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An old year ended on the EleventhDay of Christmas.

The Muse and I piled old magazines high on the dining room table and started snipping images. For many New Year’s Eves before The Exile, we’d created collages for each New Year. This involved cutting pictures more or less at random from old magazines, then arranging and gluing them onto poster board. A friend who long ago introduced us to this practice insisted that the resulting ‘work’, over the following year, would manifest whatever it depicts.

We’d had collage parties in the past. We even ended one workshop by inviting the participants over to The Villa Vatta Schmaltz to snip and glue their futures together. Since The Exile, though, we’d not continued the practice. Heartbroken and disoriented, I suppose, that first year, we lost the rhythm of the practice and hadn’t picked it up again until now. I felt long-dormant muscle memory reviving as I started flipping pages through an unlikely supply of magazines, few very image-filled.

Little conversation happens, and at first suitable pictures seem to only begrudgingly present themselves. I listened to my inner critic evaluating my progress—which was intended to be play, confident that unlike every previous time, this year end’s collage would probably fall short of every previous year’s result. What was I aspiring to, anyway?

The method doesn’t seem to care whether I’m clear about my aspirations or not. I chase bright-shiny; any attractive image might serve as a viable piece of the resulting puzzle. I find a picture of an elephant hang-gliding and rip out that page. Another of the Snake River country and pull that one, too, slowly building a small collection of interesting stuff. The Muse seems, as usual, more focused. She brought some very definite aspirations into the exercise, most directly associated with specific, physical places, though the collection of Economists and Smithsonians seem to yield little usable stuff. Her pile grows anyway.

The radio’s playing old jazz, Fats Waller and Bix Beiderbecke. The old year starts showing her age. Projects started, some finished, others abandoned. Encouragement, discouragement, joy and frustration sway together to music time has almost lost. The future, for the moment, feels just as lost as that long-ago past, and I seem suspended in a sliver of space in between; neither here nor there for now. As if suspended on a mechanic’s lift getting my oil changed, I have no place to go tonight and nothing left to regret.

The pile of old alternative music fanzines a neighbor contributed leave me feeling depressed until I just stop leafing through them. Mass narcissism seems to have lost its charm for me. I pour through old Economists instead. At least they have ironic headlines and a few potentially useful images. I find one that shows a cloud standing in for the ice cream atop a sugar cone, and add that one to the still meager pile. I switch to New Yorkers where I find a few useables. Distracted by the cartoons, I snip a couple of those, too.

Somehow, as the clock ticks past eleven, we seem to be arriving. I box up the now fully gleaned magazines to make room for the poster boards, and we start arranging as if we’d synchronized our schedules.

I’m finally focused, and I end up with exactly the right number of images and they almost arrange themselves. I open the rubber cement and start gluing the periphery before moving into the center, working ... playing ... in a rough spiral. I am completely oblivious to whatever The Muse is doing.

And then it’s done. Just before midnight, in the last moments of the old year, we gather up trimmings and I move those heavy boxes of ravaged magazines to the front porch. The rubber cement smell hangs in the room. Two unlikely collages cover the table. I step outside to light two luminaria in homage to the old finally connecting with the new. I am pleased with my result, and The Muse with hers. Mine has Schmaltz and hers has substance. Mine almost entirely metaphorical, her’s graphically explicit; that old emulsion appearing again.

Nothing propels anyone into any future. The future overtakes us and the past quite naturally slips away, no propulsion necessary. What, then, manifests possibility? If this question had an easy answer, no self-help book would have ever been written. Perhaps a ritual manifests possibility, and it might not matter what ritual one employs; sacred or sacrilegious, mindful or mindless, reflective or reactive. Something seems to draw me into manifesting my possibilities. The Exile muted that Pied Piper’s melody. This EleventhDay made it audible again for me.

On the radio, Bing Crosby began, “One minute to midnight, one minute to go. One minute to say goodbye before we say hello.” A dim yellow glow from the Christmas tree lit the recently rearranged living room, our newly re-rearranged life. The Muse and I followed Bing’s instructions, kissing the old year out while kissing the new year in. I have no idea how those images, randomly selected, might manifest in the new year. We’re here, Exile officially behind us, receding into gratefully unreliable memory.

Bing asks, “How can our love go wrong if we start the new year right?” How, indeed.

©2014 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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