Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas with Bing and Rosemary

This year my Christmas season has had very little spirit. I've always loved the holiday, and considered it my favorite. I love Nativity scenes and baking cookies. I love advent calendars. I love to wrap packages and decorate the tree. But I don't love the family drama. My kids keep telling me that everyone has dysfunction, but it is very hard to believe that when it feels like you're on the outside looking in. Everywhere there are families shopping together, getting on airplanes, piling into cars. Everyone at the grocery store is buying the makings for goodies and planning meals with family. Everyone is on a cell phone making plans. Everyone seems conspiratorial and full of giggling secrets. The radio is filled with touching Christmas miracle stories and people calling in with their holiday traditions.

I sit at home and watch Christmas movies about perfect holidays, love, and laughter and wonder what is that like? I don't remember. These days I identify more with Riggs than Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon. My attitude is more like Bud White in L.A. Confidential, and my heart feels more like Sandra Bullock in While You Were Sleeping. My life has more in common with a sound stage full of fake buildings covered in soap flake snow than it does with all the people swept into the arms of loved ones in Love Actually.

It easier to watch Danny Kaye dance along a boardwalk beneath a false Florida sunset, or Bing Crosby sing White Christmas amidst the cardboard buildings on an imaginary war front in Europe than it is to deal with the mine field that is my life. I want to twirl around in a frothy dress and imagine that the best things really do happen when your dancing, or sing about love gone wrong on a supper club stage dressed in a black dress that outlines my curves. Everything always works out. Everyone finds their true love and the future is rosie with perfection as the camera pulls back and we leave our substitute family. The darkness closes in until all that is left is that paned window aglow with firelight and we get a final glimpse of the lovers embracing, dancing, opening gifts, or walking hand in hand up the stairs and out of sight. Its the Christmas movie equivalent of cowboys riding off into the sunset.

But for those detractors who tell me that I spend too much time living a life of fantasy. (I say if it wasn't for fantasy I wouldn't be able to survive my real life), I counter with the statement that films really can answer the big questions, solve problems and give comfort. If The Godfather is the Iching, the answer to any question (at least for men), then maybe Bing Crosby is the Iching of Christmas. He provides me with the warmth of childhood memories and the fatherly advice that I am so longing for as his voice soothes Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas.

When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings
When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep counting my blessings

I think about a nursery and I picture curly heads
And one by one I count them as they slumber in their beds
If you're worried and you can't sleep
Just count your blessings instead of sheep
And you'll fall asleep counting your blessings

I think about a nursery and I picture curly heads
And one by one I count them as they slumber in their beds
If you're worried and you can't sleep
Just count your blessings instead of sheep
And you'll fall asleep counting your blessings

If your feeling alone this Christmas, or dragged down by financial worries, marital strife, troubled children or grief. If its taking every bit of your strength just to get out of bed in the morning. If your feeling more like you've been scrooged than blessed. Go watch Emmit Otters Jugband Christmas or Little Women. Go visit Father O'Malley in the Bells of St Mary, or Going My Way. Go spend Christmas with Bing and Rosemary.


Thursday, December 03, 2009

Lost in the in-between

Early December and the temperatures have dropped below zero. The cold is coming in, creeping on soft cat feet across the floor and under my nightgown. I can feel the icy folds of it laying about my shoulders. Its too early for such cold as this. Only 22 more sleeps till Christmas and I haven't even pulled out the tree.

I have entered a phase of deep ambivalence in my life. The world is going on around me and I'm floating somewhere over a vast sky of stars trying not to be afraid, trying not to worry. Trying to relax, let life move on and take me with it where it will. Like the ebb and flow of the tides, I am at the mercy of the moon.

What is this place?
I wake up, I go through the motions of the day. I feed the dogs, I cook the meals, I do the laundry. I knit. I pray. I wish fervently that my mother were here. I kick myself for not listening more, not asking more questions. Not preparing myself for a life without her, when I would be the aging woman. We've traded places she and I. I look in the mirror and I hate the face there. The lines that pull my mouth down to an ugly line. What does Mike call me? Hang dog? The frown wrinkles deeply embedded between my brows. I look down and see my mother's hands, the hands of a middle aged woman and I weep.

What if I remain in this in-between like the poor girl in The Lovely Bones, unable to move on, unable to let go. What if I wake like Rip Van Winkle, ten or fifteen or twenty years in the future and I have no idea how I got there or what happened in those intervening years?

Where did I go?
I buy cookbooks in an attempt to inspire me to cook. Fabric to inspire me to sew. Books and magazines to inspire me to read, travel, craft. I tear out pictures, recipes, patterns. Bags of wool sit waiting to be spun. Sick of looking at the wheel I have moved it out of sight. Nothing works. Only the knitting is still there and even it has slowed to a snail's pace. It is my anchor to the earth, that line of wool as I float here uncaring, just moving my hands.

Mrs Moon
sitting up in the sky
little old lady
with a ball of fading light
and silvery needles
knitting the night

-Roger McGough

*Roger McGough is a well known English performance poet, born in Litherland in the north of Liverpool. Much travelled and translated, his poetry has gained increasing popularity, especially from its widespread use in schools. A prolific writer, he is twice winner of the Signal Award for best children's poetry book and recipient of the Cholmondeley Award. McGough is an Honorary Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University and an Honorary Professor at Thames Valley University. He has an MA from the University of Northampton.