The collapsing zoom of December


People lavish ink on seasonal blues, that ugly funk so many of us struggle with this time of year as we deal with the double whammy of forced merriment and short, dark days.

But you don't hear much about the other flavor of freakout that starts licking at us toward the end of a calendar year: Unfulfilled-Potential Panic Disorder.

Come on. You know: that shattering one-two punch that's not unlike the universal dream where one shows up on the last day of school to find a locker full of uncracked books for a course one dimly, if at all, remembers signing up for, and whose final is today*.

Yeah. That dream.

And why not? Everywhere around you, there are happy people riding high, trouble-free, hitting mark after mark. They're wealthy, self-actualized and putting the exact finishing touches on a life they envisioned for themselves way back at this time last year. The only thing they did that wasn't on their list was EXTRA stuff they didn't think to put on it. That's right: they've exceeded their goals a couple of weeks early, just in time to finish up that holiday shopping and kick back with a cold one and a foot massage in front of the fire.

Only they're not. None of them. Not me, not that really successful-looking person sitting there on the next Firefox tab over, not any of us. We're all falling short and we're all moving forward. We all have something going and we're all stuck. We, all of us, each and every one of us, have our basket. And I mean every one of us, without exception. Just because someone is riding high in the moment you have a moment to look at them doesn't mean they are in the moments on either side, when you've turned your gaze elsewhere. Sometimes they're being duplicitous. Sometimes they're putting up a brave face. Sometimes you just caught 'em in the right moment, when the light is perfect and the press is positive and you're the polar opposite because it's fucking late December and fucking dark at fucking five o'clock in your fucking hemisphere and ONCE AGAIN you have somehow and inevitably fallen short of your lofty expectations for yourself.

I talk about this proclivity towards comparison and accompanying despair because I'm susceptible to it. You'd think a third-generation ad gal would have learned a thing or two about spin and appearances and such, and she has, just not enough to remember always and forever, in each and every instant, that comparison truly is from the devil. Much I have learned about the importance of examining things and the joy of creating things and the rewards of letting go of things, but damned if I don't keep getting tripped up on that comparison b.s. over and over again.

Here is the thing that struck me about it recently, though: there are times when it is much, much worse than others. When I am tired, for example, or have been eating poorly and exercising insufficiently. Hungover. Weak. Stressed. Maintenance of the physical plant will net you a little extra oomph even in the best of times, but the lack of it really starts affecting you as you get up there in years. (And I say this at 48, only medium-up there in years.) I'm loathe to get into it because I have not found a non-tedious, user-positive way of discussing it, but I'll keep you posted.

The other thing that can have a deleterious effect is a pressure-cooker season like the end-of-year one. The feeling it gives me is a lot like being trapped in a real-life collapsing zoom**, that vertiginous camera effect Hitchcock was so fond of. The world falls away while an event pulls me forward, or vice versa. It's dizzying and unnerving and so lifelike, it's hard for me to remember that it's just a trick of perspective. But it is; it always is. I attach more meaning to these few weeks just as I put too much weight on getting x, y and z done-done-dunzarelli by some (let's face it) arbitrary day in an arbitrary stretch of days.

Does this mean I give myself a free pass on ever completing anything by a particular date? No. No, it most emphatically does not.

Does it mean that when I feel myself go off-plumb I should take steps to examine what's going on, to stop and breathe, to turn to one of the many sources I have put in place where I can gain perspective and some kind of objective mirror?

Yes. It is my responsibility, my trumps-all "to-do" item, if you will, to bump that sucker to the front of the line. Mission-critical stuff like keeping children fed and the family housed aside, this is the true work of life. And not doing it can really muck up the true meaning of life, which is to experience and to share love, deeply and fully.

One final thing on this heavy topic in the middle of a "light" month: while the answer is simple, essentially, to put the puppy on the mat, where "puppy" is one's attention and "the mat" is "where that attention should be," it ain't easy. Writing helps. Friends, too, especially the long-term, touchstone variety. Ditto that laundry list above, filled with disgusting, earth-bound stuff like exercise. Persistent issues, as always, should be addressed by a professional skilled in the nutjob arts.

Mostly, though, it is perspective.

This is December. December is hard. Sometimes especially so, because we're made to believe it should not be.

Go easy on yourself, y'hear?


*Bonus anxiety points if you're free-falling your way to the locker in the altogether.

**I have looked all over the Internet and have found no mention of "collapsing zoom," the term that whomever it was who first told me about the zoom-in, dolly-back camera move made famous by Alfred Hitchcock and overused by first-year film students ever since. Apparently, it's "dolly zoom" and I was misinformed and what the hell else is new? I don't care: my blog, my rules; "collapsing zoom" stays. Who knows? Maybe we can popularize it into wide usage together, you and I.

Image by Kyle May via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.