The Darker Side of Christmas


My bro took me out for Indian food last night. Onion bhaji, lamb biryani, and chai tea. It was fun to do something different and unexpected. We walked through downtown, gawking at all the lights. Heard what HAS to be the saddest sounding Xmas band ever in ‘t Centrum; they were playing some song I didn’t know, tho it had snippets of several songs I was familiar with, and they did it at dirge pace. My brother said it sounded like a band of skeletons playing Christmas carols. It was so incongruous to all the lights and trees and shoppers I laughed for an entire block. Down to the coffeeshop to stock up on smoke for the holidays (what a pleasant thing to be able to say!), a fast walk to the metro because the wind was biting cold, and back at home to watch a film we’d recorded.

As I walked through the city, I kept my iPod off and just listened. My recent bout of frustration with the language seems to have passed, and with its absence has come a deeper understanding of the spoken word. I’m eavesdropping on my fellow Rotterdammers, and finding I’m catching more and more of what they say. Words jump out at me, capitalized and in bright neon colors. And I had occasion yesterday after class to reflect on how much I’ve learned over the past year. A thousand words? More? I’m still at the point where I either speak painfully slow or make numerous grammatical errors, but my reading and my comprehension are both better. I’m even appreciating simple jokes in the language.

I find it mildly bittersweet, then, to discover that the voice-over recording for the metro telling passengers what stop is coming up has been redone to include full English for the major stations. The multi-lingual Dutch have long been teaching their children English. It’s only the older Dutch who might not speak it. Right now, I’m laying odds on that the Netherlands makes a complete swap to English as their second language just when I fully grasp Dutch. That would fall in line with the ironic theme in my timing. When and if that happens, I’ll laugh. Hartelijke (I think that’s right; an ‘e’ on the end when used as an adjective to laugh). Because I can see ME becoming the hard core Dutch speaker once I’ve got the language. Me who will answer American or British tourist’s questions with a geen Engels. Maybe a fast burst of Dutch to make them shut up. Why? Just because I can.

But then, that’s not communication. And I am all about communication. It’s why I started writing, why I started music, why I do anything: to communicate. Because some things sit so damned deep in you that you can’t put them directly in words. The small syllables we utter don’t do those things justice. They need altars: altars to our pain, past and present. I have built many altars. I’ve bled on them, weeped over them, done my best to pulverize them into atoms. I’ve loved them, hated them, sent them out into the world and buried them deep in the ground.

Sometimes, I think it’s all I can do.

She licked her fingers by placing them in the middle of her tongue, as if doing so would absolve her digits of the blood and shit that were inevitably, indelibly there after years of self-flagellation and social crucifixion. How sweet, she thought, as she tasted only sugar.

Well I’m in a persnickety mood, aren’t I? …. Problem is, I like it. I may have to save that one. But I’m definitely not in the space to start back on the script – slated to be a comedy. OH no! In fact, I hereby absolve myself from all guilt over the next two days. One, it’s the weekend. Two, it’s the holidays. Three, everything is closed anyway, or will be soon, so it’s pointless to feel bad for not accomplishing something. Four, I may be bipolar, but I don’t want the script to be. Five, like the Dutch language, if I can relax, it will be easier.

Relax. Ri-i-i-ight.

If I must don my black clothes and be macabre for a stint, I guess I could begin with worse material. And what the hell? If my brain can cook up the above its obviously got some heavy things going on. Spread them out, let them see the light of day – or at least the light of the holiday decorations. Ugly is the new beautiful. How tragic, how ugly, how beautiful in its agony!

But that’s true, isn’t it? Ugly can make you feel things beauty can’t touch. And it hurts to touch those places, yet it feels right, too, to acknowledge them. How brave, we think, when we hear the tale of a survivor of an ugly situation. Our minds turn inward, to how we would react in their place. Fight, or flight? Courage, or fear? Both? Perhaps we seek the ugly to explain what we don’t understand, to give us insight into another’s pain – and thus, to our own.

End of the year holidays. They’re bringing up a lot of stuff for me. I’ve been enjoying the lights, the season, even the nip in the air. Maybe it’s time to look at the darker side of Christmas.


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