Holiday Blues

I’m sipping chaomomile tea as I write this. I wonder whether the taste of chamomile tea is inherently comforting, or whether it just tastes comforting because my mom used to make it for me special whenever I was worried or upset & couldn’t sleep.

The holiday season has really been stressing me out this year. It’s not the gift-shopping; although I lied and said it was.

A charming old-fashioned gentleman asked me how I was the other day, and I said, “Very stressed.” He said “Oh my dear, why?” I replied, “Just trying to get the perfect Christmas gifts for everyone.” He retorted, with a genial twinkle in his eye, “Just get imperfect gifts. Imperfect gifts for imperfect people.” I appreciated the sentiment, and it buoyed me up a little.

But I wasn’t really stressed out about the gifts. What was stressing me out, was the holiday-season media was bombarding me with images of family togetherness. And although I live in the best place in the world, I live a very, very long way from the rest of my family. Every now and then, when things get beyond me, I think nostalgically of the days when I was taken care of, when someone else had all the answers.

When we were little kids, we used to spend every Christmas at Grandma’s house. All those little kids are grown up now. Sam and his wife Katie, a year older than me, have a baby named Tom and live in Brooklyn.  Josh and his wife Lex, who are just my age, bought a house in the suburbs of Philadelphia. The family lives in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Kansas, and Ontario.

xmas-treeI have my “family” of roommates, and my “family” of coworkers. My roommates and I decorated a Christmas ladder (en lieu of a Christmas tree) and it looks beautiful. My coworkers, who are mostly older than me, take excellent care of me. For example, when Katie suspected I didn’t have birthday plans, she bought me flowers and took me out to lunch. I find myself strangely sensitive about my birthday nowadays, not wanting to make a big deal about it. It’s hard for a birthday to live up to the media expectations of what a birthday should be.

This will be the first Christmas I spend without my brother Peter. He’s doing an internship in my grandmother’s town, so he’ll be spending Christmas in Kansas with her, and I’ll be in Canada with my parents and my other brother, Richard. I spent a large part of today running around mailing all the Christmas presents, praying they would reach their diverse geographical locations by December 24th. Thinking about the people opening them, made me feel connected to them.

I was chatting with my coworker Mike, and he said, “I always get my nieces and nephews gift cards. I just don’t know what they like any more. And I don’t want to be, you know, the uncle that gets them the music they were into four years ago!” It’s nice to spend Christmas with your family, but if that’s all the time you spend with them, do you really know them?

When I attended my grandfather’s funeral, I realized how similar in personality my family members are, even if they don’t spend a lot of time together. My grandfather’s three children– Mark, Wendy, and Aletha– all spoke about their father, and remarkably, all their speeches included the same childhood story. In Grandpa’s story, the children meet a bunny with invisible, intangible, bunny ears. The children ask the bunny, “If your ears are invisible and intangible, how do we know they really exist?” The bunny replies contemptuously, “I can hear what you’re saying, can’t I?”

Grandpa loved learning and knowledge and he had a wonderful, quirky sense of humor.  He loved teaching. He had a vivid imagination. He enjoyed being eccentric and making people raise their eyebrows at him. He loved a good argument, but he argued from love of discovery, not caring who won so long as he learned something new. He was happy with himself in a way that made you feel peaceful around him. And he had big white bushy eyebrows just like Gandalf’s.

I think those qualities (except for the eyebrows) exist throughout our widespread family. It’s just easier to be weird when you’re around someone who understands you, who is weird just like you. You know, I make jokes all the time, but most of the time people don’t realize they’re supposed to be funny. My family always gets my jokes.

I’d like to be a haven and refuge for the quirky ones, the clever ones, the creative ones, the people who are always making jokes that other people never get. I’d like to be the tree that spreads its branches over all those lost ones.

I’ve been very involved with the indie author community on Twitter lately. People who create just for the joy of creating, not because it brings them money or fame (although money & fame would be nice, of course.) The indie authors go to Twitter and talk to other authors who understand them, who get their jokes. They live all over the world, and sometimes feel isolated from their communities.  I listen to them vent about being misunderstood.

I think that’s part of what drives people to write- being disconnected. They have all this richness in their soul, but no way to share it with the people around them. So it just bursts out somehow.

Here’s to you- ::raises a glass of chamomile tea:: wherever you are, dear blog reader. I hope you’re finding your family, whoever and wherever they are, whether you’re connected by blood or by spirit.  I wish you much happiness and togetherness, forever and ever and ever.

9 thoughts on “Holiday Blues

  1. All these images of family togetherness bother me more than I can explain – because they are there to make you feel guilty if you do not get everyone you are related to huge gifts. A sincere love of family would look different from the holiday media. I’m really looking forward to gathering some of us together at a time when work does not press on me with the usual insanity so we can talk, play games, and rest.

  2. Hi, Charlotte. Saw the link to this page from your aunt Gretchen’s Facebook.

    I have many fond memories of your bushy-eyebrowed grandfather, Richard Cole. I started out being a friend of your uncle Mark’s, and became a family friend.

    I hope your grandmother Marjorie is doing well. Glad that your brother will be with her this Christmas to keep her company. Who in the family is still near Lawrence, KS?

  3. Dear Charlotte,

    Thanks for the lovely message! It made me cry a little (but basically happy tears). Christmas gets more and more painful, the older you grow, because it brings back memories of times that can’t be again. But those are the times that have made us what we are, have made our lives rich and fulfilling, and the best we can do is live well in the present, building on the past rather than mourning it. Life is a gift, meant to be enjoyed and it is important to laugh, to try to do good, to share, to savor your present.

    Keep writing–I love all that you say, and I love you,

    Grandma Marjorie

  4. I understand that feeling of separation at Christmas. Over the past fifty years, ‘the family’ has splintered and is now littered across every continent, (yes, there is a scientist in Antarctica.) And of course they expect the ones who stayed put to go out and visit them, so that creates stressful dynamics. But when it`s Christmas, we can put that all aside and come together, either live or through Skype. It`s comforting to know there is that little bit of togetherness. Happy New Year, and may you be forever misunderstood by boring people- so you can seek out fun people who get you!

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