Friday, December 19, 2014

SURVIVING CHRISTMAS

“What are you doing for Christmas?” Oh, how I hate the question. No matter the answer, I evoke pity. Most are skilled enough to keep a poker face. Maybe they weren’t even listening. The question can be a seasonal variant to “How are you?” It’s a formality. Perhaps I should answer with, “It sure feels cold out today.” They’ll hardly notice. If that turns out to be the case, I may push things further, the next response coming in the form of a deflection question: “Who do you like better, Grover or the Cookie Monster? (Personally, it’s almost too close to call, but I have to give Grover the edge.)

We’re off topic now, aren’t we? If only I could do that in real life. Unfortunately, I tend to answer honestly. Call it a character flaw. The most succinct response I’ve used is “Nothing. How about you?” The person is then only too relieved to have the opportunity to fill the awkward moment with as long a ramble as possible about Aunt Claire flying in from Edmonton, a new plum pudding recipe that calls for double the liquor and some sort of snorkel exchange on a dock that’s a five-mile trek through a swamp and up a mountain. Or down a crevasse. It’s my turn to tune out.

I used to adore Christmas. In fact, there was a time I wanted to make Christmas my life. As a youngster, I knew there was no more noble purpose than making toys for kids. Yes, I decided I’d become an elf. Seriously. (This was the start of my lifelong path of career confusion.) The plan was to stay awake on Christmas Eve and wait until my parents turned off the living room lights. Then I’d sneak out of bed, curl up by the fireplace and wait for Big Red. “Take me with you, Santa. I’m ready to serve.” Sadly, back then I wasn’t the light sleeper I am now. To this day, I look back and wonder what could have been. I’d have been happy at The Pole. Hermey the dentist and I would have fallen in love. We’d have brought marriage equality to the Far North.

But, alas, Christmas lost its luster. My last memorable Yuletide was in 1998 when my grandfather and I agreed to meet at my parents’ place in Texas. He flew from Ottawa while I made the trip from Vancouver. As he was an avid sports fan whose bald head showed an increasing number of scars from skin cancer treatments, I bought him a whole series of baseball caps representing his favorite teams. He gamely “modeled” each one as I snapped pictures of his own fashion show. It turned out to be his last Christmas.

The talk about a “merry” Christmas can feel overwhelming. Suffocating. It’s the expectation. Feel it or fake it. (That’s what egg nog is for. And that double-liquored plum pudding.) But I’m authentic. Call it another character flaw. I don’t feel it, I don’t fake it. This has been the darkest year of my life and a batch of shortbread is not the cure.

A couple of weeks ago, I got the notion to put on my own Christmas celebration. It took me two days to put up a single string of lights along the front of the house and then the Yule yearning faded. In the ‘90s, I built up a nice collection of treasured ornaments for the tree. They’ve remained boxed up at least since 2007. Unfortunately, all the trees disappeared at my supermarket after the weekend and I balked at spending seventy bucks at the local nursery. For just me? Not worth it. There was a time when I’d sent out eighty holiday cards for Hanukkah and Christmas. This year I’ve written two. Now if I can only get myself to slap a couple of stamps on them. Instead of feeling merrier, I feel worse. From eighty to two. It’s a starkly representative piece of evidence of how my life took a wrong turn and still hasn't gotten back on course.

My parents invited me to Texas. This time, it wasn’t a last-minute gesture. For the first time, my aunt and uncle invited me to Ontario as well. These things happen after you’ve had a stint of being committed. The relatives feel a twinge of guilt and morbidity. This could be his last. I don’t want to go to Texas and fake merry alongside my homophobic brother and sister-in-law. And because, I’ve turned down that invite, I cannot go to Ontario. Family politics. A friend in Vancouver is going with his curling buddies to a Christmas Day buffet at a casino. I think that would only make me more depressed.

The reality is I’m not going anywhere. And the house is chillingly empty. This is the first time in fifteen years that I don’t have a schnauzer to keep me company. It’s down to surviving Christmas. There are those who gleefully make it a six-week spectacle. For me, I have to do everything I can to make it just a day. Come Boxing Day, things will be better again. I’ll get a temporary boost dropping a few hundred dollars at a conservatively hip clothing store in the stodgy Kerrisdale area of Vancouver. I’ll order the Challah French Toast at my favorite Jewish bakery and see if my casino friend feels like a walk to work off the two trips too many at the buffet. I’ll yank down that strand of lights and get back to trying to navigate the ordinary days. At this point, that’s plenty for me.

And so there it is. This season, I’m counting the days to Boxing Day.

 

9 comments:

Hugh Carr said...

So enjoy your blog. Can so relate to the season. Anyway we can send a private email or join your facebook page?

Rural Gay said...

Hi Hugh,
Thanks for posting the comment. I hope your holidays bring some rest and maybe even some joy. Feel free to leave comments on the blog anytime.

Rick Modien said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rick Modien said...

RG, I read this post (as I read all your posts) just after you wrote it. And, while I was inclined to respond right away, I held off. I wanted to give some thought to what I should say.

Okay. If you're not feeling Christmas, you're not feeling Christmas. For many years, I didn't feel it either, and nothing and no one could make me feel it. That's just how it was. So I'm not going to try to convince you to feel it.

I'd be curious to know how you'd answer this question: What would bring the magic of Christmas back to my life? You felt it as a kid; you even felt it as an adult, in 1998 (that long ago?). It's there in you somewhere. You're clearly capable of feeling it.

So what would it take to get you there again? Do you know the answer?

Rural Gay said...

Hi Rick. I have longed for a Christmas--or any holiday for that matter--that I could spend with a special person or a special group of friends. I would love for the day to include a celebration of each of our traditions. Unplug the TV and the gadgets--I cannot stand when people get together only to stare at a screen. Get outdoors for a run or at least a long walk. Let there be physical and emotional closeness and lots of laughter.

I wrote the post to remind people that not everyone has a "merry" Christmas even though there is this overwhelming expectation that the day be something showy and significant. All the hype can be too much to take when it's just not that kind of year.

I certainly do not want others to have a dreary day. Celebrate away! Just be a bit sensitive to the fact that it's a really hard time of year for some of us. The holes seem darker and wider.

I know that you love the holiday and I hope that you have had enough time after your Hawaiian adventure to make your home as festive as ever. Treasure your time with Chris!

Rick Modien said...

RG, your answer to my question is a wonderful one. I understand exactly how you feel (especially about the TV and gadgets), and why you would want to celebrate Christmas–or any occasion–in the way you describe it.

You give the impression of having a lot of special friends. Or perhaps most of them live elsewhere. I don't know. I'm surprised you're not spending time with them.

Our decorating this year has been more modest than in years past, but it still lifts the house and adds a bit of magic to the season for us.

And, yes, I treasure my time with Chris, at Christmas and always. I know how blessed I am that he shares his life with me. Like I always say, he's the best Christmas present I receive every day of the year.

I hope I don't upset you by wishing you a wonderful Christmas. And here's a big hug from me.

oskyldig said...

This is no solution for most, but as a direct result of moving to China to work I've not felt the Christmas fever or crunch at all. Even as I'm about to go to sleep to work on Dec. 24th (the day on which I celebrate due to my origins), I still don't have any connection to Christmas.

It's pretty rad, until it starts to creep up on me due to everyone else's cheer. Us honest people bare fruits of the dishonest people who still feel the same - in a way it must make us stronger.

Anonymous said...

Hey RG,

I understand your feelings. Despite politics I'd go to your Aunt & Uncle's. Explain to your parents you can't be around Homophobia. That's it. Do what you must for yourself. You do sound clinically depressed. Take care of yourself. Sending you positive energy. Cooper the Lesbian

Rural Gay Gone Urban said...

Hi Cooper,

Thanks so much for your comment. I hope you'll check back on the blog from time to time.

I was most definitely deep in a depression at this time last year when I wrote this post. I want to remind people that Christmas and the notion of requisite merriness can overwhelm a person who cannot celebrate the season for whatever reason. It can be so hard to get through an ordinary day, all the more agonizing at Christmas. The gap between a person who is depressed and how a person is "supposed" to feel is all the greater. When life is a struggle, I hope a person can tune out the noise of Christmas and continue to inch forward, regular day to regular day. Sometimes that is plenty!