A Winter’s Tale

At six in the evening on Monday, a woman in a blood red taffeta gown and a tiny white faux fur jacket sings “Ave Maria” with tears in her eyes. I’m sitting a few feet from the stage, in an underground music venue in Shibuya. Including me, there are four people in the audience. It’s two weeks before Christmas.

On New Year’s day, Strawberry and I go to the neighborhood shrine. Eggplant purple banners are draped over the eaves, moving slowly, but voluptuously, in the frigid breeze. I imagine the priests teetering on stepladders, arranging the banners with the same deftness as a young woman in front of a mirror, carefully parting her bangs to one side with a wide-toothed comb. We eat fried noodles, and then wait our turn to throw our five-yen coins into the wide, slatted donation box. 2019 is the Year of the Pig, and the wooden trapezoidal plaques that last year featured cherubic Shiba Inus are today decorated with boars snuffling through grass.

The colors of Japanese shrine iconography are painted in flat, matte tones, but the ultra-saturation of the pigments elevates the effect of their impression on me, achieving impossible divinity. So clearly unreal, but so carnally present: Imagine the Annunciation, and the young Mary dancing at midnight with a winged and haloed stranger. I could pray, I think, to any god if they came to me clothed in these colors: red as spilled blood, and white as the driven snow.

I don’t consciously choose resolutions anymore (other than the perennial “write more”), not out any disdain for the tradition, but due to chronic indecisiveness. I tend to hover so long on the precipice of a choice that the cliff crumbles artlessly into the turgid sea, leaving me suspended in the air, at a loss. But I’ve been reflecting recently on something Strawberry told me: though we are often instructed to envision “goals” for our future lives, sometimes it’s easier to re-channel that energy into imagining solutions to present “problems.” As an uncommonly anxious individual, I was immediately attracted to this approach; the melodrama of my mind is usually dominated by “problems” that haunt and never inspire. Maybe this is the family therapy talking, but even at this advanced stage, can I change the nature of the relationship between myself and the cascade of issues that follow me around? The cynical part of me wants to roll her eyes. But this year, I think I’ll avoid cynicism, and choose compassion.

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