The Holiday Season is almost upon us. I personally really like this time of year, from September all the way through the New Year. I like the creepy Halloween stuff, but I like the time after Halloween just as much, and I’m referring to more than just the traditional American Thanksgiving and Christmas stuff. These few weeks between Halloween and Turkey Fever get short shrift usually. At best they’re ignored. But I like it. I like the days getting shorter and the air getting colder. I like the hints of snow and promise of misery. Of course, by the second week of January the magic has worn off and it’s all dirty slush and inconvenient ice. For now though, it’s a time of constant change, and I like that.
For me, this time of year is a promise of things to come. My life is in that weird place after adolescence but before ‘real’ adulthood. (Of course, I’m developing a sneaking suspicion that ‘real’ adulthood never really arrives until you’re the oldest person alive and no one is around to tell you how young you still are.) I haven’t got a solid career yet, or children. I still have friends that like to go out at 11pm on Friday night. I still join them occasionally, though I usually regret it. I’m living the life of a full grown-up without all the resources. I don’t have to live on ramen noodles, but I still can’t afford health insurance. Basically, things are unsettled, much like the early November season that can’t decide if it’s Winter or Fall or how long either will last.
The promise, though, is there. The promise that soon all the trees will be lit with twinkling, artificial life and the snow will be soft and cold but not freezing as it falls. The promise that comfort is only a steaming mug away. It’s that promise I cling to. It’s honestly the best part of life. Anticipation is often greater than the reward, though I don’t think that diminishes the rewards. I’m still young enough that I can anticipate my life ahead. I can plan for better things, though I’ll have to slog through some blackened slush to get there. And when I do reach things like stability and regular dental visits, I’m sure it won’t be nearly as lovely as I have it in my head. Not that healthy teeth are a bad thing, but I’m sure I’ll still have unattained desires and worrisome trivialities and the kids will be sending the world to hell with their darned techno-folk music and silver jumpsuits and AI partners. Of course, that means I also get to have my anticipation of better things to come.
The lovely thing about this time of year is that it goes by so quickly. Soon it will be the Holiday Season for real with its Christmas Wars and Hobbitses and travel plans. Then we’ll have piles of dirty ice in all the parking lots and then the lovely green of Spring. Soon, the anticipation will be gone, but for a few brief days I get the thrill of imagining all the fun and joy laid out ahead of me. And I’m okay with that.
Today I turn twenty-seven years old. It’s sort of a strange age to be. Not 27 precisely, but the time around twenty-sevenish years old is strange. I’m no longer young in the sense of staying up all night, or driving recklessly, listening to too loud music, or eating Burger King because I don’t understand what real food tastes like. I’ve moved into a few habits that I’m ready to settle with. I listen to one radio station (this one). I’ve accepted the fact that I don’t like fish and probably never will. I have game nights that don’t include shooting any virtual aliens or zombies. When people ask me what I want to do for my birthday I honestly don’t know. Go to dinner or something I guess. In short, I’m getting older.
But I’m still not old. Twenty-seven is maybe not ridiculously young, but it’s still at least stupidly young. I’m old enough to realize I’m not young, but I’m not old enough to be old yet. It almost feels like being a teenager again, except now I grow an exceptional beard.
Perhaps the most difficult change in birthdays is realizing that I don’t really care too much about them anymore. Twenty-seven feels more like a reminder of how much stuff I haven’t accomplished yet than a badge of honor for growing up just a little more. As such, the day simply doesn’t feel very special.
When I was in kindergarten I brought a tub of cookies to school on my birthday because that was what you did. And the teacher gave you a birthday card and a candy bar. And the whole class sang happy birthday. And when you went home you had a party and everyone gave you presents. When I walked into the classroom I placed the tub Mrs. Walker’s desk and sat down without saying anything because I was that kind of a kid. At the start of class she gave a candy bar and a card to Micky Music (I swear to God that is not a pseudonym) whose birthday is March 7th, but that March 5th was a Friday so we sang to Micky anyway while she handed out treats to the class. Mrs. Walker then asked who had brought the tub of cookies. I raised my hand up a little fearfully and squeaked out that they were from me. She asked why I had brought them, and I told her because today was my birthday. Being the amazing, wonderful teacher she was, she was a tad bit mortified that she had forgotten my birthday and honored another student instead of me. She allowed me to hand out my cookies and everyone sang to me. Then, the next Monday she brought me an extra special card and a king size snickers to say sorry.
The point is, in kindergarten we make a big deal out of birthdays. I turned six years old and it was imperative that that be recognized, even though the biggest accomplishment of that year had been learning to write or tie my shoes on my own. This past year I got my first thing published. I started working in the industry I really love and want to be a part of. I paid my taxes and bought my own groceries and cooked my own food. I wrote short stories and poems and started working on two novels. In short, I’ve done so much more this year than I could have hoped to do when I was five. And yet, when I go to my meetings and classes and grocery stores today nobody will congratulate me unless I make a point of telling them that on this day roughly twenty-seven years ago I started life. And it’s not that I don’t want to tell them. I absolutely want their praise and gifts and adoration. But they won’t give them willingly and shouldn’t be forced. I’m not saying this is wrong. Turning six is a much bigger accomplishment for a six year old than turning twenty-seven is for a twenty-seven year old, and it should be all the more congratulated. But at this point in life I realize that my birthday doesn’t matter to anyone. Not really. It’s just another day. For a select few people it’s an excuse to get together and eat slightly better than average food or have a glass of wine.
But whatever the custom, let’s celebrate! After all, it’s my birthday. So here’s a glass of wine I’ll share with you, and a reminder that even though you haven’t achieved the immense accomplishment of six years old for quite a few years, you are still an incredibly special space-time event.
It’s been quite a while since I last posted. I’d like to do more, but for now I’m not sure if that will happen. For the first time in my life I’ve been dealing with real, serious depression. It’s hard to understand and harder still to explain. The description I’ve found which best fits my experience is on Cracked.com “5 Facts Everyone Gets Wrong About Depression”, and I’ve also written before a little about depression on this blog. Anyway, that’s the excuse I’ve had for not writing more. For now I don’t want to write any more about it. Possibly I will later but not now. Now I just want to give an update, and because you deserve more than just a short little paragraph, here’s a poem:
I’ve heard rumor of a room
you can hear electricity hum
through your own nervous system.
There the heart beats loud enough
to wake the damned,
and blood rushes through your veins
with all the gentle whisper of a freight train.
Visitors are not allowed
to remain in the room longer
than 45 minutes,
for fear they will go mad.
What secrets could we divine,
if only we had the patience to listen?
Yes, I believe in Santa Claus. Yes, I am an adult. Yes, I know Santa isn’t real. And Yes, all those statements are true. Mostly. I had a conversation about Santa Claus with a friend the other day, and in this conversation we discussed belief in said magical Arctic dwelling whatever he is. Is he a person? I suppose person and human aren’t necessarily the same thing, so fine: Santa is a person. Anyway, in this discussion we talked about the different reasons and arguments for telling children that Santa Claus is real or just being open with them or whatever. I don’t mean to get into that too much. Suffice it to say that if I ever become a father I will be the kind of parent who is going to lie his ass off to his kids about probably almost everything. But in a nice way. The better discussion, I believe, isn’t about lying to children. It’s about lying to yourself. I believe in Santa Claus, and I will defend that belief forever. (I was going to say to the death, but if we’re believing in Santa Claus, we’re going for an afterlife too.) Now, I know there’s no Santa Claus, just as I know there’s probably not an afterlife. The evidence simply suggests otherwise. But just because I know something isn’t real, doesn’t mean I can’t believe in it. This all started when I was fourteen years old. I was in junior high school, and it was near Christmas time. Somehow my friends got into a discussion about Santa Clause. When someone casually mentioned that Santa wasn’t real, I flipped out. “What do you mean? Of course Santa’s real!” I said. “If he’s not real, then how do you explain all the presents you get on Christmas morning?” They responded with mixtures of confusion and pity and arrogance. “Umm, your parents put the presents there.” “And I suppose you think your parents fill your stockings too,” I shot back. “Yeah. Of course.” The most confusing part of this exchange for those poor, brave teenage souls was that I was not speaking in a sarcastic tone, but rather as one who really believed and stood by these convictions. Now, by this point I had known for some years that Santa wasn’t real, and I assumed my friends would take my joke for what it was. What I have never realized is that when you act serious, people will assume you are serious. It makes the joke better, but also harder to perceive as a joke. Alas, against my better judgment I was drawn into a debate about the reality of a supernatural character, and I was supposed to argue the losing side. I couldn’t just give in to reality. That would have been too easy. So I played it out. And I discovered something in the process: It’s more fun to believe. There is a terrific scene in the terrific movie “Secondhand Lions” wherein a boy tells his uncle he needs to know if the stories he’s been hearing about his two uncles’ youthful adventures are true. The uncle responds with a short speech about belief:
Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love… true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.
A false notion is that belief and knowledge have anything to do with each other. They don’t. Belief is in fact the very antithesis of knowledge. It is impossible to both know and believe something at the same time. But far from destroying the foundations of belief, this thrusts belief into a very special realm all its own, where it’s possible to both know something isn’t true but believe it all the same. I choose to believe in Santa Clause because the world seems a more magical place that way. And no I will never allow that belief to cloud my judgment regarding whether or not I need to fill my possible future children’s stockings. That would just be irresponsible. And I will never trust magic or crystals or prayer to heal me when medicine has been proven to do the trick far better and more reliably. But I will continue to believe in Santa and the Easter Bunny and magic and The Doctor because even though reality is pretty awesome, a little magic still goes a long way.