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So what ever happened to my Christmas spirit anyway? When did I become a Hum Bug, a naysayer, a recluse from all the bright lights and tinsel-draped merry making? I can't really say when it happened. I suppose it was a gradual thing. First I lost my enthusiasm and later came the resistance. Now at 59, the whole affair strikes me as a senseless nuisance, an unwelcome mess, a complication in a life that already has enough to confound it. I want no trees, no lights, no gifts for that matter. A few candles would be more than enough.
And then my grandson says he needs to get a gift for his Mommy, and I am all at once on board with the holidays. Spending too much on something wonderful for the people I love. And then I find out that my other grandchildren are going to come here for a holiday visit, and now I need lights and a tree. And more shopping. And gift wrapping and meal planning, and cleaning the house. Because they are young and this matters to them. I took Tre to the jewelry store so he could buy his Mommy a pretty ring.
Boy when the computer goes sideways it is easy to get behind on your words. All I want for Christmas is a new computer this year, but I don't think I am going to get it. The snow is falling outside and everything is in slow motion and so very quiet. It's like looking into a crystal ball. It draws you out of your inner mind, reflects your thoughts and feelings back to you in waves and takes the stress down an octave at a time. The trees stand stoic. I wonder what the birds are doing to stay warm.
When I was 11, I spent Christmas in the hospital. I remember doubling up in pain and my parents telling me to get over myself, until finally it was apparent that I wasn't "being a baby" and that something was really wrong. I had surgery on Christmas eve to remove a ruptured appendix, and on Christmas day I woke up to find my parents had left a tiny Christmas tree on my bedstand. It must have been about eight inches tall, and it had the tiniest balls I have ever seen. But no lights. I remember that little tree.
Every year I dread Christmas. For me it is an opportunity to be surrounded by stuff, assaulted by lights and bombarded by bad music. I love winter, but what I like most about it is how quiet it is in the cold. I like being out in the woods in the snow. I like feeling my nose go numb from the freezing temperature outside. I like to hear the snow crunching under my boots, and knocking some off a limb and watching the light catch and glitter in the snowflakes as they fall to the ground, silently. I like to be cold.
How do the birds do it? Survive in the winter? Granted, most of the birds have long since left for warmer climates, but not all. Some really tiny little birds are here all winter. I watch them flit from feeder to feeder in the backyard and between the branches of the Sub Alpine Fir tree and in and out of the cypresses. The twitter of their calls breaks the winter stillness. Richard plows trails to all the bird feeders in the yard. It is for the birds that he shovels the driveway, so he can get them food.
December 7th was Jack's birthday. I once loved him desperately. I remember. He was my very own John Wayne, the strong silent manly man. A good man, moral to a fault. Knowing. A leader. He taught me how to fish and hunt, moved me to the northwest, and gave me my only child. Not bad for seven years. But he was too old for me, and eventually I grew up and he grew old and part we must. He was tall and grumpy looking, but he doted on his children. He just could not understand it when I left him.
What the hell is writer's block anyway? I think it is a loss of faith. You wake up one day and you think you have no talent, and then you go blank. Nothing comes. The page stares back at you, like a mirror and you think, see. That's the truth, my head is as empty as a discarded drum and sounds as hollow when bumped. Oh the self-recriminations. The damnations. The horrors. It's no wonder so many writers are drunks. I am not a drunk. Sober and sullen, the dry days drift by like a grudge. Boring and barren.
I bought a book about comedy writing. It's called "What Are You Laughing At?" I started reading it with hope that somehow I could, even I, could learn to be funny. Alas, I am not funny. And so I started at page one and diligently attended for about forty pages, when it hit me that I just didn't get it. None of it made any sense to me at all. I kept waiting for it to make sense, but it never did. Finally, I gave it up, closed the book and shrugged my shoulders and shook my head and laughed.
If I can get used to being a tiny bit hungry, the weight will come off. That is all there is to it. You have to burn more than you eat, and the way to know that is to be just a little bit hungry. Eating at night is my downfall. It seems like when the sun goes down, my appetite goes up. I once had a coworker who every year gave up eating after five in the evening, for Lent. Every year, he lost twenty pounds during Lent. He'd gain weight all winter and lose it in the Spring.
He was always a pervert. When I was little, we lived in an apartment. It had a fire escape. At night he would take a pair of binoculars and go out on the fire escape and look in windows. Sometimes he climbed up on the roof. He would come home and tell my mother all the exciting things he had seen. She would try to stop him from talking about it in front of us. But he was obsessed with it. I knew there was something wrong with him. How could I ever have guessed it would go so far?
Every year there are fewer and fewer Christmas cards. Oh it's not that people have died. But we have lost touch. I search for old friends on the people searching sites on the web, but mostly I have no luck. When I was younger I made new friends, but now that I am older it seems harder somehow to connect that way. Maybe it is the enthusiasm that has waned. I don't seem to have the energy to make new friends. No Richard on the other hand, connects in this warm and reassuring way. People just like him. It's strange.
I have three grand children. Their names are Sasha, Aaron and Tre. Sasha is 12, Aaron is 10 and Tre is 5. All three are handsome and bright and healthy. Two of them live over three hundred miles away, across on the other side of the Washington mountains, on the shoulder of Mt. Rainier. In the rain. But the little one lives here in Spokane. I wish they all lived here. It's true what they say about being a grand parent. It really is life paying off. Grand children exist to give you happiness and someone to love unconditionally.
My daughter is nothing like me. But when I look at her, I see my little girl like she was when she was three years old: happy beyond measure. I remember her carrying a kitten in the hood of her sweatshirt, turning back to look at me and laugh out loud, walking on the ditch bank in the summer in Vale. Her hair was the color of new honey and curled up in the back along her neck. She sucked her thumb when she was thinking really hard about something.
I know why men leave their wives for younger women. It isn't because they are only attracted to young women. It's because older women lose interest in sex. Men, however, do not. I myself have experienced this. After menopause there simply are not enough hormones being pumped into the system. And it turns out, after all, that it is all chemistry. Two nights ago, I had a sexual dream and woke up aroused. But it quickly faded, too quickly, and I turned over and went back to sleep. In years past, I would have awakened my husband. In years past.
My daughter is snowed in. We were snowed in most of the day today too. I don't know how much snow can pile up on our roof before it finally starts to slide off, but so far it has four feet of snow on it and it is all just sitting there. My dog loves it. She's a Siberian Husky, and she loves to romp around in the snow. It makes her happy just to roll in it, jump in it, dive into it with her face. Then she looks up at you with those big brown eyes and smiles.
The cat is not amused. He gives us reproachful looks, as if the snow was our doing. Rascal is beside himself. He can't believe he is stuck in the house. His nerves are frazzled. There is a crazed look in his eyes, and he is picking more fights than usual with Lacey. She, of course, wants nothing to do with him. Yesterday, Richard cleared a trail, so he could get outside for at least a few minutes. I assured him the cat was smart enough to stay on the trail. But he didn't come back. But there he was stuck.
We like the snow. Really we do. Quiet, white and cold. What's not to like? Today, we spent five hours in the snow. We shoveled until our arms went limp. This was the second time in three days we had to shovel the driveway. No sooner do we get it cleared enough to get one of the cars out, then the snow plow comes by and widens the driving lane some more. Today we had a three foot high berm of ice. I hacked it apart and Richard scooped it up and tossed it onto the pile...I should say mountain.
My grandson lost his first tooth yesterday. This morning he found a dollar under his pillow. A whole dollar! Talk about inflation, huh? I remember when a quarter was a lot of money for a kid. My uncle used to keep a supply on hand. He had a leather coin purse that had slots for different denominations of change. He was an easy touch. He told me when he was a kid, you had to pay a nickel to take a cow across the Brooklyn Bridge. Imagine walking a cow to market in New York City. When Brooklyn had farms.
Five days until Christmas. I took my grandson to the mall and we got him pictures with Santa Clause. He says he knows that store Santas are really just Santa's helpers and not the real Santa Clause. But how does he get down the chimney, he wants to know. He's an elf, I say. A what? An elf! He's little, and besides that he's magic. Now ordinarily I don't lie to my grandson, but here I am spouting this trash at him, and he's looking at me like I'm really strange. We even wrote a letter to Santa, North Pole.
Santa, oh Santa, if only you were real. I would make a wish. But what would I wish for? I would wish for world peace, an end to hunger, a cure for cancer. I would wish for eternal life, for a lot of money, for good skin and teeth that were white. If Santa had a list, would he really check it twice? Would the good kids get presents and the bad kids get a lump of coal? And how would he know? This whole Christmas season makes me crazy. Let's just light a candle, and smile at our neighbors.
Funny how an ordinary everyday thing can rise to importance when circumstances change. This week in Spokane, it is impossible to beg, borrow or steal a snow shovel. Every store tells the same tale of woe. Our truck is stranded in Oregon. We are hoping maybe by tomorrow we might have some in. The truck is two days late. Come back later. Meanwhile, some fool pointed a handgun at a snow plow driver yesterday. Every few hours, the plows come by and plow us in. It wouldn't be so bad if it was fluffy white snow, but it is ice.
We hack it out with the edge of the shovel, sweating in the single digit cold. The sun is a blurry spot behind the gray ceiling, incapable of warmth. Trees and bushes nearly touch the ground, their branches weighted down with white crowns. Every so often, one breaks loose and sends a cascade of white powder to the ground. And still it snows. Again it snows. And we dig. We'll be buried again if and when it slides off the roof. But in spite of the inconveniences associated with so much snow, I find it refreshing. So, let it snow!
Christmas Eve. The packages are wrapped and stacked and we are almost out the door. My grandson is going nuts waiting for us to arrive, because he knows Mom Mom will play with him. Day care's been closed all week, and he needs a playmate. Even when I was a child myself, just a kid of ten or so, I remember sitting on the floor and playing with my little brother Vince, and later with Stevie too. I've always known how to be with kids. Sometimes it is all that gets me through. Through what? Through the resignation and fear.
We spent the night at my daughter's apartment so we would be there in the morning when Tre woke up and discovered that Santa had been there during the night. I was really impressed with how he took his time opening each gift and trying it out before going on to the next one. I was so impressed with his patience. But as he made his way through the pile of gifts, little by little he became more and more frantic. By the time it was over with he was ripping through them and piling them on the table and the floor.
When you have a near death experience, your first reaction is to be grateful to be alive. That feeling lasts a while, but it does wear off. Then you start wondering why you are alive at all, what the point of your life is, and there you are in existential crisis all over again, just like before. The scariest part of it is how fast time passes as you get older. There is less time available for this soul searching nonsense. Each day comes and goes ever more quickly. Time no longer drags. It drags you along faster and faster.
And yet in spite of how fast time is passing, I linger. I put things off, drag my feet, hesitate. I think I need more time to prepare. I procrastinate. Time passes and nothing gets done. The sun sets again. The dishes lay in the sink unwashed. The laundry pile languishes in its basket by the door. Richard watches younger men play football on TV. I escape into a book. Not today. Maybe tomorrow. Perhaps if I get a good night's sleep. Maybe if the sun shines in the morning, I will wake refreshed and full of energy. Tomorrow.
Maybe in the grand scheme of things something I do or say will make a difference to somebody in some way. Maybe the children in my life will know they are loved and that will give them strength to face life. I am happy when I'm writing, and then there's the rest of the time. Times I don't know why I am even alive. So now it is dark again. Richard is switching off the lights. It must be bedtime. Outside the melted snow is freezing into a sheet of thin ice and cars are slipping sideways off the road.
I’ve always been a journaler. It was through journaling that I discovered myself as a writer, found my unique voice and learned to trust myself with words. When I left New York, I packed up my journals into eight cardboard boxes and put them in storage. But I was gone too long and the boxes got pushed into a corner of the warehouse, where by the time I came to get them, they’d been opened and explored. I will never forget the feeling of violation I felt, looking at my most intimate writings laying in scattered piles on the floor.
Outside the ice was seven feet deep in the driveway and three feet thick. Richard spent the whole day breaking it up into huge chunks and hauling them into the center of the yard. Inside the ice was melting, the first words were flowing onto the page, and the deep freeze was letting go of my brain. Do all creative people have blocks? I wonder. Mostly I'm just relieved to be able to write something again.
Meanwhile the great joy in my life today was when Tre climbed up onto my lap and snuggled up against me. There's the love.
At fifteen, you don't think about bringing sunscreen to the beach. The important things are your bikini and your blanket, the broad-brimmed hat and your new leather sandals that you bought with your birthday money. And who else is going. And that you have enough money to buy soda pop and a hot dog for lunch. But sunscreen? Not even on the radar. The beach was so crowded, you and your friends ended up near the boardwalk, where the sand was the hottest. It burned your feet, so you stayed on the blanket. The sun was so hot.
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