Scarred for Life—Christmas Shit I Reject

This is something I love. New York at Christmas.

This is something I love. New York at Christmas.

Growing up, I had a strange relationship with Christmas because I spent all my childhood from age 3 to emancipation (at age 17) leaving my mother (in NYC) to go be with my dad (in Pennsylvania). I knew I was abandoning my mother to whatever fate befalls women whose children leave on Christmas. (For all I know she was having an annual torrid two-week affair with the doorman or bar hopping with elves, but I imagined her drinking coffee and reading endless Agatha Christie novels.)

All that is ancient history at this point. As a grown woman, one of my favorite treats as a mother has been doing the whole Christmas thing.

I do not accept that the holiday is fundamentally bad because #commercialism #greed #crappytoys. There is love to be shared, and family to loll around with in PJs, and great food that has no calories because it is a holiday, and even when you find yourself alone (as I am for several hours this Christmas late afternoon), the lessons to be learned are the kind that heal and make us grow. This I believe.

But I will not under any circumstances sanction the following….

  1. Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving. christmas-up-before-thanksgivingI know I share this pet peeve with many others who also bemoan the jingling of bells that nowadays occurs in SEPTEMBER in some stores. And I would add, the premature yard/house decorating that also takes place. There are rules. Santa comes waltzing down from the North Pole ON THANKSGIVING during a certain parade that happens in New York, courtesy of Macy’s. Yes, yes I know. Commercialism. But not really. The parade is a gift from Macy’s to the city of New York as well as every town and borough and country lane where it is televised. They go to all the trouble of getting Santa to make an appearance at the beginning of the holiday season. (There are a few other parades that day, like one in Detroit, but the real Santa is in NYC, obviously.) After that, you can put up your lights, your tree, and start piping in the music.
  2. The island of misfit toys. misfit-toysThis is very personal for me. I grew up watching Rudolph and was scarred for life (over and over again) by the unutterable sadness of rejected toys living out their lives, banished on some cartoon equivalent of the gulag archipelago. When I was raising my kids, we NEVER watched that movie. If my children saw it, believe me it was without my knowledge.
  3. Shitty desserts. Fruit cake. Plum pudding. Panettone (okay that one might not be a dessert, I’m not sure). Springerle cookies. Mincemeat pie. WHY?
  4. Christmas songs that are just not right. To name a few…. “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is about a ubiquitous stalker who threatens all children with barely veiled horrid outcomes. I mean, he sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you are awake. Does he have a nannycam in every house? Creeper! Every sexist holiday song ever written. Here are two. “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” is gender stereotyping boys as killers and girls as baby-machines. But worst of all: “Baby It’s Cold Outside” = date rape. The whole song is about how he talks over her. And then: no consent. Then: roofie. It sucks.
  5. Fake trees. purple-fake-treeAs a toddler, when I first saw a live tree brought inexplicably into the house, I questioned my parents’ sanity (apparently this did happen). But that experience never scarred me for life. The first time I saw a fake tree—now that was just wrong. I now know that fake trees are terrible for the environment, so I can be a little self-righteous about this. But regardless—artificial greenery of any kind is a holiday NO. And when the “greenery” is pink, blue, purple, or silver, with glitter? There is evil afoot.
  6. Blue Christmas lights. blue-lightsWhile we are talking about crimes against the holiday, let’s put it out there. A tree all lit with blue lights is a very very very sad tree. A house with blue candles in the window, or blue strings draping the arbor vitae is a house I do not want to visit. Sorry if you are that blue-light person. I am not.
  7. People who celebrate Christmas but don’t understand it. I am not a Christian, but I am all about Christmas. I recognize the many pagan roots of the holiday and I also honor the Christ-like spirit that imbues Christmas with its modern-day meaning. So when people shove you aside to get to the on-sale stocking stuffer aisle at CVS or mutter ugly comments under their breath at a harassed café worker or the holier than thou characters who live their entire lives waging war against the underserved in our society and then make up a non-existent “war on Christmas” because some people don’t happen to celebrate that particular holiday… all I can say is, “Hypocrisy much?” is-there-a-war-on-christmas1

2016 was one of the worst years in recent memory if you have a fondness for Prince, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Leonard Cohen, Patty Duke, George Michael, the environment, human rights, the first amendment, or the US Constitution in general. So at this holiday season, I really have focused on love. And food, I admit, but only because I love food. All the love in the world can cure, or at least mitigate the effects of, shitty desserts, blue tree lights, elections interfered with by foreign powers, dangerous songs, and lots of other things, that matter a little, not at all, or lots and lots. So, love love love to you and thanks for reading.

drummer

My Body Tells Me So

blue xmas

A few weeks ago my internal soul rhythms, for lack of a better term, grew distinctly unrhythmic. Swallowed unexpectedly by inexplicable sadness at work, or in my car navigating a holiday parking lot, or proofreading a document for the 432nd time. Not inherently sorrowful activities.

I would awaken out of an ordinary moment to the heavy darkness rising inside my chest. That feeling in my throat –tight, achy, and swollen with unuttered sound. Hot tears threatening. What the hell?

On some level, not being a complete moron, I realized it had something to do with the holidays. Holidays I truly love and holidays I am beyond excited about because this year, unlike last, I will (for one thing) have my children with me. And I have (for another thing) a sense of what the future can be, maybe, if I will make it so. That (for another thing) there is a future for me. And so much more than that.

It’s not what is, but what was. It’s not where I am, it’s where I was. The anniversary came upon me unbidden, and caught me by surprise in an unguarded moment. Repeatedly.

Every moment of our lives is an anniversary of something, if you look at it a certain way. I mean, ten years ago this minute I was doing something. If I was driving my kids to get their hair cut, then this is the anniversary of my doing that. If I was chopping carrots, this moment is a carrot anniversary. An absurd notion. An anniversary, by definition, “a date that is observed on an annual basis because it is the same date as an important event in a past year.”

Emotionally, anniversaries of happy events feel good. We honor them, at least take note of them. They involve, at the very least, a smile, a toast, a special piece of pie. At best, maybe a cruise around the Greek islands, if you’re lucky, or a nice dinner out. However, we often forget anniversaries until they are upon us. It’s not that we don’t care about them, but they don’t intrude into our consciousness. They are rarely pushy and demanding. Some people even forget anniversaries altogether. That’s why Hallmark makes so many versions of the “belated” card.

Then why is it that our bodies are capable of such treacherous, overwhelming reactions – entirely outside what is in our consciousness – to the return of seasons that mark traumatic events from the past?  Talk about pushy and demanding. Those nasty anniversaries will have their way.

Such memory lives in the body, not the mind where we think memory hangs out.

Of course I had “thought” about what a different place I’m in this year than last. Last year: the explosion of what I thought my life was, the immolation of the love I thought would comfort me till life’s end, the realization that I had screwed up badly, misjudged horribly, and neglected to take care of myself. The essential realization that I was utterly alone, unfriended, and far from home on Christmas. Total bottoming out. I spent Christmas Day packing boxes. The movers came the next day and by end of week I was flying out of Louisiana and back to the frozen north where I hoped warmth awaited me.

Despite the life-threatening pain I felt, I still could not empathize with my own predicament, choosing instead to rail against myself for getting into this mess in the first place. The one person who deserved my love and support—me – wasn’t getting it. But for right now, that stuff’s not important. The point is, sure, I “thought about it.” As this recent Thanksgiving approached, I did a mental inventory of the last year. As Thanksgiving receded, I was still, in my head, “thinking about it.” Categorized, filed, compartmentalized conveniently somewhere where I could pull it out if I wanted to. But why would I want to? Best to keep it tucked away. At least till the holidays were over.

Yeah, but as I’ve established, that’s not how that kind of memory works. Unprocessed shit, and all the terror and/or sadness it has attached to it, has a way of residing in the lining of the stomach, the muscles of the bowels, the tissue of the solar plexus, the highways and byways of the circulatory system. Since my inner organs don’t have a calendar or a clock, I can only assume that, using the circadian rhythms inherent in all life, my own body said, “Hey, it’s that time again!”

BAM.

My goal is to become whole enough… holistic enough, that different “parts” of me can’t sucker punch other “parts” of me on a whim. Not long after my second or third crying jag, I took out my journal and lifted the sluice gate. The process began to flow, or rather gush. There’s no end in sight at least for now, so it’ll take time, and in case you were worried, I am giving it the time it deserves. I promise. And it’s not like I didn’t do ANY processing during the preceding year. For a long time after fleeing (everything), the process was about emotional and psychic survival, full stop. Gradually it became about so much more. Some rooting out. Some letting in. Some getting help. Some wallowing in aloneness. Etc.

But it ain’t over, is it? My body tells me so.