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.