Bah Bah Black Sheep


Monday, 15 December 2014

Creative commons pic by AdamKR

Ponder this:  Santa sees you when you're sleeping, and he knows when you're awake.  Ergo, Santa knew that that little kid was watching him kiss her mummy.  That child woke from her slumber, heard something going on, and snuck down those stairs for a peek.  HE KNEW!  Santa knew, but he went right ahead pashing her mum.  And if that's not creepy, then I don't know what is.

Seriously, though, there's about 16,000 reasons ahead of that one why I loathe Christmas.  It's not even the Jesusy bits either.  I'm quite partial to his far-seeing, regardless of whether he lived or not.  Some of my loathing is probably partially due to the fact that his birthday wouldn't even have been on 25 December anyway, that this whole thing we do was a convenient way for a creepy church to do away with all that nasty pagan earthy womany dirty solstice stuff and slap a bit of Jesus in there to whiten it all up.

Christmas is empty, meaningless and void.  As far as a ritual goes, it's cobbled-together shite, an excuse to load up consuming extra stuff for no real reason whatsoever, unless you are a Christian.  I guess when you look at where our culture is at in the decay/renewal stakes, Christmas is actually the perfect end-of-year ritual for a collective space that has also become empty, meaningless and void.

Creative commons pic by Andrew
I imagine some people would be protesting now reading this.  What a depressing cow.  And If I was able to peer closer, I would think it would be a reasonable bet that many of the ones protesting loudest would have young children in tow.  It must be a lovely thing, to be sure, the pleasure of giving your child gifts, of seeing their pleasure in return.  How good that would make you feel.   Especially after being marketed to for months about how wonderful you're going to feel giving your kids all those presents.

If I could wave a wand, I would replace Christmas, sometime soon, logically, the same way it is logical to stop using coal as an energy source when a sun beats above our heads.  Because it's quite obviously reached its use-by date.  But Christmas is not going to stop anytime soon, and parents are forced to keep the tired old show running (especially because for many them it probably doesn't feel tired and old at all) because there is nothing like Christmas to guilt a parent into feeling they have to give their kid way more than is good for them.  That's actually why these brave souls have cancelled gift-giving this year.  I take my hat off to them.

I don't have children, so I'm happy to continue to be the grinch who wants to kill Christmas.  Now, the traditional retort of bah humbug may also come from those who ride the swell of the season without paying it too much mind.  It's just Christmas, you know, and just like the weather's hot and the beach is beckoning we have tinsel and trees and Santa and stuff.  That's what we do. What's the ish?

That kind of swell-riding is, well, swell if you can go there.  Not everything needs deep massive analysis and inspecting about where it all fits together - or should - in the system so that stuff works properly and we get to live beautiful.  Unless you're me.  And so therefore I struggle to go there, to empty ritual, because it actually hurts me.  This may sound weird to some people but that's just how I roll.

But hey, I understand why hating Christmas categorises me as a scrooge.  And I understand the need for traditions in the face of so much uncertainty.  But Christmas hurts me in the same way that watching the economic bit at the end of the news hurts me, with its relentless focus on economic growth without ever once mentioning that it is impossible for such a thing to keep happening in our current economic system without continuing to kill the earth's resources and make climate change worse.

When you find yourself living in a bizarre and dysfunctional paradigm, empty rituals can be as creepy as Santa copping a feel of Mum under the mistletoe.  I've thought a lot about this sort of thing in the last 15 years of enforced solitude through chronic illness.  Meaningful rituals are absolutely necessary for a culture to keep itself glued together.  I guess that's why I'm not so sure Jesus wouldn't have sympathy to my desire to ditch the whole Christmas thing.  He seemed to have some kind of an understanding of the importance of wine needing new wineskins.  Empty, dead, floppy rituals may possibly be intellectually dangerous to people requiring empowerment, people who have been so heavily and heartily Bernaysed.

I love my family, but my partner and I are resigning from Christmas this year and going away, to a mudbrick house halfway betwen Daylesford and Castlemaine.  My illness has flared horribly this year, my anxiety is extreme, and I don't know from one hour to the next how I will be feeling.  Apart from the fact that I just simply physically don't know if I can do it this year, the fact that the meaning behind the get-together is something so empty with such high expectations, makes me feel worse.  The fact that in the end it's just a get-together meal with my family is something that I struggle to get to from the layers that surround it.

Can't we get together in March instead?

Can you imagine a collective ritual whose individual elements fit together to make some kind of story, one which has resonance and relevance to our daily lives?  One that makes us feel or think differently, that opens us all up a little so that the shame of being called consumers all year by lying politicians can seep out and be replaced by something a little more edifying and heartening and empowering?  A ritual that's sort of something like a big roleplaying game that you can walk into and play each year.  A ritual that means something, that helps us feel part of something bigger than ourselves that is beautiful, not destructive?

I don't quite know what that is.  But it'd be a ritual worth doing, I reckon.

May You Live in Interesting Times


Thursday, 4 December 2014

To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities ~ I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not ~ that one endures

~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Well, then.  That's a little harsh at first glance, innit?

I can tell how much anxiety I'm bombarded with by how I respond to that above quote.

When I am feeling super-dooper ill and my anxiety has flared like it's Black Saturday, I wish to smash Mr Nietzsche right in his (rather handsome) face and then curl up in a ball and vanish into thin air.  At those times, I have gone way past the point of acceptance and I am just screaming for it all to stop.  Sometimes, anxiety overwhelms to the point where you don't feel you can climb out of anywhere.

When I am feeling better, and have, say, increased my vitamin D levels to 10,000IU a day, I believe that our dear Freidrich is quite right on this score.  I say it with some trepidation though, because I don't believe the loneliness we feel in our suffering is helped by living in a culture whose parts are so disconnected from the whole.  I don't believe that the stiff upper lip of letting people drown in their suffering without knowing you are there to assist them helps anything at all.  And so I add to Mr Nietzsche's statement - we should be ready to assist other people to endure their suffering better.

But even so, if I had a magic wand to relieve your suffering, I would wave it, because you have to have a magic wand waving experience once in your life, surely?  And because I have an overwhelming desire to be a fairy godmother.  And anyway, it's not like you're not going to have another 10,000 bouts of suffering to learn to endure under, coming right up behind today.

If there is one lesson I will learn and forget over and over again until the day I die it is possibly this.  It's not what happens to you, it's how you respond.  I seem to have, somewhere deep down in the unconscious murk, developed a resistance to life as it is presented to me.  And so for me, I'm taking a little longer than some to realise that acceptance is not weakness.  It is the most amazing, durable spiderweb strength.  Like a still pond that can turn further downstream into rushing water.

The sophisticated, classy, empathetic human who results from this lesson is worth all of the pain that goes beforehand.  I have quite a large dose of that third element, but I'm going for the first and the second :)

Endurance is a difficult beast, though.  It seems that for some of us at least, the very darkest times are those where for hours or days or months you are cut off from being able to respond appropriately to that which is tormenting you in the first place.  Your ability to respond in a way that will help your own self is for the moment defunct.  At those times, your central nervous system has gone haywire.   (And in an age where chemicals continue to be poured into our environment on a relentlessly ongoing basis, we can't expect not to be affected.  I do believe though that we are beginning to make the slow connection to the fact that we are not islands, and if the merchants amongst us can't resist defecating in their own nest for their own profit, then we must continue speaking out until they stop.  But I digress.)

Sometimes, you can't gird your loins up to even climb back on that rather delicious knife edge of life where, despite your desire for the easy ride, you receive whatever happens to you with grace, knowing that your response is terribly important.  Knowing that doorways open up from this space that you can't get to otherwise.  On the other side of that is joy and resilience, hidden right in the middle of a busy city street.

Days you've fallen off the edge of the knife and on the way through it's sliced you in half, and you're spending hours, days, weeks, trying to get back to the you that is whole (even while at the very same time it is all inside you, complete.  You know it is, because the last time you were chopped up into 19 pieces you came back again and suddenly there you were, in some faint semblance of a coherent whole).

On those days when you are sliced in half, the kindness of strangers and friends helps staunch the blood flow, helps you endure-without-enduring until you can get back to those spaces where again you can climb back up onto the edge of the knife where hardship gives birth to joy.  This, surely, is why compassionate people enjoy the virtues of universal healthcare and welfare.  Because so many of us fall down below the waterline.  A sophisticated society helps people up, resisting the urge to blame.  A person who lives in such a society receives strength at their worst times.  Such things create resilience until people can climb back onto the knife's edge once more.

May you have the strength to live well in interesting times.  And may you be held up in the times when you don't.

(Inspired by Brain Picking's post on difficulty)