Wake me when there's cake.
seasonal depression & conspicuous holiday consumption
I woke up on the first with the blues. It feels like we’re at the bottom of winter right now, although I know that's technically December, but I think the lack of light has a delayed effect on me. Maybe it’s genetic. My late Grandma Lee used to say February was her least favorite month until I was born, and then my birthday helped break it up for her. Her birthday was in April, but after she died, and after my aunt with whom we spent Easter died, we did not have any local family celebrations between February and July. I started celebrating Easter again with Eva, especially in the quarantine springs, which may be why she now wants to hunt for eggs year round (send help). When we decided to have another baby, I hoped she would be born in spring to break up that long stretch of time. “The baby will come after Easter,” I told Eva, crossing my fingers that it would be true. And we managed to pull it off: Joanna was born in late April.
This is how I want to break up the whole year: into bite sized pieces interspersed with cake. I recently read a throwaway line about people who jump from one holiday to the next (e.g. Christmas decorations in November) and how that’s a sign of a sad, boring life. It’s a common sentiment among people I know, probably because of how capitalism has warped things; there’s this idea that only rubes engage in conspicuous holiday consumption. I want to challenge this idea. A woman down the hall from us goes all out on her door every month. Her Halloween display, which expanded Eva's autumn lexicon to include zombies and scarecrows, was promptly replaced with a shower of autumn leaves on November 1st. Now there's a heart explosion over a gnome statue since it’s always a good time for gnomes. My only interactions with this woman have been through her discussions about these decorations with my 3-year-old, but she’s cooler than me, not a rube. There's usually music coming from her place; when we moved here over the summer, we assumed she was having a tiki party, but that was just her theme for July. She has verve; she has consistency; and I wish I could be more like her. This newsletter is partly my attempt.
I’m not one of those people who loves their own birthday. The potential for pathos always seems too high. (Most heartbreaking storyline: people behave atrociously to someone on their birthday.) I used to want a twin, in part to have someone to share the birthday burden with. Instead, I was the only kid in my elementary school class with a February birthday and spent at least six years decorating the February birthday bulletin board alone. But I got the next best thing in Joe, whose birthday is five days (and one year, to be exact) before mine, so now we get to bundle our birthdays together, taking the pressure off both of us (he's also not a big birthday person). We’ve started taking a February road trip to mark the occasion and this year will be driving up to Maine to see some relatives and old friends.
If you’re not a fan of February, at least it’s not a leap year? See you back here in March.
It's Black History Month, which is hard to celebrate if books about Black history are banned from your school and library. Yet that’s what’s been happening across the country. If you’re not fired up about this yet, this This American Life episode will get you there. After listening, Joe and I promptly purchased and read New Kid by Jerry Craft, which is excellent, although not black history, just a contemporary comedy. But one white mom in Texas worried it would make her white sons uncomfortable so she started a movement to have it banned. This primer from Book Riot has some helpful suggestions for fighting back against book bans; it’s also a great time, as always, to donate to your local library.
Very Cold People by Sarah Manguso landed in my inbox a few days ago like a surprise snow. (I’d requested it from Netgalley and then forgot about it.) It comes out this week and is the perfect winter pairing (New England winter, especially! Although part of the reason we wanted to live in Western Massachusetts instead of farther east is that people here don’t seem to care if you’re related to a Lowell or whatever, but maybe some do and I just haven’t encountered them yet). I’ll end with Manguso on snowfall, since she writes like an angel:
I remember the metallic smell of it in the air before it fell. The pale blue of it on a clear morning. The soft fuh of it falling. [. . .]
Snowfalls have unique bouquets. Snow isn’t just frozen water; it carries a remnant of the sky. A blue hailstone tastes different from a white one because they’ve taken on air at different altitudes.
We ate icicles not because they tasted good but because they were a primal thing that could not be bought.