Bah Humbug!, or What Christmas Means To Me

Bah Humbug!, or What Christmas Means To Me

I dread this time of year – the Christmas holiday. An endless all-you-can-eat buffet of bright, shiny, colorful, twinkly, saccharine, plastic, superficial, empty-hearted, compulsory frivolity and joy to all. The cracks of the rest of the year are papered over, temporary patches to support the pretense that we are all getting along famously and having a good time. It’s all over the TV commercials – smiling families gather around the dinner table to share the feast, seasonal bonhomie ramped up to the max.

Amid the repeated-ad-nauseam Christmas songs, the wall-to-wall sparkling lights and baubles and the commercial brands lashed tightly to old traditional symbols I can’t help feeling that the whole experience is empty, devoid of meaning. Christmas has become its own parody, a cheap, mass-produced knock-off that has smothered the original beneath its glittering red and white, snow-carpeted facade.

Christmas died long ago: its dried husk is buried deep beneath strata of tinsel and fairy gold. With a wonky plastic angel stuck on top.

For me this time of year is not about giving or receiving gifts. It is not about parties and feasting. It is not about excessive consumption – gluttony if you will – of any kind. It is not about decorated trees, homes or streets. It is not even about the Christian religious festival.

For me it is the time of year when the darkness is closest at hand. When the long, cold nights harbor age-old fears of loneliness and hunger. When people used to gather round their fires to share warmth and protection, and to pray that the winter would end; that the sun would soon return to warm the land.

For me it is a time for thinking of the people I care about, those I love. This has become a season of unrealistic expectations, unattainable goals, impossible dreams. A season when so many people will fall short of the targets they set themselves, whether they didn’t manage to lose that weight to fit into the new party dress, or they saw Dad get drunk Christmas Day and fight with Mum, or they didn’t get that one special present they’d set their heart on. A season when people feel disappointed, hurt, alone.

I will not buy presents; I will not send cards. I will find my pleasure in what I can do for those I am close to. If I can make somebody smile, or help them feel that they are not alone, help them feel that they are appreciated and valued… then I believe that would be a worthwhile gift.

Eating (dis)Order

Eating (dis)Order

I came across this post by bunnyhopscotch and it made me think about my own eating habits and preferences. While I don’t consider myself extreme in these regards I am aware, because of frequent comments from my wife in particular but also from my mother when I was growing up, that some of my behavior is unusual.

Order and predictability are very important to me – I like to know what to expect in advance and I hold a mental image of these expectations. If the reality is significantly different then that causes me to react – this can range from a mild disappointment to a full-blown meltdown. This is very difficult for non-autistic people to understand: many of them enjoy surprises and find repetitive experiences to be exceedingly dull. I’m not that way; I enjoy the comfort of regularity, of familiarity. If I get exactly what I was expecting then I could not be happier.

One of my favorite meals is spaghetti bolognese; whenever my wife asks me what I would like to eat that is the answer (I don’t know why she bothers to ask unless it is in the hope that one day I will say something different). She gets bored preparing the same meal so often, with no variation in the method or ingredients. I would happily eat this every day – the longest I have managed was to have it for every meal for two weeks before she refused to serve it again on the grounds that she was sick of the sight of it! (I had chilli instead the week after.)

The paradoxical thing is that I am not a fussy eater: there are very few things I will not eat and I do not have any food allergies or other digestive trouble that would restrict my diet. What I do have is a fairly rigid set of routines around eating. I’ll start with the arrangement of the food on the plate – all the individual elements must be separate and any sauce or gravy can only be poured over certain items. Gravy on sliced meat, roast or mashed potatoes is good; on sausages, chops and steaks, greens or most other vegetables is bad. I don’t like different elements to be mixed on the plate – it’s not good if, say, the peas get mixed up with the carrots.

I will also generally eat the parts of the meal in some order. Non-potato vegetables are always first, starting with the small, numerous items such as peas or corn. Then would come larger items: cauliflower cheese or mushrooms, before getting on to the potatoes and finally the meat. With meals such as chilli and rice (uniformly mixed together) I have a different approach: I will start at the edges, squaring the shape, and work inwards towards the middle maintaining that shape with its straight sides; mashed potato is the same.

There are other things: bread and butter must be in whole slices and if stacked the buttered sides must be together. Any cutlery accompanying the meal must not be in contact with the food prior to me starting to eat. Except for bread/salad and condiments there must be no combination of both hot and cold items on a plate.

I’m also a little unconventional in my use of cutlery. As much as possible I will use only a fork or spoon, held in my right hand. I transfer the fork to my left hand if I need to use a knife – I can’t use a knife with my left hand – but will put down the knife and pass the fork back to the right when I’m done. I need to keep the cutlery clean as I’m eating which means I have to put the fork or knife into my mouth or lick it to remove any visible food – very delicately in the case of a sharp steak knife!

This last habit – putting the knife in my mouth – raises my wife’s hackles every time she sees me do it. It turns out she was taught that this is ill-mannered. Trouble is, not doing it puts me on edge because then the knife is dirty, so I can’t win. In general my wife is pretty good about accommodating my “peculiarities” where food is concerned, but she will keep on about the knife in mouth thing.

There are other little things but I’ve covered the main points here. From the outside I have been informed that my eating habits appear restrictive, repetitive or downright strange but from my side it is simply the way I am – I’ve always been like this so I don’t know any different.

Lost in Transit

Lost in Transit

Footprints clear in the crisp snow;
I follow, hoping to find my way
Back to the place I came in.
The path winds on and on;
No end in sight. Until at last
Familiar sights greet me.
I have been here before:
This is where I started out
Chasing the ghost of my own past,
Round and round, perpetual motion
Leading nowhere. No memory
Of my destination remains.
Lost in transit, marking time,
Walking in my own footsteps
Hoping to find myself
At journey’s end.

Handle With Care

Handle With Care

Brittle tranquility, a fragile egg-shell existence from moment to moment. Trying not to think about the instant when it will shatter under the weight of my suppressed feelings.

At times I can go for hours, even days, with a happy, carefree cast of mind before the darkness encroaches again and I fall into the depths. It is so sudden, as if a switch were flicked to extinguish the light, that the onset is shocking in its abruptness. One minute I’m my “normal” self, the next I’m falling with an aching void where my heart used to be – such intense, painful loneliness.

At these times I feel the urge to curl up in a warm, dark sanctuary. To hold myself tightly, comfort myself in the most basic way. Tears prick at my eyes but will not flow even though I feel a need for that release – my inhibitions remain too strong. This frustrates me immensely.

All my worrying, anxiety, insecurity: it is little wonder that I have had trouble sleeping on and off recently. I feel mentally exhausted from the effort of keeping going. Reprising my role for endless curtain calls; no respite. I feel trapped by my responsibilities and face a strong temptation to run away but I know that any escape would be temporary. Not sure I could face crawling back to my old life after a hedonistic spree. Can’t face severing the ties that bind me to my current station. Trapped.

It is a leaden dullness that holds me to the ground when I yearn to fly, to shine. I sit in the midst of winter-gray concrete uniformity and dream of running through the woods and meadows of childhood’s infinite summer. Soap-bubble dreams that burst and disappear so easily: from weightless, iridescent beauty to oblivion in the blink of an eye. As fragile as my veneer of happiness.

New vs Old

New vs Old

That’s progress for you, march of time,
The local that we knew so well:
A dozen years of dirt and grime
Replaced by light and new-paint smell.

Old habits live on, so they say,
The people still behave the same,
Old memories surface day by day:
Same old faces, the same old game.

And though the steersman’s hand is new,
The ship new-found, fresh from the yard,
‘Most every hand’s from former crew
Who know the ropes, old ways die hard.

The captain is no fool: she knows
Every trick from a foremast jack.
I will sit back, see how it goes
With those who wish the old times back.