Monday, December 22, 2008

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

I was writing this blog about Christmas Specials, and how I'd like my life to be like one. But now instead I'm sitting here in my Mom's office/my temporary sleeping quarters comparing my fingerprints to my baby fingerprints, photo-boothing and subsequently photo-shopping/poem-ing important documents, making tea and eating Hanukkah cookies like cookie monster.

I arrived at JFK Airport on Saturday afternoon at 3 P.M. for the 4:10 flight they swore was not delayed. Then they started delaying it. Then they delayed it more. And more ... and more ... I reached this room, my final destination, at about 6AM on Sunday morning. You can imagine how excited I was about this, and furthermore, my Mom let me sleep today unitl 5 P.M. It's like I have jet lag. Also it's embarrassing to say I slept 'til 5 P.M. Like I guess the day is over now, I missed it.

This is what happens to me in a house late at night when there's not a drop to drink and my system has lost track of the hours. I look for things I shouldn't look for and try to find things I shouldn't see. I wanted to find my birth certificate since I need to get a new passport, and my copy's gone, but I couldn't find it. But I did find my father's death certificate. An old passport where my brother looks confused & innocent and my mother looks young and ready for Europe. I don't know where she was actually going, I'm just telling you what she looked ready for.

A letter my grandmother wrote to her son. Handwritten four pages and it could break your heart I swear it.I don't know if she wrote it before or after he died, I really can't tell what the occasion was: Once I lay in labor clutching friendly hands, and breathing deeply and yearning for the end; when the fog lifted, a small form lay in my arms and it was my day. A hundred nights I went to your cradle and touched your warm body. You stood in your crib and reached for a sunbeam.

Anyhow it's this stuff that always makes it hard to be here. Not here -- it's not hard to be here here, in Michigan. I know how to be here and be aware of that stuff at the same time. This is where our lives went on, after all, this is where we continued, afterwards, to live. Ohio is still the place we are connected to through him, and we haven't had enough time practicing how to go on when other things keep happening , too, but i guess that's how time works. Time and families.

But Ohio is where we go from here for Christmas, to see my father's family. It was weird at first to go without my mother, then it was weird to go without my father, then it was weird to go without my father's girlfriend because then we were going just me and lewis, two angry annoying orphans fighting about music in a car not suited for the winter weather.

Because Crystal thought Ohio was actually IN Michigan, let me explain before I venture even further into my holiday stories -- I'm from the state of Michigan, this is where I grew up and it's where my Moms live. My Dad's family is the Quaker side, he's from Ohio a different state, located below Michigan. My Dad didn't ever live there as an adult, he lived in Michigan with us. Lately the routine's been that I go to Michigan from NYC to see my Moms, and then my brother and I drive to Ohio, and then I go back to NYC.

When we were kids, we'd all go down to Ohio together as a four-person family and it was a big deal. I couldn't hardly wait! It's not like that anymore. A lot of things are different now obvs and though the holiday season is allegedly about joy & family & togetherness & consumerism, after this weekend's snowpocalypse and my personal Delta Airlnes trauma I've re-determined that it's actually about Family-Focussed Masochism. Why do we insist upon gathering during this specific December week rather than, say, during a nice temperate week in September or May? 'Cause of Jesus? Obvs I think Jesus was awesome and etc but I feel like if he was still alive, he'd probs be in Zimbabwe feeding the hungry, or in Boca with Mary-Mag eating KFC. Next year in Jerusalem kthx.
Anyhow, though I generally avoid excessive nostalgia for youth & childhood -- though I'm actually petrified of it -- it's infected me every Christmas since '95, in different ways. People age and get sick, people have secrets, people have messed up, people don't show up, and all the trying is hard. Flying is hard, trying is hard. I get sort of tense and moody and closed-off and there's lots of slush and we don't go sledding anymore and I snap at people and wish I could go to the gym and I miss New York. What I'm saying is that it's my fault, but it's hard to figure out how to actively contribute to the positive energy of a situation while simultaneously refusing to reveal your actual self to anyone in the room.

I do love these people. I love them, wholly and completely, and they are my family, and they are the only ones who have been around all this time, though less often now. I love them absolutely and love to see them. But the weight of the holiday and the travel arrangements we must make to make it happen and the money that's to be spent when everyone is short ... I just wish we could have a picnic in June and go boat riding and call it a day, a good family gathering. We do well at weddings. Someone needs to get married again. I vote "not it."

I totes yearn for a time, that long-ago time, when making puffy-painted sweatshirts as gifts, playing an insipid game for bad chocolate with a wooden spin-top, eating lots of potato products, making paper dolls with my cousins and relishing my father's attention during the two weeks he was actually off work and not on a business trip was the cat's meow. And I don't even like cats. So you know I'm serious if I'm bringing up kittens in a positive context.

I have a new idea I'm going to instate next year to bring the spirit of Christmas back into our lives but adult-like. Doing things the same way we used to do them but as adults can be slightly humiliating, like wearing pants that don't fit anymore. I guess the number one "new adult way to celebrate' is "drinking excessively and discussing the calorie content of pumpkin pie." Hm. I like giving gifts though.

Anyhow enough of my rambling. Tomorrow I'll do a proper Sunday Top Ten, all about Christmas Specials. What are your favorites? Let me know!

What I'm digging right now:
The West Wing: In Excelsis Dio, Christmas with Jed Bartlet, Christmas Cards
Pee-Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special
My So Called Life Episode 15 - Angels
The Office
: Secret Santa Christmas Special , Jim Wraps Dwights Desk in Gift-Wrap
Arrested Development's Afternoon Delight
Charlie Brown Christmas and
of course our favorite A Very Brady Christmas

I want to listen to Ave Maria again and lie down on the couch. It's cold here so I need a lot of layers, I sleep like a marshmallow man. I'm safe underneath all the layers and portable too, and when I close my eyes I can be anywhere.


asher said...

reading this was like listening to the warm/happy wintry mix and the cold/sad wintry mix simultaneously. a rather holistic wintry experience if i may say so myself.

good stuff.

hope you're well, and can locate the drink (as needed) in michigan.

i noticed two spelling errors (typing errors really) in the body. but now i can't recall them. i'm not sure if pointing out insignificant errors just proves how attentively i read your blogs, how nerdy i am, or how annoying?

and just so you don't feel singled out, i'm supposed to retrieve my brother from the airport in the morning. he left boston yesterday.

yay airlines! yay america!

Mercury said...

one was "rom" instead of "from" in like the 3rd paragraph. and I saw the other one too. but don't remember it either. this makes me realize how rare it is that I ever spot errors in your blog.

I get your feeling, the general sentiment of this post.

At least Crystal's Australian. I mean, I don't know anything about Australia's anatomy. I mean geography. Place-names or whatever. Or any other countries, really. I have a vague grasp of the layout of Europe.

I'm going to bed now.
I think late night writing is the best.

I invented a new term. Or at least I feel lik I invented it. But maybe someone already did. "Emotional hangover." Your jetlag reminds me of it. I always feel displaced when I jack my sleeping patterns up like that.

Allie said...

I'm a little jealous that your family keeps stuff like this. It's easier to be nostalgic--and grapple with nostalgia--when you have props. Going to my parents' house is more an exercise in patience trying to find things you WANT to find, rather than happening upon glorious pieces of the past.

Also, our Christmas traditions haven't changed much since we were kids, and now there are no kids in my family (my mom hates her lack of grandchildren)...but, that shot of Crown Royal before Christmas dinner that's always been there? It's not just one anymore.

Anonymous said...

All these shows on TV show mostly-grown people having Christmas with each other and their friends. For a comic romp, one person's parents may show up, which causes befuddlement for the friend-group. I have yet to see this play out in the real world, though I really, really want it to. I want to decorate a tree with friends and eat stupid cookies and exchange presents and, you know, not deal with the other shit.

Vashti said...

I'd just like to point out that snowpocalypse = great word. I say this because [I thought I made it up or at least was the only one who's used the term in a while**] I've been using it since Thursday when the snow storm that was supposed to end all snow storms hit Chicago. Another word I've heard being used: snowmageddon [courtesy of Stephen L. Cloud].

Also, The Office Secret Santa Christmas Special could single-handedly make me hate Michael Scott forever [I love him in other episodes though so it evens out].

**I feel limited and not as discrete as I'd like to be because blogger does not allow the HTML code for a good old-fashioned strikethrough.

a;ex said...

Your baby fingerprints are abnormally long. That's so weird.

Since you asked, I enjoy the muppets Christmas movie. And The Grinch with Jim Carrey. Though it's not that I actually make it a point to watch these every year.

Based on the amazing photographs of Lewis as a child, I'm dying to meet the man behind the little kid with a huge head and beady eyes. For reals.

Anonymous said...

i think it's strange when holidays become more about who is not there, what is different, what you miss, instead of who is there, what you're doing at that moment, etc. it's one thing to miss people, it's another to make it the focus of attention. this christmas i am going to focus on who is there instead of who never was. i hope you enjoy your time with the fam, tell mama benard holleration and i'll see you on christmas.

DJL said...

F the holidays. And really, Crystal, really?

Also, your mom was hot and I loved your brother on Malcolm in the Middle.

laura said...

i like the snowman. [the one without words but with lots of music and flying, not the horrible claymation frosty the snowman one ew.] i was watching it yesterday and i think that part of "what the snowman learned about love" came from part of the movie; they're almost the same song at one point. ok, it's not actually a christmas special, but whatever.

that little bit of your grandma's letter was devastatingly poetic. and also your last thought about layers is basically how i feel about winter; i am obsessed with blankets.

Victoria said...

Have you seen this years Office christmas special? You must! All I'll say is, "my horn can pierce the skyyyyy"
I'll also say that Michael tries to stage an intervention....hilarity ensues

Anonymous said...

Yay for mentioning Zim :)
Get this: The other day my friend gave me a TEN MILLION DOLLAR note. Okay so it's Zim dollars :) Heehee. But seriously, it's worth about 100 rand which is worth about 10 american dollars. How crazy is that?

Someone kill Mugabe, please?

Love, SA anon

Crystal said...

Ha, thanks for the geography and Bernard family history lesson, the Ohio/Michigan thing makes perfect sense now.

Australia only has 8 states and territories, so it's hard for us minimalists to get our heads around your 50 (?).

[Sometimes I like to speak on behalf of my entire country in order to defend my ignorance... but in reality this's probably just a 'me' thing.]

autumn m said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
autumn m said...

im not going to lie, i loved this post. i wish i had words that could accurately describe how much i liked it. but since im mildly retarded I’ll just say i like it. a lot.
my fav Christmas movies are those really cheesy claymation ones. They suck hard core, but i loved them when i was growing up.
also.....guess who got buttons today!!! i was reading something and someone tossed me an envelope, and i glanced at it and was all, who is this Alex person and why am i getting mail from them? then my mind kicked in and i jumped up and grabbed some scissors, since ive become anal about how precisely i open mail. then, like a retarded child i proceeded to run through my house with scissors in one hand and an envelope in the other. i opened it and i had the biggest smile on my face. you don’t even know. then my mom was all, what are those. i practically yelled at her that they were totally awesome cool buttons. then she asked, how much did you pay for those stupid things. i told her that it didn’t matter because it was for a good cause. she was all, aw that’s so nice of you. so she thinks i bought buttons to help cure cancer or something. ha ha, so now i happy just so freaking happy. Like ive walked around everywhere today with this stupid smile on my face, and its not going away. you people made my day. see doesn’t that make you feel good? knowing that im walking around super happy cause of you and Alex? cause it should.

El N said...

I know this feeling well. It clings to things and places and dates and holidays, fades in and out, comes and goes. Try to walk around like a normal person - smile and nod and do what you must do. Everyone else around you feels the same or a slight variation of this feeling. It's just that no one's going to say it out loud, especially not at Christmas.

ps. New York has been buried in snow since last Saturday.

Elizabeth said...

Hrmph. I prefer not to think about missing people and feeling weird at the holidays. I do that enough the rest of the year. I say you should skip it all and come sledding in Chicago :D

a;ex said...

Autumn, it totally made my day knowing those silly little buttons made you so stupid-happy. I'm glad that you like them so much, and thanks for sharing one of your crazytown stories.

p.s. my word verification is: resses.

I'm taking a screen shot.

Torrie said...

I related to this post a lot- sometimes when I'm at my parents' house I scour the house for old photo albums, letters, proof of my life before I was aware of of my mom in a bikini with no huge C-section scar, photos of periods of my adolescence that still gut me. It's masochistic in the best way. However, I can't imagine how it would feel to come across my dad's death certificate in the mix. It makes my heart pound even to think of it.
that is all, Merry Hanukkah.

riese said...

asher: that's a good idea, i totally should listen to the warm/happy wintry mix and the cold/sad wintry mix simultaneously. third dry day. actually now i am making a new playlist with wintry and warm on it both.

there were tons of typos, i realized in the morning. the biggest one was um ... in the title? my brother's flight got canceled and he ended up driving in. crazy stuff.

merc: considering you usually get the 3am posts, that's pretty amazing that it's this rare you spot errors in my blog.

i don't know much about australia's anatomy either. i mean I know it's not anatomy too, but it should be and so it is.

emotional hangover. i don't know where i've heard it. from you? but i like it too. i get those a lot. it's worse when combined with an actual one, i guess.

Allie: we keep a lot of stuff. but this was all the valuable stuff, like the stuff in the safe. mortages and jewlery appraisals and stuff too. i think all the good stuff is in a storage unit somewhere.

re: the shots -- yes. we were never a big drinking family, but last year i think my (2) cousins killed a case of bud light in hours.

burningsteady: it seems to happen for thanskgiving now, thank the lord, but we're all still inexorably pulled home for xmas. my brother and i have decided next year we're re-locating this yearly expedition to springtime. I mean it's just too much.

vashti: I stole snowpocalypse from you possibly. i hate michael scott, but i also think he's funny. sometimes i want to kick him in the face, though.

a;ex: i wasn't a baby, i was like a toddler. but yeah. they've always been long. that's why everyone wanted me to be a pianist. obvs kicked out of piano. I keep forgetting that you guys haven't met Lewis yet. I mean it's weird kinda.

anonymous: sometimes it seems like if we all just addressed who was missing instead of tap-dancing around it until someone gets clumsy enough to bring it up out of the blue, it's easier. then maybe it could be a part of everyday discourse, instead of a bomb dropped in a room. mama says hiii and i'll see you on christmas. with bells on!

DJL: Crystal lives in Australia, so she's forgiven. I mean do you know where um, new south wales is? yeah? I think that's one of those things there. provinces or whathaveyou.

lewis says "thank you, thank you."

laura: i have to find this what you speak of about the snowman do you know what it is from? man i just googled it and my own blog came up. good sign or bad sign. i wonder what i said about it. oup. no answers there.

it gets better; the letter. she repeats the "and it was my day," throughout and the last line is "you have given me back something wonderful of yourself on a succession of endless days that are my days."

victoria: I have, actually i watched it this morning while i was getting ready to go to ann arbor to pick up my brother. i love intervention speaking of.

anonymous: it's just crazy that on one page of the nytimes, malls are complaining that people aren't buying enough useless electronics, and then on the next page, 7 out of 10 people in Zimbabwe have eaten either nothing or only once in the last 24 hours.

crystal: after reading this comment i asked my brother if we have 50 or 51 states, he asked me if i was serious, and i said i was bad with numbers. "50 plus puerto rico," he said then.

autumn m: actually that makes me feel really good for real! really it made me smile and uplifted my soul, all of it.

it makes me happy that it made you so happy! also your mom should know it is pretty much a bargain, also you got a raise so. and it is a good cause, since i can't seem to hold down a real job it's this way or the highway, more or less. and i've spent all day on the highway and it wasn't fun at all.

so yes it did make my day and it should and has.

El N: I need to figure out how normal people walk, yes. It's just at night everything seems flat and cold. it's flatter in ohio.

ps. we can turn the other cheek, and take it on the chin.

elizabeth: people sled in chicago? "chicago" is one of my favorite words/ideas.

a;ex: my word verification on the ticketmaster website (looking for mom gifts) was "marie." literally. in fact, it was "marie $27,000" which i think is fitting, and probs approximately slightly higher than my yearly salary. if i had a salary.

Torrie: three copies, even, which's why I figure she won't miss the one i'm taking. three copies of her brith certificate. everyone here was born and died and had a house but i didn't do much i guess. there's pictures, i blink a lot.

Vashti said...

I had a feeling that you maybe might have possibly stolen the word from me. But hey! That's how languages are formed, right? Maybe? Plus, I steal words from you all the time. In fact, you could even say I've physically taken them from you in the form of super hot buttons. I love buttons! And so does Toby. He sent you an email today to prove it.

laura said...
the whole movie's worth watching, but listen from 1:50 on a little and tell me that it doesn't sound like 1:07-1:25ish in the stars song.

riese said...

vashti: toby's picture was amazing. i forwarded it to the design team.

laurita: you're right. i've listened to it and then listened to the song and back and forth a few times and yes, yes, yes.

Elizabeth said...

Do people sled in Chicago? Of course they do! That's like asking if people swim in Florida or litter in New York... You might have to go to the edges of the city (or into the suburbs) but people do sled here. There is an excellent tobboggan run not far from me. The rough part is walking back up the hill...

Also, if you've never read Simone Muench... I think you should. I took one of her poetry writing classes years ago and it was brilliant. I feel like her poem Eating Olives In The House Of Heartbroken Women fits this post.