One of my favorite things about Christmas and December is experiencing the accumulation of layers. The layers that form from life plus time. This is true of all the little boxes we move through over and over again in the passage of time. It's just more pronounced at Christmas.
I say "experiencing" the accumulation of layers because the layers—smells, sensations, and memories; people, places, and things; songs, movies, and books; the feelings that these things arouse—are always there and accumulating. But it sometimes takes certain things to get them stirring and turn them back into experiences. Christmas is one of those things.
Over the past few nights, I watched the films Drive My Car and The Banshees of Inisherin. I loved them both. And now they are Christmas movies that I get to love and return to every year. Never mind that they have nothing to do with Christmas. Maybe they didn't before. But they do to me now. So therefore they do.
When I watch the movies again, at any point in the year, they will take me directly to the layer that I'm experiencing for the first time now, while simultaneously being cut with the new layer I'll be creating then. And on and on it will go like this, for as long as I do anyway, these little bits of magic that take the sting out of living for a few minutes or hours or days. Christmas miracles, if you will, or just plain miracles.
The other day I took a drive on my motorcycle to clear my head. It's a regular drive of mine, one that passes through rice paddies and moves toward mountains and along a river. It's a layer of its own that rubs up against the other layers I started accumulating in this town in 2013.
The drive was familiar. What was different was the smell. Or rather, what was different was the familiarity of the smell. Something hit me that took me back decades, to somewhere near the beginning. My beginning. I couldn't pin it down at first. But eventually I put it together. It was the combined smell of graham crackers and juice, and the layer that was activated was a memory of preschool.
There's not much there. Just a blurry image of a room. Small bodies on the floor. Big ones in a chair reading and in the periphery moving about. But there I was for a minute, with strange feelings of closeness to an early 1980s remnant, and more appropriate ones of distance.
Most of the cities and countries I've lived or spent time in outside of the US are timestamped by years. London was 2011–2012. Colombia was 2014. Cambodia was 2016–2017. Et cetera.
Thailand's different, though. Thailand's 2013–2014. But then it's nothing for a few years. And then it's 2017–present. So there's this weird thing that happens where I think about things that happened in 2017, or in the handful of years after, and because I associate my collection of different places with different one-year timeframes, it feels like that thing must have happened within the past year. I know this is not the case, of course. But sometimes it takes a minute. Because feelings don't give a damn about facts.
Likewise, something like Christmas might roll around and make me recall a past Christmas that feels like it must have been last year's but was really a whole bunch of years ago, maybe even five of them, or maybe even nine. The layers get all mixed up. Does this really have anything to do with the fact that I've now lived where I do for far longer than a year, or is it just what happens to everyone as time keeps pouring into life? I suspect it's the latter, no different from the graham crackers and apple juice and preschool, the layers of past and present mixing together, moving in circles, making something new and reviving something old.