An Obol for Charon


(Before anyone freaks out, I’m not planning to stick a gun barrel in my mouth and eat a bullet.) Thanksgiving is officially over. We did the big dinner at my house today due to conflicting work schedules, but at last that little bit of mania is behind me. I find myself wishing that was an end to the holiday season, but for most people it was the starting bell. Now comes the season of unfettered buying and people digging themselves in credit holes so deep the only way out is to pay Charon to take you across the Acheron.

Charon and Psyche
Charon and Psyche by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope

Christmas lights started going up on houses in my neighborhood right after Halloween (possibly Halloween night, no doubt a knee-jerk reaction to that most pagan of holidays). I never put lights up that early, but I used to get very excited about Christmas and actually enjoyed seeing all the displays. The sight of strings of lights decorating houses and businesses used to instantly transport me, like fairy magic, out of the mundane world of work and chores, and for that brief time I felt happier. Then a few years ago I realized, with some dismay,  that didn’t happen anymore. Whether people had lights up or not made no difference. I was completely unmoved by the strands and webs of twinkling white or multi-colored lights. Even elaborate animated displays couldn’t touch my spirit. Ditto beautifully wrapped packages. Christmas shopping was just another chore on the list. Suffice it to say, I had, and continue to have, zero Christmas spirit.

Now, some of you may be asking if this shift occurred when I left Christianity and embraced paganism. It’s not that easy. Pagans love a good party, and the Yule season is full of them. Most Christmas traditions (holly and ivy, the Yule log, decorating trees, wassail, exchanging gifts) are all pagan in origin. If anything, that should have given me a lift. The only thing that did seem to stick with me and cheer me at all was the music. And I don’t mean Feliz Navidad or Rocking Around the Christmas Tree, either of those was about enough to send me straight to Hades. I started collecting classical and obscure Christmas music, some of it so beautiful I didn’t confine listening to it to just December. I’d bust it out in July if I felt like it. Not so now.

It took a long time, but this year I realized what sucked the life out of this season. I understand now why there are so many more suicides during the Christmas season. For people with no close family, it can be almost unendurable. Sure, I have some family, but the ones who live close by have little interest in the things that make the season special – spending time together, carrying on traditions. It can be a very lonely time. I miss my parents, both long gone now. I miss my sisters. They’re all still alive, but we’re scattered, and in some cases estranged (for good reason). Even if we were together now it wouldn’t be the same.  It seems to get worse with every passing year. I remember my mother feeling the same, while still encouraging me to try to hang onto that merriness as I decorated the house.  I suppose there’s no way to get back the innocent joy of the season. Part of it is a lack of roots. I feel like I don’t really belong anywhere. No matter where I go and what I do now, it’s new. I am longing for that sense of familiarity, of history. I’m not sure I could even recapture it if I were to move back to my childhood home in New England. I have vivid memories of winter in Massachusetts, of parents driving to school in snow, of sliding down snowy hills on our butts on our walk to school, ice skating on homemade rinks of timbers and water-filled plastic in a neighbor’s backyard, and infrequently on Lake Quannapowitt (I understand this is no longer possible. I have been told recently that the lake has not frozen over in over ten years).

photo by Lawrence Colleran

There’s a sense of being out of time, out of place. I suppose I’m haunted by my own ghosts of Christmases Past. Instead of trying to ‘cheer up’ I think I’m going to go with it and write a Christmas ghost story. Watch this space.

 

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22 thoughts on “An Obol for Charon

  1. Your post really hit home with me, as well as with others too. Two years ago, on 20 Dec 09, my wife (now, ex) abandoned me and her boys. The boys went back to their dad and well…christmas sucked, as did new years, valentine’s, St. Patrick’s…you get the idea. This year has been tremendously challenging. I hate going into Walmart during the holidays because of the music. The only saving grace, if there is such a thing, is I love the smell of Cinnamon-Apple. That always brings a smile on my face.

    With no family anymore and really no friends (just acquaintances), all there is to get me through the holidays are music, writing, poetry, art and (do I dare say it?) social media.

    Good Luck with surviving these days that once had meaning.
    I wish you a very, very Merry “Nightmare Before” Xmas! 🙂

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  2. Ha, thanks 🙂 I guess there’s some comfort in knowing we are not alone in our solitude. The marketing machines are in full gear, trying to paint a Norman Rockwell Christmas for everyone, and the reality is, it’s just not like that for most of the people I know. My sisters have their own demons to face: splintered families, mental illness, the best are merely dysfunctional. Nobody told me life was going to turn out like this.

    Are the plans still underway for the move to Seattle?

    Signed,
    Sally

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    1. So far, yes. I’ve lived too long in Nebraska; now I know why Stephen King has used this state for some of his writing! Case in point, Children of the Corn. 😛 Everywhere I turn, something reminds me of sour days. Yes, there have been some good ones too, but that’s when I was young and didn’t know any better.

      Going west will be good for me, and for living in Seattle, I always wanted to try Clarion West. This way, I won’t have to pay for room and board, but still have to pay a hefty $$ for the workshop itself.

      Well, I should go to bed. 8am is going to come too soon. Lots of hungry people on Sunday mornings. Too bad they don’t have “all you can eat” at church during communion. How many wafers would it take to fill someone up? ;P

      Take Care,
      Jeffrey

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      1. Haha, I don’t think I’ve used NE as a fictional setting, but I did a flash fiction piece that was set (in my mind, I didn’t actually mention the location) in North Dakota. When I was in the Navy, one of the guys I served with was from NE. I once asked him jokingly if people actually lived there on purpose 😉

        OOOOoo, CW? That would be awesome. I hope you get out of there sooner rather than later. Do you work in a soup kitchen or does your church do meals for people?

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  3. I’m finding that there are a great many more people “out” with these feelings about Christmas, and the whole Holiday rigamarole. Is it the rampant commercialization and glorification of consumption in the weeks leading up to Dec 25 ~ especially in the face of economic reality ~ that makes the forced gaiety seem even more surreal? I hate to turn the TV on for fear of the infernal Lexus commercial with that insipid jingle….. everything is just so “in your face.” And the whole “Black Friday” hype is really just that: hype to get people to open their wallets and put the retailers into the black.

    Your idea of using the time as an inspiration for a Christmas ghost story is excellent, though.

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  4. The commercialization has been part and parcel of Christmas since… forever, I think. That’s nothing new. They even lamented it in “Miracle on 34th Street” in 1947 so it’s nothing new: “There’s a lot of bad ‘isms’ in the world but one of the worst is commercialism.” And this has been my attitude towards the season for years now. One year I skipped putting up a tree, family was horrified. I had to go out for a handful of things on Black Friday, but ran through the stores as fast as I could, and didn’t stop to look at anything that wasn’t on my short list. Maybe because it’s such an overblown holiday with such high, unrealistic expectations that it hurts worse when the whole season is just one long headache.

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  5. I totally agree with you: overblown is the right way to describe it. But does it feel like each year it’s even more overblown than the last? Or am I just getting older and more cranky?

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  6. I think we just notice it more, or we have less tolerance for it. Or maybe it is worse, I don’t know. I did notice pink Christmas trees are making a comeback, Target was displaying weirdly colored fake trees. Welcome back to the 60s. I may have to start dropping acid.

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  7. Try to find one thing that you still love about this time of year. Just one – even if it’s writing the ghost story, or making fun of those stooges at the mall, or looking @ pix of snowy Massachusetts. Then try to take a minute or 2 every day till New Year’s, remembering why you loved it then and love it ever still. See if you can use that thought to squeeze out the bullsh!t and those awful jingles (the Kohl’s Black Friday song was killing me) when they really stick in your craw. Plus remember that there’s a lotta chocolate available between Thanksgiving & New Years.

    And remember that we love you all the year round!

    p.s. to jmgershom: you are doing such a decent thing on Sunday mornings, I can’t really add anything except to say that your goodness just HAS to catch up with you eventually. As the song (an old traditional, NOT a fu@king jingle) goes: “Therefore everyone be sure/wealth and rank possessing/Ye who seek to help the poor/Will yourself find blessing.”

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  8. The only thing that comes to mind that I love about this time of year anymore is that it will end. Seriously. That’s all I got. I’m just avoiding Xmas music right now. I’m not sure I can even tune into AllClassical’s festival of carols over Christmas, which normally I love. I just don’t think it’s going to help this year. But who knows, maybe I’ll pull out of this funk in another month.

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  9. DD you scare me shitless when reading the first line shown up in my email. I was like what the fick going on. Excuse my language. I been told they are not French words 😀

    I think I kind of know how you feel. In the state I use to go crazy for Oct, Nov, and Dec. Now only for December. You see Oct is when I use to go trick or treating with my niece when she was little. We would both collect bags of candy dress up. No one could tell me “don’t you think your a little too old to trick or treat” if I have a child with me. Because I use to seriously go alone, lol. November my family we all use to rotate each year who house hold Thanksgiving dinner giving each other breaks from cleaning up a big mess afterward. December we would again do the same and when no one wanted too John and I would go to visit my mom and enjoy a Christmas candle light dinner.

    Since I been here Oct came and went without me feeling anything (thank goodness for Fasnacht…not the same as Halloween but close enough for me. Also not the same month). Last year we visited John family and celebrated Thanksgiving there. They wanted me to feel like I was home with my own family. This year John was out of town for work. So I end up eating a bowl of cereal, cleaning up the house a bit, took a bubble bath with a glass of wine next to me and said “Prost, Happy Thanksgiving to me” in a sarcastic way. This Christmas I don’t know what to expect or feel. We are typically with family until the New Year except last year when we were snow in.

    What I am trying to say DD is life is never repetition and things change as you know, but you can find the joy in a holiday if you truly want. It is the little things that make us happy not always the big things. Do you go to the LLoyd center sometimes? I use to go there all the time in the skating area and watch the children and adult skate on ice. For me it was relaxing even for a few minutes to watch them skate sometime a bit funny. Find something you can associate yourself with the holiday. I know it does not hardly snow there and when it does it melt right away or does not last too long. Here are some listing of events you might be interested in. Some of the links does not work so you might have to google them: http://portlandor.about.com/od/artsentertainment/tp/Portland_Holiday_Events.htm

    I really wish I could be there and grab you by the hand and say, “let’s bust this joint and have some fun!” and when you say naw your not in the mood wait for you to come out and throw some snowballs at you. To get your adrenaline going. Yes, I am very annoying at times:D

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  10. I love Mary J’s suggestions and second them.

    I have to admit I’m not sure why so many people get so stressed out during holiday times. No one has to go out shopping till their broke. No one has to race out on Black Friday to grab whatever is being hyped as the OMG YOU MUST HAVE IT THIS YEAR. People choose to do these things. Or not.

    As for the holiday season itself- some like big celebrations, others like small, tightknit ones. Others might have tons of fun decorating, others may have little interest in that. Some may prefer not to really acknowledge the holidays at all. There is no right or wrong here. Celebrate or don’t celebrate the season in the way that feels best for *you*. Don’t worry if your way isn’t your neighbor’s way or Norman Rockwell’s way or whatever.

    And DD, from what you just wrote- it sounds like you don’t want to celebrate at all this year. If that’s so…don’t! That’s perfectly okay. Perhaps next year you’ll be in the mood again.

    Lastly, these are only days on a calendar. As special as they sometimes may be- what’s important is how one lives throughout the entire year.

    Wishing you inner peace, DD! (and sorry for the long post!)

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    1. Gypsyscarlett, you said it best. Inner peace has nothing to do with dates on a calendar or how much stuff you can buy/give/accumulate. I also find that acknowledging how you feel ~ good/bad/ambivalent/depressed/angry/confused/drained/all of the above ~ is perfectly fine, too. All feelings are legitimate, and I hate to label them positive and negative, but it sure feels like you need so much more energy to deal with the more difficult ones. And that’s compounded when you feel you have little energy to spare.

      And DD, MJB is so right…. we look forward to visiting Filling Spaces and reading what you have up your sleeve all year ’round.

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  11. I’m loving startingover’s approach – “Let’s bust this joint and have some fun!” – but Gypsy makes lots of sense. I stand by my request that, as a personal favor to me, you keep trying to think of just one thing that you love, but the ladies are right – nothing’s permanent, and some other year you’re liable to start digging on it all over again.

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  12. (Watching “Scrooged” right now! And wishing I had access to the Medieval and Russian carols my dad used to play for me. A favourite: http://youtu.be/GF2BzUDeTkY)

    Well, you know I work retail, so my giftmas spirit is all spent by mid-November, and being a 24/7 store, Christmas is just another day (a day spent stifling the urge to strangle every customer who tells me I should be with my family, not at work. YOUARETHEREASONIHAVETOBEHERE!!!). So, if you need to Grinch out, you have my email 🙂

    It’s funny to read this tonight, especially the part about realising the childhood memories are just that. I was thinking on my walk to work how snow is a magical thing when you’re a kid (or me *ahem*), but when you’re an adult it’s just that shit you have to spend 20 minutes shovelling so you can drive your shitty car on shitty roads to be an hour late for a shitty job you hate. It’s HARD to keep your joy when you are surrounded by so much un-joy. Hey?

    Not growing up with the North American Christmas, it was a BIG DEAL for me when I got here, but as you’ve experienced, it’s hard to keep it up when you’re the only one. After my third year here, the family stopped… caring? Now it’s just stressful. I’m almost glad I’ll be working this year 😦 But, i do keep a string of coloured lights around the living room window all year ’round, because they make me happy and I have a little desktop tree that is permanently decorated according to my moods. I’m taking Christmas back y’all 😉

    Have fun writing your story. Pour as much anger and disappointment and ba-humbuggery into it as you can. And don’t forget the eggnog 9with extra nog ;))

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  13. That was so beautifully written. You should submit it somewhere. I think you’ve spoken for the masses, I really do.

    I don’t talk to my sister either for good reason and history has long passed me by.

    That poignancy if that piece proves what an incredible writer you are.

    S

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  14. Thanks for the comments and support, everyone. I did allow myself to watch “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” last night, and even after all these years it was still amusing. I miss Burl Ives.

    Rosie, thank you for saying it’s ok to feel whatever it is I’m feeling. I think it’s ok not to be Pollyanna 24/7/365.

    Submerina, I don’t know how you survive retail. You’re not that far away, maybe someday I can make it up to your neck of the woods and we can wreak some havoc on the local scene 😉

    Susannah, thank you so much for the compliment. I have a psycho sister who lives on the other side of the country, and to the best of my knowledge does not even have my address. I hope to keep it that way. Two others are more than a little ‘off’ but not (as yet) dangerous. (You guys should all go check out Susannah’s blog, she’s very witty).

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    1. Just wait till they televise “A Charlie Brown Christmas” – that and a nice cup of hot chocolate with a stiff shot of bourbon will fix you right up (or Kahlua, if you’re feeling fragile.)
      I won’t be an asshole and wish you the joys of the season this year, but I cannot resist wishing you the joys of the universe, whenever they choose to show up….

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