Every year for Christmas, I write a post in which I rant about how much I dislike Christmas. I list all the reasons why, and the biggest one is because it’s such crass consumerism on display, wrapped up in sentimental rhetoric. “If you love someone, you have to buy them something really expensive, or you’re a chump.” That’s pretty much what Christmas commercials tell you, starting with the day after Halloween (sometimes before), which is part of my issue with it as well. It used to be that the hype for Christmas had the sense to wait until after Thanksgiving to dominate society’s consciousness. Now, we’re creeping towards Christmas 24-7. There’s a local radio station that used to start playing Christmas music all day long starting on the first day of December. This year, they started the day after Halloween, which means two months of sappy, poorly-written Christmas music. Which is another problem I have with Christmas. All of the music sucks. It’s overwrought, treacly, and steeped in false nostalgia. There is only one Christmas carol that I like, but I’ll get to that in a second.
This year, I didn’t have the heart to write my usual post because my Raven had died three weeks earlier. I distinctly remember I had changed my Twitter and Facebook avatars earlier that evening to my usual Grumpy Cat hating on Christmas avis. After Raven died, I changed them back to just being black, and I’ve left them that way ever since. With my heart broken, I didn’t even care that Christmas was approaching at all. It meant nothing to me, and I pretty much just ignored its existence. I was just trying to cope with my sudden and shocking loss, and I couldn’t summon up enough energy to even acknowledge that it was happening. My Raven was gone, and that’s all that mattered to me. I was struggling to make it through each interminable day while making sure Shadow was OK as well.
Now, however, I regret not writing the post. Or rather, I feel empty for not having written it. As much as I don’t like Christmas, I did like my tradition of writing about how much I dislike it. I would post about it on Facebook and tweet about it, and I’d get several people who would commiserate with me. It became known that the only Christmas carol I like was O Holy Night, and I’d have people sending me their favorite versions of the song. I’d compile them and post them every year, and it was something I looked forward to, but, again, I didn’t have the heart to do it this year. After a few years, I started adding Christmas-related songs I liked to the list, and if I was feeling extra-grumpy, I would include the worst version of O Holy Night I could find.*
First off, I’ll post one of my favorite versions of the song. It’s done by New Orleans jazz musicians, and it was after Katerina ripped through their city and destroyed so many lives. It was featured on the show, Studio 60, which I never watched, but this version is amazing. It’s soulful, wistful, heartbreaking, and, yet, somehow, uplifting. Here’s the version with no dialogue.
It gives me chills every time I listen to it, in part because of what it represents. The dialogue that goes with it is disgusting, which is the reason I choose this version when i want to listen to it. The trombone is by a man named Troy ‘Trombone Shorty’ Andrews, and the amount of emotion he’s able to convey through his music is genius. Another version I love is Jennifer Hudson’s. Well, she actually has two versions, and both are tremendous. I chose this one because it’s just her singing with no instruments at first (a choir and some instruments kick in later on). Her voice is so pure, it’s almost unbearable.
Next up are two Christmas songs by atheists that I really love. The first is by Vienna Teng, who is Taiwanese American as I am. She really speaks to me, and her voice is so goddamn lovely, as is she. I’ve had the good fortune to meet her after her concert (twice) in real life, and she’s very down-to-earth with no artifice. Her song is called The Atheist Christmas Carol, and she tells the humorous story how it’s a devout Christian (a record producer, Methodist) that urged her to keep the name, which she had just came up with as a working title. It makes me cry every time I hear it, as I am now. I love the cello, and she puts it to good use here. (She’s playing the piano.) “Don’t forget, don’t forget, I love, I love, I love you” is making me weep as I think of Raven. In fact, the whole song speaks to how I feel about not having him in my life and how I feel about Christmas in general.
The second song is White Wine in the Sun by Tim Minchin. He’s a comedian/singer who makes great political points in his songs. This song is about how he likes Christmas, even though he’s not religious at all. It’s about family and showing off his baby girl to his family. The end is really sweet when he reminds her that no matter where she is or what she’s facing, she’ll always have a family to come home to, people who’ll keep her safe. The song is both funny and touching, and it makes me laugh and cry at the same time, which is quite an accomplishment. I’m bawling as I’m listening to this song, too. I think that’s one reason I didn’t do this at Christmastime. I probably would have drowned in my tears.
Another Christmas post I used to do was a PSA for people who felt depressed around that time. I usually just reposted the old version with some updated info. I’m weird in that many of the things ‘they’ tell you do for depression don’t work for me. The biggest one is exercise. That’s touted as the be-all end-all cure for depression, and I’ve never found it to be true. When I was in the depths of my personal hell, I used to exercise for two to three times hours a day. I never felt better after doing it, but I did it with grim determination. I think part of my problem is that I took it to mean that you felt better the instant you exercised, which I never did. I will say that since I’ve started practicing taiji, my depression is better than it has been in the past. It’s not something I noticed at the time, but when I look back, I can see it’s true. The thing is, though, it’s not as if I set off to cure my depression by taking taiji. I wanted to be able to defend myself if I ever got into a physically terrifying situation, but I also wanted something that united the physical and the mental. After many hours of research, I concluded that taiji was the best discipline for me, and I still think it’s true.
I’ve also had a shit-ton of therapy, starting when I was fourteen. I’m not currently in therapy, though I’m thinking it may be time to find another therapist, but I’ve benefited tremendously from all the headshrinking I’ve done in the past, specifically with my last therapist. Not only did she deal with my emotional shit, she also gave me several suggestions for alternative therapies that I found helpful. She recommended a naturopath to me that helped me with some digestive issues. She found me a body worker who helped for quite some time (before she completely turned me off, but that didn’t negate the good work she did). She gave me suggestions for sleep and depression that included St. John’s Wort, Valerian, and Melatonin. None of them work, but I still appreciated it. She pushed me to see a shrink so I could get on meds (that shrink sucked, though). Later, when I refused to see another shrink, my therapist told me to talk to my doctor because she could prescribe me antidepressants. My therapist would suggest one, and my doctor would prescribe it. That worked for a while…until it didn’t.
The thing I’ve realized is that I probably will never be completely depression-free. I’m not being a pessimist; I’m being realistic. I’ve worked on myself since I was fourteen. It’s thirty-one years later, and though I’ve made quite a bit of progress, I think there’s a limit on how much you can change your core personality. I’m never going to be a bubbly, perky personality. In fact, I was thinking about this when I saw my doctor. She is a very upbeat person, but not in a forced way. I admire that, but it’ll never be me. Speaking of my doctor, my thyroid levels* were high this time, so we had to adjust my dose. That’s another reason I think I’ll never completely beat depression–my thyroid issues. Many of the side effects of having hypothyroidism are so similar to those of depression as to be nearly indistinguishable.
I will say that writing on a daily basis has helped with my depression. I know I’m really in the abyss when I can’t write. After my Raven died, I stopped blogging except for the one post about his death. I still wrote fiction, but my grief was blocking my ability to blog. The grief was so heavy, it was almost palpable. The last few days, I’ve been so angry about Raven dying. The rage wells up inside me, and it threatens to choke the breath from my throat. When I look over at his grave, my heart nearly rips from my chest. It’s so strange because on the one hand, I’ve been sleepwalking around the past month and a half, feeling mostly numb. On the other hand, the pain is so visceral, and I feel it intimately in every part of my body, it’s overwhelming. As I’m typing this post, Shadow is sleeping on the couch above my head. Every few minutes, I reach up to pet his head to a) make sure he’s still breathing, and b) reassure myself that I still have him, even though Raven is gone.
By the way, I’m acutely aware how many of my posts have mentioned him dying. I’m self-conscious about it, but I can’t stop talking about it in my posts. I know that the time is coming soon where it’ll be unseemly for me to talk about him so much, but I can’t help myself right now. I think about him running towards me, his ears pointed to the side as he cussed me out. I’d cussed right back at him, and then it was all good between us. When I used to practice taiji, he’d stand in front of me and growl, especially if I was practicing the Sabre Form. He really didn’t like that, and I never really knew why. The best I could figure out was that it has the most energy and is really a fighting form.
He should not be dead. It’s not fucking fair. I know I sound like a child, but I still can’t understand how he could be here one minute and gone the next. It breaks my heart anew every goddamn day that I will never see, hear, or touch him again. I didn’t even get to say goodbye. That’s not fair at all.
Anyway, here are a few more versions of O Holy Night, since this is nominally a Christmas post.
David Archuleta. He has the voice of an angel:
Finally, this is the Dublin Gospel Choir. Yes, that sounds like an oxymoron, but I think their version is charming, and I really like the lead singer’s voice:
I hope your 2017 is better than your 2016. Peace.
*Jessica Simpson’s version, hands down, is the worst I’ve ever heard.
**As part of my ‘dieting’ regime. An eating disorder by any other name is still as deadly.
***Used to have hyperthyroidism, Grave’s disease, but then the docs nuked my thyroid into oblivion, and now I have hypothyroidism.