Baubles in the attic

The ornaments are going back into hibernation. Today I took the tree down and put glass icicles, ceramic angels, miniature banjos, and a Santa or two back into boxes.

I left them up a week too long, because last weekend felt like too soon.The tree only went up a week before Christmas. I wonder if it should go up earlier in December and then come down shortly after the holiday, so we can mourn it and wish it lasted longer.

Is there a perfect ratio between anticipation and pleasure? Or, are experiences made more enjoyable by their ending before they are actually over?

Many years ago, a colleague of mine, a practiced dinner-party giver, told me that the perfect dinner party is three hours long. You want your guests to leave “in the middle,” while they’re still having fun. And if you’re at a party, try to tear yourself away at the three-hour mark.

He pointed out, too, that there is a natural lull at around three hours — I’ve tracked this over the years, and he’s right — and neither host nor guest should try to push beyond it, to whip a party up into a second burst. Eventually, the fun dies out, and people leave during a period of awkward deflation.

In writing, one is always advised to begin a story in the middle, after the action has begun. Perhaps endings — in writing, in experience — should be imposed on the action even when the revelers are still holding on.

This, of course, has nothing to do with human life or relationships, which I hope are extended satisfyingly as long as possible. The longevity of life and love: I’m down with that.

But dinner parties, stories, and holidays? Perhaps we must — for everyone’s enjoyment — end them right at the point our guests still wish for them to continue.

This may take firmness and grace.

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