1. Groundhog Day, 2 February.
My month started off hysterically. I walked into my twelve-year old’s bedroom to make sure he was up for school and he was hiding under the covers with the iPad waiting to see if Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania had seen his shadow. Let me put it this way: Christopher believes the groundhog over the most seasoned meteorologist. Anyway, we are apparently having six more weeks of winter. I know this has been a cold, rough winter for much of the nation, but this Texas girl is thrilled. That means six more weeks of cute winter clothes that I hardly get to wear anyway. Plus, every time this day rolls around, I think of that movie with Bill Murray called “Groundhog Day,” and it makes me happy all over again.
2. The Olympics, Opening Ceremony and Events, starting 7 February.
I love the Olympics–and even though that fifth ring for the opening ceremony failed to open, I still was wowed by the whole spectacle, and you cannot help but love Team USA.
I can help loving those sweaters, but the team: Love. Them.
I love those ice dancers from Michigan. I love the ice skaters in general–I have no idea about the ruckus concerning the women’s team. I just want them to win. I hate it when they fall on the ice–but we all do it, and they just get back up again, and so should we. The Olympics are good for us–you can still learn how to be a winner, even if you don’t come home with the gold.
Today, 9 February, I went running, and for the first time I ran five miles without the thought of calling 911 crossing my mind. We may not all get a medal, but somehow the Olympics make you want to tap into your inner athlete. You might, as in my case, have to tap pretty hard, but that is okay. Those competitors are so impressive it makes you want to leap up off of your couch, get on your skis, and find a slope. Some of the events are so breathtaking I can’t decide if it is the skill or the fearlessness that I admire most….flipping three times after skiing off of a huge ramp? Triple spins on cold hard ice? They make it look easy, even if it is not.
much younger boyfriend acquaintance, Gavin DeGraw, whom I will be visiting again with some other friends at the House of Blues in May, is singing the official song, because he is just awesome, and he had a new single that fit the bill. Yes, I met him. Once. Briefly. I know: You are jealous. Here he is, and he is singing this song just for you, at least if you are an Olympic athlete.
3. The Houston Zoo, 8 February.
So we have had a few icy days, some freezing days, some sleet and even a little snow in Northwest Houston, which I personally did not see since we are all the way south near NASA. But this is Texas, and so we are super lucky, and our winters never seem able to compete very well with the sun. So Saturday, we had a warmer day, high fifties with few clouds, and it was perfect. Christopher and I saw three napping lions, the tiger that did not seem to have such a fearful symmetry, the mandrill with his Mardi Gras mask of a face. We see the red panda, all the way from China, and relive a fourth grade report on everything about him. We see stunning giraffes, the proud, strutting ostriches, the stripes of zebras.
I’ll be honest: I don’t get up in the morning hoping I will spend my day seeing exotic animals from around the globe, but maybe I should. We had not been in awhile, and it was nice to go when it was not so hot. We see long-horned cattle from India, a tapir, wild pigs with rows of tusks. We see chimpanzees, ring-tailed lemurs, birds so loud you understand why that sailor shot that albatross. I ask Christopher if he knows that poem by Rilke–you know, “The Panther.” He does not, so I make a note to myself to show it to him. It isn’t very long.
And then I think of another poem: “Archaic Torso of Apollo.” Maybe I think of it because he mentions a “wild beast’s fur.” But really, it’s the last line that hits you, when he says “You must change your life.” There are water fountains in the shapes of animals that I remember being there when I was a child. I think of Christopher saying, “We don’t want to go to the children’s zoo.” He is twelve. How did that happen? He is taller than I am–unless I wear the highest heels. I keep buying higher heels. I take him to the zoo–do you ever outgrow the zoo? I am not sure. The last thing we see are the seals. One just swims laps over and over, refuses to come up for air. The other one jumps up on a platform, immediately preens. How I love those soft brown eyes, the whiskers, the furred flippers. Then he slinks into the water, pirouettes, swims away. We can go to the zoo in February–not everyone can say that this winter, and we know it.
We leave the gate to walk through Herman Park to the metro. We leave India, Africa, China, rain forests, deserts, meerkats, egrets, and ducks they brought all the way from Peking. We see these things in Texas, in 56 degrees, with sunshine, in February.
4. Connie May Fowler gets her pointe ballet shoes all sewn up, 9 February.
I met my friend Connie May Fowler in Key West at a Hemingway conference. She was a keynote speaker, reading from her exquisite fiction. She read a story about love, religion, loss. You know, the hard stuff. Today on Facebook she posted a picture of her ballet shoes: she had sewed the ribbons on her first pair of pointe ballet shoes, which you know, if you have ever danced, is a major milestone. I love that she started dancing when she felt like it. She has authored best-selling novels like How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly, The Problem with Murmur Lee, and the Oprah selected Before Women Had Wings, which was also made into a film.
But I also love her memoir, When Katie Wakes, and I wish every college-aged student would read this book, whether he or she is in college or not. It is about how we are taken in by certain people, certain charms, for reasons that are not clear at the time. It is not easy to read, but you are glad you did when you finish it. You learn something about surviving, and how you can take words that you thought you might never be able to speak, and put them on a page, and, like magic, you are suddenly speaking for many who really do not have a voice, cannot put those words together, whether it is because of inability, or fear, or just not being able to channel experience into something shimmering and real. You realize, when you read a memoir like this, that this person was so strong, she became a best-selling author who can also dance on pointe. It makes you think that maybe you, too, can overcome things.
There should be an Olympics for this.
5. Downton Abbey, the whole fabulous month.
I had a panicky moment that tonight was the finale, and thanks to the miracle of my fellow viewers, they assured me that the show will go on for several more episodes….I would sing that Queen song about how the show must go on I am so happy about this, but I shall refrain.
Tonight, 9 February, there were some memorable moments:
Jimmy, flirting, to Ivy: “I’ve only asked what a million men would ask.”
Ivy, without missing a beat: “And I’ve only answered what a million women would answer.”
Mr. Carson to Mrs. Hughes: “You’re quite the plotter when you want to be.”
Lady Violet: “How long does this game go on for?” Mrs. Crawley: “Oh, for ages and ages…”
Lady Violet: “Oh goody-goody!”
That is how I feel about this series. More weeks! Oh goody-goody!
6. Valentine’s Day, 14 February.
This day hasn’t happened yet, but you have already started thinking about it. For better or worse, ready or not, February forces you to think about love, one way or another. You might think you have walked through a spider web of cliches if you went into any retail establishment whatsoever since Christmas, the stickiness of it refusing to come off. I try to look up the history of St. Valentine, but apparently there was more than one. One of them might have gotten into trouble for performing marriage ceremonies for Christians, which was against the law, and he was beheaded for it. What a perfect caveat: Do what you will for love, but don’t lose your head over it. At best, the history is hazy. But I don’t think it can be recovered anyway. It has been overtaken by so many forces: Godiva chocolates, Veuve Clicqot, Kay Jewelers. Oh, and flowers. Of course.
But this is the thing: we need to change this holiday. I am not saying get rid of anything. Romantic love is exciting–no need to kill any joy. But no harm in widening the kinds of love that you can express.
Maybe someone is hurting, or ill, or even dying. Maybe you could make them the center of attention, make them feel like the most exquisite creature you have ever seen, make them feel like they are the one who decides the fate of our climate, and that their shadow is important in your life.
Maybe forget your boyfriend or your girlfriend just temporarily and call your mom, who is worrying about you maybe even more than you will ever know. Maybe she is wondering if you can actually make it through six more weeks of winter–not just the season, but the other kind.
Maybe love something bigger than yourself: a cause, a charity, maybe a member of Team USA.
Maybe love something in nature, because nature is a gift we have to take care of, no matter how tough the skin of the leathered rhino, no matter how sharp the tiger’s teeth.
Sometimes the toughest, most abrasive creatures need the most love.
Otherwise, they would not have thickened that skin, sharpened that tongue, hissed that threatening hiss. They may have armor for a reason.
Maybe love yourself enough to start dancing like you are a member of the Bolshoi Ballet, run like you might have to carry a torch, write something down that will mean something to someone for a very long time.
Maybe you could stop thinking about the Valentine’s Day that is on television, and think about someone who needs you to love them instead of thinking about Downton Abbey, and how there is no way no how that Lady Mary would ever Marie Antoinette it up in a pig sty with some commoner. That is why it is television.
And listen to this: the most surprising thing happened to me this week. A few readers contacted me asking if I would write a Valentine’s Day message or letter or poem for them, you know, to send to someone they cared about.
I really could not believe it.
I know it is hard to say what you mean, especially if you really mean it. We have stories about this: Cyrano De Bergerac and all that. We have whole corporations that do some version of this: Hallmark and American Greetings and now that movie Her is out, so I guess we have all had our moments of stuttering, grasping for the right word at the right time.
But this is what I really want to say to these kind readers:
I know it is almost Valentine’s Day, and you are starting to feel a little pressure. Maybe it is the feeling that you should really go all out this year, make a statement, make it count. Or, maybe you have drunk the Coco Chanel Kool-Aid, and believe that elegance is refusal, and you have an elaborate plan for being studiously unavailable. You have concocted the perfect cocktail of indifference, nonchalance, and ennui, with an extra shot of aloof, just for good measure.
So you are thinking if someone can just come up the right words, you can figure out how to get through Valentine’s Day with a moderate degree of success, or at least avert a complete communication train wreck.
But words often don’t really work. And that is because they are only as valuable as the authenticity backing them up. And no wordsmith can guarantee that, no matter how many linguistic pyrotechnics they can pull off.
Don’t outsource the one expression of the one thing that can only come from you: the love that you feel for someone, anyone, else.
“Let your words be/ Anything but empty.” And, let them come straight from you–no one else required.
It doesn’t matter if the words you choose are not perfect. It only matters that they are real.
And this is why I love Valentine’s Day, no matter what. It is the one day each year when we can think about love, let our guards down, thank our lucky stars that we can search for the words that might match what we want someone to know for a very long time, maybe even for the rest of their lives.