I taste the definite and rather bitter flavor of an incipient "bah, humbug" on my lips; but I avoid uttering it, held back by the touching belief that it will all get better before Saturday, and somehow the Christmas Spirit will visit me as it did Scrooge and Grinch and, to a lesser extent, the Bumble. It has happened before, I've suddenly tapped into a suprising well of goodwill and optimism; on the other hand, it has failed to happen before, and I just slogged through the holiday pretending to have the Christmas Spirit. This year, the signs are pointing to a pro forma display of evergreen and tinsel covering up the reality of a black and cheerless soul.
I am nowhere in my shopping, to begin with. I went out on Saturday with Caroline, and though I managed to separate myself from about $350, I didn't really get many presents. Or rather, I didn't get many presents for the members of my family, for whom I am supposed to be shopping. I bought myself a new sweatsuit and a book and a pair of jeans, and I bought some "last-minute"-type presents for people who may or may not show up unexpectedly on Christmas, and I bought house decorations like a red cut-glass bowl and a stuffed moose that sings "Bust a Move" and wiggles its light-encrusted antlers to the rhythm, and I bought a beautiful bed-desk of oak and leather for which I cannot think of a proper recipient.
I thought I'd give it to Grandmother, but I don't think it will fit over her thighs, and I already bought a present for her (a small enameled and jewel-encrusted rooster keepsake box); then I thought I'd give it to my sister, but I don't think she does crossword puzzles or write letters in bed; I thought I'd give it to my uncle who just retired, but I doubt seriously if he enjoys being in bed after he wakes up... the reality is, I liked the tray too much to leave it behind, and so I bought it without a specific person in mind, and may end up keeping it for myself.
I am trying to keep this in perspective, though... for while I am nowhere near finished with my shopping, I have gotten a few presents out of the way so far: I have a present for Grandmother, and for my coworker JB, and for my aunt (which I bought last year and couldn't find at Christmastime but which I found last time I cleaned my room), and for my cousin-in-law, and for the two little girls (I decided to be purely evil this year and bought them both books, half a dozen Nancy Drews each), and for my Daddy; I also sent off mail gifts to Mother and her family as well as my cousin who lives in Arizona.
That leaves my sister (unless I give her the bed-desk), the little-boy-cousin, my nephew (who is impossible to shop for, especially now since he wears a uniform and doesn't have his own room... I fear I'm going to have to slip him some cash again, so unimaginitive), my uncle and his wife, my two women-cousins, and my boss. And I do have the bed-desk to give (unless I give it to my sister), as well as a trio of spa facials in reusable glass jars from Marcella Borghese that I can give to some female of the family... and I have five days and a couple hundred dollars left with which to get more.
But then, I don't have all five days just for shopping. Today, after work and gym, I have to schlepp the decorations-boxes out of the attic and start work on the Christmas tree, which my uncle is bringing by later this evening. Tuesday I am taking an epically long lunch with my coworker, and after work I have my regular meeting. On Wednesday, after the last workday of the year (which frequently runs pretty late), I am taking Grandmother grocery shopping. On Thursday and Friday, I'm off work, and so can concentrate on a thorough house-cleaning and getting the cooking started (cornbread stuffing will be started on Thursday, and we'll do the pies and yams on Friday). I should be able to manage it, so long as I don't waste too much energy on the shopping or by losing my temper, so long as I don't come down with another cold, and so long as nobody else gets in my way.
These last three are the jagged rocks under the water that threaten my ability to keep up the appearance of Christmas Cheer. With so much work to do, I quite frequently overdo and end up catching a cold, even if I just got over a cold (as I did this week); and quite frequently Grandmother will come down with a cold, or a bunch of Small Children end up in the house, or some other unexpected obstacle will pop up in my path and frazzle me. But the most likely jagged rock, the one that most frequently brings me down, is my short and dreadful temper.
I already got into an argument with Grandmother last night, about the wooden boxes on which we traditionally place the Christmas tree... I got snappish with her when she asked, in her usual indirect unfinished-sentence manner, if I knew where the boxes were; and then she yelled at me for being snappish, that I had no right to be angry when she's asking a perfectly simple honest question; and then I yelled back that her question was not perfectly simple nor honest, but rather it impugned abilities that I have ably demonstrated for a decade or more... of course I knew where the goddamned boxes were, I'm the one that put them away last year and the year before that and the year before that, it's my job to screw around with all these fucking decorations, whether I want it or not, and I don't wish to be questioned about it (I didn't actually say "goddamned" or "fucking" to my Grandmother, but my tone implied them); then she accused me of having a chip on my shoulder and that this chip made it impossible to have any kind of a conversation with me; and I said in the first place that I don't have a chip on my shoulder, and in the second place that questioning my abilities doesn't comprise a "conversation," and in the third place that she is always saying things that irritate me beyond my ability to hold my temper, and perhaps she should learn what those things are and stop saying them.
Most of that was true, except that I did, in fact, have a chip on my shoulder. The thing is, when I do something incredibly labor-intensive that I don't enjoy doing, solely for the pleasure it brings others, and then those others have the temerity to question or criticise my performance, well-intentioned as that question or criticism might be, I simply can't take it. The resentment that I carry around with me for having to do all this strenuous-work-I-don't-enjoy-doing-but-still-do-for-the-enjoyment-of-others simmers just below the surface and has to be rigorously controlled so that it doesn't lash out in all its burning fury at the unsuspecting questioner or critic. That control is rather ennervating sometimes.
When Grandmother asked me if I knew where the boxes were (in all innocence, really, I know she didn't mean anything by it), all the resentment I feel toward the entire family for "making" me do all this work came seething to the surface, and I was too sleepy and headachy to hold it in, so I snapped a bit. The ensuing argument was even more tiring; the apology later was utterly exhausting (I always hate having to apologize, but espcecially when I was being inadmissably stupid).
By far the best solution, if I can manage it, is to somehow convince myself that I am enjoying all of this work... if successful, I can let go of the resentment of doing hard labor for the enjoyment of others because I fall into the belief that I'm doing it for my own pleasure... and we all know that no amount of work is too much for my pleasure.
So I have been listening to Christmas carols for the last few days (though I can't sing along with all this leftover phlegm that's still coming up from last week's chest-cold), and making plans on when to do which chore so that I don't end up with this overwhelming load of work to do on Christmas Eve, and praying to God every day to give me the strength of generosity needed to obtain pleasure from creating a beautiful Christmas Day for my family. And like the presents that Grandmother ordered by phone, my Christmas Spirit hasn't arrived yet... but there are four and a half more days (half of today is gone by the time I'm finishing this post) in which it might arrive, so I'll just keep hoping.
Anyway, if you don't hear from me again this week, you know what I'm up to. I'm sure I'll be back sometime, though, if for no other reason than to vent my frustrations or report on my successful lack of frustration. In the meantime, I hope your pre-Christmas week is one long orgy of ease and joy.