Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmastime: When I'm (Almost) Normal

I love Christmas, as much as a part of me protests the very idea. All the phony cheer, that horrible music, commercialism, and mythology. And yet, I can't resist its charm. I don't understand the cheer, I hate Christmas music, I despise commercialism whilst cynically accepting its inevitability, and although I have a huge soft spot for Jesus and the sentiment surrounding him, I recognize that the Nativity story is very likely a total fabrication. Yet when the air starts to get a chill, a chill that never goes too far beyond that here in California, and I start seeing multi-colored lights everywhere, lights that eat up so much electricity, wasting a great deal of money and resources that could be used to actually help people, somehow my heart warms to it all. Christmas in America is an extremely stupid affair, but I love it.

No doubt this in part because I was raised to love it. I was spoon fed it, being brought up in a white, middle class, American family descended mostly from Protestants. (My mother is agnostic and has a Russian father with Jewish blood, although we didn't know we were Jewish at all until recently. But our Christmases were, I imagine, about the same as any other average WASP family). I loved Christmas. I mean, what middle class white kid with kind-hearted parents wouldn't? We were dysfunctional and nuts of course, but nobody got hit, nobody yelled too much, and nobody put anyone down (well, I got put down for my weight all year, but I'll chalk that up to ignorant American ideals and clumsy adults failing to recognize the power their words have over children). On the whole, we were what you'd call a very normal family (We didn't fall apart until I hit puberty, which also seems fairly normal). But when I was a child, Christmas was great.

We had plenty of presents, and of course I was always excited about that. These days, of course, my intellectual side yells at me about how brainwashed I was, and how sick the idea of Santa Claus truly is; a Greek saint perverted into a magical white man from the North Pole as an incentive to squeeze some extra good behavior out of children who can't think abstractly enough to understand that good is not always rewarded nor bad always punished in the real world. It's like Western soteriology gone totally mad. But still, I loved it at the time. Now I think that if I ever have children of my own, I'd prefer to dismiss the Santa myth. But I'd still want to do presents. Get rid of the naughty/nice bullshit, and just have an excuse to give a little extra and get a little extra.

I also like the idea of going to church on Christmas or Christmas Eve. I find the idea of God incarnating to dwell with us so very heartwarming and sweet, whatever the twisted theological circumstances Christianity claims warranted it. St. Irenaeus believed that it was always God's intention to come to Earth in the flesh, but the horrific state of humankind made Him come down early to clean up our act. (To a cynic like me, that's not all that far-fetched, really. Not if you believe in God, at any rate).

I like the Christmas story, and I like having that be a part of Christmas, even if I don't believe in the religion anymore. I still believe in God, in a most heretical way, but I pray on my own terms. That doesn't take away the beauty of Christmas, the angels, or Mary and Joseph to me, however. Going to church, with the lights low, some cheesy hymns, and a narrative you've heard a million times before, sometimes acted out laughably by children making the whole thing insufferably cute, with maybe a short homily or sermon attempting to make it relevant again each year; these things will always hold a special place in my damaged heart.

This is all my Christmas past and present. But I also fantasize about the future around this time of year. I resist it, I even hate it at times, but I fantasize. Winter brings with it the desire for more closeness. It's very physical, very natural, very base. We're cold, so we have stronger urges to have bodies against us. Pretty cut and dry when you look at the facts. But that doesn't weaken the emotional sway over us. I'm a neurotic freak who values his space, but I'm also extremely touchy-feely. Physical contact is very important to me, which is why I don't ever take it lightly. I don't like being touched by people I don't know, especially unexpectedly, but I like being very close to and touching people who I love. That applies to family and friends, but obviously there is a whole other level of contact that you get with someone you're in a romantic relationship with. And because that's what I lack every year, that's what I fantasize most about, against all my better judgment. (All right, that's not 100% true. I spent one Christmas in a relationship. Not a great one, but not terrible either. Another Christmas I spent dating someone, but I was drunk for about 99% of the time I was involved with that person, so whatever regrettable glee and closeness I was feeling was certainly not what you'd call "authentic.")

Christmas is a beautiful time of year to me, and I hate that I always experience that beauty alone. During the rest of the year I watch sunsets alone, I go for drives through the mountains alone, I walk through gardens and trails alone, and I watch sappy movies alone. Christmas is just another one of those things I'd love to share. I fantasize about holding hands with someone and simply walking around somewhere where people are engaged in cliche and silly Christmas activities, like the downtown or square of a small town, even local ones here in Southern California (hell, even Los Angeles has areas like this). I think about walking around, hand-in-hand, mainly in silence, just absorbing the sights, sounds, and smells of Christmas. Christmas tree lots (oh don't get me started on what an egregious and ridiculous waste of good trees those are! Potted trees, people. Potted!!), outdoor malls, ice-skating rinks (yes, we have those in L.A.), art walks, even cemeteries (people leave extra flowers or decorations on the graves of their loved ones at certain times of the year) - everything comes to life a bit more at Christmas.

I want to walk around these places with someone close to me, near the crowd but never really in the crowd, staying on the periphery, and enjoying the fact that other people are enjoying themselves; Allowing my over-analytical brain to switch off and appreciate other people's joy for once, no matter how shallow it may be. I want to spend nights like this with someone, ending the evenings by going home together and watching horrible, cheesy holiday movies.

I can't allow myself to spend too much time thinking about this, because it makes my heart ache, and I can't afford much more of that. But it's never too far from the surface. Foolish hope and quiet desperation don't lend themselves well to successful searching for potential partners, especially if you're a heterosexual male in this society (Okay, quiet desperation may be the wrong term. I never really do anything quietly). Nevertheless, it's what I want, and what, somewhere deep down, I believe I deserve. For all my self-loathing and low self-esteem, I still somehow believe I deserve it, even whilst I believe I may never find it.

But that's part of Christmas to me. Closeness of all kinds, an extra surge of emotions both good and bad, and a little slice of foolish hope and pipe dreams. I do all I can to pragmatically sort out my past, effectively utilize my present, and make my way toward a better future, but there is still a ridiculous and stupid poet that occupies part of my brain, and, I don't know how, but he's not dead yet. Actually, I'm grudgingly glad he's not dead. I need him. I need that idiotic romantic to save me from horrible, horrible reality. Reality can get overwhelming at times, and that dumbass poet sitting under imaginary trees, convening with spirits no respectable person would ever convene with, well, he is my hope. And he is most alive at Christmas. He helps me more than he hurts me (although he does plenty of that too). And deep down, when I feel that cold air in my lungs, taste eggnog, see all those beautiful twinkling lights, or hear songs about a baby Jew born two thousand years ago, I very much welcome that stupid part of me to take over for awhile.

Have a happy Christmas, Chanukkah, and Kwanzaa, everybody. 

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