So after working my way up gradually to running 8 miles or so without too much fatigue, I went home for the holidays and ate turkey and rugelah and drank Wassail until I couldn’t feel my face anymore. Granted, it was an excellent week. But now I’m having a hell of a time getting back into the game.
Today on the treadmill I thought I was going to pass out at mile 2. I made it to 8 miles but only after some serious self-bargaining. I hate to bargain. I ran 6 miles at more or less my normal pace, and then did the last 2 at a slightly slower pace. And I feel like face-planting into a bowl of buttered egg-noodles. Just because that might feel nice.
I’m starting to realize that I may have lost some ground here, which Brian confirmed. “Sometimes when you stop exercising for a little while and then get back into it, it’s harder to get back where you were than it was to get there the first time,” he said. I wish I’d realized that while I was double-fisting eggnog and pumpkin tartlets. But I guess sometimes you have to live and learn. At least the living part was delicious.
Yesterday after writing a long rant about how much better I am than people who shop on Black Friday, I went shopping. Hooray for being full of inconsistencies and flaws! And shit!
And day-old stuffing. Mmm, it’s even better the next day.
I went to a local thrift shop where I spent a good hour wandering the aisles and bought approximately twenty pounds of Christmas Decorations. Oh man. It was awesome.
I know, I know. You’re thinking, “Ew, gross! Used Christmas Decorations!” Unless you happen to know me personally, in which case you’re thinking, “Yeah, that sounds about right.” Don’t worry, I scrubbed them free of any residual cheer when I got home.
Anyhoo, I did this shopping because my family is coming down for Christmas, so I am officially hosting my first Christmas Family Gathering. It is a new milestone for me, and I wanted to make sure to commemorate it with several fake pine garlands, a couple of candles shaped like pine-cones, and a whole mess of other decorations and ornaments.
In the car on the way home I grooved along to Christmas carols on the radio. It was seventy degrees in Garner, North Carolina yesterday, but in my heart I was baking cookies and stomping snow off my boots. My boots I wear in my heart.
Whither came this sudden burst of schmaltzy sentimentality? I wondered. But deep down I knew it had been there all along, just waiting for the right moment to burst forth and make me purchase a candelabra decorated with fake holly leaves.
When I was growing up, We had an entire closet filled with Christmas decorations (and that is no small thing for an apartment, where closet space is heartbreakingly limited). Decorating for Christmas was a day-long project that I began looking forward to as soon as we remembered to discard our rotting jack-o-lanterns.
When decorating commenced, we also began listening to Christmas music, which I loved. I’m talking Sinatra, Roger Williams, Vince Guaraldi, John Denver & the Muppets (come on. You know the album), Nat King Cole…A Chipmunk Christmas. I loved it all. It made me feel all warm and cheer-y inside. I loved the way the livingroom looked when it was fully decorated– complete with Annalee Dolls and a wooden nativity set that appeared to include a superfluous fourth King, which puzzled us anew each year…who was that extra guy? He looked too nice to be a shepherd. Maybe he was someone’s random brother-in-law who turned up for a free meal and some myrrh? Anyway, our apartment felt like a different place.
I guess that’s the part I like about the holidays; whatever holiday you celebrate– the fact that for a short period of time, everything feels a little different, a little more festive. You need that sometimes– an excuse to simmer cinnimon and cloves on the stove to make the house feel warm and delicious, and to light candles and maybe buy a damn poinsettia. An excuse to listen to tinkly piano music all day long, just because you can. Particularly in the winter, when everything outside is dreary, and all the trees look dead, it’s nice to have an excuse to party, and bake, and eat, and drink.
Christmas, you enabler.
Breakfast: Hot Cinnamon rolls, provided by Brian. Coffee.
Mid-Morning Snack: Thing of yogurt.
Lunch: 1 large breadstick, provided by coworker as compensation for watering my plant with balsamic viniagrette dressing while I was away last week, because ‘things just got out of control’.
Afternoon Snack: Several chocolate covered cherries sent by a Supplier. Wedge of cheese and pieces of sausage, provided by same.
Dinner: Bruschetta purchased at Mike’s Restaurant in Davis Sq on way to Lydia’s. Also stale popcorn, chocolate shortbread cookies and two mugs of eggnog with whiskey.
Evening Snack: Glass of orange juice.
I think my roommate Laura may be right in thinking that Thanksgiving is the best all-around holiday. It’s not confined to any specific religion, and it’s not as stressful as holidays which require any kind of gift giving or country loving. I’ll admit I do know a few vegetarians who aren’t particularly enthusiastic about the whole deal, and it certainly leaves human/turkey relations at an annual low. But unless you’re in the first grade and are forced to make hand turkeys, or put on guilt-absolving pageants where you dress (with as much style and realism as construction paper affords) as Pilgrims and Native Americans who link arms and present each other with dried ears of corn, Thanksgiving has by this point been boiled down to its most basic and delicious element: Eating yourself into a Goddamn Food Coma and then Passing Out on the Couch. The day itself revolves around dinner; its preparation, presentation, and consummation. Traditional recipes are resurrected, winced at, and then dutifully followed, resulting in such all-time family favorites as yams covered in marshmallows, and green beans topped with crunchy onions. (I never said I came from a background of class, just innovation.)
You’re home for just long enough to get a taste of your family without having to settle into a spirit-crushing, role-reassuming routine with them. Hell, you may even enjoy a round or two of Scrabble with the relatives without anyone screaming, knocking the board over, or getting cut out of The Will. This is partly due to the fact that for perhaps ninety percent of the time you spend with your loved ones over Thanksgiving weekend, either everyone’s mouth is full, or a Cuisenart or some other kitchen appliance is working full blast, both of which prevent awkward questions like, “So, do you have a real job yet?” and “You still seeing that Bozo?” Tensions are also reduced by the fact that your visit lasts three or four days at the most before you get to leave again, with an extra bag full of leftovers and your coat pockets full of hot rolls if you’re lucky, or sneaky.
All right. I’ve got to mention that at the moment, I’m so full of food, I don’t really know what I’m saying. I don’t even know where I am. I do know that I’m going to try and keep writing, either until I reach my goal of 500 words, or my stomach bloats past the length of my outstretched arms and I can no longer reach the keyboard. Whichever comes first.
Having just moved to Honolulu the month before, I spent last Thanksgiving visiting a friend of mine at a hippie commune on Maui. We hung out on a black sand beach, hacked through the dense undergrowth with machetes, picked and ate fruit I’d never heard of right off the trees, and a local introduced himself to me while I was using an outdoor shower. It was a pretty hard Thanksgiving to top.
But fortunately, this Thanksgiving, I had cable. And when the blood from the rest of your entire body surges to your stomach, VH1’s Top Fifty Most Awesomely Bad Something-or-Others is a comforting evening companion. That and a reheated piece of pumpkin pie, maybe with a little ice cream on the side.
Tear out your hair, beat your breast, fill your pants with dirt and howl in misery, all those who missed the Pumpkin Carving Contest last week in the multipurpose room. Go ahead, I’ll wait here.
Yes, it was that much fun. My team made a robot pumpkin. I was so excited about it that when we finished, I decided to carve another pumpkin all by myself. It was soon plain to me that I had followed in the footsteps of most artists of questionable talent who attempt solo careers. While the pumpkin I worked on as part of a team came out looking sassy and robotic, my pirate pumpkin, embarked upon in a selfish quest for personal glory, was neither sassy nor robotic, but it did inspire several curious onlookers to question and ultimately discard the idea of the existence of God.
It didn’t look anything like a pirate. I don’t know what it looked like. In any case it was a lopsided, toothless token of my artistic inadequacy. It reminded me of a pumpkin I decorated with a green magic marker when I was four. There is a picture of me, taken that Halloween, with my arms around it, staring into the camera with the direct, pained gaze of a misunderstood artist. My creation had an enormous raggedy maw full of shark teeth, rimmed by two eyes of different sizes, with a nose on his forehead. Examining my latest pumpkin attempt has confirmed my suspicions. Artistically, I peaked at four.
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I grew up believing that I was a good artist. Perhaps I had one too many encouraging babysitters or overenthusiastic arts and crafts instructors at camp. As it is, nothing I ever draw looks like what it’s supposed to be. When I was little, I solved this problem by telling my Mom what my scribbled drawings were–there were a lot of cowboys–and having her write it at the bottom. Now that I can read and write, I do that part myself. No matter how much they disagreed with it, few art teachers could disregard the pure efficiency of this method.
I still remember the high school art teacher who broke my gentle, deluded spirit. She is the one to whom all credit is due for my sadly realistic view of my meager artistic talents. She made us paint from still-life arrangements which consisted of mountains of elaborately arranged fruits and vegetables, which, amazingly enough, after four or five months, rotted away. This infuriated her.
She was less than five feet tall and shaped like a mini-fridge, wore long beaded necklaces and made me hate myself from 2:00-4:30 on Mondays and Wednesdays. This was because she made me use color. A student of the doodling-with-a-pen-on-lined-paper-during-math-class school of art, color did not belong in my artistic world. Nor did fruit, or, for that matter, Mrs. Thompson.
After a semester, my canvas was filled with pears that looked like neon light-bulbs and bunches of grapes that looked like they were caught in midexplosion. I told myself that my fruit picture looked inept and distorted because I was working so close to it. Once in awhile I would tack it to the wall and look at it while backing away slowly, hoping that distance would resolve the colorful mess into something that didn’t make you want to stop eating fruit (or perhaps into something that didn’t look like the tragic result of not eating fruit. I don’t know what I meant by that, exactly.) The further away I got, the better I felt, not because the picture looked any better, but simply because I was farther away from it.
Near the end of the year, I came to class to find that my painting had been cut neatly into three pieces and stacked in the corner, to be used by students as scrap paper. I brought them to Mrs. Thompson and demanded an explanation. She looked shocked and apologized, claiming that she had only seen the blank back of my picture, and hadn’t realized that it had a painting on the other side. But a look of understanding passed between us.
Now that nearly a month has elapsed since February 14th, I’ll venture to say that I don’t know why anyone bothers to get worked up about Valentine’s Day. I measure holidays by the variety and amount of candy that you are encouraged to eat on them and the amount of work or school they get you out of. It’s a poor excuse for a holiday that fails you on both of those accounts. (Arbor Day, I’m looking in your direction.) I know Candy Conversation Hearts have their devotees, but I for one am not impressed by a candy that comes across as emotionally needy, although it is true that Conversation Hearts have become much less effusive in recent years. Hearts from not too long ago said things like “SWEET THANG” and “MARRY ME,” which are a far cry from “FAX ME,” which is what this latest, more guarded generation of Candy Hearts would prefer us to do. And as far as I can tell, no number is given, making even this impersonal, perfunctory contact impossible.
I don’t even know much about the origins of Valentine’s Day. The part of my brain which heard and remembered the tale of St. Valentine (and everyone has had the story explained to them at least once) now stores the lyrics to Fat Bottomed Girls. I thus find it impossible to reflect on the true meaning of Valentine’s Day and why it is important for us to show our devotion to loved ones and Hallmark executives.
I suppose that your feelings about Valentine’s Day often stem from your earliest encounters with it, and mine were always fairly innocuous. Until I reached the age where I was supposed to have found someone else to love me on February 14th, our parents gave my sister and me candy, taking advantage of an opportunity between Christmas and Easter to shower us with affection and chocolate that they would have to help us finish.
Then there were the Valentines. Since the Law of Kindergarten stated that you could not give something to one person unless you had “enough for the whole class,” I was generally forced to make Valentines not only for my very exclusive group of First Best Friends, but for the kids I hated as well. Not to mention the many children I felt nothing for. Sometimes I made them by hand, sometimes I bought them pre-packaged and signed my name at the bottom in cursive, but either way, my seemingly magnanimous gesture was often fraught with subtle details which indicated, in my judgement, the social status of the recipient. Mary, my spelling partner, got the heart trimmed with lace and covered with glitter that said, “Love,” while Lucas got the misprinted Care Bear card in which Tenderheart Bear looks as though he has a fishing-pole sticking out of his head and six eyes. Lucas was a mouth-breather.
My family did host a Valentine’s Day party one year when I was about seven, which was a glorified excuse for my mother to put me in patent-leather shoes and a party dress. She liked doing that. As usual, the entire class was invited. The only memory I have of that party is that George, one of the kids who wouldn’t have come had I been in charge of the guest list, showed up with his dad and an extravagant (at least in my mind) present for me. It was a small candy-filled mug with “I LOVE YOU” printed on the side. I assumed from it that George did in fact love me, and treated him with nothing but scorn from then on. I knew how to play the game.
When I was younger, I looked forward to Halloween with all of the eagerness of a shy, awkward kid whose insecurities vanished for one night a year behind a cat-mask. For several years my costume was a hot pink, leopard-print body suit with a pendulous black tail pinned to the rear. In my mind’s eye, I looked fantastic, sleek and mysterious, though the effect was somewhat lessened by my Velcro sneakers. Pictures of me in that costume, however, have not well withstood the passage of time—in fact, I wish there weren’t any. I would much rather remember that costume the way I saw it through the round feline eyes of its pink cardboard mask which made my face sweat and my breath echo in my ears. The feeling of anonymity that costume gave me was a drug more potent than Hershey’s. When I was decked out in full pink leopard regalia no one knew that I was the only person in my class who still couldn’t tie her shoes without making two bows (thus the Velcro). The fact that my sister was three years younger than me yet always got to be the Barbie who didn’t have a homemade haircut, became immaterial. Nothing could touch pink-leopard me.Unfortunately, my Halloween spirit has waned through the years. Perhaps this is because dressing up when you are young is more than dressing up; you assume another identity, and, rather than telling you that you just can’t wear your sequined tutu to school, for one evening every adult around you only encourages your fantasy. I believe the low point of my Halloween enthusiasm occurred during my freshman year at Bard, when I wore an orange shirt to a party and claimed to be a carrot. The shirt had writing on it, but I hadn’t bothered to turn it inside out. Several friends eyed me skeptically when I told them what I was, and asked why I hadn’t at least said I was dressed as a pumpkin. I lowered my head. That hadn’t even occurred to me.I can accept the fact that my indifference toward Halloween as of late is mainly because it is a holiday geared toward younger children and petty felons. However, it can also be argued that my decreased interest in dressing up coincided with my enrollment in a college where many choose to do so every day of the year.