Yesterday I finally shopped for Christmas trees but came home empty handed. The ones that took my breath away were too expensive, and the ones left on Stein’s lot had twisted or too-fat trunks. You can do most things by yourself, but wrestling a tree into a holder is a two-person job. So maybe there won’t be a tree this year. I haven’t decided.
Maybe it’s because I’ve had the bug that’s been going around, but I’m having trouble getting into the spirit of the season. Or maybe I’m just not “getting” contemporary aesthetics in holiday decorating.
Some of my friends are wondering why they aren't feeling the holiday bliss. I never ponder that. I know exactly why I'm not in a state of enduring, sustained happiness. And only part of it's because I'm one of Garrison Keillor's "dark Norwegians," people who see the somber lining in every silver cloud.
The days are shorter, giving us less light. It's colder and icy out there, making us long to stay where it's warm and safe. That's all sort of biological.
Then there's the workload. To whatever we were doing before, add decorating, baking, cooking, entertaining, participating in or even just attending events, buying presents, and paying those once or twice a year bills that show up when you least need them.
Except for the last, those are pleasant things, at least individually. But the stress research says even good changes in our routines can make us sick. And when you add in many such changes, well, expect a mood-nose-dive.
This year, there's an additional burden of general ambient craziness (GAC). That's the technical term I just invented for all the tension and anxiety raised by our perceptions of what's going on in the world as filtered through the media we choose.
I just spent a moderately high GAC factor hour listening to intelligent, hardworking, decent people tell a talk show host and her guest "well, if I don't have that, no one else should either."
So let me be clear: I'm not arguing that because not everyone finds the holidays to be pure occasions of chronic happiness, those of you who do should stop being happy. God bless you, every two or three of you.
But for most of us, it's really sort of goofy to think we should be in any sort of sustained hyper-joyfulness for days on end, let alone months. There's nothing wrong with you if you aren't feeling the holiday spirit all the time. Most people who maintain a constant state of euphoria, apparently stimulated by the endless consumption of various consumer products, live in advertisements, not life.
For the rest of us, joy comes and goes. Even the greatest events--the birth of a child, falling in love, accomplishing a difficult goal, evading death, winning the lottery--don't lead to weeks of uninterrupted ecstasy. Reality intrudes. The baby has colic. The lover has ideas of his or her own that conflict with yours. The accomplishment means you have to move away from people and places you've always loved. The recovery comes with pain and limitations. Relatives, strangers, taxes, and bad judgment deplete both the coffers of chance winnings and your pleasure in your luck.
If you're feeling bah-humbuggy, just step out of the holiday for a bit. It'll still be there when you feel like returning to it. While you're at it, if you're feeling angry and indignant toward ordinary people who are in much the same boat you are, step outside that for awhile, too.
In the quiet and stillness you step into, you may see a speck of the light of hope. You may feel love and wonder. That kind of happiness is holy.
Turning 60 feels a little like watching the odometer turn 100,000 miles. You figure you've got another 50,000 left. but it's going to take a lot more maintenance.
Following a phone interview on Tuesday, I got another "sorry, not what we are looking for" e-mail from a no-longer-prospective employer.