I dislike July, I have decided, not due to anything particularly July-like (as in, anything having to do with an inherent July-ness) but because I found myself, while trying to read yesterday, preoccupied with thoughts about Christmas. Not because I love Christmas, or even look forward to it (which is not to say that I don’t, on either count), but because of the logistics involved, the stress, the travel, the guilt and the worry — all the unpleasantness that holidays seem to require. Rather than enjoying the essay I was trying to read I, instead, found my thoughts drifting toward checking the calendar to find out on what day Christmas falls this year (a Sunday), contemplating how many days I should plan to take off work to go home and how long I should stay, worrying about whether I should fly or drive, etc. It’s arguable that all of this was my fault, that I got sidetracked because I was reading an essay entitled “Sadness,” (from Carolyn Heilbrun’s The Last Gift of Time), but that’s just speculation.
The thing about July is that it’s a slippery slope — we’ve slogged through the trenches of winter into spring, are finally rewarded with summer that seems to disappear in a flash — ridiculous for me to say now, perhaps, as the thermometer registers 98 degrees, but seriously, it’s already July. How did that happen? And even though the fall takes just as long as the spring to get through, the winter holidays already seem like they are just around the corner. Looming. It’s funny, I’ve gone back to the page I was reading to try and figure out precisely what triggered the mental gymnastics that took me from the room in which I was sitting, drinking an afternoon cup of coffee and reading, to suddenly plotting Christmas travel and stressing out about the holidays. But everything on the page looked normal; there was nothing that stood out, that said to me, uhp, yep, there it is, that’s what did it. I saw no obvious trigger — what would that look like, anyway? It’s like page 590 of The Poisonwood Bible, which I remember reading when it first occurred to me that I might actually go to seminary, but when I go back and read that page it looks just like any other page. I read it over, again and again, trying to figure out what it was about that page. But like in Heilbrun’s book, nothing stands out. Nothing obvious, anyway, not any more.
Two weeks ago I was on the phone with my mother; we were discussing my plans to spend Thanksgiving in Paris this year when mom said, “Oh, Paris,” in a wistful voice. I thought she might express a desire to come with us when she added, “Just thinking about Paris makes my knees hurt.” I laughed, thinking I understood what she meant. It’s how I feel about Christmas, except thoughts of it make my back hurt. If my stomach is where I store my thoughts (this is what I’m telling myself these days, my new theory that the little inner tube around my waist is my “ideas repository”) then my back gets all the angst. It’s only July, and it’s already in knots.
But no. I’m trying to enjoy the moment, damnit, trying more this year than ever before, and thoughts about Christmas seem anathema to such pursuits. But just as I thought that, yesterday afternoon, just as I made a quick sketch for this blog post and then put it down, thinking I was being silly, J said to me, “I know you’re not going to want to hear this, but we really do need to talk about Christmas.” I brushed past him and grabbed my note pad, showed him the sketch — a lighthearted moment. And an ultimately ironic one, seeing as he is usually my model for living in, and enjoying, the moment. But it’s hard when I know that there will be Christmas shit on shelves concomitant with scary cats and jack-o-lanterns, that Santa’s fat ass will show up in the local mall two months before Thanksgiving.
Last week I was sitting with a group of folks at the Blue Horse Inn when someone brought up radio station call letters. One guy was talking about when he lived in Texas, where the radio station for the University of North Texas, according to protocol, should have started with a K. They had to rethink that one a little, rearrange the university’s name a bit. In turn I remembered being in Boston during the holidays, when the radio station WFNX used to wish its listeners a Merry FNXmas, which I thought was fantastic.
Dress it up or make it funny, though, no matter. For better or worse, it’s a season with powerful emotional attachments, which is one reason that, unlike sadness (which is different from depression), it never lets go. Heilbrun writes, “There is a certain pleasure in this sadness, arising in large part from the inexplicableness of its onset. Rather as one can with certain kinds of flu or head cold lie in the bed, slightly feverish, definitely miserable, yet peaceful in one’s inactivity, in one’s passive repose, so I succumb to sadness. One has, at least for the nonce, given up. One is, meanwhile, sustained by the knowledge that this state will pass, activity will return.” Perhaps that can be said about Christmas, too — once we give in to it, finally give up and let it happen, it passes. Goes away. Ordinary activity returns. And even though I am fretting about it half a year in advance, I already know I’ll be a little sad when it’s over. There will be a little cloud for several days, soon replaced by the next thing, the new year, and then a bit of repose during which the store shelves will fill up with the detritus of all the other holidays that come in between — with candy hearts and balloons, four leaf clovers and leprechauns, patriotic bunting, witches and wands, cornucopias and pilgrim hats and buckles — and we don’t have to think about Christmas again for a while. Well, at least for about six months we don’t.