Saturday, December 18, 2010

That Krampus Spirit

You know, for once I'm not feeling down on the holiday season. In fact, aside from the incessant, cloying holiday music piped into Shoppers Drug Mart, I've barely registered the Christmas hoopla at all.

This sounds like a bad thing, but it's not. Arriving at my parents' place, I found my mom's paper mache carolers perched by the door, and glittery snowflakes suspended from the chandeliers. I was charmed! December 18, a scant week before The Big Day, and it was my first real run-in with Christmas. In years past, I've been hypersensitive to the holiday cheer. Too much (read: any) exposure to it, and I was transformed into a poisonous cocktail of Scrooge and the Grinch. Who, you know, isn't an especially fun character, especially for folks like my mom, who genuinely likes Christmas. She was sad to learn that I wouldn't personally decorate for Xmas; if she left the house bare for the month of December, I'm sure my peabrain would register it as "different," but I wouldn't rush out and replace all the vintage Rudolph dolls and stuffed singing church mice with gleaming new decorations.

Like so many family things, Christmas is a layer cake. The decorations are just frosting: they pretty up the family dinners, the kids in pajamas clutching new toys, the champagne in the hot tub, the cookies for Santa, the wistful longing for gifts you know you'll never get, the traditions and the memories. Some of those memories are great, like the year my sister received a board for Christmas, with a jolly promise that it would become a dollhouse. Some are less awesome, especially if you're from a family with issues - booze, food, money, parent/child relationships, sibling drama, and travel stress all comes into play for plenty of people. Maybe you - if not, you're lucky. And if not you, then definitely some of the people you care about, people with whom you might celebrate the holidays.

When you think about it, the end of the year is kind of intense. There are so many events packed into, like, a month (although I swear I heard Christmas ditties in October this year, which is insane and, of course, unacceptable), and not just for the Christians, either. Muslims have Eid, Jews have Hanukkah, and everyone is oppressed by their decision not to live on the equator and therefore engage in seasons, leading to "days" in Toronto that are less than nine hours of sunlight. If the sun even shines at all that day. Raise your hand if you'd like to come with me to Miami for a while; I bet we could get a killer group rate. Ready? Okay! Next week!

Anyway, no matter what your cultural heritage, there's a place for darkness in the holiday months. I've finally stumbled upon Krampus, who promises to make Christmas way more bearable in the upcoming years. Krampus is a European (mostly German and Serbian) tradition that hitches up with the popular Saint Nickolas figure. While Saint Nick obligingly brings the treats, Krampus brings the coal. For especially naughty kids, Krampus also, uh, escorts them directly to hell. Which I LOVE.

It's always sort of bothered me that there was no yin to Santa's yang: every story has a black hat and a white hat, a saviour and a trickster. In the year 2010 in North America, Christmas has two good guys (Santa and The Baby Jesus) and no bad guys, unless you count whatever sadistic advertising agency is drumming up the schmaltzy seasonal ads that are ostensibly designed to sell razors but end up making the audience feel like they should call their fathers immediately to make sure they haven't died. But there wasn't a real sense of urgency around the be-good-or-else line of reasoning. If I was morally decrepit, I might take a miss on the gift basket. Worse case scenario, I get some lumps of coal? Pfft. But Krampus puts a more terrifying spin on the season. My kids will be well versed in Krampus. It's only fair.

It's not just the discovery of an archaic seasonal demon that's put a smile on my face. Being home is nice, being newly employed is a heady treat, I've fallen in love with a new TV show, there have been some great friend visits and some lovely dates. For a time of year that's usually been a real buzz-kill, this December has actually been surprisingly great. Maybe it's part of getting older. When you're a kid, Christmas is the point of your whole life: presents and missing school?! What? After I outgrew the childhood version of the holidays, I took a scorched-earth approach to the season, hating its frivolity and commercialization and resenting it for the intrusion on my schedule. Now I'm sort of excited about it, because it's bringing new traditions and old friends into my life. How I can stay mad at you, Saint Nickolas? But seriously, next year, bring your Krampus friend to the office party. He looks like a hoot.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Crazies

My pal Kelli recently wrote a post about her summer-induced weight gain. A yearly cycle, she figures it's the beer, the hot dogs and the fro-yo that adds a few pounds to her frame, and in the winter she takes it off with a more rigorous workout schedule. It should be noted that Kelli fluctuates between "bony" and "svelte" in her annual gain/loss rollercoaster, and she looks great, fit and toned, no matter how much she moans about her ice cream consumption and the effect it has on her ass.

I'm the opposite. Usually I'm more active in the summer months, when biking and walking and sweating and not wanting to eat anything except ice pops and watercress melts (ha!) off the pounds . My body type is curvier than hers - even at my skinniest, I probably weigh in a few classes above her. But now, unemployed, post-surgery, and without a defined workout schedule, I'm getting...fat.

Oh, boo. I know it's not kosher for women to say they're fat. We've all been socialized to refer to our overweight friends as "a little heavy" or tell each other, "she's a big girl" and do that thing where we hold our arms away from our bodies and sort of shake them a little - I guess to convey all their glorious jiggliness . But rarely do we break down and actually verbalize the words "fat" or "overweight" or "obese." It seems too harsh for the people we care about, so we tiptoe around the words and use those ridiculous jiggly arms.

Let's be clear: I am not what you might call "sane" when it comes to weight and body issues. I've spent upwards of a decade struggling with eating disorders and the auxiliary body image issues it creates. Sometimes, when I look at my body, I feel humiliated and betrayed. Later that day, I might feel strong and sexy. It's a crapshoot. Certain things trigger the bad-body-moods more reliably than others: if I weigh myself, it's almost guaranteed to bother and annoy me for at least a few days, and to make me hyperaware of my physical flaws. It's taken me a long time to come to terms with the idea that I can gain some weight without wanting to throw myself under a streetcar; it's taking even longer to figure out how to get to a healthy size without going crazy in the process.

But. The numbers don't lie, and I've gained. The Body Mass Index calculations, while flawed, does give you a rough estimation of where you should be, weight-wise. My sister is adamantly opposed to it; since it fails to take into account extreme muscle mass (which would be an indicator of fitness, not obesity), it's apparently flawed and untrustworthy. I use the BMI system, mostly because it affords me more wiggle room than the height/weight ratio system. But no matter what system you use to calculate where you are and where you should be when that scale stops spinning, nobody can deny that there's magic in those numbers. And when they creep up and up, it causes a certain mindset (hello!) to freak right the fuck out.

One of the main issues with eating disorders is that they reward the sufferer with endorphins, those fun-ass brain chemicals that make us feel better. Learning how to eat and exercise without the benefit of the euphoria is...sort of a drag. In the sense that exercise is hard and annoying and makes you sweaty, and alternative methods take, like, ten minutes. They also lead to a next-level spectrum of bodily impairment, which exercise, unless you're doing it wrong, won't do. And they make you crazy. So don't do it. Eat your food, keep it down.

So I'm trying something new: acceptance. Oh, I'm still not really pleased with the way I look. But I'm trying to focus on the positive. I have great hair. My ass seems to have some admirers. I'm not deranged. When I feel crappy, I'll go for a run. And since I'm feeling pretty crappy about my bod these days, and the numbers on the scale, and how tight my pants have gotten, I bet I'll be going for a lot of runs. Nice, sane, healthy, non-crazy runs. Wish me luck.