12 Days of Yule and a Happy New Year

Happy New Year! 2019 is finally here, and it absolutely is with a palpable sense of relief that I let the previous year dissipate as I turn to welcome the new. It promises to be difficult in its own right but relieved I am just the same. With the many, many challenges of 2017-2018 came an intense amount of introspection, sometimes in ways that exacerbated existing mental illness and sometimes in ways that opened up new avenues of celebration. This year, I found a focal point for reclaiming a celebratory feeling as well as my emotions as a whole.

When I am in a depressive state, I tend to compartmentalize my emotions in a faraway corner of my mind; I hide them so effectively from myself that I no longer experience anything but melancholia. I frequently don’t even realize how depressed I am until I look around at the terrible mess that I have created around me, literally and figuratively, and then experience the carefully crafted barricades take a shattering blow. This is mind-bendingly awful to go through, but it is also the only way I know how to pull myself back into myself—I helplessly wait and eventually, the tide comes in. This year it was, fittingly, Yuletide.

Like most things that are associated with joy in my life, this year’s Yuletide was accompanied by a book. Well, several of them, but the one that impacted me the most was Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days by Jeanette Winterson. Not only gracing us with gorgeous cover art, it actually managed to encompass everything that I feel about the holiday and encouraged me to embrace it wholeheartedly—including the nostalgia, the pain, and the complicated bits. This book has everything to do with loving Christmas, and being okay with being truly sentimental about it. It marries together lovely ideas about cooking for yourself and people that you love, tradition, and history. Despite the one or two stories that did not resonate, the book as a whole lifted my spirits so that I quickly forgot any dissatisfaction. Possibly the most delightful aspect was the recipes and the personal anecdotes that accompanied them.

I relate to Jeanette for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that I grew up in an often unhappy and always religious (Southern Baptist) home, and Christmastime was a magical time for both of us that seemed to miraculously lift away the weight of life, however temporarily, and replace it with a kind of joy. Our Christmases were always joyful despite the traumas, conflict, and instability that was woven into my family’s daily lives. I don’t have bad memories of Christmas, and that is remarkable and like a little gem that I can keep in my pocket. Even when life is a struggle, I always have space in my heart and room in my belly for Christmas, or, as I now celebrate, Yule.

So, enchanted by tradition and storytelling, I created my own ritual beyond even what I have celebrated in the past and now I have my own 12 days of Yuletide filled with food, books, midwinter appreciation (thank you Tori Amos for Midwinter Graces, it is truly a blessing), movies, snuggles, and love. Midwinter’s Eve is its own cherished time of anticipation and preparation followed by Yule and a subsequent 12 days of quiet joy. Honestly, I set up my midwinter decorations at the beginning of December, so I have them in time for my birthday. Rest assured that it does not do anything to detract from the holiday spirit (nor my birthday).

Because I have been struggling with a lack of energy for seemingly all of two years, my craft has taken a hit. So my ritual this year consisted almost entirely of enjoying each and every moment, still enjoying moments actually, and allowing myself that space. I turned off all news sources, I have disconnected from the things that contribute to anxiety and stressors, and I have continued therapy for the first time in over a decade. There is a kind of magic in this self-care, and I am trying my best to relish it. Encouraged by Jeanette Winterson’s thoughts on The 8th day of Christmas, also known as New Year’s Day, I decided to make some resolutions for myself. This is actually the third year that I have done so, but it is likely the first year I have done so without the taint of mild shame stemming from years of scoffing at people who make resolutions in the face of statistics that show they are largely unsuccessful.

Passing judgment, however, does not a successful venture make, and I have found that there is a ritual to this type of intention-setting that can be quite powerful, particularly when coupled with keeping those intentions to yourself. Announcing your plans to others satisfies your self-identity just enough that you’re less motivated to do the hard work needed to stick with them. In that particular spirit, I will not be sharing my resolutions here. Well, almost. I am sharing one here because it is immediately relevant to this space—you can also call this “burying the lead” in a personal blog context.

One of my resolutions is to write here. Over the past three years, I have had various blogs all centered on different topics. They pulled me in myriad directions, and because it was so fragmented, I could never really sustain any of them. An unsettling marketing background, as well as merely existing as a Millennial, created tensions surrounding “brand identity” for each of these projects. My interests span everything from books to witchcraft to video games and “geek culture” to politics to cooking to knitting… so you see my problem. Branding and web development alone took so much energy that I often felt drained before getting to the actual project.

I have come to the conclusion that personal branding is crap. Just as a baseline, the Internet is so full of random people writing all of their random thoughts, ipso facto trying to come up with a unique brand is remarkably anxiety-inducing. It gives you the task of being intensely introspective to more effectively analyze your value propositions (in this case the self-identifiers that you are trying to commodify) and fabricate a specific formula of those traits that will present a coherent, uniform, and often an oddly incomplete front. I don’t think people really work that way, and the type of branding that becomes the “self” can be psychologically taxing (for more on this, see the last two chapters of Barbara Ehrenreich’s forthcoming book Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer).

No more selling myself out piecemeal. I have shut down my other projects and started over here, a clean slate and with all of me present. No more worrying about how I present to the world. No more worrying about readership; I will never have a readership base if I am too preoccupied to write. I may never have a dedicated following on this blog. And as with life, just because there is no purpose to a thing does not mean that it is not worth doing. Sometimes putting things out into the world means that you can let a little bit of it go. And the something that is most important and consequently the hardest for me to remember: I must acknowledge that I may not always be successful in any or all of these things.

With that, good riddance 2018. I did not care for you one little bit. Merry Yule, Bright Solstice, and Happy New Year; many tidings of comfort and joy to all of you. Thank you for spending some of that here with me.

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