The social panopticon

I bought a frozen turkey from our local co-op, and have been thawing it in the fridge since Sunday. Yesterday, Dave wanted to dry-brine it, so he took it out of the fridge and began trying to peel away all the plastic framing that is, for some reason, embedded inside every turkey (even organic ones, apparently), having no small amount of trouble, since it was all still semi-frozen together. Pieces of raw turkey skin fell on the floor, and Paul, who has never been a vacuum-type dog, began eating them. (He’s fine.) What was begun could not be stopped. I think salting that bird took about an hour.

Like everything, you could make this into a metaphor about 2020: it was unexpectedly difficult! And fraught with bacteria! The small accomplishment came only following an extended hardship! But really, it was just a turkey. Perhaps if we’d started defrosting it on Saturday, none of this would have happened, and Paul would never have gained a taste for raw meat.

A couple of days ago, I spent a kind of shocking amount of money at the local indie bookstore, which I encourage everyone to do, if they are buying books for friends and family during the holiday season. Businesses of every kind have, of course, struggled this year, but books are my area of expertise, and our local store is one of my favorite places. If you need to shop online or have books shipped, consider checking out, which is an online indie bookselling collective.

I see that I’m just collecting random, only halfway emotional holiday thoughts, which is where I am as a human being. I am sad to not see or gather with anyone in our wider family this year, which makes the rest of it feel a bit perfunctory. We’ll still have a big Thanksgiving meal, because we treat cooking like a competitive sport qua indicator of human value, but we aren’t going to drive up, as we have in years past, to Dave’s mom’s house, or fly to Seattle, or have anyone out for a visit. One year, I upgraded us to first class on our Seattle flight, and we were given fancy grilled cheese to go with our copious leg and arm space. A long time ago, flying home for Christmas, an airline crew gave out free chocolate chip cookies and local microbrews.

We will not have these little choices and delicacies this time around, nor snow in Utah, nor the opportunity for my niece & nephew to (for reasons unknown to man or beast) try to pull down my pants as soon as we walk through the door into my sister’s holiday party. But of course this will leave space for other things, which we do not know how to anticipate. A first Christmas on our own. That’s not so bad. We will treat ourselves.

I am sad, but I think less sad than many people, about all this, because Dave and I have been trading off holidays between our families for a decade or so. I’m accustomed things being up in the air, not as I remember them from childhood. It doesn’t seem an outlandish or world-ending sacrifice given the general state of things.

Anyway. I am reading Marilynne Robinson’s newest novel, Jack, a continuation of her Gilead, Iowa books (which I wrote about years ago, here.) It is oddly restful to spend so much time in the mind of such a restive soul as Jack Boughton, the title character, whose complicated spiritual (and moral, and physical) state has had such presence in all the previous books. It is restful, I think, because of how imperfect we all feel ourselves to be. Not just our circumstances, but our entireties. To sit with someone else’s painful imperfection—to see its lack of clear origin, its persistence in the face of opportunity, its poignant bursts of self-awareness and poetry within the pain—extends a kind of grace to the reader, by way of the reader’s grace to Jack.

Not that it’s any surprise that Marilynne Robinson is a treasure.

Tonight I will make pie crust. Tomorrow I will bake it full of apples and spices. Tomorrow the air all around the country will be full of the scent of abundance, or at any rate, that is what we aspire to. And we will truly have reason to be thankful, either when abundance is everywhere, or when we can see clearly where it’s lacking.