Friday, December 05, 2003


Juggernaut’s a perfect word for Christmas: a massive, inexorable god-bearing cart under whose wheels devotees hurl themselves, and are crushed. Instead of Krishna/Vishnu, of course, it carries Santa Claus, avatar of Jesus.

I started today by thinking about stuff. The word stuff. Sounds like a good old Anglo Saxon monosyllable, but it’s actually ultimately from Latin -- stuppa -- meaning “tow” -- crude fiber, like the unravellings of an old rope, used to fill up holes and chinks.

I was thinking of the colloquial generic nominal use of “stuff”: things, as a fungible collective. Consumer goods. The Christmas shopping frenzy, after all, is upon us. Has been, since Halloween.

Then there’s the stuff of life, the stuff of the universe -- sub-atomic, quantal. The fiber out of which everything’s loomed. Stuff: we move from unraveled hemp to shopping to superstrings.

It’s getting colder, darker. A storm’s moving up the coast. Drafts slip along the inside walls of this old house like ghosts. I stuff old quilts around the air conditioner and wait for snow. Insulating, cocooning, preparing to hibernate.

One woman’s Juggernaut is another woman’s spring zephyr, I suppose.

I’ve always liked the word neurashthenia. I don’t hurl myself uder the juggernaut; I simply swoon, and it overtakes me.

Stuffing is both greedy and aversive: one fills up and takes in, in order to keep things out and fend things off.

What can I learn from my Christmas commerce aversion ? It’s easy to parlay it into a virtue: behold my non-greed, non-attachment. To which, of course, I am greedily attached. Partly, it’s a biological distate for crowds. Partly it’s disgust at the whole loud, ugly, manipulative and desperate circus of the marketplace.

But I think it’s also about the part of me that is ungenerous, unwelcoming and isolated. That is miserly, like Scrooge. That is so frightened about possible future privation, that it tends to hoard. That is anxious that it might be unloved for giving the wrong gift.

It’s time to unstuff. In every sense of the word.

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