Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Stoned for Christmas

This time of year I start thinking about the phrase " this time of year." I also think about Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery," and its tale of unquestioned annual public stonings. Mankind is as powerless to prevent Christmas and its gift connotations as we are to boycott... the seasons. Tradition is sometimes respected as if it was a force of nature. I predict, however, that in 100 years, Christmas will have changed and drifted away from the retail orgy it is. I sense that there is a societal skepticism and weariness developing. But maybe this is just my sense of its arc based on where I am in my life relative to Christmas. I suspect any number of 10 year olds might tell me to shut the hell up and not ruin a good thing. And actually, this notion that Christmas is too commercial is a boring argument and the commerce isn't a problem for me. It's not like if you took away the presents, there would be anything left that made any more sense. Sorry Christians at al. I'm just suspicious of anything that gets entire populations to engage in a series of identical gestures and phrases at the same time every year. Is it a massive cultural synchronization? Society tuning itself to itself? Insert thesis on significance of tradition in culture here. I still think it's kooky.

As I get older I've gotten much better at managing the weird and unexpected twists in life. I can deal with behaviors and situations that used to shake my foundations. Heartbreak, job loss, financial problems, diseases. It's manageable. Familiar turf. It's the most ordinary behaviors that start to look strange and trouble me. It all started the day the word "the" looked like it was misspelled. Before I knew it the five-day, 9-5 work week looked bizarre. Sitting in traffic? Psychotic. An audience clapping? Hilarious and ridiculous. I still do these things, but I've lost my innocence about them. It's some weird ass behavior, people, this stuff we all do. And holidays? Pumpkins, turkeys, and pine trees. Mass insanity. Why does it make me wince to watch people wish each other a happy holiday? I feel like I'm watching prisoners of the rulebook blindly following orders. "Wishing" someone else something that's really pretty vague and unclear as to its intent. Hey, I do it. But I don't know what I'm doing.

Hypothetically, how would one boycott the seasons? Which part of it would you attack? The rising and setting of the sun, the rotation of our planet, its orbit around the sun...all the same phenomenon actually, just depends on where you are experiencing it from. How could you know that you were attacking the source of the actual season and not just its illusory evidence based on your relationship and vantage point. Einstein's theory of relativity. I finally understand it. I mean I understood it, but I finally actually felt it and knew it yesterday. It is of me and I of it. It happened while I was looking at a view of the Connecticut River from an airplane. I saw that it was obviously the last trickle of what must have been a lake. The Connecticut River (nee Pioneer) Valley is the former lake's bed. Duh, I know. But I thought, okay, a roaring river is also a mere trickle, depending on where you are relative to it. And so nothing is simply huge or tiny in and of itself. Something cannot be without something else. (Tree falls in the woods type deal.)

And time? Well, same thing. Which explains why the time we experience is exactly as long or as short as it feels. A clock doesn't convey how long an hour is. It just makes it possible to make a dentist appointment. An hour observed on a clock, just staring at it, is simply an experience of watching the measurement that we've all agreed on. It is likely to feel like a long time as in the adage "the watched pot never boils." How we perceive time is exactly how long it is. And maybe the tendency to even think of an experience as taking place "in time," detracts from the purity.

And maybe Christmas isn't an old, tired, worn out holiday. Maybe I am. And now that I've just completed (wasted?) a blog post about nothing, I will leave you with a quote from the late David Foster Wallace and a mission statement for this week, or life, or whenever: "The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day."


Anonymous said...

We should talk about Einstein's theory of relativity, the space-time continuum, black holes. Heck, we should talk about the Big Bang. I miss this stuff!

Anonymous said...

David Foster Wallace said it all...
and you repeated it..
thanks for that
and now we have to just live it, right?...in in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

Wind in the trees,
tell me again..

Caty said...

The adjective "unsexy" is how we know it's a DFW quote and not just some bromide. ;)

Jesus Leyva said...

Thank you for the blog and the quote

I share your sentiments, and I am always happy after Christmas when life returns to normal and people become genuine and real again, for better or worse

I wish people really had that sense of fellowship that is express during the holidays.

you writing strikes a chord with me. it's not just the giving of gifts without forethought, it's also the rituals, the desire to make the world appear perfect for one moment

well, that is about all I can say without degenerating into some awful speech about the holidays