Making Too Much Meaning

Christmas looms close and this means my anxiety is already spiking. Not all of this is about Christmas (some of it is heat, some is all of the research work I have to do in the next few weeks, some of it is my first international bit of travel coming up in November) but a huge part of it is about the holiday.

I’m a little like this about my birthday too.

It’s taken a while to work out why, exactly, holidays like this upset me in such a visceral way. I think I’ve worked it out.

I imbue them with too much meaning but realise that it is hopeless and so refuse all of it rather than have my hopes dashed.

I am surrounded by people for whom gift giving is at least pleasant if not a hugely vital part of their being; I loathe getting and giving gifts and find myself in anxious knots every time trying to perform gratitude while wishing they’d donated the money. It doesn’t apply to handmade gifts given at random moments oddly enough, but it makes Christmas particularly difficult, and my birthday something of a nightmare. Gifts are a language I do not speak.

I have a constant refrain at Christmas, that this is not for me to judge, but I struggle. I struggle with the useless consumerism masquerading as feeling and the way my child’s natural beautiful sense of fairness and gratitude is drowned beneath a stack of gifts bigger than she is. I struggle with disdain for the adults clamouring and complaining. I struggle with everpresent aura of expectations from others; how many dollars spent, how big, how many, the constant comparisons being made. I struggle as not a single person mentions Christ but all are happy to deride and dismiss my desire and decisions as a parent around not lying to my child about Santa. I struggle with the in-law cage matches about who spends what time where, when it may as well be any other day of the year because any sense of the actual holiday has been lost under the gifts and resentment.

At my birthday I begin to hunker down a week before, or a month, and draw away. I don’t want gifts or a party. I don’t want the attention. I accept that this is a time for my loved ones to celebrate my existence but I feel like I should honour my mother for that more than me. And that if they want to honour me, surely that should involve my wishes not theirs?

Which gives rise to the question I have been pondering – what would these celebrations look like if I gave myself permission to want? To add my meaning instead of trying to fit in the edges of what the world has decided, what other people have enforced with the strength of that behind them?

What does Christmas actually mean to me? Or my birthday? What would a true celebration look like to me?

I’ll have to get back to you on that.

My first article

(maybe)

 

I’m in the process of writing my first (academic) essay in years, to submit to a journal. It’s nervewracking to say the least. The writing comes smoothly enough; the years outside the tower have been spent steeped in fiction and meta and mummy blogging so that aspect comes easier than the other.

The structure, the argot, the practiced sentences. My university (thankfully) offers a few starter courses within the PhD program and I’ve been running hill and dale to get to them (including one memorable 5 hour stint on public transport to get Bunbun to the coast, then driving four the next day to bring her home, all for my induction) and they have proven invaluable. The performative aspects, the internal references, are slowly slowly coming back to me. Slowly enough that I’m doubting my decision to write this article.

Yet, ditching out now (when I ditched out on a few last year, because I ‘wasn’t enrolled yet’) seems ultimately self-defeating. To not act, when I have the chance, all for fear? Why am I even here if that’s the case, if that’s going to be my choice?  So I keep slogging, keep pushing. Move the words around, pull out themes from the morass, rewrite, delete, rewrite again, find another theme, a better one, and do it all again. Eagerly read Pat Thompson’s series on academic writing and rewrite yet again.

And be incredibly grateful for these past ten years spent deep in a culture that is devoted to beta-reading, to editing, to rewriting and re-reading and pulling out the themes. Fandom, particularly fanfic, has a deep-seated inability to let things lie; not when a simple comment can point out an error and you can correct it, easily (I mean, there are obvious outliers, but that’s the general sequence). As much as the practical aspects of the PhD are beginning to make me wince at how much time I spend organising* how I’m going to get to a two hour confirmation seminar, a three hour tutorial, and hour long lunch on three separate days and none of them are kindy days, this part? The reading, the writing, the researching? I feel like I’ve been in training the past ten years.

*Bluemilk, as always, is rather on point, from her posts about inequity and accessing education (I am still battling that upbringing that meant I didn’t even know what a PhD was until I graduated my undergrad, and still, even now, fights against being characterised as ‘doing nothing’ and ‘welfare cheat’) (note: I don’t actually even get welfare beyond what I would be getting as a stay-at-home-parent, apart from the government paying for my PhD) to her excruciating points on relationships and the work therein, particularly for feminist women. In other words, you need to read her shit.