So, there have been a few moments of Christmas hilarity in all the somberness. More than a few actually. And along with many family experiences, there are rights of passage. Like learning to refuse to help my uncle wrap the presents he bought on Christmas eve. Or that my mom and aunt could handle one bottle of Asti Spumanti when wrapping presents, but two lead to Christmas morning exchanges like the following:
Mom: You’re supposed to have another present.
Me: Blank stare.
Mom: No, no. It’s there.
We all look. There are no more presents.
Mom: Oh shit! Did we…
Aunt: Did we wrap it?
Mom: I don’t remember. (Wailing).
Me: Grown women. Two bottles of cheap wine between you and you can’t remember your own names.
Mom: I’ll go get the present.
Not to mention the great bow harvest of 2008 when we were finally allowed to throw away bows that not only wouldn’t stick to the packages after a tenure of likely ten years, but didn’t even look like bows so much as regurgitated Christmas Cat vomit. Ahh, those were the days.
While the temperature is unlikely to hit 32 degrees F here in Los Angeles, the literal and figurative atmosphere is chilly. So many of us grew up in places where snow was a way of life that we keep glancing about in confusion, waiting for the flakes to fall. So, in honor of that, a list of my favorite books about winter.
1. Winter’s Tale - Mark Helprin. It’s one of my favorite books ever, a grown-up fairy tale of a gilded age and the new future full of Helprin’s lush, absurd sentences and extravagent details. And mostly, it’s a city of endless winter and a white horse and love on rooftops.
2. Other Electricities - Anders Monsen. This book is as much puzzle as prose, a gorgeous, intricate exploration of ice and cold in the depths of Michigan. Everything relates, everything is story and wires, from the table of contents to the radio schematics. Spare and perfect.
3. The Snowy Day - Ezra Jack Keats. I still make snow angels and think of this book.
4. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler - Italo Calvino. Of course.
5. The Long Winter - Laura Ingalls Wilder. Because if you lived in the West, you read these books and you were very, very glad to have central heating.
6. Trojan Gold - Elizabeth Peters. I love this whole series. Terrific romps into the art world, thievery, romance and museums. That there’s snow and a night spent in an abandoned church and a lost treasure total makes this one of my favorite comfort books.
7. Smila’s Sense of Snow - Peter Hoeg. Another great thriller that uses the endlessness of winter to both captivate and make claustrophobic the reader and the protagonist.
8. The Shining - Stephen King. I grew up in Colorado. We used to drive through Estes Park on a regular basis. I stayed up all night reading this book, and it still scares the crap out of me.
9. Winter Rose - Patricia McKillip. It’s Tamlyn, and it’s the crushing solace of winter.
I used to be a fan of Christmas. As an only child with a small extended family, it was a time to catch up with adoring grandparents and raucous older cousins. It was a time of surprises, which I loved, and food and festivities. Sure, it was also a time of drunken arguments, tearful hissing, and slurry insults flying around between the adults, but mostly I just ignored what I could. I’ve always been good at clinging to what I needed from a situation and filtering out the rest.
We played loud, boisterous board games. We opened presents. We tromped in the snow and my cousin and I slept on the floor in my grandmother’s spare room, and I always had a better time than my cousin who had asthma and therefore had to endure a nightly ritual involving meds and applesauce that turned both of us off the stuff for good.
The first Christmas after my folks separated wasn’t so bad. I was 14, and aside from a slew of fights with my dad, things were okay. But the following year, my father started dating my stepmother and things were serious. I went to her extended family’s celebration, leaving my mother alone. My mom has always been strong, cheerful, forthright. A good Norweigian example of fortitude and humor and cheer. And she looked so small and sad that year. She’s nearly 6 feet tall, and I’m an inch or so shorter, and that year I felt like a giant.
I also felt more alone at that celebration than any I’ve ever attended. My step-mother’s extended family is unrelentingly kind, has been welcoming and lovely to me from the first introduction. But I’ve just never… felt like they were family, despite my father’s continual pressure for me to do so. I cannot erase the things I knew and wanted in favor of his delusions.
From that point on, a holiday about love and giving became something draining, a missed opportunity of hope and light that I came to dread. My parents would spat throughout the month about where I would stay, and until I graduated from college, I never felt like I had the right to make my own choices, so worried about who’s feelings I’d hurt more.
These days, Christmas is something I like in theory, but that drains me: emotionally and financially. We’re struggling in a lot of ways these days, and none of us need more stuff. My family does this maddening shopathon for each other, buying stuff that’s requested and wrapping it. There’s no surprise and no joy, and everything comes with a gift receipt for the inevitable return. Sure, they’re still warm and raucous and drunken and giving. But it feels very… rote. We’ve done donations for a few years, and that warms me a little. But mostly, selfishly, privately, I want them to pick something for me that shows me they’re thinking of me, wishing to make me happy, not going through the motions. I wish I had that same skill and feeling towards them.
I’ve had a lot of small hurts and losses this year, and when I go home for the holidays, I’l be the only single person on either side of the family, and I can’t lie and say that doesn’t feel slightly shameful, doesn’t make me sad. And I’ll go anyway, because it’s family. My family, frustrating, maddening, shouting, and longing for each others understanding.
I have friends and people I consider family here and in other places. And they make it better in big ways and small. And I try to also make their own holiday challenges less vicious. But there’s always this dream of love and kindness and candlelight and gifts, and I can joke about spiked eggnog and drunken poker, and still want a little bit of the fairytale.
““Your wealth was not an undeserved gift…You have no moral obligation to ‘give back,’ because you didn’t take anything in the first place.””
The Ayn Rand Center, trashing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for vowing to give half of his fortune to charity. Best press release ever! Having suffered through Rand’s purple prose before, we’re surprised the Center didn’t repeat the word “bromide” eight times. (via motherjones)
Aside from the obvious eye-rolling at the whole press release, and the Ayn Rand folks in general, I have to say that eligible boys of the internet, if you send me a message and your profile contains anything about Ayn Rand or her work as a few of your favorite things, you will not be hearing back from me. In case you were wondering why you hadn’t heard back.
1. The Glogg, while tasty, has given me a two day headache. Only the Scandanavains, man. Only the Scandanavians.
2. I am so very glad that it’s not snowing, even if I can’t shake the sense-memory of December days curled up with a book and hot tea. I want the feeling back without the frostbite.
3. I wanted to go to the Griffith Park Holiday Lighting event last year, and despite running through it every Saturday morning, I never got to see it lit up. I waited on a false promise, one of many, when I should have just taken myself to see the sights. This year, it’s closed for park maintenance.
4. I want to give a good home to an orphaned kitten. I wish the kitten wranglers would stop making it so freaking hard. Come see my house. Fine, fine. But stop telling me that the cat would be happier with a playmate and you won’t adopt them out alone. It makes me wrathy.
5. I would like to apply for the Managing Editor job at The Awl because it looks intriguing and challenging and fun. But I am too old, too poor, too West Coast, and more than anything, too scared. A part-time job is just not in the cards.
6. I have spent the last three nights watching Sports Night with the aging Siamese in my clean house, and it messes with your mind. But I still love Danny best, even if Liz says I don’t have to choose. I will always love Danny best. And I will love the idea of devotion to your job, even if I also firmly believe that defining yourself by your job is a path to heartbreak.