Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tiny angels, Christmas angels

Oh my, oh my. Went to my granddaughter Erica's Christmas concert this afternoon - she appeared, grave and serious, in a gorgeous black-and-tartan dress worn several times by the girls in our family (a sort of heirloom now), singing Santa Claus is Coming to Town with graceful gestures that seemed almost Polynesian. She looked shockingly beautiful up there, and grown up.

So afterwards I went for coffee with my son's Mum-in-law, which I haven't for a while and enjoyed immensely. She insisted on giving us a beautiful potted poinsettia-and-white-flowers mix that will probably bloom lavishly in a day or two. Then came home to make chili, which I had planned to do yesterday and just ran out of time.

I don't enjoy cooking, even if I love the result, so I wondered what would make it go down better (besides that fizzy grapefruit drink I am so addicted to now, Dole Sparklers they're called). I thought, hmmm, let's put some Christmas music on! I haven't intentionally listened to a Christmas album yet this year. My hand just gravitated to Roger Whittaker, though my rational self was saying, "Margaret, NOT that sentimental old thing again."

Oh yes.

This was, in fact, a sort of test. I've tried to write about the spiritual meltdown I've experienced over the past several years, the fact that my entire belief system seems to have been blown to bits. Do I still believe in, well - God, or something like God?

Might it be a bit of a test to listen to this song, this song that always made me cry when my children were small?

This song that still made me cry last year? Was I so dried up, so hard-hearted, had I turned my face away from Love and Grace and all those things that used to hold my life together so much that my tears had turned as hard and crystalline as Lot's wife?

Friends, I cried. Did I cry! I bawled. It was wonderful, soul-rocking. I don't know what it is, perhaps just the way he sings it, and the deep truth of this: the only gifts that I could want are you. My darlings.


Christmas blues: the gaiety of grief

Dylan Thomas was once quoted as saying, “There is no gaiety so gay as the gaiety of grief.”

Somehow I sort of know what that means, though I can’t explain it.

Yesterday I was making gingerbread cookies with the grandkids (having had to throw out the entire first attempt at dough, so stinking horrible from the molasses that we ended up throwing it at the wall), and more or less feeling OK, but it was an effort. I had to pull myself up for it. For the first few days after my mother-in-law’s passing, I was laden with memories, great waves of memory breaking on the sand, so deep that they went back to when I was a girl of eighteen.

I said to someone I am close to, I have no bad memories of her, and she said to me, that’s because you didn’t see her that often. This is the way we “deal with” grief now. A kind of slamming of the door. Put up or shut up, she was 96 and had her life and a peaceful death, so just forget about it and get on with the cookies.

It’s hard.

Hard this time of year, which is hard already, for reasons I can’t even begin to probe.  Of course the child in me loves the sparkle and twinkling lights and angels and good food and having the family around. But I don’t know of a family that is universally loveable.

A family without tensions and trouble.

I feel over-grandma’d these days. It’s not that I don’t love it. I feel stretched thin sometimes, and I’m not even supposed to feel it, let alone acknowledge it. Everything I do seems to disappear into a black hole, leaving no trace.

I suppose my line of work is a factor. People don’t see me as “working”, in spite of writing six novels, 350-some book reviews, thousands of newspaper columns, dozens of published poems (and two anthologies), essays in text books, and serving as a juror in several competitions. It all just kind of vaporizes as it happens, and I know I am seen as “not working”.  In fact, people’s attitude probably mirrors that of a woman I knew (hardly a friend) who said, once my kids were both in school, “Goodness, Margaret, what on earth are you going to do with yourself all day?” (I was writing a novel.)

On the other hand, why should I expect them to understand? Margaret Atwood was once famously quoted as saying, “I can’t be fired because I don’t have a job.” I don’t either, though I have work. I even have paid work, the steady if not too thick income from my beloved alma mater, the Edmonton Journal. I’ve been reviewing more or less steadily since 1984, starting with the Journal and continuing with at least a dozen other publications. Most of these gigs were paid.

So if you’re paid for it, even if only an honorarium (meaning, a chintzy cheque), doesn’t that make you a professional?

YES. But it’s so much more than that.

This post was once another post, and I cut the second half because it was becoming just too bleak. Having a death in the family right at Christmas is hard. Already you’re assaulted by waves of memory that are beyond your control. But these layers run very deep and no doubt stir up my complete estrangement from my family of origin.

Okay, the “Sisters” post was me. No one saw it anyway, or only a few. And as usual, the person who needed to see it didn’t, or wouldn’t have cared even if she did.

So I had a sort of adoptive family when I got married, but didn’t really realize it for years and years. It grew slowly and without my awareness. Alliances have surged and faded, beyond my power to choose. (Do we choose to love? “Gee, I think I’ll love this person now. Stand back.”) There has been a sort of evolution. Now the lynch-pin has been withdrawn by the natural course of things. We will have to regroup. It remains to be seen who the new matriarch will be.