In Praise of Anticipation


Anticipation. Great 70s song by Carly Simon, yes. And almost ruined by her ill-advised agreement to lend it to a ketchup company for an ad. But still, there’s nothing quite like anticipation. It has the same salutatory effects on life as a massage does on the body.

Exhibit one is the contrast between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and you can look through the lens of a child or an adult. On the Eve, everything is ahead of you, bigger than life. Anticipation multiplies the number of gifts you receive. It increases their size and value. It takes every glinting light on the tree, in the windows, and atop a candle wick and makes of it a holiday brushfire to warm the sugarplums of your heart.

The Day? Rip. Tear. Oh, that’s it? And then the aftermath, when every decoration in the house is less a festive source of cheer and more a visual reminder of work to be done: putting Christmas, already stale, thankfully away.

Let’s consider books, shall we? I read about new books all the time on Goodreads, in The New York Times, and in the Boston Globe. The descriptions whet my parched literary appetite. I go to the interlibrary loan page on the Internet and, with relish (I see a condiment theme developing here) put holds on dozens of books.

In short, my to-read eyes are bigger than my time-to-read clock. The books come in. The books wait in their lonely tower at home while I trudge off to the mines each morning. I read upon my return but, like Christmas Day, most of the books disappoint without the pixie dust of anticipation to burnish their credentials.

And so it goes. Shopping at the grocery store for this healthy vegetable and that healthy fruit in anticipation of a new page in diet? All good and anticipation at its best until, weeks later, the wilted produce must be given its 21-gun salute and burial in the garbage. Minus the anticipation, there’s the pain of preparation and challenge of taste, you see.

“This is going to be so-o-o-o good. Can’t wait!” It’s the kid in you, over and over. Anticipation is a gift of childhood that follows you into adulthood. Don’t banish it. Luxuriate in it, even if it eventually comes to naught. Life isn’t overloaded with pleasures, after all, and as Carly reminds us in the golden refrain: “These are the good old days.”


There Has To Be a Morning After…

xmas dog

Christmas? Bookend it, please, because I’m not much a fan of the day so much as the days around it.

Ever since I was a kid (in the 1920s), I most enjoyed the “anticipation” aspect of Christmas. The actual event? Not so much. And so it is that we have come to “do it up” on the Eve in this house. Gatherings. Family. Friends. Sit-down dinner with all the good cheer we can muster.

The morning itself is a prosaic exercise in going through the motions. Tear open, see material good (or bad), say thank you, wonder what on earth you’ll do with this latest dust-collector.

Ah, but the morning after! Like clouds giving way to a freshly-peeled blue sky! Like sunshine finding the hidden chill in the marrow of your bones. Guests depart. Cookies, candies, and other unwanteds are openly dispatched into the forgiving garbage. You lie about, read, doze, and lie about some more.

Yes, it’s a toss-up. December 24th or December 26th? They both hold their charms. They both look remarkably good in the rear-view mirror, too.