Various lists of "most depressing Christmas songs" have been floating around this year. The ones I've seen have been lame, this one the lamest. Andrew Sullivan didn't make a list per se, but he posted several good ones. I know I have a Judy Garland bias, but still I think this one is hard to beat for slit-your-wrists beauty.
After spending every Christmas my whole life with my family until about 2002, I hadn't been to Indiana on Christmas for several years , opting for New Year's Eve instead. Long story why I stopped going, but it mainly had to do with my uncertainty about what constitutes "family." When, for the last two years of my relationship with J (who was always welcomed and loved and cherished by my biological family), we had a third partner, my parents told me I could only bring one partner home for Christmas. Until then, it had never occurred to me that there would be any separation between my acquired and biological families. It was quite a blow. I know my parents didn't mean to hurt me, and the episode was painful for them too. I didn't go home for Christmas that year or any year since then until this one. (J and R and I all spent that Christmas together at a fancy lodge in Aspen, where we had a very high-paying house concert gig for a dinner party of the family of a benefactor.) I hope it doesn't seem as if I hold a grudge against my mom and dad. I know they missed me, but it was a painful time and I didn't want to be reminded every year.
Besides all that drama, my anti-consumerism stance has become more hard-core -- I don't want to poop on anyone's ritual, but I don't want to take part in it either, so I thought it would be best to just not be there for the gift-exchange.
However, the older, more universal aspects of the winter holidays are still important to me to recognize, to observe. The whole longest night rebirth of the sun thing. In some fantasy of my ideal life, I see myself celebrating the solstice with my dearest friends, my acquired, chosen family. But it never quite happened. Friends either avoid the holidays or they have their own traditions, their own family stuff to attend to. So more and more over the last few years I've started to just feel adrift and lonely at Christmastime, which is why this year I decided to spend Christmas with my sister and her family, my mom and dad, and my brother.
On the way there, I was feeling very sad and anxious. I realized that the reason I was going to Indiana was that I didn't have anything keeping me here. My life this year is more unmoored than ever before. I'm living in someone else's house. My financial outlook is more insecure than ever in my life. My career is in a state of flux that feels like stasis.
J avoids Christmas altogether. He was battered by his fundamentalist upbringing. He says he's not anti-Christmas; he just doesn't give it any more weight than President's Day and who can blame him. All the war on Christmas reason for the season idiots? That's what he escaped from.
And J and I have both been dating recently, so, even though J is my family here and will always be my family wherever we might be, our relationship is changing in subtle ways. Our lives are still very intertwined, but we're starting to depend on each other a little less. It's good, but maybe a little scary, a little sad. In the way that, well, life -- if you're honest about it -- is scary and sad. I have some wonderful new friends here, but they're new friends. My oldest dearest friends are scattered all over the country.
So it was nice to see my family. Also hard. My sister and her husband and their 3 boys, though they live about 40 minutes from my mom and dad, do their own stuff, and my brother's girlfriend's cat was dying, so he came to visit without her just for an afternoon. I was with my folks on Christmas Eve -- which used to be our family's big celebration day -- and it was very sweet, but it was just the three of us. I flee the insecurity of my life here only to find the old family rituals dissolving too. I guess you can't go home again for Christmas. And if that wasn't anxiety-provoking enough, just being with my mom and dad turns up my neurotic internal monologue to 11 -- in the sort of ordinary way that I think that happens to everyone.
But something about spending a week with those family anxieties, familiar and old, was strangely orienting, and I returned to Austin tired but not nearly as strung out as I was when I left.
I took this picture of the Indiana countryside from the highway on the way to the airport and posted it to facebook yesterday. This landscape, the sky, the stand of bluish-brown trees, the cornfield that revolves as you drive by, evoke all the longing of my high school years, the loneliness of waiting to become my true self, the yearning for something to happen, never sure that it, whatever it is, would ever happen. That's sort of how I feel now.