Sunday, November 18, 2012

holidays PSA

Ok, so i know i need to get more consistent about social media again.  And it really ought to do with writing and literary matters.  But that's not what i'm here to address today.  Today is a PSA.  Maybe it's the copious amount of red wine from last night, maybe it's hormones, maybe it's Mercury retrograde, but i feel like this needs to be addressed and the air cleared.  This may go long and will get personal.

Read on for more....

People who know me know i gripe about Christmas at this time of year.  It keeps coming earlier and earlier (i'll never forget the time i saw Christmas decorations in a department store on October 29!), it's loud, it's in-your-face, it's chock full of stress and expectations and self-centeredness and greed.  I'm no Scrooge, i'm not miserly, i like to share what i can and be social and convivial and cheerful.  But you know what?  I am a total Grinch, i have no problem admitting it.  I hate the noise, noise, noise, noise.

But i have my reasons.  To a lot of people, probably most people, Christmas is all about the jolly ho-ho-ho bit.  Singing, jingling, extravaganza.  For me... all i want is quiet and peace and a time of year to be reflective and warm.  Not all this overwhelming joy.  That has some to do with the time of year - it's dark, it's cold, it's quiet - nature seems to be impelling us to reflection, to thoughtfulness, to cozying in, that sort of thing.

With the natural reflection this time of year comes thinking about those who aren't with us, whether that means mortality, distance, or schism.  Those first losses probably weren't really even recognized at the time, but i think they can be really formative.  I don't know how much i thought about it that first Christmas without my grandma, then some years later without grandpa, but i know holidays were never quite the same without them.  It wasn't the presents of the grandparents (who, yes, totally spoiled me and, to a perhaps slightly lesser extent, my brother) - it was the presence of the grandparents, who were my best friends when i was a kid.  I don't come from a large family.  My mother was an only child and my dad's family were all halfway across the country.  The closest blood relatives in this area were my mother's two cousins.  My family were always the black sheep, which was probably a lot to do with my parents never really closing off that hippie mindset and some undiagnosed/untreated mental health issues.

Some years after the losses of my grandparents and the reduced family holiday with a lot of discarded traditions, my parents separated.  My dad moved back to where his family were, halfway across the country, and again our holiday was suddenly smaller and involved a lot of "what used to be" memories.  By then i was old enough to cognitively grasp how the changes affected me and our family, and i was also self-aware enough to deal with it fairly well, if not to quite reach resolution on it.  A few years ago, after my parents had had time to deal with the separation themselves, my dad decided to make a few holiday visits, at Thanksgiving or Christmas.  Last November, dad moved back to Pittsburgh and was living with us during Thanksgiving and Christmas.  This Thanksgiving and Christmas, dad will be living in Florida.  Ch-ch-ch-changes.

I think it was generally during these family changes that i began to see how much i really disliked a lot of what Christmas represented to me.  I was really into a more spiritual/earth-based mind-frame at that time and felt some resentment about the Christian Christmas using so many of the natural symbols that "pagan" cultures used at the Solstice - the tree, the star, candles, all that.  It was also around that time that i realized i hated Christmas music passionately.  They played it for a solid month in the office i was working in at the time (a church office, no less!)  And stuff like "The Christmas Shoes"?  Yeah, you thought Neil Young and Leonard Cohen were downers!

A few years ago, between Christmas and New Year, i lost a friend to an intentionally self-inflicted gunshot wound.  I don't presume to diagnose the deceased, but he showed a lot of signs of bipolar disorder.  He was most "up" when he was with friends, celebrating, partying, he had so much energy he couldn't sit still.  His big grin was incredibly infectious.  I don't think we often saw his "down" times, but he lived a good distance from our gathering places in town and i think there was no small amount of social isolation involved, as well as some deep family problems.  I remember about a month before his death, he wrote me a long email, venting about some money problems, work problems, and car problems.  That was really odd for him, he didn't often reach out for more than a quick "hey, are you going to the show this weekend?  See you there!"  I think i remember feeling concerned at the time and i know in my reply i told him about a crisis center which could help him with services and/or counseling if he felt he needed something like that.  Just a couple weeks later some of us were planning to get together to celebrate another friend being in town.  Those plans fell through and i think in retrospect i can see how something like that, something to which most of us would say, "oh well, catch you all next time around," would have a bigger impact on someone who possibly struggled with social isolation.  I wish he could know how missed he is, most especially at this time of year.

Just this summer, i lost my best friend.  It's a loss that is still fresh in a lot of ways and isn't always easy to deal with.  My best friend, out of all the truly wonderful people who i am so fortunate to have in my life, was my 3 year old cat Stanley.  It's been like losing a child for me and as anyone who's grieved a pet can tell you, there aren't a lot of people who really, truly understand.  I'm lucky to be mentally stable, self-aware, and to be educated in mental health enough to be able to cope in healthy ways, but that doesn't always make it hurt any less.  Stanley liked Christmas.  He was fascinated, of course, with the tree, like most cats (even though we only had artificial ones with him).  But he wasn't the sort of cat who tried to climb it or knock off the baubles.  Stan just liked to look at it or curl up under it.  He liked to "help" me wrap presents on Christmas eve and i enjoyed that quiet time with him.  He was a quiet little guy who disliked chaos and tension as much as i do.  We understood one another like that.  His favorite thing in the world was just curling up next to me at bed time (and chasing butterflies and watching birds).  Not a day went by that i didn't tell him i loved him.  And if cats can't understand those words, then they can surely understand hugs, head-bumps, and being let in when they're outside your bedroom door meowing to come curl up.

So, the point of all this twaddle - while everyone else is busy hustle-and-bustle, merry-jollying and doing it with jingling, flashing, sparkling, waving, and blaring... some of us just want quiet.  It's a reflective and bittersweet time for me and i daresay a few other people too.  I'm fine, but i miss a lot of people these days and i want the time to be with that feeling, to be responsive to it, and to think about the year past and the year ahead.  So let's don't rush Christmas coming, ok?  Let me have Halloween first, because i always enjoy that.  And i like autumn, so let me enjoy Thanksgiving's autumn air too.  Then you can fa-la-la yourself for a month, ok?  I know, you all love it.  I'm not waging a war on Christmas (though i do prefer to use the term holidays because i am also sensitive to the fact that Christmas isn't the only winter holiday - and the other holidays don't shove themselves in my face for two months).  I still like baking cookies, and having a pretty tree, and minty candles, some of the songs that people actually bothered to write, and cups of cheer (many, many, many cups).  And as much as i hate snow, i love what happens when it snows just enough to put down a layer that absorbs a lot of the noise outside and makes everything so still in the air.

Ok, that's my piece.  I'm going to shower up and get to bed now.  Watch for some actual literary stuff here soon (i promise!)

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