This piece is about my character, Deanna Berger, from my novels The Transition Piece, and its sequel, my latest novel, Hard Science and Modern Art.
(There might be some minor spoilers for blog readers who haven’t read these books.)
And it’s also about a few songs that aren’t really about Christmas/the holiday season, and holiday stress, and the ever-changing nature of life…the waves of positive and negative…of good and bad…of regret and gratitude.
I know, right? Can’t we just do Holly Jolly Christmas things? You’re a self-professed sap, Jen. Your December is packed full of romantic sentimentality. You just released another book containing hopeful fictional love stories and even when it’s not Christmas, you’re kind of annoyingly preachy about peace on Earth and goodwill toward men (and WOMEN TOO dammit!). So like…do we need to be all deep and philosophical and arguably dark right now?
See, I love December. It’s full of memories about when I met J. It’s the month our son was born in. Those are unquestioningly the two best things that have ever happened to me, the two biggest pieces of my soul, the two most important people in my life, who both came to me in December. But I know not everyone loves it, and even in my own spectacular Decembers, there have been some shitty parts. I like to focus on the positives in life, because that’s how I operate the best and healthiest. But I haven’t forgotten about the problems (I’m going to write a piece about J and a piece about The Boy that highlight this in a day or two). And I know for many people (sometimes my own self included), December can be hard.
We’ve all lost someone we miss and think about them in December because of holidays centered around people we love, or sometimes actual grief anniversaries, and shortening winter days, and the year coming to an end.
Many people (myself included) have strained or difficult or even abusive or non-existent relationships with their families. Being around them out of obligation causes a lot of stress; nearly inevitable hostile confrontation causes stress; feeling judged or ignored or lonely causes sadness…and ramps up anxiety.
Deanna’s December is hard. She’s had some unequivocally good things happen for her in December. But she’s also had some terrible things happen to her. And she definitely feels that holiday strain, dealing with her family. For Deanna, it’s decidedly NOT The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.
She normally focused on what she’d lost in December, and I know there are many people who do this. And she felt extra obligation to spend time with her parents, who were not the most supportive people to her, even through the hardest parts of her life (which happened in December). So even the parts of her life that were good and that she was immensely grateful for felt overshadowed by sadness and anxiety and doubt.
She felt weighed down by feelings of inadequacy and regret.
I’ve been there. I know a lot of people have been there and ARE there, right now. I know a lot of people who get down every year in December. I had a friend of mine tell me once that her father, for every year of his life that she could remember, cried each New Year’s Eve. And he had a great life, and he was normally a cheerful, grateful, positive and optimistic man.
December just has that effect on a lot of people.
It makes people think about endings and mortality, because it’s the end of the year, and we remember people we once spent holidays with that are no longer there, or relationships that are difficult that we wish were loving and full of ease and contentment instead. Social obligation forces these things into the light in December.
And that’s not even mentioning financial and diet/health pressures and management. (Oh just eat the fudge…the cookies…have another helping of the…it’s CHRISTMAS…Oh we have to get a gift for the teacher/mailman/your Aunt Barbara/but so-and-so is a vegan and this other person has a peanut allergy and we have to accommodate all of that into the holiday meals and we can’t leave out X if we got a gift for Y and…)
Deanna spent a lot of Decembers feeling alone and hardening herself to all of the emotional up and down and the connections…the obligatory ones that wore her down and the real ones she lost and feared losing.
But when she met Jake…and later…even more so…when she met Bobby…her outlook on December brightened up.
This has been one of my favorite songs since the first time I heard it. It’s kinda like me. It’s melancholy and sentimental and full of nostalgia and memory and wistful lyricism (that’s what Counting Crows are all about…it’s why I love them and have since I was in high school). But as gray and somber as it is, it’s also stubbornly optimistic. And I think that’s not only me, that’s Deanna too. That’s how that particular one of my characters is like me. She’s been through some shit. She remembers all of it. But ‘there’s reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last.’ This is one of her favorite songs too. And the connections she’s made give her that hope that things will always improve…the gray won’t last forever…December may be long, but it always rolls around to January.
Deanna knows endings lead to new beginnings. So do I.