice Lake before Yule made me suddenly realize that I will be alone for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and my birthday. It’s not the first time for any of these, but I think it is the first time for all of them in the same year. Is this a problem? Actually, this year, I am suspecting it may be. This is a year I should mark somehow: the scooter accident, the retinal tear, the pandemic, the isolation. I’ve survived it, so far, and even thrived.

In previous years I would comfort or bribe or entertain myself with something special I could do alone (I will never forget the $140 scrap of organic lamb from the Pike Place butcher — which I ate all myself in a single meal, standing over the stove; this was $140 a serving lamb. It was so good) or I was off doing something pretty wonderful right before or after (last year for instance, Iceland with Elizabeth, flying back to Minnesota on 12/24). This year, not so much.

For one thing, I have spoiled myself whenever I needed to this year. Things I don’t need to buy for Christmas or my birthday, on account of having bought them already: patio furniture, a serpentine tangram set, antique books about Iceland and early twentieth-century motoring trips, Fantagraphics and Taschen comics books, in fact any books at all, shoes, a handmade tea set, linen sheets, small-batch bourbon, Icelandic afghans (plural) and scarves (ditto), expensive bath oils, gloves and socks, cute coffee mugs, and something like 75 DVDs and Blurays. I mean, I guess I could invest in an ergonomic stool for my standing desk? A treadmill? A coffeemaker? Oh wait, those are all out of stock, never mind. Otherwise I would already own them.

The 2020 equivalent of $140 lamb might be fun — but for food, too, I have been having whatever I want, whenever I can. My mock-justification is that I am storing happy memories for when I’m living in the post-Apocalyptic future on thin porridge and radioactive squirrel — but mostly it’s just because, why not? I love brussels-sprout bakes and chorizo-and-potato street tacos, and they’re not crazy expensive, so why not eat them regularly? But what does that leave for holidays? Only foods that I don’t like well enough to make them for myself regularly. Actually, food prepared by anyone but me feels like a festive luxury, so perhaps that’s the trick: croissants from 1900 Barker and pizza from oh god, anyone, I do miss pizza but for some reason never order it. Maybe that’s what I will do: no pizzas until the holidays, but then a pizza per holiday. That actually sounds great. Also, the croissants with marmalade, mmm yeah.

I did think about finding a cabin somewhere and spending a week over my birthday, and perhaps I’ll do this? I would need to rent a car again, and I would be alone, which means I’d be spending over a thousand dollars for the chance to do the exact things I do now, except I can go for walks somewhere new and sleep in a different bed. Which is worth it if the walks are in Reykjavík or Disneyland. Not 100% sure about LaCrosse WI.

But there’s also a lot of time to fill on a holiday. I do video chats with friends these days, and I am sure there will be some of those — and I bet I write something here, because I always did, back in my Livejournal days — and I have some favorite movies to watch, movies that became traditions. Then what?

In utterly unrelated news, my patio birds have changed. I used to have a lot of jays, but the hawk that would come through here would catch them, and it didn’t take long for the jays to decide, eff that, and stop showing up. I put up a tangle of branches that interrupt the hawk’s approach path, and I haven’t see her back here for a while — nor a pile of feathers, so I think this may be working. Still no jays, though. But about ten times a day, there’s a five-minute flurry of mixed tiny birds: titmice, finches, wrens, chickadees, and the smallest woodpeckers, one or two of each, and all coming so close in time that they seem to be a group. Everyone is five inches long, everyone moves like they’re being operated by rubber bands; everyone is charming.

And so many cardinals: evidently the family that grew up in the tree outside my kitchen is sticking around.

2 thoughts on “Is it a holiday if it looks like every other day?

  1. I hope all the holidays distinguish themselves, and I hope that whatever you do, it is a little bit special.

    1. Thanks! It’s not my first time through unexpected isolation during the holidays; I am pretty sure I’ll come up with plenty to go on.

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