misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

Seasonal thoughts: on my darling penguin, sending out cards, and needed rituals

Dear friends,

Again this year the "signs" of Christmas around our house are the lights we managed to spread across our bushes in front of our house: alternatively webs of white and strings of varied colors; in the house, fewer paper cards than ever on the mantelpiece, and in my room Colin, my fiber optic penguin (a spontaneous gift from a neighbor who alas is no longer next door), of whom I've become very fond.

He does glitter when I plug him in.

He is in my room because my two pussycats either appear appalled by him when he stands by a window looking out (thus preventing the boy, Ian, from enjoying himself staring at birds) or play with him and risk hurting themselves by the wires or somehow ruining one of his parts -- as in his sleigh, scarf, snow shoes, hat. Gentle reader, he's all I've got left to stand for childhood feelings.

Colin, the noseless penguin
had a very shiny nose,
And if you ever saw him,
You would even say it glows

All of the other penguins
used to laugh and call him names
they never let poor Colin
join in all their penguin games.

Then one foggy Christmas eve ...

Colin with your nose so bright,
Won't you guide my sleigh tonight ...

And so on and so forth.

I was thinking this afternoon what is so painful about Christmas is this myth of love, and longing for happiness in intimate love and friendship. Also fear of exclusion. Have you got company on that day? Since growing up every year I come across this, since abruptly I am once again disillusioned of this dream of reciprocity. I know I should not blame Dickens, but I also know it was he who first instilled in me this hope of all settling together in kindness.

Certainly no one else did. I'll mention my mother is Jewish and to this day (quite literally) persists in refusing to recognize there is a holiday going on around her that matters. Sending her a paper card (as I will) usually elicits a reluctant thank you with the usual reminder it's not her holiday; Caroline has knitted her something and probably she will hide her actual attitudes insofar as she can by sending along a birthday present of money with thanks somewhere between apologetic and effusive. My father was an atheist and while he read Dickens too (indeed aloud to me), and allowed as Santa was a pretty lie, he couldn't understand (quite explicitly) why I so intent on pretending the day was special or happy. Well, were he alive today he'd know I've given it up or keep trying to.

Looking over Jacquie Lawson's selection today after fighting the burning cold air and winds of Old Towne Alexandria walking to find it there were any card shops anywere (this year I am experiencing chilblains as a matter of course), I decided I'm going to send mostly e-cards. Only those who are not on the Net will I send and those friends for whom I don't have an email addresses even if they are on the Net and we have corresponded once or twice (how is that? well, I neglected to save an address), only these will I send paper cards to. Why?

I like Jacqui Lawson cards better than those I can find in my neighborhood!  Where I live most card shops have closed (no stationary shops but Staples, no bookstores, the local museum stopped carrying cards). I usually did dislike most of the cards I ever sent, or not like them enough. Apologies to the post office but they should console themselves that I provided very little assistance as the attack on them does not actually come from the ordinary person not using the post office. This Xmas one place that was perpetually crowded was the post office with people sending oddly shaped packages wrapped in brown paper with string to fugitive destinations.

Miss Shuster-Slatt (an old friend), contemplating the mailing out of hundreds of post-cards asked, "What say you? Shall I kill hundreds of birds with one stone (so to speak) and post ONE holiday card on Facebook and then not have to send out any? Seems unsporting, and I haven't actually seen anyone *do* that yet...but it can't be long, can it.?"  Four people "liked" that comment. I answered at the time:  "I will go out and buy a small box of cards -- although I find it ironic that I get as a value those who send me a paper card are somehow asserting a "better" or realer" or different relationship than someone who sends me an ecard. I have a few relatives who are not on the Internet (and older friends who I have as yet not met on the Internet) as far as I can tell and of course they I must send paper cards to. I'll do that tomorrow after finishing my students papers, for not done yet!" Well I've finished the papers and gone and looked at the cards available. And it will now be a tiny box of cards.

A hour later: another advantage: since my hand-eye coordination has gone so bad and I can no longer write prettily, hardly legibly, another advantage is I can send messages that are readable. I've actually spent more time to more purpose writing little salutations to each person, and have found individuated cards.

My choices were: Shining Star, Christmas at Chudwell's (a book shop), White Christmas, Handbells and Christmas Eve Adventure.

As to music, give me Bach anytime. I find in listening to the latest updated Xmas music I am led to see the 1950s, 1940s even 20s and 30s kind of stuff I've thought of as "traditional" music seems just as time-bound and dated. Here and there some of these are moving (like one where the man sings "if only in my dreams") but for the most part they are silly & corny and not superior to the recent really dull "Glee" or other rock stuff. What moves me are the older carols done with older instruments. Better yet, Bach and organ music. Nothing less hits the longing soundly.

I hope within the next couple of evenings to watch with Yvette Whit Stilman's Metropolitan, an analogous updating of Austen's Mansfield Park set around Xmas time in NYC. Christmas day in the evening I've been watching Joyce's The Dead as done by the Huston family and Donal McCann.

What, gentle reader, are your rituals to get through this exacting time? The Admiral, Yvette and I have several routines we follow: one is on Christmas Eve itself to go for a long walk in old town, see the lights everywhere and walk along the water, and then come back for drinks (he and I) and dinner; Christmas Day, morning lovely music, around noon, exchange gifts, go to a movie (this year we are hoping for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy, with Colin Firth and Bernard Cumberbatch), and then to Mark's Duck House; and Boxing Day, a trip to a museum exhibit

What is one shutting out:  Today Iraq is destroyed physically. 99% of its people are in abysmal poverty. Thousands & thousands of widows who are supposed to get $150 a month (not enough to feed themselves) an get nothing. All privatized. British Petroleum and American companies in there to take away the resources and make big sums for these corporations  !6000 contractors will remain: these are mercenary soldiers. Over 50% of US people living in poverty. The ravaging of female immigrants. The ruthless stifling of all dissent to the point where environmentalism and animals rights people are called eco-terrorists.

Christmas is then a particularly fraught time. That's the truth of it. People are expecting way too much and most are actually unwilling even to give some, want a lot and carry enormous baggage. Many make it worse for other people by pretending otherwise.  The best adult story I know to read is Bobbie Ann Mason's "Drawing Names" in her Shiloh and Other Stories collection; for comfort turn to the fraught comedy of Trollope's "Christmas at Thompson Hall."

Henri-Pierre Danlous, Reverend Henry Walker ice-skating -- on which image see comments.

Sylvia (Miss Drake)
Tags: 20th century, life-writing (mine), listserv life, seasonal, social life

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