Litlove Grinch

I was going to write a proper serious post today, but I realised a couple of hours ago that I simply do not have the brain power right now. There’s something about December (and winter in particular) that makes me stupid. It’s a combination of the dark and the cold and the relentless preparation for Christmas. I move into a low gear mentally, appropriate for long, uphill slogs. I remember the same state of mind taking me over when I was finishing my thesis and down to final tasks like reading all my footnotes with an eye to their punctuation (which was complex and specific). I can do these things but they are anti-creative and anti-expansive and make me picky and grumpy. I’m also ditching my reading plans almost as soon as I’ve made them. I read a few pages of all the books on my bedside table and recognised that they were all information-packed and I just couldn’t be doing with all that. Pass me something easy that I don’t have to chew.

I readily admit that I have all kinds of trouble with Christmas. It has a lot of emotional baggage for me. I fell ill over the Christmas of 1997 with the illness that would become chronic fatigue syndrome. It was one of the very worst experiences I’ve ever been through. Not just the being ill, but the terrible anxiety and confusion that accompanied the days and weeks that followed, when I expected every morning to wake up having turned a corner and feeling better, only to feel as terrible as the day before. Eighteen months later, still not really recovered, I took up my lecturing job. For the next seven years I would get through the demanding Michaelmas term, crawl through a week of interviewing students for admission next year, and end up beyond exhaustion facing the prospect of buying, wrapping, sending, cooking and decorating Christmas. There is so much work for this one day; it felt excessive and unreasonable. And then when I made it to Christmas, feeling on the point of collapse, there was always the festive obligation to smile and have a lovely sociable time and not spoil it for others. Now, believe you me, I would love to put all this behind me. Christmas these days is nowhere near as demanding as it used to be, and I appreciate that. But the past is determined to infiltrate the present and it takes continuous effort to hold it in its place. These days I forget how much trouble I have with Christmas until we reach the middle of December and I think, why am I feeling so tired and fretful? Why so down and tetchy? My mind is prepared to forget but it seems my body can’t help but remember.

I’ve been reading a book entitled The Dance of Fear by Harriet Lerner (it’s very good, I recommend it if you like that sort of thing), and she has just been recounting some of the worst public speaking disasters I’ve ever heard. There was the time when she stepped up to the podium, having stood to one side while being introduced (she prefers to stand because getting up to speak gives her the impression she’s going to pass out), and found that her notes had disappeared. It turned out that the woman who had introduced her had picked up Lerner’s speech along with her own notes and then headed out of the building to travel to another city. Or there was the time when the podium lacked a little ledge to rest notes on, and when she put them down without noticing this, the pages of her speech fell all over the floor. This was a new speech and she hadn’t numbered them, so it took her five long, panicky moments to put them back together. Or, perhaps my favourite of these anecdotes, however inappropriate that word might be, was when she tossed her head while speaking and caught her earring in her sweater, leaving her staring at the ceiling, unable to move. Eventually a member of her family in the audience came forward to release her.

The point Lerner makes from all this is that the more disasters she had, the more the audience loved her and warmed to her. They could relate to her as a real person and were more ready to listen to what she said. But the thing I couldn’t help but notice was that she had never managed to conquer her nerves and speak without fear, even though everything that could possibly go wrong had already gone wrong and you might think she’d be beyond caring. So I suppose my point here is that the things that provoke fear or worry or anxiety rarely cease to do so, despite experience and familiarity. I might feel better if I just reconcile myself to being angsty and dull in December.

Still, there are always things that do make me laugh. Currently my son is playing online in the evenings with a crowd of friends including Cordelia, Melchior and the Stocky Dwarf. As I tell Mister Litlove, it sounds as if he’s conducting a virtual Shakespearean drama there. Then he gets very annoyed with the wording of the adverts on the television. His current bugbear is the phrase ‘a fraction of the price’. He points out that anything can be expressed as a fraction, that there are such things as topheavy fractions, so the fraction of the price could mean twice as much, just as easily as half as much. This never fails to entertain me. I suppose the benefit of having a small mind right now is that small things please it.

27 thoughts on “Litlove Grinch

  1. Sorry to hear the season is beginning to pile up on you. I can understand why you’d get anxious this time of year. But it sounds like things are better than they used to be if you get halfway through before it starts to wear on you. One day you’ll realize you’ve made it 3/4 of the way through and, hopefully, eventually, it won’t be a problem at all. You may think not a chance, but you never know, it could happen! Just try to be as good and kind to yourself as you are to other people and you’ll make it through.

  2. I don’t really have a family and therefore it’s not very stressful, just inviting friends. Cooking is something I like anyway. But there is a lot of pressure to be felt around me. For some reason I think less than usual this year. But falling ill – and with a chronic didease – during the Christmas season isn’t somethign one can shake off easily.
    I have read a few of Lerner’s book and find them very good. I think The Dance of Intimacy was extremely good. I occasionally review this type of book on my German blog.

    • Caroline, I would certainly read more of Lerner’s books. It was my sister-in-law who put me onto them, and I have very much enjoyed this. It isn’t banal or full of platitudes, and she has a really ditzy, messy side which provides many entertaining anecdotes! And I really wish I had fallen ill in the middle of an entirely nondescript and event-free season!

  3. I keep on hoping that exposure therapy will do the trick …
    but to be honest, I know that the only thing that will really help, in my case, is drowning myself in art – any kind of art, as long as its good!

    • Oh but that sounds lovely, Sigrun. I never look at enough art – when I do, it’s fascinating and stimulating and sometimes very soothing (depending on the art!). I once wrote an essay about Puvis de Chavannes when I had a dreadful cold, and I swear the art made it much more tolerable.

  4. And the worst of it is that you’ve already read The Marriage Plot, otherwise I would recommend it as solace. Instead I’ll recommend repeated watching of Love, Actually (and know that I am sniffing alongside you).

    • Charlotte – I could always read it again! I cry SO at Love, Actually. It’s a wonderful Christmas film, though. I think I might work my way through the Woody Allens I have on DVD. They are oddly soothing, too.

  5. I am sorry that you tend to feel down around Christmas. It truly is no fun being reminded of your limitations at this time of the year, especially because of a chronic disease–and as you know, I can so relate to the ways a chronic disease can bring a person down. I totally second what Charlotte says in comment #4 says about watching Love Actually. That is one of my all-time favorite movies, and I love Hugh Grant and Colin Firth. (Although I am American, I do have a thing for British men, especially because of their accents!)

    The book you are reading sounds interesting and has some good insights. Just yesterday I got supremely nervous (to the point that it showed to the person I was talking to–and I should not have been nervous around him at all in the least), and I tell myself that there must be ways to get better. Thank goodness this person was kind to me and gave me sort of a pep talk about my anxiety, and then he teased me about something so the mood lightened which definitely helped me a lot.

    And PS I totally want you to read Daniel Deronda with me if you are up for it! But you will most definitely read faster than I do. Nonetheless, George Eliot is really one of my favorite Victorian writers. I loved Middlemarch, and I do want to tackle Daniel Deronda now!

    • Ali – I am so with you on Hugh Grant and Colin Firth! That’s great taste you have there.😉 I really appreciate being teased about my various anxieties and phobias and so on. They are far less bearable when I begin to take them seriously (which happens, until someone reminds me how unimportant they are in the great scheme of things). I’m very glad that the person you were with was kind and helpful. Just knowing you can find comfort from strangers can be a big help. But if you fancy reading the Harriet Lerner, I’d recommend it. I’m finding it very interesting. And YAY! for George Eliot. Yes, let’s read it together – we can discuss it more on email later.

  6. Oh my, poor litlove. Christmas is a terrible time to be marked with bad memories, witih all that enforced jollity. Not that your mind could ever be small!

    It’s perhaps a little late for you to attempt my tactic, as I was born this way, but not too late: just start being incompetent. My family have such low expectations of me that they are pathetically grateful to receive their gifts in time and eat food that isn’t actually toxic. Although this doesn’t really reduce my anxiety levels, come to think of it, because it’s stressful being incompetent. Still, it might help you, as you aren’t really.

    Also, begin writing your Christmas cards very early. That’s my top tip.

    • I came back to apologise for this silly comment, I had a bad day yesterday and thought I was being funny… sorry!

      I was thinking that Christmas is rather a feminist issue – perhaps not in your house, but certainly in the majority of households I know, it’s the woman who does all the card buying and writing and posting, the shopping for presents and the planning of meals and directing if not actually doing much of the decorating and most if not all of the cooking. And it seems to me that this is not because men are lazy or uninterested in any of it, or not only, but because like so much that is domestic we women have absorbed it into our identity. By which I mean, women tend to be the ones who fuss about whether the house is clean when visitors are expected, and the ones who feel judged if it is not. Men’s identity doesn’t seem to be so bound up in it (usually), but sometimes when they do pitch in, their cleaning or whatever is not ‘good enough’ for the woman. And so, as an extension of that, many women insist on creating the ‘perfect’ Christmas and setting themselves absurdly high standards – standards that they are reluctant then to impose on others, so they end up doing most of the work themselves.

      A book which never fails to make me laugh is Eric Newby’s ‘A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush’. I hope this December proves to be the first of many good ones for you.

      • Helen – dear Helen, no need to apologise! I did find your first comment very funny and laughed at the thought of the brinksmanship this household would witness if I took on my menfolk at that particular battle! I completely agree with you about the way women absorb perfect Christmas preparations into their identity. I would feel really bad if something important was missing over Christmas, even though the logical part of my mind figures there is really no need to (given all the excesses of Christmas, a few lacks here and there might even be refreshing!). I found that this got worse when I had a child. Suddenly it mattered ridiculously that he should have a magical Christmas experience, and this is bonkers really, as all kids need is a tree and a few presents. That’s enough to make them sick with excitement. I do try and tone it all down now and stick to the essentials, but this year I am also trying to guilt/shame/force Mister Litlove into helping out a bit more. He says he’s willing – now I’ve just got to get him to say that when he is not heading out rowing or down to his shed. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  7. I loved the public speaking disaster stories but wouldn’t want to be told any of them just before getting up to speak in public! They reminded me of my French O level conversation exam. Just as I went in a friend advised me not to worry but to imagine the examiner in their underwear. I spent most of the exam trying to stop myself from laughing…(not one of my finer moments!) Do you fancy getting together for a pre Christmas/any excuse celebration?

    • Ms Thrifty – lol!! I’m very glad that I never knew you could get tangled up in jewellery – goodness knows there was always enough I was worried about (choking myself while speaking somehow figured large in my imagination) when I was lecturing! Getting together sounds lovely – yes, please!

  8. Those stories made me laugh and someday I’ll blog about my worst experience promoting a book. It was early on in my career, arranged by a young well meaning publicist, on a radio show that was supposedly about social issues, but turned out (unbeknownst to her) to be a sex talk show in the middle of the night. I think that the way Christmas has evolved is bizarre. I’m very tired too and I think (bad memories aside, which I also have) that we aren’t supposed to be gallavanting around at all hours. The darkness urges the body to rest and sleep and we may fight the rhythm but it fights back. So instead of cozying up and cocooning like we want, people are compelled to increase activity at all hours. It goes against the grain.

    • Oh Lilian! How awful that must have been! Although like all the worst events, it’s a great story now. I completely agree about winter asking us to slow down. I want nothing more than to enter my cocoon and stay there – why I don’t actually hibernate is a mystery to me. But seriously, resting and sleeping more are just necessities right now.

  9. Oh I have had the experience of my body attacking me with remembered sadness that my mind appears to have forgotten, right at a particular time of year. I had crappy Marches for years after this one particularly crappy March, and I thought I would never enjoy March again. I enjoyed it again in the end though, and I hope you and December make up someday. December can be so wonderful.

    • I love the way you put that, Jenny, about making up with a month. I like the image of that so much – and will do my best to turn it into a reality! It’s encouraging to know that you and March are altogether easier with one another now.

  10. Presently I’m reading Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking On Water. You see, every year around Christmas I try to find something to read that can inspire despite the chaos. Anyway, here’s what I just read: “How many artists, in the eyes of the world, have been less than whole? Toulouse-Lautrec had the body of a man and the legs of a child. Byron had a club foot. Demosthenes was a terrible stutterer. Traditionally, Homer was blind. The great artists have gained their wholeness through their wounds…” After reading your post, I just felt a little deeper this quote from L’Engle’s book.

    • Oh Arti, what a great quote that is! I love it. I think it’s a really good idea to consider carefully what to read. I always used to commit to humorous and entertaining books in January because it’s a month that really needs them. But it seems a good idea to extend that backwards into December. I loved the Madeleine L’Engle book I read (A Wrinkle In Time, of course!).

  11. Well, I’m always a bit of a Christmas grinch myself. This year the new baby makes it more fun, although he doesn’t know anything about it. Still, he loves looking at the Christmas tree, and it’s a surefire way of keeping his attention off crying for at least 60 seconds! We may just leave the tree up all year🙂

    • Becca – I’ve seen the photos on FB and he is very cute! You’ve brought back lovely memories of my son’s first Christmas, when he was six weeks old. We rocked him in front of the tree a lot too, all those delicious bright lights. Aching arms, too, but some blessed peace and quiet!🙂

  12. Hello Litlove – I am determined to spend more time visiting blogs I love in 2012. There has been a sad falling off on behalf of Random in this respect and I know I am missing out on so many interesting thoughts and comments.

    I am not a great lover of Christmas. When I look back to the time I was married and the children were small, wonderful though it was to see how my girls enjyed it, all I can remember is the sheer exhaustion of it all and the fact that my now ex, didnot lift a finger and it all fell to me. I could not go on strike and give up on it as my children would suffer so year after year i got on with it. Well, I now live on my own and will be spending Christmas day with my daughter Helen, lovely son in law James and my utterly gorgeous granddaughter Florence who is now nearly two and a sheer delight. I am totally besotted with her so now I have the joy of watching her enjoy Christmas with very little of the work.

    In the end the only thing that got me through the Festive Season was to go all Pollyanna’ish and play the ‘Glad Game’. I had so much to be glad about and managed to get it into perspective and not beat myself up if things did not go according to plan.

    My lovely mum died 18 months ago and it is at this time of year that I miss her dreadfully. Whther we like it or not, this time of year does emphasise our joys and miseries. I think Dickens has a lot to answer!

    I do hope you keep well and do have a lovely day x

    • Elaine, it’s lovely of you to visit and I’m so happy to see you! I feel like I’m nowhere near getting around enough blogs at the moment and really must find some time over the weekend to visit more. It’s always a relief to know I’m not alone in disliking Christmas, and I really do think that it’s because we poor mothers have so much to do. Christmas really is the season that feminism forgot! But children do make all the hassle and the chores worthwhile – how lovely to have a grandchild to enjoy it with during the daytime, and not have to spend half the night up as well! I remember your blog posts from the time your mother died and I’ll bet you miss her at times like these. Christmas does tend to emphasise all sorts of anniversaries, but you’re quite right that it is more enjoyable when we reflect on all the good stuff, too. It’s easy to lose sight of that in the midst of the trivia.

  13. The holidays are like cooking a really big meal–all the work and preparation that goes into it but by the time you sit down to eat you have no desire anymore for the food–and all the time it took to pull it off and you eat it in half an hour. Very disappointing! There are far too many high expectations that go into the holiday and it can be depressing and draining indeed! I’m glad it has gotten much better for you! I try and keep things really low key, too. When I worked in a bookstore we sold loads of books by Harriet Lerner–I can still recall those covers! I hope you are reading something soothing–save those chewable books for the new year!🙂

  14. This is a time when I am particularly happy to be in a situation where there are few expectations on me, family-wise; otherwise, Christmas would be a much harder season. It’s stressful enough to do just the little planning I have to do! I can imagine a little bit how all the pressure would make anyone grumpy. I hope you are doing okay and finding some comfort reading! The reading plans will wait for another day.

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