the eleventh day

a scene of a hobbit house surrounded by flowering plants and a wicker fence, with a sign reading 'no admittance except on party business' nailed to the gate

taters, precious

TOPICAL: this is part of The Cycle of the Seasons series

The number eleven always reminds me of Bilbo’s 111th birthday, when he turned eleventy-one and threw a big birthday party full of food and laughter and gifts to others and, in the end, a disappearing trick.

And my favorite lines from this part of the story, from both the book and Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation:

“Alas, eleventy-one years is far too short a time to live among such excellent and admirable hobbits.” [cheers abound.] “I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”

Obfuscating an good-natured insult is just SO delightful to me. It is hilarious that his friends, his neighbors, are used to him being the sort of weirdo that says unintelligible things, but that he is indelibly part of his community. According to the story, it seems likely that nobody except Gandalf got a chuckle out of his wordy joke, but as the reader (or watcher), I got the same good chuckle out of it. Oh, Bilbo. Never change.

Today we are nearly complete. I wish I could tell you what we’ve been doing, but it honestly wouldn’t matter if I explained it or not. The value of our work can be measured in what our efforts bring forth. It’s not that trying hard by itself doesn’t count; it’s that impact is greater than intent.

Every year we try to get better at the nuances of this work. One person is doing a huge and important time-sensitive yearly task spread over twelve days, and the rest of us have positions to take up in support. Some of us support directly. Some of us support those people. The needs of this particular season meld with the needs of our household in general, and each day every task and goal rotates around the center, like a mobile of our solar system; each thing its own thing, each orbit important, the balancing act the most important part of all — for without that perfect balance, the planets smash into each other, their moons cratering into them or letting go and falling into the sun. None of what we did was perfect, but perfection was what we were aiming for, as much as each of us was able.

One of the things I realized this season is that when resources are scarce, we have to help each other to do self-care. We shouldn’t encourage someone to take fifteen minutes between things to breathe and get their heart rate a bit lower and find a calm space inside, without supporting them in being able to put everything down for fifteen minutes. It’s cruel to tell someone to sit down and breathe while a fire destroys everything because nobody stepped in to take a turn with the water brigade.

There are occasional times when we can all be doing some kind of self-care all at the same time, but those times are rare. Usually there are things that need doing, and for our household, that’s why we’ve worked so hard on processes AND remained flexible to learn from what’s working and what isn’t, and then using feedback from the people involved to shape a different way forward, to see if that will be better.

People with messiah complexes — or god complexes, which I think is maybe more accurate — tend to assume the role of person-in-charge, and I think this is because a) we feel that we can do the most good if we’re seeing the whole pattern at once, and b) we can feed our secondary martyr complex by noticing holes in the pattern and hurling ourselves into those empty spaces so that the whole thing can continue. I’m sure that over these microblogs, you’ve noticed that I have both a god complex and a martyr complex. I have trauma. I also have a therapist, and I have done enough work on myself that this year felt different than last year, in terms of how we did things and what we were able to provide for each other.

Was it perfect? No. Sometimes, seeing so much at a time can delude you into thinking you’re seeing everything, and that’s not usually true. It’s incredibly useful to have a pattern-recognition big-picture way of seeing, but that ability does not grant you a perfect sense of what to do in whatever situation comes up. I want to be perfect, and I know I can’t be. I try my best and sometimes I fail. Instead of letting guilt — my martyr complex, that old chestnut — wash over me and wash away the nuances of failure, I can instead resolve to let myself feel disappointment, or anger, or frustration, or fear; and then I can decide what that means. Do I need to go and make an apology now? Do I need to reconfigure and readjust and try again? Do I need to make a note to leave that alone next time? What wisdom can my failure give me?

Tomorrow is Twelfth Night, and it will be the twelfth day, counting from the day following the Winter Solstice. We have been cocooned in a web of careful intent and action, and while some of that is time-sensitive and time-specific and so does not need to be done on all the days of the year, the effort of doing important things every day for twelve days in a row always helps bring me back into connection with the land, with my family, and with myself.

Tomorrow I have the privilege of handing gifts to my family from the House, and being in the middle of smiles and jokes and letting myself just be; just be loved, just belong, just be here right now.

May the flame of your life grow brighter as the days grow longer.

— Nix

Our days traditionally begin at sunset. The darkness is all around us but we are safe here together inside these walls that we have fortified with love and with sacrifice.

featured image is a photo by Thandy Yung on Unsplash

Nix Kelley
Co-parent to multiple kids. Writer. Death doula. Member of the Order of the Good Death. Seeker on the Path of Light. Queer, non-binary, & trans.


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