Caroline brought me a big bunch of flowers. Her students gave her about a barnful of them for a Christmas present. I'm literally carrying mine from room to room with me as I work around the house, so as to spend as much time with them as possible--the two red roses and one pink one, the pink and orange lilies, the Gerber daisies and assorted exotic waxy-stemmed things. This may sound silly, but I have been CRAVING flowers ever since I brought my beautiful vase home from my dead gallery two months ago; I scrubbed the vase very carefully with a toothbrush and set it in the window, where the light catches it, and wished for flowers every day at breakfast, but could not justify the expense. I'm afraid Caroline thought my reaction was a bit over the top.
Last week I think I hit the Holiday Nadir. At least, I hope it doesn't get any worse than that. It's sort of frightening, how closely my mood is now allied with my work; if my painting is going well, I answer the phone with a delighted trill, and wish the telemarketer a happy holiday, and am not interested in movies. If my painting is stalled and bleak and bland and I can't see my way out of the pit, I start thinking about the Man That Done Me Wrong, and cry a whole lot, and sleep even more, and the world dwindles down to haunting guilt feelings over owning two healthy ficus plants when I very well may be out on the street in another few months.
I have never been one of those people who hates holidays, a priori. Among my group of friends I consider myself radical, original and wildly creative for actually doing Christmas. "You're so *traditional*," sneered Sarah-from-Hell, my (thankfully) ex-roommate, when I came home with a tree one year and commenced stringing lights, mulling cider, and baking cookies. Traditional? Me? How so? *Traditional* Christmas activities, at least among my segment of Generation X, involve sinking into profound states of angst, carping about wage slavery, refusing to buy gifts on principle, going bowling, making arch comments involving 'happy winter solstice holiday,' and escaping from oppressive familial atmosphere to somewhere one can get laid with sleazy strangers. My habits of playing Anglican choir music, drinking eggnog, and reading Dickens can only be seen as charmingly retro, bizarre but basically harmless. Or at least, that's what I used to think.
But last year really took it out of me. I have never yet written down the story of What Happened Last Year; I'm not sure I'm capable of it, truthfully. Each little bit sounds so trivial, petty even. "This friend came to stay with me. She whined. She took all of her money out of her bank account and forced it on me, leaving me no choice but to pay her train fares, museum entrances, dinner tab and cab to the airport. She complained that there wasn't any sugar, she didn't like honey, the soap made her face break out, the cat was staring at her and she couldn't sleep. She didn't like my toothpaste, she had to go buy some Crest RIGHT NOW. She was afraid to take the train alone, even though she had no problem with walking up to a stranger in a yarmulke and saying, 'what's that little hat called? We don't HAVE Jewish people where I come from.' She wanted to do whatever I wanted, only whatever we did, she was loudly miserable about doing it."
And after weeks of preparation, of apartment-cleaning, wreath-hanging, light-stringing, grocery-shopping, menu-planning, laundry-washing, not to mention running a double business single-handed during my first commercial holiday season, I could not handle it. On the sixth whine of Christmas, my houseguest moved in with Caroline. "Serena yelled at me because I had cramps," whimpered the houseguest. "Serena just snapped," said lovely, patient, understanding Caroline.
It's not like I have an agenda, not really. I just figure that well, peace, love and understanding, and lots of wine and cookies, what's not to like? It baffled me and brought me to my knees, having someone in my home who evidently believed that Courtesy=Martyrdom. Loud, 'extroverted' martyrdom. And then there was the boyfriend, Scrooge Junior--it made me laugh, with tragic irony, when I later remembered that I'd invited the houseguest in the first place because I'd thought that her sunny, bawdy, spiritual nature would offset his determined negativity. Ha. At least, when I showed up on his doorstep two days after Christmas, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, he condescended to snuggle me a bit.
Now it's a year later, and it's not as cold as last year, but plenty cold enough, and dark, and rainy. I am no longer a Christmas Holiday Merchant, which makes me glad, but I no longer have an income, which causes me to wake in the middle of the night with my heart thumping wildly. I get up in the morning and I can either work in the studio or not work in the studio; if I do go to work, I still have no income, only maybe possibly, if I don't totally screw up this very expensive piece of linen, someone might pay for it, a few years from now, maybe.
And every now and then I have this stupid memory of once, sort of hoping, I mean I just kind of imagined in a wild flight of retro fantasy, that, like, I don't know, someone might, well, you know, ask me to marry him. You know, fireplace, little antique platinum ring with, you know, sapphires, something unique, nothing boring and conventional. I can't believe I was so stupid and it makes my stomach shrivel up just thinking. Not that I am a total asshole who believes that men should support women financially, not at all. It just seemed like a romantic adventure to fall in love and actually work things out together, as partners, for better and worse and everything in between.
But anyway I've been kind of slow in getting the decorations out of the box at the bottom of the armoire, this year. Over the weekend I got out the Anglican choir CD, listened to five seconds, shut it down and tuned to WNYC instead. The painting is going better. Caroline liked it. Maybe by next weekend I will have perked up and made the cookies.