Cartouche's Blog

Writing My Way Out of Something


Someplace, somewhere else, USA
February 09
Mind My Own Business
Artist, former newspaper columnist and restaurant critic. Award-winning author of "In Pursuit of Excellence". In my spare minute I can be found blogging here, on Huffington Post and other places that don't pay and (more often) writing for some places that do. Occasionally I tweet random thoughts and observations as @nonconfromist. I keep the really good ones to myself.


DECEMBER 3, 2010 9:49AM

Loathe is in the Air

Rate: 76 Flag

It starts with the turning back of the clock.  The blatant reminder that darkness comes earlier and settles in for the winter is just the beginning. That one single hour shifts attitudes and priorities.  Halloween comes and goes and suddenly Thanksgiving looms on the horizon.  Plans start to take shape and lines form. Before long, people scatter in a million different directions, like cockroaches suddenly caught under the harsh glare of unforgiving light.

For the next five weeks, people hunt, gather, hoard, shop, decorate, cook, bake and go missing inside their to do lists and frenzied bubbles.  Navigating traffic and negotiating agreements with their own sanity and what’s left of their family tree, people paint themselves into corners of delusion.  It’s a delicate balancing act that’s equal parts tradition, obligation, nostalgia and stress test.

It's theatre of the absurd at its finest.

Each year, I retreat further into seclusion as I witness this crime against culture that I refuse to be an accomplice to.  It plays out on TV, in magazines and on pocketbooks that in many cases, are beyond recognition or repair.  Friends disappear into the ether of shopping malls and cave to the pressure of consumption. 

At no other time of the year does the fairy tale notion that we all are entitled to live happily ever after play more tricks on more people than it does during the holidays. And yet, people still willingly succumb to this crazy idea that this time we’ll get it right or things will be “better”.  This massive buildup has not once yielded victory over the war of a hunger that gnaws so deeply at our own humanity.

Our hearts are chestnuts roasting on an open fire.   

We choose to ignore the signs and get doused annually with the burden of that truth that we are still too blind to see.  It manifests in disillusion and disappointment.  And that’s before the credit card statements arrive.

For those in waiting, if there is no small box under the tree, dreams get shattered that very likely, were already destined to be broken.   The stack of long overdue expectation delivers the cruel truth that every kiss does not begin with K.  DeBeers cleverly extends second chances to cold feet into the manufactured promise of Valentine’s Day.  Credit is given where credit is due.  Time is running out.

It’s an American phenomenon.

It drives me crazy.

Loathe is in the air.



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Let's you and me just go somewhere for a quiet drink and talk about humanity.
Not just, cartouche. Not just. Last year I got two pairs of socks for Christmas. But the family got together, and I had a great time.
As Tiny Tim said, "God bail us out, everyone."
It drives me crazy too
It's theatre of the absurd
yes shipping out boxes of goodies to family that really do not care.
But even if I am crazy I will never stoop to their lows.
Yup crazy. I am nothing but nuts.
rated with hugs
Hardly an American phenomenon as carnage has beset the Artic countryside in a race to outspend. Where adults have longer wish lists than children and price tags are compared post gift exchange to assure one Jones was keeping up with the Other.
These here Norse give shallow materialism a run for its money.

I have thown a monkey wrench in the frenzy this year by declaring a moratorium on any gifts for anyone over the age of 20. They don't know what to do with that. I don't want it, I ain't got it to give and I won't play.
Damn right. I pick and choose what I like to do (and not do) for the holidays. I spent enough years on the Christmas hamster wheel.
I love America, especially when it gets to American culture, the roadside attractions, the bizarre architecture (a restaurant shaped like a hot dog) and I love the Christmas lights, the myriad Santas, the elves, the crowded stores (GDP growing), how kind everyone is, spending more than I have, buying toys for children which reminds me of my childhood, eating fruitcake, driving past houses that are lighted up like Vegas, reindeer on people's front lawn, etc. Don't say, "Bah, Humbug" to America at the zenith of its tackiness.
Yes. So well told. This year I will have a tree because it gives me so much pleasure. I will bake cookies with my daughter because that too gives me pleasure. The rest of it makes me sad. So much waste and money spent on things that could be used to feed people...I wish people would cut down on gifts and pledge to use that money to adopt a family for the holidays. Or donate to a food bank. Or give to the Salvation Army. Or, or, or... There are so many other ways to celebrate this season. ~r
Same thing happens in Britain. It's crazy time.
Well said, I wish it weren't so.
Right there with you. We were never much on the presents to excess thing so that's not it, but this year will be the first without hearing my crazy lady's laughter as I stab myself for the umpteenth time making popcorn garlands. THAT'S really, really, really gonna suck.
Yup. You have elucidated exactly why we don't celebrate the "festive" season in this household.
I agree. Scrooge is my idol.
I think it's about fighting the dark, and it's been going on in some form or other for eons. How about reading some great novels, and avoiding ads?
totally right
so i treat me me me me me
this time of year to
Tasteful Gifts
as a cry against the Darkness
like the Kindle i bought other day
and the new silver
and the shearling bedspread
and the knife set
and the DooWop Internet Radio Ball Cap
and it is all balanced cosmically by my yrly
Donations to
WRVV DooWop Radio
Happy Holidays to you, too!
I have Holiday Resolutions instead of New Year's Resolutions: I buy at Mom & Pop Shops only (unless they don't carry it), gifts must be on sale or I won't buy, I buy few but meaningful gifts, send the annual Christmas Card to my high school French teacher, and I accept the fact that I don't get along with everyone in the family and that's just the way it is. Everyone else can continue to miss the meaning of why we choose to celebrate love and family and, for many, Christ, but I don't want to.
Spot on . . . spot on.
I could not POSSIBLY agree with you more. Not possibly. I am trying to look for small, good things like spending time with people I love and ignore the ridiculous and (for some folks) brutal hype.
the older i get, the less i like hearing the same bad christmas music while i wait in line at the pharmacy - that they start playing right after halloween. but i gave all our christmas tree decorations to my daughter and i love those few days we spend in the cold north at her house with a six-year-old excited to see The Nutcracker. less is more ...
good writing, as always, patricia.
The words of a melancholy arteeeeest. Predictable.

I think Bonnie went back on her meds long enough to post worthwhile comment.

I agree. Last night I spent a long time on the phone with a family member who called because this time of year sends her depression into unmanageable levels. Getting through this month is not easy for so many people.
We are kindred spirits on this topic. I loathe our culture and the craziness of the "holiday" season. Yeah, let's give that homeless guy over there a coat, and then forget about him as if all his problems are now solved. Celebrating the life of Jesus by purchasing trinkets at Wal-Mart made by our Chinese slaves. I will enjoy the lights and the decorations but not the crazed materialism and false concern. The television is especially maddening this time of year with ads showing people giving a Lexus to a loved one or showing love with an expensive diamond. Bah humbug! Bailey's, Grand Mariner and coffee on a cold day listening to music is my type of celebration, as elite as that may be. Excuse me if I don't get all excited about this month long commercial. Will you love me if I give you a fine gift? Ho,Ho, Ho, what a cruel joke.
Considering all that materialistic frenzy is a prelude to the culmination of the holiday season, my birthday (Jan. 9), I appreciate the effort. Though I never get a piece of the action.

Can I join OE and you for that quiet drink?
I'm skipping it this year; wake me up in January.
"Our hearts are chesnuts roasting on an open fire"--wonderful line, cartouch, though I suspect that, as the Stephen Crane poem has it, we'd find the taste bitter, but like it nonetheless "because it is mine." I agree with everything you say, and I admire the skill with which you say it. Let me add this: for me, motivation is significant. I'm willing to take a walk on role in this "theater of the absurd" because this is the time of year the culture gives me (or forgives me for) making purchases I normally wouldn't so that I can give people that I care about what they would like to have. I am not mindlessly caught up in a commodity fetish, and I am certainly well beyond being influenced by militantly stupid TV ads. I am using the spirit of the season; it isn't using me. That's my story, anyway, and I guess I'm sticking to it.
I addressed this too in my Black Friday post. The inequity of the meaningless gifts and money we spend while so many go homeless and hungry. Good one Patricia.
I love this time of year -- but I don't seem to have the endless drag and humbug-ness so many of you notice/carry around -- our world is theater of the absurd all of the time, why zero in now and blame it on the Solstice (that's my humor--)?
Why do so many decide that no one cares, that no one feels at this time of year?
I love the smiles I see on faces, the extra willingness to be a little friendly to strangers on the street, I love the joy of giving -- we make our presents, so instead of seeing greed and Grinches, we're in the shop or at the sewing machine, or canoeing in the snow looking for just the right rocks that are at the far side of the lake for the fountains we're making for the kids' rooms...we make trips to the local homeless shelter with sleeping bags and jeans and we see smiles and steaming cups of warmth held in glad hands (our own!).
If I see full parking lots I don't see greed, I see people who care about others and want to give.
I see the Jewish band playing traditional songs at our plaza downtown right after the Santa gives out toys, just before the Tibetan Buddhist lamas here invite the town to an open house for their new Buddhist temple and center...
I wish for you a smile, and for you and for us all-- peace.
Cartouche-Thanks again for such a well written, honest post. I can always depend on you. R
Rated for the best title ever!
Well said, cartouche. For years I have racked my brain trying to figure out how we can break this brutal cycle of self-delusion and almost universal loathing. Everybody I know dreads this time of year, and yet, it continues. I just watched a news story about people here in Atlanta who are lined up at some place downtown seeking aid because their heat has been cut off for non-payment. It was 34 degrees this morning. I would be willing to bet that many of those people have spent the gas bill money on Christmas gifts, gambling on the extension of unseasonable warm weather we've been having here. Their children will have gifts, but will they survive the bitter cold long enough to make it to Christmas?

...and may your day be merry and tight...

Agree Cartouche. I do the standard things for my kids and grandkids and will contune to do that but.....we also celebrate each other.

Screw the gifts and the hoopla. I'd rather have my family, friends my home together, as one, as it should be.

I'm becoming more reclusive during the winter months and I love it.

People've become prisoners of the dueling dilemma of keeping up with the Jonses to the point that I'm glad when January comes and a new year begins.
12 thumbs up (for the 12 days of xmas, of course.)

Well put. My sentiments exactly.

But what to do? I keep trying to figure out a solution for it...and each year, I'm more baffled. Simplicity, I find, is key. And no more presents! Done with that marketing scam.
I can't stand holiday time!! I wish I could stay home until the whole season was over! And the money just seems to disappear--what ever happened to thoughtful, inexpensive gifts?
You said a mouthful, dear cartouche. I will be doing only the things that bring me peace and pleasure this season...If I am feeling pressured to do anything that does otherwise, it is not happening. Last year I skipped Christmas to have a very scary surgery and resolved never to be goaded into insanity by electronic media or judgmental people ever again.
You could always go hang in a Muslim country, that would eliminate the Christmas and Hanukkah stuff. Then again, uppity women tend to get into trouble and I'd hate to hear that you were placed under arrest because you showed your ankles or texted a sheik in public.

Crawl into bed and pull up the covers.
You can always call me during the season - I have almost zero participation in these holiday antics and I spend very little time on it :-)
A great post for me to read a few more times this month...
Nicely done. Some close friends and I share this notion, and we communicate it to one another from time to time by re-enacting a little skit that Robin Williams did once. In the skit, Williams plays Jean Paul Sartre. He pantomimes smoking a cigarette. Imagine him in a black turtleneck, little black jacket, and a black beret. You puff the cigarette, pull it away, squint and say, "life is sheet."
My sentiments exactly. We don't celebrate Xmas anymore, but join Jewish friends in their December 25 ritual - a movie and Chinese food.
I hear you. And I love when you write with such stark yet somehow lush composition. But holidays for us right now... very hard. A different kind of disappointment.

Still, we have that baby, who loves and laughs over an empty box, a little book, a ball, which helps a lot, plus I can give him back to his parents when I've had enough. And Alex and Amy need lots of love in lots of boxes, so I'm less cynical this year.

But... I hear you.
I now only do what makes me happy. That way I can enjoy my friends and my life and not dread the crazyness. Hope you find a silver lining. r
It's a no-gift kind of year out here. But oh, how I hate even going to the grocery store between T-day and X-day.

Thank you for giving voice to the loathe.
Keep the good in your heart, ignore the bad, move forward into the new year, that's my motto. RR
I will extend my solidarity to Buy Nothing Day a forthnight or four.
Amen and I have a big hooter just waiting for you. My thoughts are the same. Disappear. My Best to You Cartouche......o/e R******
It will make you feel better to read David Sedaris' story "Six To Eight Black Men" which hilariously tells the Christmas Story the Dutch tell their children. Once I read it, I thought we should all be reading this to children in lieu of "Twas The Night...."

Bah humbug and pass the Bailey's.
Loathe is in the air here, too, cartouche. You have eloquently put my own feelings into words. And let us not forget that all this is done in "celebration" of Christ's birthday, the man who articulated as well as anyone ever has the soulful benefits of poverty and simplicity. It is absolutely mind boggling.
I hate Christmas. Well put. r.
I'm not going to say you're wrong, I don't think you are. I do wonder though if your upbringing and beliefs don't somewhat color your perspective on this.

"I think Abe Lincoln was right. People are as happy as they want to be."

I'm not sure how much weight I would want to give to Abraham Lincoln's opinions on happiness.
the theatre of the absurd has gone global. how sad. i too loathe this commercial circus.
@ Linsa S. "yes shipping out boxes of goodies to family that really do not care."

I did that for five years before I figured that out. Jerks.
Greetings, my fellow grinch.
I'm with Jeff Brawer, and I would only add that I hope Santa shoves a lump of coal down the throats of Boner, McConnell, Cantor, Palin, Gingrich, Murdock, Ailes, Beck and Limpbone.
The kiss begins with Kay commercials drive me batty. Shitty jewelry doesn't = kisses. You know what equals kisses? Treating me like an equal partner and human being all year long.
Loathe is in the air
Everywhere I look around
Loathe is in the air
Every sight and every sound

And I don't know if I'm being foolish
Don't know if I'm being wise
But it's something that I must believe in
And it's there when I look in your eyes

Oh wait, is this the year we celebrate Christmas?
You have just written my inner monologue about Christmas.
Best Wishes,
It's one of those things where I could let the darkness overcome me and I could loathe the season. However, I steadfastly refuse to be that way. I force myself to engage and I really end up loving it. Every year. Every time.
A commercial kind of Christmas is not my thing, same as a bunch of other mainstream popular stuff like television sets, iGadgets, meat, Facebook, and Jerry Bruckheimer movies. At our age, aren't we used to being an anomaly? We can surround ourselves with like minded souls and alternate traditions. Without any inconvenience at all, it is possible to go for decades without entering a mall, at Christmas, or any other time.
And Happy Holidays to you too Cartouche. Reminds me of that Spinal Tap exchange at Elvis's gravesite:

Nigel: This really puts things into perspective.
David: Too much fucking perspective.

Artfully written.
My family gave up exchanging gifts, because all we want to do is be together. Best thing we ever did, relieved a tremendous burden. We love Christmas.
2 words. Drink heavily.
After reading your post and these comments, it makes me really happy that I wrote my own post today about the spirit of the season. What's wrong with getting together with friends and having some genuine time together? I used to feel the way you do but I decided that it was up to me to nourish my family and friends. We don't do this only once a year but all the time. If it makes you all happy to sit and sulk so be it. I'll raise a toast to your health.
I really enjoyed this. I don't feel compelled to take a side here, and I don't think that's what you intended. I've been feeling progressively more loathing for the darkness, the materialism, the hyper-religiosity, the forced gatherings (as opposed to unforced, truly pleasant little ones), and the horrendous music piped into places I won't go near anyway. There are, for me, a few small good things remaining, but that's just me. This ain't no either/or, and maybe that's what bothers me the most: either one joins the zombies or one is thought to be some sort of horrible, anti-social miscreant. Forced to check a box, I'd choose the latter, but boxes of all sorts really get on my last nerve. Yep, I loathe me some boxes. Especially big box stores.

Let's say I empathize. Deeply. R.
I have kids and students, things will have to be bought. But every object I hold in my hands goes through the same questioning, is this worth its price? should I even get this? (makes for slow shopping, though)

So far, Christmas season has meant giving time to school to clean the grounds with the students and other teachers (we don't have enough janitors), decorating the school, going to my girls' school for their Christmas pageant. Full of laughing and sharing and arguing. So far, so good.
I've ignored Xmas for years, ever since the kids grew up. I just have to get thru the Month of Christmas Music (staying out of malls doesn't help - one must venture into grocery stores from time to time), and then the year-in-retrospect stuff right after Xmas, and emerge in cold, bleak January.

In recent years, tho, I celebrate Yule with fellow Wiccans, in a solstice ritual, followed by feasting (but we do that alla time anyway) and possibly exchanging a few token gifts (damn, why didn't I pick up more chintzy Eiffel Towers when I was there...) Back to the original celebration, leaving off Jesus and the non-Jesus-like stuff that goes on...
Work retail through the holidays if you wish (why would you?) to witness this frenzy up close. Starting on Black Friday, people become insane --- insane! -- with their consuming frenzy and their fevered determination to have a pile 'o stuff stand in for their love or respect. I watched grown men practically burst into tears of frustration trying to figure out what object might possibly placate some demanding relative. Ugh.

Christmas is Christ's birth, a man devoted to raising the dignity of the poor. This, as extended benefits have just been denied to the long term unemployed. Now, there's a gift...
Somehow, I have escaped this "pressure" on the holidays. I haven't been in a mall in many many years perhaps that is part of it. I enjoyed putting holly and candles in my home and lights on my trees. I shop only Christmas week at old bookstores and junk shops and love picking up odd things and chatting with the owners. Hope you enjoy whatever way you choose, as that is the important thing.
This season certainly represents consumer overkill. But then we practice consumer overkill all year 'round (Decorations and presents at Halloween? And what ABOUT Valentine's Day? Designed to make every single person feel rotten about him/herself).

But here's the thing: It IS dark out there (and for us living in the north, cold as well). I don't like that the days are getting shorter. Neither did the ancients, which is why, before the festivities were coopted and converted into a Holy Day, there was a winter solstice celebration, which featured its own excess--eating, drinking, magic incantations, the whole works, along with one wonderful piece: a recognition that the days turn around again and things begin to grow.

The hyper-religiosity is something that I, as a very tiny minority have always found uncomfortable (raise your hand if you're unaffiliated with a religion? I thought so). But that's what I get for living in a "Christian-majority" country with a so-called "Judeo-Christian" sensibility (whatever that means). It's a little tough this time of year, sure, but late March/April is no picnic either.

Still, I like the lights, the joy I see on tiny little faces, the feelings (however ginned up) of goodwill, and the temporary truce this time of year seems to produce. I wish it were the real thing but I'll take what I can get.
We Americans do love our gluttonous displays of excess, don't we? Christmas is supposed to be about giving, not of things, but of ourselves. I am guilty of overdoing it--especially where my kids are concerned, but I think this year, I might just try scaling that insanity back and instead focus on the "TRUE" meaning of the holiday. :) Thanks for this post--it hit closer to home than you know.
Right. Coal it is, then.
The Xmas season is so full of commericalism and so far away from the spiritual reasons for celebration in the USA. Shop until you drop. Isn't that what made America great?
i read you because your work tends to be clear, sans pretention, well written and so on point!

exhibit A?
the one above.
You get to choose what Christmas is for you. It can be nothing at all, but it can also be all about searching for a kinder, more compassionate frame of mind (peace on earth, goodwill toward men), and participating in activities that foster that state. Any traditions that don't support that for you are not mandatory and can be eliminated. Christmas becomes ugly for me if I allow it to be about buying stuff, having expectations of how my family should behave, and following other peoples' traditions just because they are traditional. Today I am going out to do food pantry and Salvation Army giving tree shopping, and I have found in past years that these shopping trips are actually happy for me, although I hate shopping in general. I don't do the big Christmas dinner anymore, and buy a lot fewer presents than I used to. I haven't sent out Christmas cards in ten years. It's a much slower, gentler holiday than it used to be.