On crying at the ballet

I want to write everyday because how else will I notice – and remember – how certain moments felt? Those glimpses of clarity, those realizations? I can tell you how it felt to watch The Nutcracker ballet, the dimming audience lights giving way to a cozy, illuminated house with gently falling snow. The sounds of the live orchestra rising up from the belly of the stage, the opening notes of Petite ouverture from Tchaikovsky’s suite. The darkness enclosing me as I settled into a dream, into magic.

I watched Fritz and Clara play, Fritz taunting and teasing Clara, the two of them chasing each other, having a true sibling moment at Christmas, only to realize I won’t have those moments again.

When we were young, A. and I would wake early and tiptoe downstairs to survey the bounty beneath the tree. We’d cozy up with the dog next to the woodstove and wait for what seemed like hours for our parents to wake. Then, they’d orchestrate the unwrapping – a present for A., a present for me, this one firstoh wait there’s more.

So it makes sense that our own tradition was born out of our impatience, a shared solution that would allow us to embrace that excitement: we could open the gifts we had gotten for each other. I remember how we would draw it out, carefully plucking the taped ends loose, running our fingers along the paper’s edges, gently tearing the paper along its seams. But when I try to remember specifics – what were the gifts? do I remember any of them? – I can’t.

What I do remember is the quiet, private moments of morning when it was just us, and we would open something together, and be so happy imagining what was ahead, those gifts wrapped so immaculately, waiting to be opened beneath our parents’ watchful eyes. Those moments with A. were the magic, mattering more than the gifts themselves, for that’s what I was crying about at the ballet.

This weekend, I have luxuriated in doing much of nothing, feeling some of the stress of the last few weeks drop off, while still trying to come up with the updated lists of what I’d like to get done this week. I’ve prioritized sleep, reading and exercise — all of which make me feel centered and good — and I hope you’re doing things to take care of you, too.

Every year around this time, I embrace choosing joy — but I’ve learned that looks different every year. Some things I’ve loved this season:

  • Trimming the tree with my family, going through all of the ornaments we’ve collected over the last 7 years together. We found my stepdaughter’s ornament she made as a toddler; the ornaments I get for her and my husband each Christmas, depending on what they’re into that year (there’s a Batman, and a whole suite of Frozen characters); numerous dachshund ornaments sent to me from good friends; ornaments my parents have gifted us or passed down, like the bright green glass pickle; and of course, my many glass food ornaments that I’ve started collecting the last couple years. We play Christmas records (yes, records), have a hot cocoa bar, burn candles, wrangle the dogs.

  • Trying a new recipe: pistachio chocolate shortbread (via NYT Cooking). They were a hit at our work holiday party (and at home, where I made a pile of “ugly” cookies and told my husband he was allowed to eat those).
  • Going on a girl date with my stepdaughter: going out to a nice dinner, then going to see The Nutcracker. Since this is the second year we’ve done it, I can officially call it an annual tradition.
  • Reconnecting with my journal / writing practice after a long hiatus. There’s something about darker, longer nights and shorter days that amplifies my urge to turn inward, to cut out the noise and put a boundary up against the things that aren’t feeling good in my life. My winter ritual has been all about lighting a bunch of candles, grabbing a cup of tea, and writing pages by hand. I like to revisit them later, to type out sections and potentially develop it into something more (an essay, a short story, etc.)
  • Planning a Christmas Eve meal for my husband & parents. The holidays give me a chance to do some more involved cooking projects. And I love to feed people (I’m Italian; it’s just what we do) — it’s a way I’ve always showed love and care for my friends and family. Right now, I’ve been poring over my cookbooks and looking up recipes online, trying to decide what I want to make (maybe it’ll be my first try at a true bolognese?).

That being said — most of the things bringing me joy are ways I connect to others in a meaningful way, or back to myself. I know this season can be complicated for many, and downright tough for others. My wish for you is that you find something that nurtures you, soothes you, allows you to find a flicker of light or peace in the darkness, whatever that might be.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to my Substack, “Chasing Ghosts” — that’s where most of my writing will be moving forward.

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