Charlie Brown and the circles in my mind

Holidays ordinarily bring life to a standstill. This one? This one climaxed a year of stand-stills: a year of lockdowns, restrictions, stop and start activity. No, don’t, and stop: that’s how I’ve explained to some the stage of toddlerhood, marked as it is by negativities that rudely follow the blissful, omniscient state of infancy.

             Are we toddlers? Have we awakened from a sleep-heavy first year—a year that stretches backwards, figuratively, Biblically, over an indeterminate spell—in which we take for granted that all needs will be taken care of. Or, if that’s not quite fair, we surely thought that our freedoms, our day-to-day activities would not be impeached: that our rights of assembly, to attend church services, concerts, sporting events; that our right to watch movies in the dark with others would be allowed. That no one would say of these pastimes…no, don’t, or stop.  I’m not complaining. In my work, the proscription meant that I couldn’t see patients in my office as I typically do; that I’d have to speak to them by phone, or else by Skype, or preferably by the break-out communication star of 2020, Zoom. And no one did insist that I couldn’t see anyone live. I did, and most of my patients cooperated, thankfully. It hasn’t been easy, this necessary deference to an unprecedented public health crisis. Some have struggled, and some have dropped out of therapy because the adjustments were too unpalatable, while others continue by phone or Zoom from their homes, of from the front seat of a truck, which has been uncomfortable for them, if required in order to maintain confidentiality.

             See, ordinarily that’s my job, to protect privacy. And when I can provide a nice, private office with thick walls and a white noise machine on the outside of them, it’s not a problem. But that wasn’t 2020, now gone (Thank God), though the restrictions persist. For how long? I don’t know. Vaccines beckon and therefore so does a return to the traditional therapy lair, but along the way something interesting has occurred. We, meaning most of us, adjusted. We, meaning myself plus my patients have gotten used to talking but not sharing the same space; to gazing across a screen, sometimes fretting that the “connection” is unstable, but mostly keeping contact. And sometimes it’s only contact, or it’s limited. It’s been harder deepening the process without the live presence, without the sense of two bodies and minds impacting one another, trapped (sort of) in the same physical space. But the work continues; the needs must persists, with people still needing to talk and feel listened to, with no one else listening in…hopefully. With privacy guaranteed or not, my patients keep coming, so to speak, to make use of what I offer, what I do.

             And I did what I did without much of a break, mostly because travel plans were thwarted throughout the year. I know. Poor me. With thousands losing their lives, and thousands more losing their jobs or businesses, I can hardly expect sympathy for simply not having much time off, but it is the reason why the Christmas break, carved out as it was with a five-day halt, felt so…disorienting. Something familiar: the end of the year often feels centrifugal, with days speeding up as though spinning like a reel towards a central pole—the end of something.  This year was that only with fewer trips to brick and mortar stores, though the gift-buying ritual was otherwise the same. But the Christmas Day halt was more stifling than ever. It felt like a grinding impasse in the form of digital overload, delivered food, and non-stop image entertainment. For solace and nostalgia, I bypassed cable TV offerings and reached into the past, unshelved my favorite DVDs, ranging from the lengthy, turgid, yet masterful Fanny & Alexander (or Christmas plus Hamlet in Sweden, as I like to call it), to the impish and whimsical Charlie Brown Christmas special.

             Historically, what I have liked about the famous 20-minute cartoon is its somber yet friendly depiction of children acting beyond their years, contemplating wintry loneliness, the needs of a group, plus sympathy for an underdog…a tree. Beyond that, I like to think of myself as being a bit like Charlie Brown: a bit lonely, a lot weary, like he has loads of responsibility, staring out of a window that he doesn’t own, gazing at snowflakes. Save for the fact that I own a mortgage and have actual responsibilities, this image fits my mood when I’m in a solipsistic and doleful state. What I don’t notice so much is the cartoon’s opening sequence, despite some wistful caroling that I do like, in which a minor character—an unnamed girl—skates on ice in flowing figure eights or circles. The camera follows her as she spins, carefree and skillful, away from a pack, but followed by Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s iconic, mischief-making hound. Circles. I notice as I noticed, or I noticed that I notice, that I think a lot about circles in a mythic, non-mathematic sense: see, it will be apparent to anyone who reads what I write (and that isn’t many readers, so far) that I think history, both personal and global, is circular. The problem, and the challenge, as I see it, is to perceive the incremental steps forward, and sometimes backward, when objects, including people, move circularly. No sentiment here. No optimism or pessimism, even. Rather, this is about a smidgen of truth within a platitude, and what is ultimately a trite piece of entertainment that has pedigree in some myths, events, and literature that I could mention, and many more that are outside the scope of my knowledge. But never mind that now. For now, amid dying 2020 and newborn 2021, I’ll stick with Charlie Brown and the circles of my mind.

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