A Christmas tree farm
December 23, 2018
I’ve been meaning to write this for over a month now. When we make a choice to do one thing, we are saying no to many others. And I have kept saying yes to dishes and laundry and sleep and work and sorting pile after pile of papers. This makes for a temporarily clean house and a somewhat rested body and a few extra dollars. But I’ve said no to creativity. I’ve said no to writing in favor of all the things I listed above, partly out of obvious necessity, as clothes don’t clean themselves and I don’t want to get fired. But the underlying reason I chose those things was because I am afraid of writing things that are mediocre and no one cares about. This sounds safe, and I guess it is, but it has not been good. Matt was just beginning a painting the other day and I asked him: Isn’t it daunting to start? What if you make a mistake? He looked at me with surprise: I’ve already made mistakes, I just paint over it.
Huh. He just paints over it. And keeps going.
Right this very moment, my chest is tight. I am tightly wound. It is December 23 and I am doing the thing I tell myself not to do every Christmas—get wrapped up (that pun writes itself) and stressed out about the presents and the money and the making sure everything is magical! And in the process of white knuckling it through this month I have made myself miserable. The cashier at Trader Joe’s asked me if I was excited for Christmas, and I couldn’t even muster up the energy to lie to him. I just took a deep breath and said “you know, not really.” Bah, humbug.
Dovetailing with the holiday anxiety is the suspicion that I may have premenstrual dysphoric disorder, otherwise known as PMDD. Basically, it is depression linked directly to the onset of a woman’s cycle. Usually, as the woman begins to bleed, the depression slowly goes with it and the cloud lifts. The other day, before I began bleeding, I was putting bins back into Evelyn’s closet when I fell to my knees and let out a few deep sobs. The release felt good, but to be bullied by my monthly hormones is a real bitch.
I hesitated for a few minutes to talk about my period. But the fact that most girls and women bleed monthly between the ages of 11 or 12 or 13 or 14 and up through our 50’s is not weird or gross or a mark of inferiority. It’s normal and natural, messy and maternal. It can clearly pose challenges. But so do children, and engineering, and playwriting. And yet we talk about those things more freely.
I don’t think that there always has to be a silver lining, a forced push for good cheer in the face of frustration and sadness and good old everyday exhaustion. In What If This Were Enough by Heather Havrilesky, a book of essays, she says:
“What’s odd about American culture—and now pop culture at large—is how fervently it insists on keeping us all in a frothy state of upbeat enthusiasm and childlike wonder for the entire stretch of our lives, from birth to death. Even after we mature into adults, even after we experience heartbreak and nagging doubts and disappointments untold, life is still supposed to be dominated by sunshine and big hugs and warm smiles, lathered up into a bubbly storm of upbeat nothingness…In other centuries (and in other lands), melancholy and longing were considered a natural part of the human condition. Now they are a moral failing, a way of signaling to the world that you are a loser and a quitter.”
So no, the purpose of this is not necessarily optimism. It is chiefly to sit with sadness and let her breathe. It is catharsis, to maybe flush out the tension through my fingers as my body flushes out the rest through my blood; and memory, to commemorate the day after Thanksgiving when we went to get our Christmas tree. When it was early on, and I wasn’t yet tightly wound. And maybe, if we are lucky, as we tell our stories and do the things that help us to sit with our sadness and pain and frustrations and fears, we can eventually excavate and resurrect a tiny sliver of hope that lives through these stories of our lives, even when hope is not presently felt. Because it can’t always be felt. Sometimes we are blue and life does not feel magical, even at the most wonderful time of the year, and that is ok.
The last time we cut down our Christmas tree was when we lived in Canada. We drove out of the city and found sort of a makeshift tree farm on the side of the road. It wasn’t a huge operation and didn’t have instagrammable red trucks, but it had trees and hot apple cider and we roasted hot dogs on sticks around a small fire. It was five years ago, when I was very pregnant with Sophie. She was snug in my swollen belly and that yellow coat she is wearing in these pictures still belonged to Evelyn. Theo was in diapers, and very blonde. People would stop me on the streets of Vancouver and ask me if I dyed his hair.