Monday, June 24, 2013

The Slow Season

Most of what follows is a reposting. Mostly because of deadlines and, frankly, the fact that this is a subject I tend to not want to dwell on. So here's a summary, and if you read no further you've got my highlights.

The Christmas season, really the holidays from Thanksgiving through New Year's are my slow season, though possibly not for the standard reasons. The other thing that slows me down is the day job, which often requires odd hours if not extremely long ones, Sometimes it's hard to find the rhythm of Life's dance when the beat keeps changing.

What's below is my reasoning. It was written during the holidays and might feel a wee bit dated.

Dinner for One, Part Thirteen
“Love is a conflict between reflexes and reflection.” – Magnus Hirschfield
“Love is hard work, and sometimes hard work hurts.” – Author Unknown

Thanksgiving is over and done. I had a wonderful time with good friends who were gracious enough to invite me to their table. The next day I went to work and managed a little writing and the day after, a day off from the day job, I went shopping. I picked up a few early Christmas gifts—I’ve never been a last minute shopper—pretty much nailed down exactly what my brother is getting and he’ll never suspect it, and then I started buying Christmas decorations for the house. A lot of Christmas decorations. Some lights, a couple of things for the front yard, and all the decorations for the Christmas tree that I have decided to go ahead and put up. I even did a little research on what sort of tree I want. Nothing confirmed yet. It’ll be next week before I can get around to the tree itself. But it’s a start.
I watched the Jim Carrey/Disney version of A Christmas Carol (dark and delicious and pretty darned faithful to the book) and I set up my front yard with a few decorations and did the front door of the house. Currently I am uploading three CDs worth of Christmas music to my computer. I have also dusted off a good number of holiday movies and am planning on watching them over the next few weeks.
I bought Christmas wrapping paper, but I still have to get the tape and the nametags, and, of course, a bit of ribbon and a few bows, the better to design a few more disastrous attempts at gift-wrapping.
And every time I start doing anything for the holidays, I think of Bonnie and I smile. And I think of Bonnie and I cry. I think of Bonnie and I laugh at a dozen good memories. And I hate myself just a little for being a greedy bastard and wanting more. It’s an interesting tide of emotions from an intellectual perspective, but I’m not going to recommend close examination on a personal level if you can avoid it. As a rule, I’ll strongly suggest not losing loved ones during the holidays.
I know that this will get better, I do, but for the moment, just for now, I’m going through the motions. My mood changes too much for me to have a firm grasp of the holiday spirit. I think that’s to be expected. And again, and with feeling, I know Bonnie would disapprove of me being down on myself during this time. But it’s that storm feeling again. It is decidedly getting stronger.
To be perfectly truthful, I don’t much like the idea of posting this. I’m reluctant for the exact same reason that I didn’t want to let the world know when Bonnie passed. The holidays are not the right time for being a downer. I fully acknowledge that’s strange, but there it is. I don’t much like airing my grief for the world. It always feels like an imposition.
Still, I’ve come this far, so I suppose I’ll continue.
It’s less than a month. Christmas and my first anniversary as a widower. I’m doing my best to focus on the former. The latter will take care of itself. It’s already reminding me constantly as we approach the anniversary of Bonnie’s passing. I knew this was coming and I have done all I can to prepare myself for it. I know that my sister will do her best to be here for me and that I will reject her attempts. Not because I don’t appreciate them, I do, but because there are some things I feel I have to face myself. I’m not looking forward to December 23rd this year. Let’s be blunt: I’m dreading it. But before the day is done, one way or another, I’ll own it. There are some very heavy memories, some I will simply not share here or anywhere, that I have to deal with regarding that day. There are elements of that morning and afternoon that I have deliberately avoided letting myself think about, and on that day if not before then, I’ll be focusing on those memories because I have no doubt that they’ll make me focus on them.
Never let it be said that there are no ghosts. I believe in them firmly. In this case they are memories that wait to haunt and linger. I’ll repeat myself: Bonnie would not approve of my wallowing in misery. I accept that and I’ll grant her that request by and large. But the 23rd will be an exception. Just as I am setting the holidays aside to be with loved ones, the day before the holidays begin will be a day for reflection and the careful, meticulous examination of the worst day I’ve ever had. It’s a necessity. Wounds must be examined from time to time, if only to make sure that they are healing instead of festering. I think suppressing those memories would be a foolish notion. I think that hiding from them would be deeply detrimental to my emotional recovery. Maybe I’m wrong, but only time will tell.
When I was younger I tended toward cynicism and called myself a realist. As time has gone on I think I’ve discovered I’m actually a bit of an optimist. To be truthful, I think Bonnie made me an optimist merely through her presence in my life. She was my proof that miracles exist, all the proof I ever needed. I tend to think she taught me, consciously or no, a very valuable life lesson. She found something of value in me that I had never seen before and she nurtured it. If that’s not a miracle, then I have no idea what is. I have no intention of letting that lesson go to the wayside now, simply because she is not here in person to remind me.
I will do my very best to remain an optimist. I will do all that I can to remember that an amazing woman found me worth the trouble, even when it gets hard to see her face clearly or when the lack of her in my world feels like a crushing weight. Doing less than that hardly seems a proper way to honor her memory.
But for the next few weeks I suspect that keeping my optimism will be a bit harder to manage than it usually is. I have several boxes of photographs I’ve barely looked at in the last eleven months. I have stacks and boxes of pictures waiting to go into photo albums. It might be that I’ll finally make myself open them and look at the memories I’ve tried to keep muted lately. It might be that for the present they stay locked away. I haven’t really decided yet. I’ve still got a few weeks to make up my mind. That’s the thing about photographs; they never seem important to a lot of people, but to me they are reminders for when our mind likes to play tricks on us. Yes, I remember exactly what Bonnie looked like. How could I not? But our memories are colored and tainted by time. They are altered by perception. From the day I met her to the day she passed, my wife was a beautiful woman to me. She was amazing in every way. But she also changed along the way. She grew and she became a different woman just as surely as I’ve changed over the same span of time. Her hair changed. Her face changed. Her smile and her laugh and the way she carried herself, all of those things changed through the years we spent together. The one constant throughout, however, was that she was beautiful to me. So, yes, I suspect I will look at pictures and remind myself how amazingly lucky I was to have the years we spent together.
And I will miss her touch, her smile and her laugh.
And I will miss her with every breath I take.
And I will be haunted.
It is what it is.

Dinner for One: Part Fourteen
“I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I’m with you.” - Elizabeth Barrett Browning
“Being loved by someone gives you strength. Loving someone gives you courage.” - Lao Tzu
It’s the thirteenth day of December as I write this, and I’ve been enjoying the day. I slept in, then I did my exercises, then I did my chores and watched a little TV. Then off to the day job. Now, I write for a bit before I settle in and watch a movie. I’ve done about half of my Christmas shopping and I have learned, since putting up my Christmas tree, that apparently the average spruce is closely related to a sponge. It’s the only explanation I have for the fact that the bloody thing is sucking in two liters of water a day. Still, I rather like the tree so I suppose I’m glad I put it up.
Next week I’ll wrap the presents. The ones I’ve picked up at least. I’ve been meaning to do Christmas cards, too, but I am beginning to think that won’t come to pass. Good intentions and the road to Hell. You know the drill.
Bonnie used to do a lot of these things, or at least remind me that I had to do them. I have never been as organized as she was. I doubt sincerely that I ever will be. Dreamers are not, as a rule, very organized creatures and I have always been a dreamer. I think it comes with the territory when you write fiction for a living. So, yes, Bonnie did these things or helped me do them and I am reminded yet again that this time around, I’m on my own.
I’m still not quite used to being alone, but I’m getting there. I don’t find myself with a question on my lips for Bonnie as often as I did. I’m tending to remember she’s gone before I ask the questions. I’d hardly call that an improvement, mind you, merely a change.
We’ve hit the busy season at the day job, and that makes me feel a little better. Not all that long ago I asked my manager to put me on mornings as much as possible, because the mornings are far busier and that means I have less time to think. I rather like not thinking when I’m at work. I think enough when I’m at home and what I think about, not surprisingly, is the lack of Bonnie in my life. The lack of anyone that close, if the truth has to be told (and if not here, then I suppose there’s nowhere left to tell the truth.). I’ve said to many a person how much I love cold weather. I like the fashions better for the most part (I may not be fashionable, but I appreciate the effort involved), I prefer wearing a little more to sweating in a little less clothing and as I have pointed out to many a doubter, cold weather is made for snuggling. Works too, if you have someone to snuggle with. I don’t mean heavy petting (though there’s a place for that, surely) I mean the act of being close to someone physically without necessarily invading their personal space. As Bonnie learned the hard way, I liked to snuggle and hold hands and all of that other stuff that I suppose is considered less-than-macho.
And now that the cold weather is here, I realize exactly how much I miss that level of intimacy in my life. That might sound odd to a lot of people, but despite Bonnie’s health restrictions, we were very physical. When we drove anywhere, there was a very good chance that we would hold hands. When we went to the store and shopped, it was very likely that before we were done I would have arm around her waist. When I helped her put on her coat, there was almost always a kiss involved, on the cheek, the nose, the lips or the forehead. It absolutely amazes me how much I miss that. One more facet of the void in my world since she passed away.  Currently the void she’s left in my life has more facets than a ten-caret diamond of exquisite cut and quality.
I’m distancing myself from a lot of people right now. It’s not intentional, but I’m also not stopping it. I suspect it’s another level of armor, a bit more defense in place for the coming one year anniversary. Mind you, as I’ve said before, I’ve always been a loner so distancing myself comes naturally to me, I think. There are exceptions, of course, people who are close enough that I couldn’t distance myself from them if I wanted to, (not that I do, thanks just the same) but that’s hardly a surprise. We all have people who get past our defenses. Without those people, we would truly be alone.
I’m okay with the distance right now. I think it’s for the best. I think that in my current state, if I were too close to anyone, I would want to hold on so tightly that they’d be suffocated by me. Desperation makes people cling more than they want to, I think. Better by far that I stand on my own rather than risk that. It is one of the many reasons I chose to move out on my own, isn’t it? The need to learn to be on my own after many years of being in a communal household.  It’s still a work in progress, as evidenced by the three gallons of chili I cooked last night.
I still love the holidays. I still love the concept of the holidays. Not merely the religious aspects, though they have their place, even in this old agnostic’s heart, but also the social aspects.  I get a kick out of looking at the houses in my neighborhood, and how varied the decorations are. I also love to watch people shopping and walking and getting excited about visiting family. I love, God help me, the music of the holidays and my run of holiday movies.
Even this year, I have that love in place, even if it is muted. And yes, it is decidedly muted. But I’m happy to report that there is very little chance of me becoming Ebenezer Scrooge. I have merely to think of a few of the people in my world and that possibility goes away.
One of my readers here sent a request for my address (I shall not mention names, because said reader might not approve) primarily for the purpose of sending me an ornament for my first tree in years. I was inordinately touched by that offer, and the ornament now sits front and center on my tree, the better to remind me that Christmas exists in the heart and not in the pocketbook. I have so many fond memories of Christmas over the years. They are sustaining me in ways that I can’t easily convey, especially as I realize that it’s been almost a year since Bonnie left me.
Almost a year without holding her hand, or helping her on with her coat, or having conversations and cracking jokes over the crappy horror movies in our collection. We have not decided on wrapping paper. I did that all by myself this time around. We haven’t discussed our favorite movies (I know all of hers by heart.) She hasn’t brought up how little in the mood for Christmas she is and I, in turn, have not pulled out the videos guaranteed to put her in the right frame of mind. Every year her Christmas got brighter as soon as she saw the ‘Claymation Christmas Special’ and got to hear Bing Crosby and David Bowie singing The Little Drummer Boy together. Those two were a cure all, and got her past the commercialism aspects of the holiday and into the right mood. We have not discussed the good and bad aspects of eggnog, nor have we debated which cookies to make this year. Nor have we discussed which of us would make the cookies or how to keep at least a few of them from being consumed a full week before Christmas.
I love Christmas. I’m happy to report that my opinion of the holiday has not been destroyed by the events of last year. But this year there’s the tragedy aspect to consider and it will not be ignored, no matter how much I might want to ignore it, and no matter how much I know that Bonnie would not approve. At the end of the day, I miss my wife. I miss the little things, like holding hands and snuggling in the cold weather. I miss her sense of humor, and her facial expressions and all the tiny traditions that I never really thought of until I realized that they are missing from my holiday.
There is, of course, the strong possibility that things will get better. Eventually. Not any time soon, let’s be honest about it. Tragedies take time to get past, and by the most gentle standards, I’ve been informed that I can expect the worst of the emotional storms to blindside me in another year or two. After which, if all goes well, I can maybe start getting on with my life. I can start living, instead of existing.
Did you ever see the movie “As Good As It Gets?” The title is taken, I suppose, from one of the best lines in the entire movie, which is rife with excellent lines.
“What if this is as good as it gets?” - Jack Nicholson as Melvin Udall. I’ve been thinking about that line a lot lately. More so as I consider the notion of a year or more before my life moves forward instead of holding still while I recover and try to get my emotional balance back. I need to clarify here, that I’m not worried, just curious. I remain, as always, puzzled by what the future might hold for me. Will I be alone forever? Will I move into a comfortable relationship or will I play the proverbial field? My answer remains the same as always: I have no earthly idea. But it’s a question I’m contemplating, especially now, when it’s cold and I find myself missing the romantic aspects of a good snuggle.
I sincerely doubt that I’ll post another of these articles before the holidays have come and gone. I find I am busy. There is much to do and as always, I suck at managing my time. Bonnie was always so much better at being organized than I shall ever be. I miss that, too, among the myriad other facets of our relationship.
Happy holidays, whatever your beliefs and whoever you share them with. Just in case I miss the new year as well, I’ll point out that I firmly believe the sole good purpose of celebrating the New Year is a chance to look back at what you’ve accomplished in the last year, and a chance to set goals for the year to come. In the past my goals have always been career oriented. “I will finish Novel B. I will sell Novel A. I will attempt, again, to find an agent worth the effort of dealing with.” On the novels, I’ve normally been successful. On the agents? Well, that’s a subject for another day. Believe me, I could write a book on the subject (Heh heh heh.).
This time around my goals were a bit different. “I will get up in the morning. I will take care of myself. I will remember to breathe, and to eat, and to interact with the world around me. I will face the day without losing my mind and I will leave the worst of my emotional storms for the quiet times when I am alone, because that’s how it’s supposed to be done. I will survive.”
So far, so good, and with thanks to many more people than I would have ever expected.
It is what it is.


  1. Lovely posts, James - thank you for sharing.

  2. To be fair it was a lot of answer to a simple question, but I'm something of a completist.