I've always been ambivalent about Christmas.
I'm not a Scrooge about it. In fact, I think it's one of our few remaining Important Observances, but damn if it doesn't depress me.
I mean Depress.
Too many years of struggling to keep my head above the flood of bills, maybe. Too many suicides of dear ones gone. Too much dwelling on the needs of the poor and homeless. The beaten and abused. The lonely.
Every day of this blessed season a reminder of my shortcomings and inability to make any meaningful, longterm change.
Then again, who can?
I was out tonight. A rare thing. One of my friends is almost becoming a career alcoholic, another is alone and baking cookies for no one but himself. But I was out. In Edmonton we have a bar called the Bank, and the Beautiful people congregate there. As I stood behind a fellow waiting for his coat to be found, he kept messaging his friends:
"I really wanna f**k someone up tonight."
He sent this mantra out again and again, a psychopath, or just too much to drink, or feeling as small as his height, I don't know. I hope his Christmas wish didn't come true.
There were warm feelings apparent among friends, but that was all. Otherwise it was the cold shoulder and everyone more cool than anyone else. I've been living in the city long enough to blend in, but really, emotionally I felt like a fish out of water. A stranger in an alien land of too much cologne, too much cleavage, and too much sad desperation disguised as substanced fueled fun and manic displays of sexuality.
Or maybe I'm just getting older and slightly more jaded. Maybe it's all people have in the city and they cling to it like a life preserver, venting their emotions and fears in a relatively safe environment, chasing after identity and a modicum of escape from every day dreariness.
Speaking of which, what a sour thing this entry is!
My intent was to write about what I found that sustained me, that gave me hope. As an artist, it is far too easy to see the bad. It's how we spot the good and cherish it like a rare and wonderful thing. Artists function best in contrast. At least, this one does.
This got me in trouble when I was younger.
I was always in some kind of trouble. I could never run for public office or anything like that. I did too many things growing up. Speaking of which, I saw Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer on the town, looking slick and handsome and young without a care in the world. How many things did I want to talk to him about? But then, everyone deserves a night off. There's a guy who probably never acted out a day in his life. A proper young man.
These days, for me, there's no acting out. I've learned to shoulder the pain and the perpetual loneliness.
I've come to terms with the fact that I will always be alone in some way, just as everyone is, really. The tough part is knowing it, and knowing why. That knowledge forces me to accept that it will never, ever change. I don't cling to the dream that one day, someone will come along who understands me.
One person did but they ended up throwing themselves off the High Level Bridge.
I remember the blood stains on the snow below, trying not to think about what it must have been like for her to know that she had killed herself, but lying there, dying slowly and painfully, no way to take it back.
Earlier that night, I had heard a voice telling me to go visit her. It spoke clearly in my ears, three times, but I didn't listen...only worrying about myself, that I was going crazy. It took years to stop blaming myself for not listening to such a clear plea, but I finally did. I do, however, still remember.
The real question I ask myself all the time is: what will it take for people to live in their hearts? When will people let go of their insecurities and go forth unafraid and vulnerable? We live in a time and land of enduring and incredible peace, but people are at war with one another and with themselves. People want to hurt other people just to feel vital and alive...and powerful.
What a lie that way is, isn't it?
Power over others is a hunger that is never sated. The emptiness can only grow, the travesty inflicted on one's own soul for acts of dominance only increase with every harmful action taken.
Christmas brings out the maudlin in me.
Maybe it's about time.
I'm a Native American artist. My father is Cree/Cherokee, my mother of Norweigian descent, and I'm painting my images, thinking that maybe, in some small way, it makes a difference.
I put my soul into it every single day of my life. Not a day goes by that I'm not thinking about it. I display it for people to judge, and hopefully someone will see what I'm trying to say.
But that doesn't mean I'm not a coward. I am.
I make up for my incalcitrant and rebellious youth by going the extreme other way. I watch what I say very carefully, I don't rock the boat. I save up my controversial ideas and images for SOME DAY....
Of course, SOME DAY never comes.
In the meantime, I still say what I want to say, but not all of it.
I some ways, this is best. I prefer the warmth of the sun to the bluster of the wind. Why use a hammer when a smile will do the same job?
I used to take anti-depressants, and they do everything they promise. The drawback is my creativity disappeared along with my sadness. My sex-drive disappeared completely, and I no longer appreciated this transient beauty that surrounds us, nor did I care about the loss. But something in me said, "Aaron...you need to paint."
I resented that voice. I was finally happy in chemical peace and prosperity.
And yet it persisted.
"Aaron...you need to paint."
Like reality intruding on a beautiful but false dream, I knew I had to forego my medicated bliss. I worried about it a lot. Isn't this what got people suffering with mental illnesses in trouble all the time? The idea that they didn't "need their medication"?
The difference is, I knew I needed it, but the voice persisted.
"Aaron...you need to paint."
So I did. So I do.
And everyone feels alone. Everyone lives alone. Everyone dies alone. But we do make connections, however brief or fleeting. And that's what it's all about. Maybe that's why we still keep Christmas, Consumption Monster that it is. We are trying to connect, giving up our social counters, our money, to instead find or grow links to each other.
Forging bonds of love.
Why is that so scary? Why do we choose so, so carefully who we will give our love to? We are a frightened people who have so much that maybe we've forgotten how to give of ourselves. Again, this is why Christmas is kept, isn't it?
We have more to give than we know.
But aren't people scared of receiving!
People distrust receiving even more than they fear offering! If you genuinely smiled at, and poured out the bounty of your love toward the men I saw at the bar tonight, chances are they would seek to destroy you! They would think you mocked them, didn't fear them, didn't respect them. They are so alone in this world that they could not trust something good, but instead would have to actively reject it in order to restore equilibrium.
It comes down to this:
What is the story we tell ourselves? My ancestors, on both sides, had a tradition of Oral teaching. Sacred stories that were passed down, generation to generation, instructing the young and helping them to define themselves in the world. The stories built a commonality, a community, a family. A tribe.
What stories do we tell each other now? What are the lessons of our community? Our society? Our entertainment is violence. Our solutions are violence. Our heroes are isolated and alone against all odds, where friends cannot be trusted against betrayal. This is not all. There are positives to be sure, and this is what saves us.
But I am deeply concerned by a culture that promotes violence above love. Where viewing death is acceptable, but physical intimacy is not. Why has sex become shameful? In making it so, we make it taboo, deviant, and the mystery and titilllation of the forbidden paves way for sad and serious abuses. It becomes dirty and unclean instead of honest and beautiful.
We need to think about what story we are forging together. What will our collective legacy be? What messages do we leave our children? Do they know what to value? We need to weave a strong tale for them. We need to make a solid fabric out of the intangible world that reflects what we hope for, not what we fear.
I have a lot of fear.
I bet you do too.
How do we get past it? I don't know. The only thing I can think of is to stop thinking so much about ourselves. Take our wants out of the equation as much as possible and remember that we are not isolated little universes, but a family. We are mortal and we are flesh.
The eyes that allow us to see are in a head of bone and blood. Our flesh is made of soil. We are temporary and just like everyone else around us!
When you see someone walking by, they are the same! They are consciousness in a body and look at you as Other as much as you do them. Their concerns are deeper than yours, more immediate, more real. You are a fiction, or a bit player, or more likely, an extra on the set.
But you are also just exactly the same.
Breathe on that for a while.
Just breathe. Deeply and surely.
And I'll breathe, too.
And we'll cease being alone, at least for a little while.