Vital signs

winter shot.jpg

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, Earth stood still hard as iron, water like a stone.

The past few days, I feel as if I’m walking around in bulky work boots as I hear something cracking under my feet. I’m stepping on shards – the broken pieces of a brutal year.

I think my post-election rage probably delayed the arrival of my annual holiday blues but now that it is simmering on a slow boil, the thick familiar fog is settling in. The song is cute and catchy but this is not the most wonderful time of the year for me and at least a bazillion other folks.grump-cat-christmas

Perhaps I over-prepared for this year’s attack of melancholy. After the reality of #notmyprecedent sunk in and I pulled myself out of the electoral sludge I’d been drowning in for a month or so, I went on the offensive. I decorated with more vigor than I have in several years – even making – yes, making – a wreath for our mantel. My dear wife and I live in a small condo so a little Christmas goes a long way but we even got a tiny live “tree” this year and I decorated it with some of my favorite Santa ornaments.


Christmas: Tiny Trees Edition

I was feeling downright festive in spite of the impending apocalypse of January 20th. And then it hit me – the big empty of the holidays. It’s pretty much been this way for me since my parents died in 2002. Until then, I was one of those obnoxious Christmas people who started talking about it in September. I mean, come on, who doesn’t love Christmas?


This year I made an addition to my Santa collection.

I want to punch myself in my own throat when I think about being that person – completely tone-deaf to the realities of so many others. I’ve been humbled to my knees in the years since then and my heart feels tight when I think about what some friends are going through this holiday season. Cancer – always fucking cancer. And “firsts” for a couple of friends – the first holiday without a dear spouse.

Estrangements loom larger at this time of year, too, and I certainly have a few of those on my list – some related to losing my job at the start of the year. There are a few (former) friends who deeply disappointed me in ways that I’ve had to just let go of ever understanding and other alienations, some election related but most a long time in the making – just too many years of not feeling seen and heard. All of them are painful and add to my bleak midwinter.

I had a little breakdown in my car the other day as I left the UPS store. I had taken my sister’s Christmas package to ship and after going through all the scenarios of how many days it would take, how much it would cost, etc. – it hit me how very far away she is now in California.

She’s my little sister and I am often mother/sister to her but she always rises to the occasion when I need to hear the calm reassurance of a mother’s voice. She listened to me sob while I was still trying to talk. That’s never pretty. And she did the thing no one else can do when I’m in that place – she made me laugh. I can’t even remember what she said but I know that I was smiling as I tasted the tears on my lips. Her presence from even 3,000 miles away can be palpable at times.

I felt so much better after talking to her – still blue but a lighter shade for sure.

We made a pact to never be apart at Christmas again. She has some grand plans about spending next Christmas in London. Note to self: Get BIG job quickly. I think she’s on to something, though. It might be easier to navigate the emotional minefields of the holidays in an exotic locale – further away from the memories that can crush me at this time of year.


Me and my brother and our dog Taffy, Christmas 1960.

Christmas is quiet, almost somber for me these days – but it hasn’t always been this way. Mine used to be an exuberant holiday spent with parents and siblings and years of traditions. My wife and I have started some of our own traditions now, which is amusing because my wife loathes ever doing the same thing twice. Her idea of hell would be to own a time share where you had to go to the same place at the same time every year.

She teases me now when we do something for a second time and I call it a tradition. I don’t understand her point. Anyway, our tradition is to go to a movie on Christmas Day – usually one just released. Our first Christmas together it was Les Miserables and it was perfect. Okay, maybe not the Russell Crowe singing part, but you know what I mean.

This year’s movie will be La La Land, a musical comedy-drama that’s getting rave reviews. The film is a throwback to the lavish musical spectacles of years gone by where people burst into song at the breakfast table and literally dance on air.


Yes, please.

Please take me there. Now.

And then it will be the 26th of December and I will no longer feel anxious – at least not until Inauguration Day.

We’ll spend New Year’s Eve with an array of dear friends and then I will stumble out of 2016, stepping on those shards. I think it will sound like walking on a frozen lawn – a muffled crunching that only I will hear – like those rare hushed times when you become aware of your own heart beating.

And what an utterly life affirming feeling that is.


Cheer to all Whos far and near!


This one is for Barb and Jen. Two women, like my girl Venus, who shined through their brokenness this year  with style and grace.

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