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Tag Archives: Holidays

Let Your Heart Be Light*

charlie brown

The days are getting noticeably shorter and carbohydrate cravings are growing stronger. By mid-October there’s no denying that there’s a change a coming. The first scattering of little costumed people and dogs have appeared (either going to pre-Halloween celebrations or having trick-or-treating dry runs.) By this weekend the streets will be alive with all manner of elaborate costume. Children will take on the mantle of popular movie, cartoon and video game characters. Young (and not so young) women will dress as slutty; nurses, waitresses, devils and angels. It will all build to the crescendo that is the Village Halloween Parade, an event that celebrates wit, witticism, irony and drag. And then ladies and gentlemen the party really gets started.

Before the last candy corn has been eaten (or tossed) it will be time for “the holidays.” As you pull the fake cobwebs down from your walls you will be implored (by television, radio, podcast, website, magazine, and newspaper) to perfect your turkey. Every year the “experts” come out to tell us the failsafe way to remedy our annual poultry failings. Personally I have never known any Thanksgiving that hinged upon the perfection of the bird. There is way too much family drama (not too mention side dishes) to really focus on grading the turkey. Besides, isn’t gravy’s job to democratize and flavor? But never us mind, the airwaves will blast with brining, frying, boning promises. Tips for new and exciting ways to invent old favorites will appear. As if Thanksgiving is a cocktail party not a holiday celebrating tradition and very specific foods. Let’s face it the only help any of us need, short of an invitation to someone else’s house, is the Butterball hotline. Those little holiday angels make up for every bad customer service phone bank everywhere. We love you Butterball!

While all this media “filler” (or should we call it “stuffing?”) occurs, the rumbling of the real “holidays” train can be heard. The “holidays” as we now seem to call Christmas, begin to be feverishly pitched earlier and earlier, but still subscribes to a certain; Thanksgiving first, etiquette. At 11:58 AM EST Thanksgiving Day, Santa Claus heads into Herald Square signaling that it is now polite to discuss his special day. (By the way, if there is any confusion over the overt euphemism of “the holidays” pay close attention this year. Chanukah will be over on December 5th yet dollars to donuts the talking heads will still be referring to last minute “holiday” shopping and “holiday” gift ideas until December 24th.) There is actually much to be said of this time of year. People’s spirits (outside of shopping malls and large toy stores) are lifted and light. Everything looks prettier as Christmas wreaths and trees pop up in even the most secular of locations. If you’re lucky, invitations and chances to dress up increase and there may even be presents.

For some however, it’s mostly frenzy. Even if you don’t work as a Christmas elf, chances are your workload dramatically increases before “the holidays.” Deadlines and meetings get squished into that après Thanksgiving, pre-getting the hell out of town, period. People (and by people we mean mostly women) who feel it’s their responsibility to create the holiday, don’t necessarily bask in the sights and sounds of the season. There are many people whose activity or responsibilities don’t seasonally increase, but their loneliness or sadness does. Even those not mired in loss or illness, may find this time of year triggering a short-term discrete melancholy. Memories can be haunting as can unfulfilled dreams. Whether we’re leading the holiday charge or feeling the parade is passing us by, it’s important to keep in touch with how we’re feeling. For people who love nothing more than a 4-page to-do list and arms filled with shopping bags, there’s not much internal checking in that needs to occur this time of year. But those little Santa’s helpers are in a great position to check-in on those around them. Everyone knows someone who’s suffered a loss or is naturally fragile. This time of year provides ample opportunity to reach out. Issue invitations or drop by with small gifts or treats. All that matters is that you connect. For those who have a hard time, know your triggers. Step away from the television, especially when It’s A Wonderful Life comes on. Stay away from places that feel overwhelming or lonely. Do less that you don’t enjoy and more that you do. Plan lovely things for yourself. Is there a book you’ve been meaning to read, a place you’d like to visit, a food you’d like to try? Now is the time to plan gifts for yourself. It may seem as if the whole world is trimming a perfect tree, clinking egg nog glasses and singing carols. But the truth of the matter is that very few people actually live in a fantasy world. Most of us struggle in one way or another, and knowing that can be a great comfort.

The best we can do, this time or anytime of year, is to not get ahead of ourselves. Christmas and the New Year are four days of celebration two months away. There are over 60 days worth celebrating until then.

*Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (1943) – Ralph Blane & Hugh Martin

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A Kind Of September

Even if it’s 85 and humid as the rainforest where you live, those small people carrying enormous backpacks and wearing brand-new clothes are proof that autumn is coming. And even if your (9:00 – 3:00) days aren’t filled with new faces, expectations and even new buildings, it can still be a season of newness. With the lazy hazy days formally over, we can’t help but feel a little more purposeful, a little more focused. Soon we’ll stash our shorts and flip-flops and put back on our grown-up clothes. Before we know it the holidays will be upon us (for some they start in September) and the accompanying preparations will go beyond firing up a grill. But before we get all ‘chain drugstore Christmas display in August’ let’s focus on September.

Try to remember that feeling of hopefulness that comes with a clean, blank notebook and the spelling out of an instructor’s expectations. In chalk, on a syllabus or on-line; we were told what was expected of us and in those first few days we had done nothing to diminish those expectations. We believed we could achieve; long division, macroeconomics, modern European history or organic chemistry. Before we forget to write down an exam date, or procrastinated or let anxiety rule our studying, we felt we can do this thing. Feeling something is possible is invigorating. Is it the clean notebook, not yet a jumbled mess of missing notes? Is it the confidence and authority of a teacher assuming we can do what is asked of us? Is it the fact that everyone else (unless they’ve been left back) is in the same boat? Is it the fact that the very nature of education is that the content is always new? The majority of adult life is not filled with newness. Yes, there are at times new; partners, homes, jobs, or family members. But there is nothing cyclically new about adulthood. But there could be.

What if we all went “back to school” every September? Not literally of course (whoa! take a deep breath; you might want to put your head between your knees for a few minutes.) What if we pledged (to ourselves) to do something new every September? Something we need to “learn?” It needn’t be academic, but it shouldn’t be easy either. What about…

  • Learning to see things from someone else’s perspective?
  • Learning why we do something that troubles us (i.e., shop, drink, or eat excessively)?
  • Learning the difference between our needs and a loved one’s needs?
  • Learning to look at ourselves in the mirror and love what we see?

No doubt there are dozens more examples that are relevant and achievable. Let’s find one that feels slightly daunting yet not wildly out of our reach (we don’t teach calculus to second-graders now, do we?) Let’s give ourselves the whole academic year to finish the assignment. Trying something new, regardless of the outcome, is hopeful. It is in essence a declaration: “I’m here and I’m engaged with the world!” But first things first, let’s go out and get ourselves a brand-new notebook.

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2012 in Education, Well-Being

 

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Not A Creature Was Stirring

If you are lucky enough to live somewhere that has experienced the first snowfall of the season, you have heard the hush.  In towns and cities small and large, a snowfall of any measure muffles sound through physics and through awe.  Stepping outside to the sight of a freshly painted world, we are reverent, quiet, stirred.  During the next few weeks, a season filled with candlelight, greenery, and religion, I am in pursuit of such silence.

I like sound.  I make sound.  But there are moments when the most beautiful sound is silence.  My day has a soundtrack, similar to yours no doubt.  Where NPR leaves off, my iPod picks up.  I’ve been told I sing rather audibly in the park, but I deny it.  I talk enough to be considered an ambient noise machine, and even have been known to take a call in public.  I can’t bring myself to carry-on a phone conversation on the street however as it seems to conjure my pushcart peddling ancestors (and I think it would break their hearts.)  But I do my best to contribute to the cacophony of the city street.

However, there are times when silence is its own stirring background noise.

There was a time when just stepping into a religious sanctuary rendered one silent.  I suppose there are still places of worship that generate such reverie.  A recent holiday service I attended inspired the women seated behind me to discuss the merits of DSW, the best subway route to DSW, the return policy of DSW, and each shoe in DSW.  Their crass incessant shopping chatter took a brief hiatus during the silent prayer.  During that portion they discussed an “obnoxious” mutual friend.  I shudder to consider what these women deem “obnoxious.”

Clearly “place” is not sufficient enough a prompt for silence.

Theaters are filled with shopping bag crinkly, slurping, chomping, talking, ringing audiences.  Ticket purchasers talk through the overture.  The overture!  (No wonder no one writes those anymore.)  At a recent Joan Crawford estate auction, people spoke loudly, as the lovely auctioneer toiled.  She kept track of live bids, internet bids and phone bids, all over a deafening din.  Once the Golden Globe went on the block though, well that was a horse of a different color.  As the bids climbed well north of $20,000, you could have heard a pin drop.  I suppose we are all entitled to worship any deity we choose.

I would suggest that we consider each other and the world we live in to be ample reason to hush.  Not permanently, not even for long stretches of time.  But for the next few weeks, let us be mindful of the noise we make.  Pausing the soundtrack of our lives for a moment, will allow us to make discoveries.  A sight, a sound or a thought will prompt a moment of awe.  This time of year, as we prepare to look forward and make grandiose plans for our new and improved selves, let us take a moment to quietly consider the world around us and our place in it.

Happy Holidays!

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2011 in Cultural Critique, Holiday

 

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Get Ready For The Summer

It’s that time of year again.  Summer.  A season only second to Christmas in it’s forced hyped gaiety.  Do I sound like a bikini-clad Grinch?  Before I reflexively apologize, perhaps I should explain my resentment.  Unlike Christmas, summer delivers me no easy out of the frenzy.  I can’t exactly wave the religion flag as my get-out-of-gaiety card, can I?  Or can I?  Can I blame my disconnect to patriotism (Memorial, Independence, and Labor; the trifecta of summer flag waving) on being the spawn of sixties liberal reform Jews?  Doubtful, considering I love nothing more than a hometown parade.  But wait, what about the grandparents who scraped together the scraps of their working class paychecks for a week or two in the Catskills every year?  Don’t those incredibly dismal and depressing black and white photographs (with wiggly white borders) prove a genetic inability to conform to the seasonal culture of fun.  Puhlease.

My seasonal shortcomings are my own.  I love cultivated nature (botanical gardens, english box hedges and the like) but am most certainly about as indoorsy as they come.  That must be part of my “problem.”  And by “problem” I don’t mean to imply that I am anti-summer.  Far from it.  I enjoy an enormous straw hat and a strappy sandal.  I find nothing quite as lovely as the sight of the ice cream man (a man dressed in immaculate white doling out snack?!)  It is instead the notion (pummeled by magazines, television and the like) that I should be ENJOYING MYSELF!  This enjoyment should take the form of preparing/eating my meals out of doors (so much nicer in theory than in practice,) relocating to places remote or exclusive and/or adopting an entirely different life/persona for three months.
I love the summer in the city.  Just love it.  There is a quiet and sanity that feels (don’t ask me why) European.  But even as I sit at a cafe nursing a cappuccino, or at the Boat Basin, working my way through a mango mai tai and mahi mahi taco (say that really really fast!) I feel I am not living up to expectation.  What is most queer about this complex, is I have no idea why!  I do not succumb to any other media expectations (of which I am aware.)  Yet every year, at the end of May, here I sit, an involuntary Scrooge (in a stunning straw hat.)

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Cultural Critique

 

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