Friday, January 3, 2020

What Happened on 12/21/19: Rose Pacult, Anna Kate Blair, Melissa Matthewson, Lynn Z Bloom, David LeGault

On 12/21/19, we invited writers and readers to write about "What Happened" that day, however they interpreted it, as an exercise in mass attention, and promised to publish as many of the resulting essays as possible. So here we go! For more details and a full list of the contributors, click the What Happened page.



You would have laughed hearing Zee’s music. Part of the reason this 12 hour drive is looking to take  24 hours at the current rate is ‘cause I just couldn't stop myself from being a pervert. All of sudden I’m circling off the clover interchanges, winding into these small towns, and ogling mailboxes.

The diversity in mailboxes, and the platforms posted up and holding up everyone's mail, in the three states I've gotten to so far, is good as each time you had me bent over the sink at 4 AM. I know I shouldn't and really can't compare sex to checking out mailboxes, but since you went AWOL, this really was electric.

The mail slots reminded of so much out there I didn't know could make me see and feel.

Usually everything drawing circles but this witness of variation in shape, Color, form, positioning, and personality of mailbox was circling then spiralling then propelling out of my regular days in the way the shape color form positioning and personality of intimacy between us ranges from every other crushable second.

Wish you were in this parking lot and I could hug you into a small safe blanket instead of your large unsafe person. Imagine I hug you, tell you the SHAPES I saw, maybe kiss your always sweat laced hair.

In Cotton City, Arizona, over an hour detour, I set out looking for a place to pee while blasting Zee's music—a band called BIRDS EATS BABY. The road was a pure distilled kind of boring boring, nothing but asphalt and desert stretching every where. I looked out. Blossoming from a paling orange pitchfork welded out that Satan himself would wield—mailboxes. Three hexagonal prisms—paling orange mailboxes—shape as odd as the rust growing at the top of the box. Unusual, truly, why rusting at the top?

The rust should be at the bottom, not at the top, just like I should not see rust on top a mailbox and think of you on top of me. God. I wanted to just cry.

BIRD EATS BABY could be called dark rock, but coming from Zee, listening to this song ,,Lady Grey,, pissing next to these mailboxes that seemingly connected together in an unconnected place seeing as no homes or businesses were within a mile was like God said something to me.

Don't know what God would have to say but I finished peeing, snapped a pic of what I could see from where I peed, and sending the message for you to me, like I do with everything so I can show you when you’re clean.

Losing your partner of 5 years to meth makes me nuts.

I realised two hours ago when I pulled into a gas station, bout 10 PM, I left everyone's presents at my house. I realised I forgot to get my antibiotics.

I only realised it when this strange scene for middle of nowhere highway late at night flew by—

Two  blue and white postal service vans tailing each other so tight they appeared taped rear bumper to front bumper from the angle where I stood, watching, at the pump. They came into the gas station in Pueblo, Colorado. Then parted ways. Didn't fill up or anything. Just came in together and parted ways. Turned out different directions. Happened fast. The gas stopped pumping and that shut off click reminded me—

I hadn't taken the medicine the doctor prescribed. Realised I didn't get it. Realised when I walked to the sedan's back I definitely forget. I also confirmed my absentee status as a caring body owner. I saw no medicine. Also saw I forgot the box of presents for the family.

God. My pulse got so fast I was pre-arrest. I think the smell of pep pills comes out most when caffeine switches my eyes into spotlights, my nose into a black pond picking up fields of muck for scent surrounding it. Caffeine sweat is a swamp.

I wish I could wash the irreparable damage I'm doing by forgetting our family's presents, forgetting to care for my body, and forgetting to care for everything aside from the meaningful—i.e. replacing love with caffeine and the stalking of mailboxes (did I even tell you about the torus mailbox yet? like a perfect hemorrhoid seat but steel and sited in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico outside a retirement home).

I know I'm beyond unravelling this damage already imparted. This trip is going to devastate all of us. I know it.

I assume you understand. Since we stopped talking it's been incredibly hard to digest any information beyond connecting you to everything I do. I want life to serve me a diet of news bland as unsalted scrambled eggs.

I don't even think I could eat that. Digestible news or the food is funny as Claire never smiling.

So far in the 24 hours plus I've been awake, the only meal I choked down today the 21st was a high cornstarch peach cobbler bought outside a cubic mailbox, grey and white and red—a scheme akin to a fancy airline jet (budget's from Ryan Air to Spirit to Frontier always use colours more liberally) outside a Mexican food joint outside a gas station in Raton, Colorado. But I don't care about Raton ColOORADO. I move the cobbler into my mouth taking the fork upside down. I don’t realise it until I’m scraping scraps from the side of styrofoam. I’m lookin’ at the greying sky, thinking of your red dress sliding up and then the white lightening striking as we fuck on 2426 N Janssen Street’s roof top we climb to through my window and there everyone watches. I need you and then the CPA Chad came out with an envelop and asked: Hey Claire, hey Rose, and we crouch on black tarp under rain torpedoing in burst like yr thighs and we are hiding ourselves. You push me in front of you and I push you down because the roof is flat and there is nothing except our bodies, Chad blows a bubble with his gum. It pops and finally: You missing any mail?

Thinking about food makes my pulse rate disappear more and more. I feel the beats calming by three or four. Each minute I think of how hungry I am and how I can't eat anything with how sick. It wipes me out. I'm gonna go out on a limb and send this. Just know I wish you could be there and perhaps, this time next year, if you and I are alive, we can do this drive together.

Not to see my family.

I bet we won't speak after the train about to fly through their window. I'm the train here, so off path I forget the tracks and with excellence and confidence crash past the front door through the windows.

Wouldn't be the holidays without, perhaps, disaster.

My stomach is churning and I'm hitting send.  Just know I miss you. If I can be sober for years, so can you. Just because you're dying from your illness and I'm dying from mine, doesn't mean in three days we wouldn’t be primitive forms of ourselves before variations of life made us part from one another.

I'm leaving this Holiday Inn. I want cell reception so I can call someone. But who is gonna want to hear about this day? I'm crossing off the 21st of December as one of those days where I spend too much time with myself, like every day, of late.

Love you. Miss you. Please know you're my flashlight cutting through this landscape.


Rose Pacult is a multimedia artist exhibiting in 10 + countries. Her next two books Set Up & Execute and Goals and Predictions will be released through Possible Books in 2020 and 2021. The focus primarily deals with the autopoiesis: physical systems, how to build incredibly large destruction machines, use them, destroy sites, and examine the system from origin to end. The second is a joy ride documentation of 7 artists: social structures and dynamics of a melting pot of talent and conflicting personalities: hundreds of public work then orgies to brawls—there is everything a cross-continental road trip should have. Her post studio practice is a role of risk and unabashedly speaking out on people places and things. Her favorite gossip topic, herself.


December 21

I wake up and everything around me is pink. Hannah’s bedsheets and her pyjamas are a soft, blushing sort of pink, and she is lying beside me and it’s such a delight to be horizontal, on the edge of consciousness, and aware of her. I don’t seem to remember my dreams when I wake up in Hannah’s bed, perhaps because she’s an instant distraction from them, perhaps because unconsciousness pales, is bleached out, by how lucky I feel, lying there, to have met her.

I am still learning how to write about happiness, and I fear that this might seem saccharine, coloured with the pink of a Sweet’N’Low packet where I’d rather have the pink of rhubarb, of strawberry, of lips stained by cherries. I am a millennial, though; many of my reference points are online. I think of the emoji of pink hearts. I think of that Instagram Story filter where the screen fills with hearts in candy colours. I imagine my pupils dilating into the shape of hearts. There’s an emoji for that, too. I wonder if it’s hard to write about happiness because dopamine dulls anxious fixation or because I can’t retain the critical distance of the observer, am always reaching toward Hannah when I wake up, wrapping my arm around her or tracing her hip with my hand.

Hannah’s dogs skitter down the hallway, across the wooden floor, past the bedroom door. Hannah brings me coffee. We play one another songs about dinosaurs, still in bed, on an iPhone, and then I change into a bright pink jumpsuit. In the kitchen, we measure and mix flour, molasses, melted butter, extract the yolk from an egg, make dough for gingerbread. We wrap it in cling film and place it in the fridge.

I notice, when we take the dogs for a walk, some pink berries that have fallen on asphalt, metallic pinwheels for sale outside the toy store, and the way that Hannah’s black hat frames her face, punctuates her outfit.

“Are there any pastries that you don’t like?” I ask, outside the coffee shop.
“Apricot,” she says.

Inside, I choose a raspberry danish and a sea salt and honey donut and order coffee for us both. I check my email on my phone, waiting, and am reminded that I’m supposed to be writing this. I tell Hannah, walking back, that I’ve been noticing pink things, mostly, and then I spill coffee on myself just before we reach her house.

“The impossibility of pink,” says Hannah, sponging soap and water onto my pocket. “Pink’s fleeting nature.”     

I change into a black dress, hang the jumpsuit out to dry.

It is 12.30, now, and we get into Hannah’s car, prepare to drive to the hardware store.

“This is very gay,” says Hannah. “Going to Bunnings together.”

We listen, in the car, to ‘Ode to Skywhale,’ a song about the inflatable creature commissioned for Canberra’s centenary, and everything feels light and we are both singing—you’re the apple of my eye, the Skywhale of my sky—and I’m apparently unable to read a map properly, though I used to be a good navigator, and suddenly we are on the freeway, driving on an elevated bridge, heading in the wrong direction, onto a toll road, and we are both slightly panicked, and I am apologising, but Hannah is still singing—the Skywhale is a renegade of style—between worried exclamations, clutching the steering wheel, as we struggle to exit and turn around, go back across the river, slip onto and off another freeway. We go to the hardware store, seek and find sprinklers for Hannah’s garden, and return to the north, eat lunch and exchange presents, finish making gingerbread and change into outfits for the Christmas party we’re attending. We don’t have to leave immediately, and so I sit in the garden watching Hannah, in her party dress, tend to her tomato plants, tying them to stakes and spraying them with water, noticing the green tassels of her festive earrings, shiny and matching my own pink ones, sparkling in the sun…

“It’s very idyllic when you list it like that,” says Hannah, later that night, when I recount our day to her. “I feel like other people will be sickened by how idyllic this is. You haven’t even written about singing Christmas Carols yet. It’s absurd.”

The Christmas party is hosted by two friends of mine, both lawyers, and I’ve met some of the other guests before, but don’t know them well. Rachele tells us, when we walk into the kitchen, that she has brought two bottles of wine, one costing $25 and the other costing $11, and that she won’t tell us which bottle is the more expensive one, that we have to guess. There are so many people and we all like talking, and it is hard to reach the end of anecdotes, with every conversation disrupted by another conversation, by something cooking, by somebody arriving or departing, and the gingerbread with lime icing is delicious and the house where we’re gathered is unbelievable, like somewhere a family, financially and emotionally secure, might live in a sitcom, with a golden retriever, and nobody quite explains it. We eat lasagne and salads and pull Christmas crackers open, read jokes aloud around the table. We file into another room, after dinner, which has a piano and an enormous wooden table, on which Trina has spread printouts of lyrics for Christmas songs. I’m terrible at singing, and shy about it, and really confused as to why the sharehouse has a room like this, empty save for a piano and formal table, but I feel happy, anyway, and when Rachele tells me, as we’re leaving, that somebody I loved once, long ago, is getting married, it just seems like an amusing anecdote, an event that my friends will have to attend and will complain about, but which I can just laugh about from afar.

“Do you think it surprised your friends that you have a girlfriend?” Hannah asks me, later, brushing her teeth.
“No,” I say, surprised by the question. “Why would it?”
“Because when they knew you, you were straight?”

I was never straight, I want to say, but I do know what she means: these friends probably presumed it when we were younger. I doubt it surprises Trina or Rachele—they’ve never met a woman I’ve dated, but I’ve told them plenty of stories—but I can be oblivious to the impressions that I’m making, often guess inaccurately. I wonder if Hannah noticed something that I missed.
I check my phone while Hannah showers. She has uploaded a picture of us, in her backyard, wearing our tassel earrings, sparkling, smiling, sun glancing into the edges of the frame, with the words sorry not sorry this is 24/7 Hannah and Anna content now, to her Instagram Story, followed by photos of the gingerbread that we made. I feel delirious, glittery, and lucky, again. I still can’t write anything that matches my feelings, feel language is an inadequate tool with which to convey happiness, though I do believe that there’s no writing problem that can’t be overcome with thought and practice, tell myself that if I keep trying, failing, flailing, attempting to write about Hannah, about all these different shades of pink, I’ll eventually succeed. I’m writing long, tumbling, messy sentences in an attempt to echo the giddiness, mimic the syntax of existing without overthinking, of feeling good; sadness is staccato, tightened.

I repost Hannah’s picture on my own Instagram Story and my friend Michael responds to it with the heart-eyed emoji. I suppose the difficulty, always, in reporting one’s own experiences, particularly while inside them, is in striking the right tone; I can only know if I’ve been successful if somebody sends the right emoji in response. I take the tinsel-pink earrings off and lay them on the bedside table. I recount the day, to Hannah, lying on the rosy sheets, with the intention of taking notes so that I can write this, later, but I smile and laugh and forget to write anything down, save her comment on how idyllic it’s all been, and then I turn on my alarm and turn off the light and we sleep, muting the pink with the night.

Anna Kate Blair is a writer from Aotearoa.


December 21st: On Tinder, 70s Rock & Codenames

I forgot I was supposed to pay attention until 11:30 a.m. Also, I want to frame this around intimacy. Also, I want to lie about an event, one that happened the next day, not the shortest day, but the next longest day, the 22nd. But I won’t. If you want to know, you’ll have to ask me. I want to add it here because what occurred was a fascinating conversation about art and Hieronymus Bosch and The Garden of Earthly Delights, 16th century zealots, sex worker rights, moral questions about God and eating animals. All of this around whisky and fire with two couples and a man and me with the ocean raging outside. I wore a yellow t-shirt with a picture of Vincent Van Gogh with Things are about to get weird beneath my breasts. But again, that happened the day after. Not the day of. I was on the southern coast of Oregon in a vacation rental with eight adults, two teenagers, one tween, and four children under nine. Also, a pug named Xander. On the day of the 21st, not the 22nd, I woke with a headache and my daughter, A, repeatedly interrupted my sleep (I was sharing a king bed with my friend T_): Make bagels. Play games. Wake up! The rain was heavy (it would continue for 48 hours without pause) and upstairs, while I rummaged the kitchen for coffee, S, T and G all talked about lawyering. In a good way. As advocacy. I opened the NY Times on my phone and read about privacy and data (Twelve million phones, 50 billion location pings, tracking people from mobile homes in Virginia to towers in Manhattan) while I drank coffee. This is the opposite of intimacy. Interruption. Invasion. Infiltration. Other I words. The Times reported, “If you could see the full trove, you might never use your phone the same way again.” I thought it was too early for that shit, so I turned to G who asked me about my son. I rattled small talk—basketball, hormones, tween living, #goals. We decided to move the furniture—leather couches and chairs and coffee table—from the upstairs great room where I would lead the group in Zumba. I used to teach Zumba, I don’t anymore, but Lizzo is always a popular choice. If I want to frame this around intimacy, dancing together became a tight band of bodies working together. I don’t know what I mean by tight. I think I mean loose. I think I mean when we dance together, it’s intimate. I liked watching them all move. This group was unusual—can I mark them by their identities—no, I’ll reduce them to a group of professions and meaningful work like foodies, activists, farmers, lawyer, bakers, wilderness advocates, teacher, writers. After Zumba, I walked to the beach with T and the kids. We found a dead seal that we thought didn’t smell, but then it did. The ocean was white and violent, and we sprinted up and down the beach and found river teeth in the sand. I didn’t take one to the house. I was cold with dried sweat on my arms from Zumba, so I peeled a few mandarins (they’re in season, it’s December) and decided to take a shower. I had to use the coconut hand soap for my body. I was a little disappointed about that, but it smelled nice anyway. It seemed like a good time to check the coastal Tinder population and shop for some matches, but all I found were clichés: “Living my best life” and “Live every day” and “Smile every minute.” There were also guns, motorcycles, and fish, and Kinkster 47 who liked full body massages with lots of oil and a picture of a praying mantis.

I’m trying to find the metaphor here.

I decided to make a ginger hot toddy, even though it was just noon, but I was annoyed that I had to meet a deadline while on vacation, so I was pairing joy (bourbon) with work (writing), transcribing an interview with a Dutch author, but instead of transcribing, I was using the shitty wireless network to download a transcription app, but I soon grew frustrated and emailed my editor to tell her the interview would be late. I enjoyed my toddy then, while watching the sea out the big window. I ate some ham and cheese and watched R, T, J, and S watch a YouTube video about a Russian plane that flies close to the water. I asked them to send me the video. They didn’t. I asked them to tell me the name of the plane. They did, but I don’t remember it now. I like S and T because they like weird history and name their dogs after Estonian cities. J was climbing along the windows, so we decided to play Codenames with Curtis Harding on the speaker. Codenames is a game of conjecture between teams, but the theories, definitions, and word play make it the kind of game that tests intuition in a strange sort of methodology. While playing, M thinks that littering is not illegal, and this becomes the weekend joke: “For someone who is as smart as you, I think you need some help with the law,” and R disappears, but then comes back to tell us that S wanted everyone to see how red her face was after hanging upside down for several minutes.

For the shortest day, it was long.

S decided to take apart the table and R told me and T that, “T thinks like a revolutionary and you, M, you think like a poet.” By the time it was five, I’d had several hot toddies, T and M were cooking a dinner of cauliflower and Shepherd’s Pie. I wanted to woo them with music, so I took them through a 70s rock retrospective: Led Zeppelin, Bob Seger, The Who, Tom Petty, America. I didn’t remember our dialogue except that there were friendly arguments about the best albums. Arguments about overrated artists (I’m still pissed about Wilco). Arguments about guilty pleasure albums. We were drinking eggnog cocktails and the firewood was wet, so we couldn’t start a fire (Bruce). At dinner, in honor of the winter solstice, we went in a circle and voiced those things we wanted to let go and those things we wanted to let in. I didn’t want to participate, so R decided for me, which I think had to do with finding a new job in 2020 (which is important, and yes, if you need me, I’m on the job market). I was thinking about partnership, and also not partnership, and also bodies. And being newly single. And intimacy. Other notes I took from this day, but for which I have forgotten the context, so a list:

  • Watch your back
  • Impeachment
  • Turkeys are the cockroaches of the poultry world
  • The Donnas and Steve Earle
  • What is illegal
  • The clue is clues
  • Squishy things

The evening ended when my son arrived from the east with a friend at 11:30 p.m. as we all watched the four members of the P_ family participate in a plank-off by the fireplace. They went as long as a collective 12 minutes. It felt intimate. Was it a good day? Yes, we all had lived. 

Melissa Matthewson’s essays have appeared in Guernica, DIAGRAM, Longreads, American Literary Review, Mid-American Review, Bellingham Review, River Teeth, and The Rumpus among other publications. Her first book of nonfiction, Tracing the Desire Line, was published in 2019 from Split Lip Press. She teaches media studies at Southern Oregon University.


The Somber Solstice

I crave light. I revel in sunrises that start at 5 am, sunsets that linger on past 9 pm. In my ideal world summer solstice would prevail year-round. Every day would begin with an espresso-jolt of energy, recharged at intervals by sprinting in the sun, swimming in the sun, reading and writing on solar-powered laptops. Circadian rhythms would govern spirits incandescent, dancing to the drumming of love and friendships and work during the long days with just enough time for sound sleeps at night. Scandinavia for sure, but only in the summer.

Instead, we live in Boston, where the 42.35 degrees latitude means that like it or not, the winter solstice grudgingly allows only 9 hours 5 minutes of daylight on December 21, in contrast to the 15 hours 17 minutes (and one second!) that will illumine June 21, 2020. I do my best to ensure that summer solstice parameters will prevail all year long, with floor to ceiling windows, no curtains; and for 28 years (before we moved to an apartment), 13 skylights. Like a moth drawn to a flame, I position my writing desk and reading chair to bask in the light. But when darkness falls, even bright lights do not fully dispel the atmosphere of gloom.

I certainly appreciate the vivid lights that flare and flame throughout the holiday celebrations of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanza—church aisles and live trees aglow, sometimes with real candles. I appreciate glow that emanates from the joy of making a superabundance of Christmas cookies with family members, for we never bake alone. This year’s solstice sustenance—made for the pleasure of hanging out in the kitchen with our med student granddaughter—were Dirty Chai Earthquake cookies (with lots of spices—one of the New York Times’s hottest cookies of the year) and World Peace cookies, so chocolatey and delicious that world peace will break out amongst those who eat them, says Times dessert columnist Dorie Greenspan. The fragrant cookies that my German grandmother in Detroit sent to New Hampshire every Christmas in big heavy straw hampers—springerle, lebkuchen, butterkekse, vanillekipferl, pfeffernüse—were made in absentia. However, since then the generations of cookies have been patted and sprinkled by successive children with aprons wrapped twice round as they cozied up to the kitchen counter, lightness incarnate.

But even with the cookie baking it’s still too dark. We have already lost a valuable hour of afternoon light with the seasonal switch to Eastern Standard Time, and we won’t get it back until March 8. It’s dark when our classes end, when we come home from work, when we dash to the store for more powdered sugar for the cookies, and a precious bottle of pure vanilla extract.

It’s dark—figuratively if not literally—when, after a year of assaults on our environment, our Constitution, and our democracy—we try to drive the cold winter away-o by catching up with old friends via the annual Christmas letter, intended to convey managed news of a wonderful life. I know that such letters have a bad rap; I was once told by a relatively famous novelist that “real writers don’t send Christmas cards,” the ultimate put-down. But just today I received, from a very good poet and elegant friend, a handwritten card illustrated with Vanessa Bell’s “Snow at Tilton,” an evocative painting full of winter lights and encroaching shadows. Indeed, until this year sending and receiving significant Christmas mail has been for me a happy way to override the shadows at this darkest time of the year. For decades I’ve hoped that a lightness of message and beauty of design in the cards and more recently the e-letters which we send will brighten human spirits involved in this exchange, as they are supposed to do in song and legend, merry and bright.

But this year’s mail is different. Every day’s mail tells of falls—not, fortunately, from grace—but down stairs, off porches, in driveways. Every day’s mail brings notice of someone who made a difference in this world and in our lives, gone. But today, at solstice, a brief reply to my e-letter from one of the smartest, wittiest men I have ever known disclosed an absence even more devastating, the string of nonsense words so startling that I had to reread it several times in order to understand its fearsome meaning. Does no communication at all from lifelong friends imply an even more fearsome meaning?

A philosophical neighbor and I have scheduled our weekly walk—today on Solstice—for 3 pm, to get a good hour in before darkness falls. We know in advance that we will reflect on her own darkest night of the year, which descended two days ago with the doctor’s pronouncement, “I’ve ordered hospice for your husband, starting immediately.” We walked, our route a mile loop around the neighborhood. In the course of pondering the inevitable, I was looking not for false hope, a futility, but for some brightness to penetrate the gloom. Another loop, of contemplative conversation, both of us teary-eyed. With the third mile came illumination as I recalled my unforgettable visit to the Children’s Memorial at Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the Holocaust victims. In the pitch dark of the memorial’s vast second room, five hundred angled mirrors reflect and refract the light of five memorial candles to convey the impression of millions of stars in the heavens, “millions of flames extending into infinity,” explains the memorial’s architect, Moshe Safdie, “symbolizing the souls of the lost children.” He says, “It was like a miracle. As if thrown into space, floating between galaxies, each twitch in movement of the flame multiplied to the right, to the left, a strange dance of the souls” (qtd in Hansen-Glucklich, 175-76) against the infinite dark, lights flaming for eternity.


Work Cited

Hansen-Glucklich,Jennifer. Holocaust Memory Reframed: Museums and the Challenges of Representation.  New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2014.

Lynn Z. Bloom is Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor Emerita at the University of Connecticut, where she held the Aetna Chair of Writing 1988-2015. She learned from great writing teachers: Dr. Seuss, fun; Strunk and E.B. White, elegant simplicity; Benjamin Spock, precision: “If you don’t write clearly, someone could die,” he advised when she was writing Doctor Spock: Biography of a Conservative Radical. These precepts have informed the heart, soul, and human voice of her teaching and writing: creative nonfiction, auto/biography, composition studies research, pedagogy, poetry.



Dec 21

NOTE TO ESSAY DAILY: The only bit of formatting is that I included a link to a short video in the essay below. If you could embed the video in your layout that would be great, but otherwise the link is fine.


It’s not yet 8 am and I’m on an early train to Germany, to the Christmas markets in Dresden, the oldest Christmas market in the world. They’ve been running, more or less uninterrupted, since the 1430s. Dresden, at 50 degrees North latitude, makes for a shorter solstice than most. The sun will set at 4 pm exactly.

In this part of the world, these markets are a big deal. People (my family included) travel internationally to attend. The markets themselves are a confusing mix: obviously commercialized in the way all Christmas is, but at the same time not. They are a celebration of folk art and history more than can’t even find a toy here unless it’s an old-country marionette, or perhaps a snow globe if we’re stretching the definition of toy to its limit. Mostly it is stands selling candles, German food, wood and leather crafts. Dresden takes it to another level entirely: eight separate markets are set up throughout the city, some with amusement park rides, others with three-story sculptures of wooden soldiers. The small market stalls are adorned with animatronic sculptures: Santa’s arm moving up and down rhythmically, a mouse on a bicycle going back and forth across a tightrope. There are commemorative mugs that will get you cheap refills on spiced wine for the duration of your trip, and people will show up with their mugs going back decades, showing off their own sense of history and their ability to collect and preserve.

I’m on the train with my wife and kids, and this early in the morning, already there’s an unexpected surprise. The tickets Michelle reserved are in a special “travelers with kids” compartment: a small glassed off compartment with exactly four seats. We travel by train often, but I’ve never even seen a compartment of this type, and it’s perfect: a fold out table, space for a stroller we don’t have that doubles as a play area, an almost suspicious sense of calm. I love traveling by train, but even then it’s your typical public transit. This car has the feeling of luxury one expects in a 1940’s movie about train travel—an idealized sophistication, a sense of luxury. On a morning like this—an almost complete lack of sleep due to my daughter’s medical complications, the stress that comes with taking two kids ages six and four on an international day-trip, the low-key social anxiety that comes with every interaction when my Czech and German skills are so limited—to have a private, quiet space is a gift.

Out the window, the Czech countryside ticks by. A fog is lifting, either literally and figuratively. It could be that I’ve been averaging 4 hours of sleep for the past two weeks due to medical complications, it could be the end-of-semester stress that comes with a teacher’s schedule. It could be that it’s a season of life where depression has been pushing through the cracks. But here on this train the clouds have just parted, and the warmth of the sun is genuine. The unexpected surprise of this morning has me wondering exactly how long it’s been since I’ve felt this good, and how fortuitous that the day I’ve committed to recording will be the happiest I’ve felt in memory.

Why is it so hard to write about joy? As someone who primarily works in essays, I have a difficult time getting personal in my work, and most of that stems from the fact that my life is mostly good. I find myself creating conflict where none exists; I look of the macabre in the ordinary in order to make it sound more interesting than it is. The effect of this is a scratch in the lens I use to view (and write) the world: this idea that I must be sad in order to be interesting. This is something I am overly conscious of doing, especially in the season of depression I’ve been navigating, and in my efforts to write about a happier, more positive world, I’ve ended up not writing much of anything lately.

All this to say that this solstice did not make for a great story, but it did make for a great day. My kids were, miraculously, perfect travelers across train, tram, and bus. We got lost but ended up finding a funicular outside the city that gave us an unexpected view of the city. I am buzzed on spiced wine in the middle of the afternoon: it is already dark and it is great.

Outside of Christmas markets, Dresden always brings me back to Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, to living through the firebombing of the city. I don’t hear enough about Vonnegut anymore, feel compelled to look for one of his books while I’m here. Prague, where I live, was spared from bombing during the war. I’m told Hitler planned to live there after the war had ended; he purposely left troops out of the city itself so there’d be no reason for the city to be destroyed. In the span of this day I’ve seen the old and untouched put up against a city completely rebuilt in the last 70 years. In East German fashion, whole sections of the city are Communist Brutalist identical cubes: every building a piece in a giant gray puzzle. Dresden’s markets are older than anything I can fathom from a historical view, and their distinct color, shape, and light are especially poignant against the boring architecture.

It is evening and the city is awash in the glow of Christmas decoration. am thinking of Vonnegut’s Unwavering Band of Light. It is 4:30 and the sky is black. There was a time before electricity when the world was limited to the light of a candle. Now my eyes cannot adjust between the dark of the sky and the glow of the world. A stall selling Christmas ornaments is topped with an animatronic otter, sweeping imaginary dust off the roof. It should be dark and it is not. I should be cold but it is not. I shouldn’t be enjoying this, and yet I am.

There is a difference between exploring and being lost. When exploring, it is expected that you don’t know where you are, that there is a calm in that uncertainty. Today was a day of exploration, and there’s a joy in that too. Back at the bus depot, a man dressed as Santa Claus circles the main terminal on rollerblades; a security guard chases, helplessly. Nothing’s going to bring me down today! Our bus will be delayed but we’ll be rewarded with free coffee. My son falls asleep and I get to play games on my phone for like an hour straight. My wife tells me about a witch who lives in a Czech village, how the villagers know she’s a witch because she still has all her baby teeth. She says I should write about it, and so I do. I decide I will be happy and so I am. I am here in the dark, but know that the days will be getting longer and warmer and...

David LeGault is the author of One Million Maniacs, an essay collection available from Outpost19. He can be found online at, and on Twitter @legaultd. He can be found in the real world in Prague, Czech Republic.

Check back tomorrow to read more about What Happened on December 21, 2019. —Ander and Will

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