Wishing Everyone a Sweet New Year!

I’m going to keep this post, my last of 2010, short & sweet, so to speak.  While visiting grandparents in Florida, my kids ably met the challenge of enjoying indoor activities during the coldest December in Florida in more than 100 years.  Imagine our family’s delight at finding a free tour of  Angell & Phelps Chocolate Factory in Daytona Beach.  We were like kids in a candy store!

Our guide shared trade secrets and free samples during a brief but informative tour of the facility.  We watched through the glass as she explained why the employees use copper pots to heat the chocolate– they are better than stainless steel for maintaining heat– and conveyor belts to cool the chocolates.  Meanwhile, mint creme-filled, dark chocolate-covered, delectable pieces made the 15 minute journey through the factory alongside us, as 2 air conditioning units cooled them to 54 degrees.  Can you see the man in the background of the picture?  He stands at the end of the conveyor belt, removes the chocolates one handful at a time, checks to ensure that the bottoms of the candies retained their shape and emerged undamaged, and then he boxes them to be sold.   Creating such delicious treats is quite a labor-intensive process.

We did spend an hour, on the warmest day of our visit, collecting sea shells and deeply inhaling the ocean air. We did not, however, collect the hand-crafted, chocolate sea shells pictured above.  Sadly, as we considered our 2011 resolution to eat healthy foods, we were forced merely to imagine this candy melting in our mouths.

The Rabbi’s Secret

I guess if I write about it, it won’t be a secret anymore.  
I guess I don’t mind too much if you know my secret:

I love Christmas songs.

Since I feel such a sense of relief at sharing this secret, I will add some details:  My delight in Christmas songs began when I first sang them in my elementary school choir, merely mouthing the lines that referred to Jesus as the Christ or Savior.  During my high school years, Christmas Eve dinner spent with my friend Lisa’s family was followed by caroling in her neighborhood.  In college, I discovered gospel music.  Much of the Christmas music that I love consists of upbeat, cheerful (jolly!) melodies, festive piano chords mixed with bells and tambourines, drums and horns.  Some of my favorites– traditional tributes to the season– were actually composed by fellow Jews. If the great Irving Berlin can dream of a white Christmas then it can’t be a shameful secret that I know the lyrics by heart.

This holiday season, thanks to a quirk in the Hebrew calendar, Hanukkah ended during the first full week of December.  This allowed me additional time to indulge my Christmas joy without interference from Hanukkah music.  (In the interest of full disclosure, I would like to add that I enjoy listening to Hanukkah music, a preference that I have never attempted to hide.)  Nevertheless, halfway through the eight-night celebration, I lit my menorah and headed straight out the door to my first Christmas concert of the season.  My daughter and I were delighted to hear her friend perform with the Georgia Regional Girl’s Choir at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Roswell.  The girls’ angelic voices filled the church and our hearts with joy at this preview concert.  The next day, the girls performed downtown with the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra at the Woodruff Arts Center.  Still, being a traditionalist, I am glad to have attended their church concert.

The following weekend, my spouse and I ventured to Buckhead to hear the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus perform at the Cathedral of St. Philip. More than 110 singers strong and celebrating their 30th year, the men of the AGMC were joined by the Atlanta Young Singers of Callanwolde on stage. The pews were packed to capacity with an appreciative audience, while the balcony and aisles filled with a standing-room-only crowd.  The first act set a more serious mood, especially the stirring debut of a commissioned piece, Ring Out Wild Bells.  In the second act, we were regaled with a more lighthearted set, which included some cartoon favorites. I left the church humming about the Grinch, and strains of A Charlie Brown’s Christmas echoed in my head as I drifted to sleep that night.

In Atlanta, perhaps everywhere in America, there is a wealth of Christmas music in the air.  But what I most appreciate is the opportunity to hear beautifully-sung Christmas music in majestic, richly-adorned churches all around the city.  As a rabbi, I celebrate my own spiritual legacy of Jewish music; as a music lover, I rejoice when my spirits are lifted by Christmas songs.

The Rest is Still Unwritten

We all have stories to tell, and often we want to tell them.  We want other people to hear them, to validate our feelings and to share their stories in return.  Writing is one medium we use to share our stories.  We are all writers.
Although I have heard that blogging is passe and has been surpassed by Twitter, I know so many people who blog.  While not all of my blogger friends are using their blogs as a platform for serious writing, they are all writers. Of course, not everyone’s writing is equally polished.  I guess that fits the paradigm, since not everyone’s story is equally compelling to others. 
I have been thinking a lot about the process of writing lately, as well as about the process of becoming a writer.  Here are some conclusions that I have drawn, in no particular order:
1. Writing is not a “demanding mistress” (that’s such a demeaning and sexist characterization), rather a “colicky infant.” In my experience, the need to write cries to me, insistently, at inopportune times.  In rare moments of grace, I am able to soothe the cries, to put my story into a coherent sequence of transcendent words.
2. Writing is not an occasional stroll around the neighborhood or a game of catch in the backyard, rather a daily, physical education class or scheduled workout with a personal trainer.  Thus, a writer must dedicate time in her day to write.  To become a writer is to affirm a commitment to daily practice.
3. Writing is never finished.  Or, more accurately, the process of writing that entails revision is never finished.  Unlike the clay, which eventually reaches a stage of dryness that denies the potter access to make changes and improvements to its form, the written word is at once preserved in stasis and offered for modification.
When I see a copy of my recently published book, I am struck by its physicality as an archive of my stories from a certain period in my life.  It is, in a sense, finished.  And yet, the rest is still unwritten.