The best of what’s around

Ush­er­ing in a new age of en­light­en­ment


My grand­mother on my mother’s side, the wid­owed com­man­der of a brood of six chil­dren, was pre­sented with the daily task of stay­ing afloat on a very lim­ited bud­get.

She rose to the chal­lenge, stretch­ing ev­ery morsel of food and inch of fab­ric to cover the de­mands of her fam­ily. Her re­source­ful­ness truly shined ev­ery De­cem­ber, when she cre­ated low­cost al­ter­na­tives to the usual hol­i­day fare.

As a trib­ute to my late grand­mother, my Mama still pre­pares her “un­baked fruit cake,” a sticky-sweet mish­mash of con­densed milk, vanilla wafers, and can­died fruit, formed into a loaf and left to har­den on the counter for sev­eral weeks.

It barely qual­i­fies as food. The po­lite but un­for­tu­nate re­la­tions who have at­tempted in­gest­ing this con­coc­tion have ei­ther lost teeth or ex­pe­ri­enced in­stan­ta­neous in­sulin shock.

My sis­ter Shan­non and I have spent years re­mind­ing Mama that the only rea­son our grand­mother pre­pared this mon­stros­ity is be­cause she was poor. Had the op­tion of pre­par­ing ac­tual fruit­cake been fi­nan­cially vi­able, she would have glee­fully done so. Per­haps a more fit­ting trib­ute to our grand­mother would be bak­ing the fancy fruit­cake that eluded her all those years.

Mama re­mains un­moved by our en­treaties, declar­ing un­baked fruit­cake a sa­cred fam­ily tra­di­tion, whether any of us like it or not.

My birth­day’s next week — it’s my Je­sus year. I’ll be 33, which is as far as Je­sus got if you don’t count the Res­ur­rec­tion. Ac­cord­ing to some in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the Mayan cal­en­dar, it’s as far as I’ll be get­ting as well.

Con­sid­er­ing I’m cur­rently liv­ing in a world where they’re tak­ing away Twinkies and I can’t have Chick-fil-a for eth­i­cal rea­sons, I’ve made my peace with the pos­si­bil­ity of things wrap­ping up in the next month or so.

But then there are oth­ers who say that the 2012 “End of Days” proph­e­sies re­fer to a new age of en­light­en­ment — a rad­i­cal shift in hu­man in­ter­ac­tion. There’s ev­i­dence to sup­port that.

My mar­riage li­cense re­cently picked up ser­vice in a few new states. The next time I go to Colorado, I can ap­par­ently get to­tally baked with­out fear of retri­bu­tion. It’s all ter­ri­bly ex­cit­ing, although I’m sure there are peo­ple who would take th­ese as signs that the world is end­ing.

I make lit­tle notes ev­ery birth­day of things I’d like to achieve in the coming year. I am no­to­ri­ous for my over­plan­ning. “Get in shape” is al­ways on there. So is paint­ing the house, and get­ting this damn tat­too of a type­writer I’ve wanted for about seven years.

One year I ac­tu­ally put “Stop over­plan­ning” on the list. I don’t know why I do it to my­self. I sup­pose it’s tra­di­tion.

Per­haps Mama and I would be well-ad­vised to con­sider what “tra­di­tion” really is. It’s in­tended to be an ac­tiv­ity you ac­tu­ally en­joy re­peat­ing, like watch­ing “Re­venge” with my hus­band, or drink­ing a whole pot of cof­fee on Sun­day morn­ings.

An­nu­ally pre­par­ing a brick of cookie crumbs and neon green cher­ries, or mak­ing a list of things you never ac­tu­ally do, is not tra­di­tion. It’s just mak­ing the same mis­take over and over and not learn­ing any­thing.

I’ve had the same con­ver­sa­tion about the type­writer tat­too with my hus­band Preppy for years. I talk about want­ing it, then talk my­self out of it be­cause I might have to cover it if I get an act­ing gig.

This year, Preppy tried a dif­fer­ent tac­tic when I brought it up. He pointed out that I spend a lot more time as my­self than I do as some­one else, so shouldn’t I do what would make me happy?

I’m gonna hold out hope on the no­tion of this new age of en­light­en­ment, even in a world with­out Twinkies. For good or bad, my Je­sus year will be what it will be.

Some­times the re­sults will be fan­tas­tic, and some­times it’ll be an un­baked fruit­cake: The best mix of what I have to work with at the moment, with the hope of some­thing bet­ter later.

No lists this time. Let’s just see what lies ahead.

To­pher Payne is an At­lanta-based play­wright, and the au­thor of the book “Nec­es­sary Lux­u­ries: Notes on a Semi-Fab­u­lous Life.” Find out more at to­pher­

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