The point system
So, the end of a year, the beginning of another; the old greybeard with the scythe teeters off, the baby with the 2007 banner across his chest crawls onstage. Which should make us all feel better, right, innocence and new slates and all that? Except with age comes some sort of wisdom, and the capriciousness of infants doesnâ€™t always make them the best guardians of the public weal.
For me, this has been one of those â€œwhat doesnâ€™t break you makes you strongerâ€ years, when the hoary clichÃ© about God not giving you a greater burden than you can handle lingers in the front of the mind, making you wonder, with a sort of exhausted curiosity, just what else God can set upon your shoulders, and which addition will smash you flat-out like Bambi on the ice, legs splayed beneath the accumulation of shit. There was plenty more that could have been piled on, and the knowledge that my own load would have seemed light to some people merely made me nervously wondering just what would be chosen next: the son in Iraq, the daughter driving the freeways, the precarious state of publishing contracts.
But 2006 did not (quite) (yet) reduce me to a state of gibbering idiocy, or more prosaically give me a stroke as an excuse to turn the world off for a while. I wrote a book, I put meals on the table, I met most of my obligations, I supported an ill husband for 365 days and nights. I cried, yes, but I laughed as well, and I managed to cut myself a break most of the time and remind myself that there was a bigger picture, even if I couldnâ€™t see it all the time. I relied on the generosity of friends and especially family, and that alone made me a better person.
Iâ€™ve decided that the reason I feel good about the year comes down to the point system. The television comedy My Name is Earl rests on this system, the setup being that a redneck troublemaker named Earl discovers the idea of karma, and has to work his way through a list of past wrongs in order to feel right.
A silly program, nicely acted, it stands, as most good comedy does, on a serious foundation: when you crap in your neighborâ€™s yard, your own shoes are apt to stink.
But the point system works beyond the idea of compensating for past wrongs. You get points for doing things rightâ€”points not with God, not even in the scorekeeping of others, but with yourself. Women, I think, tend to be particularly versed in the point system, taking quiet pride in managing to cope with burdens that would flatten most men, whose strength is not in endurance.
You get points for politenessâ€”and the harder it is, the more the points. You get points for expressing love. You get points for taking a walk or a run or just a few minutes to appreciate your surroundings. You get points for saying Thank You, bigger points for meaning it, even bigger points when you donâ€™t mean it but manage to sound like you do (this is called sarcasm, and it has the added benefit of amusing you at the same time it puzzles your target), and mega points by expressing your thanks in a manner that makes the other person feel good about him or herself. You get points for singingâ€”and if your singing annoys, well, the other person gets points for putting up with it. You get points for walking the dog, and more for not making the kids feel small for not walking the dog. You get points for earning money and for cleaning the house and for running the family business (or running the family as a business) and for thinking creatively about the future and for making decisions that balance responsibility with fun.
Some days, you get points just for remembering to breathe.
So, adding up the year for Laurie King: On the professional side, I get points for finishing (more or less) a book, more for writing a short story, a few for writing this blog (something thatâ€™s fun as well doesnâ€™t count as much), a few for touring (same reason), and a bunch for sitting down and answering fan letters. I get tons of points for the wifely thing, and a bunch more for maternal duties that ranged from airport runs at inconvenient times to keeping my mouth shut until asked for advice. I get points for not beating myself up over failures, points whenever I treated my body and spirit with compassion and understanding, and a few points for being a decent daughter most of the time.
In all this, if we were deducting points it would be over this last role, because my mother has got the short end of the stick when it came to my time and energies. I would like to be able to say that Iâ€™d done as much for her as she deserved, or as I felt I should have.
Butâ€”and this is key to the systemâ€”we donâ€™t deduct points. We donâ€™t obsess over the things we ought not to have done, we donâ€™t beat ourselves up over things we should have done and didnâ€™t, we donâ€™t have a list like Earlâ€™s that needs to be balanced.
In this, weâ€™re more like another comedy program Whoâ€™s Line is it? (the British version, not the one with that oaf Carey.) Points are given, but in fact, the points donâ€™t matter. Itâ€™s the giving of the points that counts.
So to all of you who have read this, who have read one of my books, and especially for anyone who has plunked down hard-earned cash for one of my books, I make you a New Yearâ€™s gift: An armload of points, to start the year off well.
And may that rambunctious baby whoâ€™s about to take over treat us all gently.