Friday, December 25, 2015

December 2015: Christmas Letter

In November, when it actually snowed.
     It is early Christmas morning. I am indeed the only person up and about. It is 7 am, not so early. Day has broken and it is a snowless Christmas Day in what has been a very warm December. It was over 60 degrees on the 23rd. There is no hint of snow today none on the horizon.
     We have come to associate Christmas with snow in the parts of the world where I have lived. Maybe we have had it marketed into our psyches through countless ads and holiday films. Maybe it is longevity of pagan and druid festivities on which Christmas has been overlaid that makes us want to mark the Winter Solstice with light and greenery in our homes. I often hear when friends or family move to or spend Christmas in a warmer clime, like California, say “it just doesn’t feel like Christmas.” It is odd because I do not believe that there was snow, yule logs, holly boughs, and evergreens at the first Christmas in Bethlehem. There certainly were no Gaghant Babas, Sinterklaases, or Santas around. The only gifts exchanged were from the three wise men who arrived twelve days later bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 
     It is a pleasure, freshly brewed coffee at hand, to sit and pen this Christmas Letter to family and friends. 
     Two Grandsons: My friend Ara always makes fun of my Christmas letters and just about every other letter I pen. He chastises me for my “It was a dark and stormy night” opening line. Pardon the Charles Schultz and Peanuts reference, my opening tended to revolve, like in this letter, about being up before everyone else. It is usually still dark and quiet and basically a “not a creature was stirring” Clement Clarke Moore kind of morning. 
      The only sound I really hear is my friend of recent years, tinnitus, which this morning is at a higher volume than most. Whereas, I have enjoyed the solitude of this hour in previous years when my grown children were sleeping upstairs, I am listening over my tinnitus, for waking of my grandson, Vaughn Alexan, who is visiting for the first time from California. He is spending his first Christmas with us! 
      I would interrupt writing this letter the moment I hear him stir. Even though his mother, Armene, will attend to him, I want to savor every moment with him while he is here. Others my age and older had told us, when grandchildren were simply a concept to us, “wait until you have grandchildren, it is the most amazing experience.” I never told these folks, but it was not much of a revelation. It is a concept we understood very well and were totally ready to embrace. Plus, we knew this because we knew how special our relationship was with our grandparents and were totally ready to provide the same to grandchildren of our own. 
      Almost on cue, our older grandson, by just six months mind you, facetimed me. Aris Gabriel is in NY for Christmas with his parents and grandparents. It is his second Christmas. He doesn’t quite understand the concept of Christmas but has very well linked the concept of wrapped boxes that hide new things to play with. It was a great pleasure to see him and his parents just know. 
     We are blessed to have two healthy and charming young grandsons. Yes, charming. They both know, in their own ways, how to work a room as they say. But, of course, they are not working. They are being their own engaging and loving selves, happy to see people they know and even don’t know. They are inquisitive, engaging, and smiling. Better than working a room, for which their grandmothers or parents may cast a raised eyebrow in my direction, they simply light up a room more than any festive lights or Christmas tree. It is a joy. They are a joy. 
     e-letter Interruptus: Some of you have asked me about not getting my e-letter. Did I stop writing? Was there something wrong on their end? My mother, my cousin John Sharoian, and a few others were the most vocal in this regard. 
      Yes and no and yes… it is all me. 
      Since November of 2014, I have only written and distributed the February Anniversary letter. I have partially written several other letters which I do plan on finishing and distributing. 
      What happened? 
      The first speed bump happened last December. I attempted both in December of last year and January of this year to write about the racial unrest in this country. The protests in Ferguson, MO were full fledged and there seemed to be no end to the police killing unarmed black men. I tried to make sense of it. I wanted to write my own style of a middle of the road piece about something in which everyone around me seemed polarized to the extreme. I also wanted to relate this to the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. I had big and bold plans. I tried to wrangle big and bold ideas and relate them in big and bold ways. Basically, I found myself in quicksand that I have yet to fully escape. Maybe Ara is right, I should not be concerned with providing insight to a polarized world but rather return to my forte which is the Seinfeldesque blogging about nothing, contemplating navel lint and such. 
      While I did not really get my e-letters done, I did post twenty-eight times on my This Side of Fifty blog. I started a series there, reflecting on subjects related to the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. I am titling the posts in this series: Chidem Inch (Armenian slang for “what do I know”). 
      Secondly, it was my new job. I was in my first year as a full time college professor. I was teaching four of courses which is one more than a full load. All the courses were new. This meant I had a lot of preparation work. Also, wanting the students to have a full return on their tuition dollar, I assigned a lot of work which required a lot of grading. On top of this, there were administrative requirements I never experienced as an adjunct. I had to attend meetings (gee how I didn’t really miss these from my corporate days). I had thirty students I had to advise… after I learned how to advise. I was busy and all of this took precedence over my writing. 
     When I had a corporate job, I was able to do my writing. People always wondered how I did that. While my corporate positions were demanding, I was used to doing them and got efficient at doing them. In those days, I wrote, mostly, in the mornings, and it became a routine. I have not quite established the same as a professor. But, I am working on it. In preparation for the upcoming Fall semester, I am already ahead of the game and feel confident that I can get back into a writing groove.  
     Thirdly, I had a medical issue this summer that resulted in surgery in late July. I had a sinus surgery to basically roto-root out and the sinuses which were 50-75% blocked and correct a deviated septum. These issues made it very difficult to breathe each and every winter and more recently impossible to sleep a full night with some kind of medicine that had the letters PM at the end. 
     The issue became critical in early May. We had had a very wet early Spring that resulted in a most lush and flowery May. There was a report on the radio the radio that said that a high pollen count was like 10 (I may be way off here) and we were experiencing ten times that. While, my nose and sinuses weren’t able to breathe very well, they heard this radio report perfectly and decided to completely and totally comply. They committed themselves to function at the lowest possible level and drive me to seek medical attention. 
      I was definitely sleep deprived for the first seven and a half months of this year. It took all I had to just do my primary work. After the surgery, I have experienced the simple pleasure of breathing through one's nose and sleeping thought the night in a bed. While the condition and surgery were not anything dire, it was nothing I wish upon anyone. Two months before the surgery and two weeks after were simply a pain in the… nose. This all contributed to lack of concentration and motivation to write. 
     Lastly, everything I was writing was on a keyboard. I had moved away from pen and paper and wondered if that was contributing to my lapse in my monthly letters. I missed the personal act of handwriting compared to the impersonal word processing. So, I returned to handwriting. It was more appealing to me during my convalescence. I now carry a notebook again suitable for writing and keeping the writing organized. I always have a fine writing instrument handy as well.
     Christmas 2015: As noted in earlier Christmas Letters, I used to write a Christmas email to work colleagues and direct reports. Every year, the list grew and for some unorganized reason, I relied on memory to select who I would send the email to. I would certainly include the folks in my current department but often would forget others I had worked with. It made sense to turn that impromptu Christmas morning habit into a bona fide e-letter and blog post. It also made sense to post the link to the blog on Facebook. 
     I usually note an old Armenian American tradition where the menfolk for sure and perhaps the whole family would make a Christmas day tour to the homes of close friends and wish them well, eat some food, hoist a glass, and make a toast. I loved the idea of this and wish I could, like Santa Claus, make that tour and see everyone I know and love around the world. It would be a amazing to visit cities around the world in various climes to shake hands, give a hearty embrace (un fuerte abrazo), wish you a Merry Christmas, and toast to the health and happiness to each and everyone of you for the coming year. Which is exactly what I am doing now. 
     In my December 2004 letter, I wrote about a Bible verse that has always resonated with me and been a theme on many religiously themed Christmas cards over the years. Luke 2:14 says:
“Glory to God on the highest and Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.”
     It seemed like we needed to embrace that message very much in 2004. I think we need it all the more this coming year.