Sometimes, in order to go forward, we need to look back. Even though a few years have passed since I sat down and wrote “Getting My Groove Back,” an essay about getting back to normal after the holiday craziness, I find that it is as true today as it was the day I wrote it. It appears in Saving Our Lives: Volume One–Essays to Inspire the Writer in You and still sums up my feelings on the subject. So, to ring in the new year, here it is again. Happy 2018, Everyone! Onward!
Getting My Groove Back
Christmas changes everything.
If you are a religious person, you are nodding and thinking of the promise of the Christ child.
If you are me, you are shaking your head and thinking, “Damn, I did it again.”
It is January. I am not the same person I was in November. I am heavier, poorer, slower. I haven’t written, exercised or kept regular hours in a month. I have ingested sugar in a frightening assortment of processed forms and carbs in abundance. I have spent much more money than I intended and dread the arrival of the first MasterCard bill of the new year. I enjoyed the holiday season very much. But somewhere in the middle of it I lost my mind.
For me, it seems, The Christmas Season brings with it the slow, imperceptible erosion of good habits, good judgment and common sense. I start out well enough. Adult. Responsible. Health conscious. Fiscally aware. But somewhere in the process, probably about the time I start to enjoy the 475 department store versions of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” I begin to lose my grip. It’s ironic, really. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is a seduction song in the guise of a charming holiday tune. It is the story of one man’s shameless efforts to feign concern for the welfare of an innocent young woman, ply her with drink, break down her resolve to go home to her parents where she belongs and convince her, instead, to stay with him where it’s—nudge, nudge—warm. When the girl in the song concedes to another drink, we know she’s fallen. And when I start to enjoy this and the countless other corporate seductions thrown in my path, we know that I, too, have succumbed to a siren song, this one sung by the Ghost of Christmas the Way American Media Tells Us It Should Be. Snowy. Bountiful. Bejeweled. Sugary. Carb-loaded. Gift-laden. Calorically dense. Alcoholically lenient. Impeccably decorated. Expensively dressed. Beautifully wrapped. Cost is no object! More! More! More! Yes! Yes! YES!!
They got me. Pulled me right in there. Got under my skin and into my wallet. Inhibitions fall away, the shopping begins in earnest and I officially lose control.
Why do I let this happen?
Well, for one thing, I like it.
I don’t like being manipulated by the media and the corporate America that it represents, but I do like the Currier and Ives, traditional, bountiful family Christmas that it portrays.
I like parties and presents and decorations and fancy food. I like lights and shopping and snow. I like having the family all together. I like having friends, acknowledging them and having them acknowledge me. I like happy people. I like making happy people. I like ooohs and ahhhhs and kids with cookies. I like full plates and clinking glasses and sparkles on trees and on sweaters and in people’s eyes.
I like it when everyone forgets for a little while that there are so many things in this world that suck.
I like life coming pretty damned close to perfect once a year. I will do whatever I can to make this happen for people in my life even if it means taking temporary leave of my senses.
Who knows when or if the chance will come again?
This kind of Christmas doesn’t happen by itself. I have recently taken charge of the extended family Christmas celebrations, so I know how much work and planning goes into it. It’s a big responsibility. I take it seriously, and as much as I want to save time and pinch pennies, every year I reach that moment when I say, “What the hell! It’s Christmas!” And I mean it. But it’s like having that first glass of wine too early in the evening. Once I quaff the Christmas Kool-Aid there’s no turning back. I shift into preparation overdrive and I inevitably overdo, as evidenced by the mountains of leftovers, the gifts that looked great under the tree but are not very useful later and the growing number of Rubbermaid tubs that it takes to store the decorations. This is my problem—enjoying the cruise without tumbling overboard. I’m working on it.
December, I’ve realized, is an anomaly. We have a sanctioned opportunity in December to find a crazy place that is just not available to us at any other time. That means loosening the restraints of the rest of the year, at least a little. It shouldn’t mean gaining twenty pounds, pickling our livers or going into hock, but it should allow everyone to experience the love and respite of at least one good party, whatever that means to us. Even if we give it to ourselves.
But getting there sure does throw off a groove.
And that is what January is for. It is the morning after. It is when we realize that it’s great to break the routine and have a wonderful time, but those songs that wish for Christmas all year ’round don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s beautiful to put up decorations and to enjoy them with people we love, but it is also a huge relief to take them down and vacuum the cookie crumbs out of the carpet. It feels good to eat salads again, to walk around the neighborhood instead of the mall and to give my charge card a chance to cool down. The tree was lovely this year, but it is nice now to have the window unobstructed to let in that precious, fleeting January daylight.
Seeking perfection and happiness is hard work and living up to such stratospheric expectations is only possible for short periods of time. January reminds us that cookies make us fat, that dried up pine needles hurt when we step on them, that staying up late makes us unproductive, that parties and presents come at a price, that maybe we did let corporate America get the better of us and that there really are many, many things in this world that suck. That’s the way things are. But having had a break from them in the noble pursuit of comfort and joy makes it all a little easier to live with.
December, then, is a vast departure from real life, like a much-needed family excursion to Disney World. This is good. January brings reality back. This is good, too.
But now we are encouraged to improve, to embrace the New Year, to renew ourselves with obligatory resolutions. I am not looking for a New Me. I caught a glimpse of that chick in December. And while she was cool, she is not at all sustainable. Maybe next December she’ll be back, armed with responsible intentions that will once again come unglued two weeks after Thanksgiving. But she is not who I want to be now. So instead of resolutions, I am using January to make restorations, replacing the sprees of December with the sanity and steady habits of November from which I took an unsolicited yet predictable vacation. I was pretty happy with how things were going then and I’d like to now move forward by taking a step back. This means settling back into my groove by writing every day, walking every day, keeping the bird feeder full, maintaining a clean, low-glycemic diet (you hear that, chocolate?), getting out to the cineplex every once in a while, staying out of the mall except around birthdays, keeping in touch with friends and loving my family. No need to set the world on fire.
At least not until next December.