Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Xmas Spirit

Now is the time of year when people take to sighing and saying things like, "I'm so glad there's snow," as though snow is what makes or breaks the Christmas time. Or mock-pulling out their hair and hissing, "I haven't finished my Christmas shopping," because we all know that gifts are the most important part of the festive season. Or sardonically lifting their shopping bags and saying, "I just don't have enough time," which is true, especially since people waste so much time kvetching about their lack of minutes in a day.

I am not pro-Christmas. I'm not anti-festivities, but the whole brouhaha over the red-green-and-white is kind of garish and weird. I had a talk with my mom the other day, who was hurt that, if she didn't put up Christmas decorations (and she does an amazing, tasteful job of decorating every year), that I wouldn't be moved to, out of tradition/holiday joy. And I wouldn't. I like certain aspects of the holiday season - the family, the meals together, the winter wonderland walks, the visits with old friends - but there's a lot of stuff about this time of year that really grates.

For example. I love my family and my folks are amazing people, but coming home for weeks at a time is a huge disruption on my schedule. "Oh, boo hoo," I can hear you saying. "Poor little match girl, with the schedule-distruption and the crying. Waaaah." Look, I'm not saying that coping with a different dinnertime makes me some kind of hero - I'll leave the heroing up to Disney princes, thanks - but it is stressful. Having people cook for me takes away the control I had over the food I eat, and sorry, but that is rough times. I've lived on my own for the past three years, and I've come to be, well, sort of a picky eater. This extends to dinnertime, which often coincides with the news. My parents' place? Six o'clock. Mine? 11:30. See? Different. And we can all agree that change is hard.

This is a depressing time of year. Hello, the winter solstice is, like, four days before Christmas. These are the shortest, coldest, windiest days of the year, and while whoever thought to plunk a festival down in the middle of the short, windy, cold days and make it about giving and the birth of the Saviour probably deserves at least a piece of Toblerone, it doesn't detract from the fact that, after the whole Santa season, we're still mired in that cold, windy, short-dayed season.

I guess part of it is the whole ridiculous commercialism of it all. I'm pretty isolated from the real burning core of it, since I don't have kids or shop in malls all that often, but it seems like every holiday that gets its own seasonal crap at Shopper's Drug Mart has a marked tendency to annoy the living shit out of me. Valentine's Day? You bet. Hallowe'en? Yup. Saint Patrick's Day? Oh yeah. Christmas is the big offender, though, since its "season" extends from early November until the last of the discounted chocolate Santas are sold in January.

My favourite holidays are the ones that are about family and getting together. Simcoe Day is an especially good one, since it combines the summer, family, and the joys of taking a day off work because the goverment tell you to. That rules. Plus, Popsicles are awesome. Plus, there are very few commercial takes on things like Canadian Thanksgiving - sure, maybe a harvest wreath or a pumpkin ale, but that's so minor compared to the H-bomb that is Christmas decorations. Maybe it's because this is ostensibly a religious holiday, but it certainly doesn't feel like a godly time of year. I associate religion with times of reflection - faith, the nature of the world in which we live, piety, etc. The Venn diagram overlap of "religious days" and "days when it's acceptable to cut a bitch for a Tickle Me Elmo" shouldn't be as large.

But that's the world we live in. I guess I need to come to terms with the fact that I will always be slightly freaked out by Christmas, and learn how to play along because my family and friends generally do. The nature of the solstice, by far the more understandable holiday in December, is about renewal and cyclical rebirth: the days can only get better/longer/warmer from here. Christmas is the same. The days can only be what we make of them - more about family, more about friends, more about growing into adult relationships with both. So, Merry Christmas and all that, and here's hoping the holiday season is all that you want it to be.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Little Kids, Big Babies

There's a definite interest in my house recently in the concept of childhood. Not children - I'm no pederast, dude - but the ways in which our early lives shape the people we become. I was reading the recent New York Times Magazine profile of my former future boyfriend Spike Jonze (he is seriously so cute, still, and was ridiculously easy to love in Three Kings), and what struck me was the the importance Spike and his team placed on replicating the sweaty, blurry, tearful and unsettling parts of being a kid.

It's not like I had a horror-show childhood - I hit all my developmental targets right on cue, I had loving (if slightly perplexed) parents, and was invited by several of the fifty-odd Jennifers I went to elementary school with to join in on book clubs and birthday parties. On the other hand, I remember almost none of this. Childhood, to me, is represented by a series of out-of-context moments: ice skating at the Calgary Olympic Stadium, for instance, or playing an uncoordinated fifth grade version of lacrosse. It's totally possible that most of my memories are dreams I had. Who knows? I remember the overwhelming flavour of being a kid was one of waiting: waiting to get older, waiting for adults to give permission/rides/meals/discipline, waiting for privacy, waiting for my taste in music to improve, waiting for the all-important control of the car radio. And then when I got control, privacy, and a Totally Hair Barbie, I promptly forgot that I had ever wanted for them in the first place.

So. When S.Jonze says he wants to replicate the experience of being nine years old on the big screen, I can only shrug my shoulders in bemusement. I'm not the only one who can only guess at the experience of being a child, because a couple of my pals will cop to the very same failing. I guess we're not destined for greatness, however, since total childhood recall seems like a requirement for any creative type out there. Coming to terms with, and representing, your own personal kunstlerroman, seems to be priority #1 for any budding auteurs out there, second only to the stop-motion music video. Artists, especially writers, are constantly plumbing the depths of their terrible/riotous/possibly imaginary childhoods for best-selling memoirs and slightly fictionalized stories. Even Maurice Sendak, the author behind the admittedly moving and gorgeous source material Where the Wild Things Are for the movie that scored Jonze that cover story in the first place, admitted that his children's fable was heavily influenced by his own childhood.

This type of magical thinking will usually earn the pontificator a big fat Bronx cheer from yours truly, but I like Sendak and Jonze and so I'll give 'em a pass. I'll defend my childhood-non-remembering honour by positing that childhood comes in a variety of forms, and in some ways, I'm still a little girl. I'm still afraid of spiders and the dark. I still hate green soups and sandwich crusts. I'm still shy around new people and not exceptionally great with change. I still revel in goofy things like great names or creepy fancy dolls. I'm not alone in my recalcitrance: I have friends who are into their parents' music or pirate ships. I have pals who basically live in treehouses. Hell, I still refer to people as "pal," a term last seen in an Archie comic as Reggie was threatening Archie with a sock in the jaw.

The fact that my vocabulary is equally influenced by Riverdale's best-loved playboy and David Foster Wallace means that I don't have to rely on my childhood recollections (and lack of same) as the primary focusing lens in the creative process, and I wish that media sources would lay off the assumption that the Peter Pan complex somehow engenders a striking creative vision. It's possible to be creative and still get over your childhood. I believe in the power of the creative adult to speak the language of, you know, grown-ups.