Despite the cheery paper, what I really want to talk about today is how sometimes the holidays can be really hard. They were devised, of course, to help us through the worst part of the year — a time when there’s not much light, the weather is not conducive to moving around, and it’s really hard to get a decent tomato. Stone fruit is long gone, and so are the endless days of summer.
Although the holidays were meant to make December easier to bear by giving you an excuse to drink brandy-laden drinks, in many ways they (both the holidays and the brandy drinks) make them even harder. The enforced cheeriness of office parties and unthinking co-workers and friends often enhances the pain of those who are encountering the real difficulties of life — death, poverty, loneliness — in December. And for all of us, the cultural whipping up of desire for material things can make you feel physically ill.
There are some strategies to help you negotiate this. One is to be sensitive to the possibility that the people around you are having a hard time, and to do what you can to make that easier. Or to just be neutral, and not make things harder by assuming that everyone is in a happy, elfin, north pole place. And whether you are in difficulty or not, an important thing to do is to choose carefully — you are not, after all, a victim of the mall, and no one is forcing you to shop or to go to parties. You might not be able to say no to some things — books among them — but you can say no to a lot of other stuff.
Whichever it is for you this year — whether it is a difficult time, or a north pole time — if you are to make this month bearable, or even good, you must try to be alone with yourself some — in a good way, not in a dour, isolated way. Doing that is the spiritual and psychological equivalent of standing up straight, with your weight evenly distributed on your feet. When you stand that way, no matter how hard the gales blow, you won’t fall.
In my case, that time alone involved wrapping a bookstack for myself. For many years, I waited for other people to do what I most wanted and when, inevitably, they did not, allowed myself to feel unloved, or at least, misunderstood. And then I woke up and realized that this trap was a terribly foolish and damaging one. It is far better to give yourself your own bookstack (and here you can replace bookstack with any other thing you wait around for, including permission to do things you want to do like write, or travel, or lie around and read, or learn how to play the piano, or change jobs).
And so, to sum up, today’s two points: Remember the holidays can be sad and difficult and do what you can to make that better. Don’t wait for other people to tell you it’s okay to do the things you want.
No one in the world would have known I wanted these exact books, because I didn’t know until I started looking around for what I want to read in the new year.