I suspect that at some point I enlightened/bored y’all with the story of my damn December Doldrums. Historically, even in more sunny than not Florida, I have had a hard time in December. My sleep schedule flips; I play hours and hours and hours of computer games, which is not part of my “normal” life at all; I read obsessively, staying up all night; I can’t deal with eating; I generally feel crapirific; I get sucked down into a swamp of despair, anhedonia and suicidal ideation.
This year, so far, the December Doldrums have not ganged up on me, which I attribute to a rigorous self-care program I started in June of this year. They hang out in the back alleys of my mind, smoking cigarettes and trying to look cool and occasionally shouting a few rude words at me as I look at them out of the corner of my eyes. They push at the edges of my thoughts and emotions, but they are not shaping the overall tenor of my experience this December. This is the best December I’ve had in over fifteen years.
An example of how well I am doing: this morning I heard damn disappointing news on the job front. I thought I had something nailed. It would have paid very well and while not exactly in my field, it involves one of my abiding non-art interests. I was looking forward to having a full time job, which I haven’t had for quite a long time, as a way to test my self-care strategies. I want the challenge of work that uses more of my brain than data entry (my current pick up job). I am a wee bit tired of qualifying my work life to my peers, who all seem to have good jobs. I also wanted enough money to fund some of my art projects. My work is almost good enough to get grants but not quite. I want to do fewer projects but ones that take a bit more in the way of resources, the kind of projects that would make it more possible for me to get grants. At one point the job was an almost a sure thing for me, but things, as they are wont to do, have gone topsy turvy, and now it is an almost sure thing for someone else. I came home and cried, but I am okay, not perfectly happy but okay. I am not devastated. This is huge.
Perhaps, it helps that I am observing Advent this year. Advent is about waiting. Advent is about hope for things to come. Advent, sort of like a melancholy pre-Christmas, is called Little Lent in some Christian communities. In the liturgical year, Advent is supposed to be a time of meditation and reflection- a time to think about the change to come, a time to prepare for a miraculous birth.
As an atheist/mystic, I do not believe the Christmas story is factual. I am not worried about facts. The story of incarnation resonates in powerful ways for me. My inner mystic is down with the Word made Flesh. Logos becomes a squalling infant full of piss and shit and vomit. Light is made (in)to matter.
I am not worried about authenticity. I like the lights and the decorations and trees and the feasting and the raucous exuberance, which pre-date Christianity. Jesus never was the reason for the season even after he was grafted onto various winter celebrations. I appreciate the greedy magpie nature of Christmas; the way it borrows all that glitters from all sorts of regions and religions. The way in which our celebrations are Christian and Pagan. In Christmas: A Candid History, Bruce David Forbes titles a chapter “Christmas is Like a Snowball” to capture the rapacious nature of the Season to Make Merry and Bright.
I also like Advent, which is quieter than the hulabaloo surrounding Christmas, so quiet that tends to be drowned out by the hectic gaiety. But when we pay attention, when we take the time to quiet down, the bold flourishes of Christmas are made more vivid by the juxtaposition with more subdued gestures of Advent. More subdued Advent become more concentrated in relation to the rushing boldness of Christmas to come.
Advent is a time of waiting, hoping. We are expectant in Advent. I purchased an Advent wreath, a cheap piece of crap from a craft store, and while I don’t light the candles every night, I do light them about once a week- adding a candle each week. The first candle I lit, during the first week of Advent, brought me a quiet joy and an amazing sense of peace. I felt hope that what December could be did not have to be what it had been. A ritual process helped make all those day to day changes I have put in place more potent. A ritual process retrains my brain.
This ritual ties me to my deep and long exploration of Judaism. I spent close to seven years seriously investigating the possibility of become Jewish. Hanukkah may be a minor holiday jerked into major prominence by the Season to Make Weary and Tight, but candle lighting for eight nights always was powerful for me. Now, I light candles for Advent, and I remember who I was when I lit Hanukkah candles. I remember what I hoped for. I remember how much I hurt. The trappings of my religious life have changed and the hurts have faded, but the hopes remain largely unchanged. I hope to give more than I take, to be of service to this world of wonder and woe. I hope to love, to give joy, to make peace.
This ritual allows me to be Pagan and Christian and Jewish all at the same time. The Advent ritual reminds me to work for Joy instead of wait for/on Despair. I light the candles and am expectant of a merry magpie.