Archives for posts with tag: yule

Giftmas isn’t the wholly inclusive holiday we like to imagine it is (those of us who are deeply into it, I mean). There are a lot of people who suffer the winter holidays as they suffer winter itself; eager to put it behind them, and wishing to see the sun again. It’s complicated being human.

When we are told to “be happy”, it can make us feel ever so much more miserable that we seem unable to achieve that for ourselves.

When we have the religious values of one or many faiths thrust upon us repeatedly, for weeks, as secular human beings who don’t practice a faith at all, we may feel excluded from practicing community and culture, itself. We may feel invisible, and unappreciated, as human beings.

When we are bombarded with media marketing for luxury goods “on sale” that we can’t envision ever being able to afford at any price, it can make us feel like outsiders in our communities and our world – trapped.

When we hear “glad tidings” of “comfort and joy” on every radio station, every streaming service, every TV advertisement, and in every retail store or restaurant, while we grieve the loss of loved ones, it can make us feel very much as if the world doesn’t see us here at all.

The result is often that we punish ourselves with our misery, even to the point of feeling guilty or ashamed that we don’t “get it” or “enjoy all that”. That’s pretty shitty, and it’s not fun, and it is uncomfortable. Any of that. All of it.

I’m very merry at Giftmas, myself. In spite of not being a practicing Christian (see: “Giftmas”), in spite of many years of being not at all “happy”, in spite of having very little money in many years (and this one) to spend on gifts, charity, or feasting, in spite of grieving poignant painful losses: I am merry, each Giftmas. I even want to share how that can be a thing.

A good beginning.

There’s no money to splash around on luxurious lavish gifts and frippery this year (and nothing in the picture above required me to spend any money, this year; it’s built on what I already had, and have cared for, for a lifetime), instead, I’ll share “How to be Merry at Giftmas”. 😀 It’s a simple enough idea, in it’s most basic form; make it yours. That’s basically it, summarized. I know, I know, saying something super simple to communicate something nuanced is a bit of a cheat, intended to make it feel accessible, but sometimes missing the most important points. So. Ready? Merry Giftmas, Y’all! Here we go!

The magical Giftmas that almost wasn’t.

Start with where you are. Start with who you are. Your authentic self, your actual values, your own vision.

I grew up in the midst of violence, emotional, physical, sexual (and uncomfortably commonplace in the culture). Guns, alcohol, and rage just… every-fucking-where. Poverty. Trauma. Chaos. Fear. Learned helplessness. Abuse. Gas-lighting. Rather peculiarly, each year that I can clearly recall (sorry, head trauma, right?), it seemed as if “Christmas time” was some sort of surreal cease-fire in the household hostilities (and somehow, even out in the world). “Healing” wasn’t even on my radar yet; I still had an additional lifetime of further trauma, turmoil, and heartbreak ahead me, that I could not even see. (It’s likely that, in some measure, a great many of us do, actually, regardless where we stand right now. Sorry.) Something about the holidays stuck with me; the best bits, actually. Grand holidays meals when far away family arrived to join us at the table. Mornings of twinkle lights and brunch recipes untasted at any other time of  year. Gifts. Out of the pain, out of the chaos, for some weird reason, once a year we all sat down together and exchanged gifts. Gifts. We took from our own resources, to give of ourselves to each other. All of it amounted to an extraordinary departure of all of the routines. It seemed… magical.

I have come so far from this place.

My first “Christmas” as an adult, at 18, was… weird. I was in the Army. I was in advance training (and for fuck’s sake already married??), and I went “home” (to my parents house, at my new husband’s instance, even though I was deliberating estranging myself from them, for… reasons). It wasn’t much of a holiday. Uncomfortable, strained by the presence of a stranger (my new husband). I don’t actually recall it at all clearly; I was working too hard trying to live everyone else’s vision of what my life should look like to really make sense out of it, at all. It would have been… 1981?

My Giftmas stocking – and how I keep track of where I was each Giftmas. 😀

That was the missing puzzle piece; an understanding of what it takes to make a holiday, myself. See, that’s the thing; we have choices. The day, the season, the time, these are ours to make as we wish to experience them.

I re-created my vision of Giftmas that year, made it over based on my own vision of celebrating the winter holidays, and Yule, in accordance with my own understanding of the “meaning of the season”, which, speaking frankly, has nothing to do with gods or religions, and everything to do with community, charity, gratitude, love, and celebration. It’s winter. We’re all stretched a bit thin at the end of the year – it made sense to me that my Giftmas could be a celebration of sharing, fitting the cultural practices, and keeping all of what I love about the winter holidays, and letting go of all of what did not suit me, personally. I enjoy the merriment. I enjoy the moment to celebrate lost loved ones and honored departed, yes, and still be merry – there is no shame in our tears, or our joy. I love to give a friend some small thing, to say “thank you”, “I love you”, “you mean something to me”, or even just “I know it’s been hard this year”. We’re all in this together, each having our own experience, and each year we have this colossal near-global cross-cultural celebration that clearly extends well-beyond the reach of any one faith; it’s just not really at all about religion. Any religion. lol It’s about everything else, so joyously and so much that any religion within it’s sphere of influence wants a piece of that pie. Me too. So – I celebrate Giftmas. It’s an honest celebration of plenty-amidst-famine, and I celebrate lavishly and generously when I have a lot, and I celebrate joyously and heartily with whatever I’ve got when times are tough. I generally celebrate the season as commencing with the Thanksgiving meal – a season of gratitude and sharing – and I celebrate until I end the holiday season with New Year’s Day with my personal “One Hour” celebration (a contemplative time to explore the past, and plan for the future). It’s scalable sort of holiday, for me, that I can blow out of all reasonable proportion in times of plenty, and still enjoy with irrepressible joy in times of privation. That’s right. I think Giftmas lasts more than a month. LOL 😀

Actually, I take the long holiday season so seriously that I regularly give gifts randomly all through the season; nothing gives a beat down to a stressful moment like an authentic expression of value in the form of a small unexpected gift, or a moment over a holiday treat. 😀 Certainly, there is no legitimate reason to ration connection, presence, or joy. 😉

It’s okay to feel deeply. It’s very human. I even raise a glass to my Dad.

It does take practice. Sometimes there are poignant moments. I’ve shed many tears either putting up, or taking down, the holiday tree; every ornament has real meaning for me. Gathered with care over many years, each is like a tiny memory box, bringing back floods of emotion, and memories untapped any other time of year (not all of them are pleasant, and I often remind myself that the way out  is through). I have reflected on so many holidays, and taken from them what worked for me. This is the secret sauce, and the source of merriment; this holiday is mine.

Like our lives, a celebration is built on so many things. Yeah, there are verbs involved.

Merry Giftmas, friends and readers and friends who are readers, and humans I don’t know at all. Make of it what you will. May the season show you magic and wonder – and may you be the creator of magic and wonder in someone else’s holiday. May the year ahead show us each the path to being the human being we most want to be, and may the journey to become that person be enlightening, and maybe not to terribly difficult. 😉

Are you having a rough holiday season this year? Please – oh please, dear one, please begin again! ❤

I’m sipping my coffee and taking in the slow gray dawn. No sunrise this morning. No glints of gold or peach off the last clinging autumn leaves. Just a homogeneous gray sky slowly lightening from a deep charcoal gray to a steely gray, and just now reaching a soft dove gray. My coffee is cold, from a can I took out of the refrigerator.  It’s a hell of a luxury – convenience generally is, though I tend not to notice very often.

Funny how conveniences can become a loss of good character and will over time, though, isn’t it? I’ve noticed that when I yield to convenience such that a particular convenience becomes habitual, I lose interest in making the effort that a task or experience once required without the conveniences. Huh. I gotta work on that; I see some very problematic potential outcomes of losing the will to exert effort for what I want. 🙂 If nothing else, it is autumn, heading towards winter, and I enjoy a hot cup of coffee. This will be the last can of cold brew for a while. There are fresh good quality coffee beans in the hopper of the burr grinder. Coffee mugs are clean. The kitchen itself, untidy after being sick, is at least ready for making coffee. lol I take another sip of this cold brew, and really take it in: the flavor, the coldness, the peculiar lack of depth or nuance to both the taste and fragrance – I mean, no surprise, it came out of a can, right? Fresh squeezed orange juice will always taste quite deliciously different from orange juice from a bottle or carton, right? Same here. Freshly ground, freshly and skillfully brewed coffee by its very nature tastes quite different from any can of cold brew – however convenient or tasty – ever could.

There’s a metaphor here, and I continue to sip this fairly nondescript, but wholly convenient, cup of coffee and consider the metaphor (and allegory) from many angles.

I look out the window. It has been some moments since the sky was a smooth wash of dove gray, and it is, now, taking on a hint of… something else. Not pink. Not peach. Not mauve. Not lavender. Some odd color I have no name for that sits somewhere in the junction of all of those. How strange. I sit quietly, just watching the sky, trying to name this color I see, but which is somehow unfamiliar and nameless. I take another sip of my coffee, which now seems entirely wrong for this moment. lol This is a summer coffee in an autumn moment, like a “wrong note” in a jazz solo; I wait for the next note to tie it all together. 🙂

I take a moment to appreciate the physical details of this moment, too. The heat came on. The thermostat is set for a comfortable 68 degrees, which seems “just right” for first thing in the morning. The air feels a bit dry in the house. My head isn’t stuffy this morning, though, and for the moment my fairly persistent headache is gone. I’m in no particular amount of pain – pain-free? Dare I notice and make the observation? Huh. It’s a nice start to a day I hope to spend decorating for Giftmas. 😀

My mind wanders thinking about Giftmas future, and Giftmas past. Those thoughts are also about the things in life I’ve kept along the way, and the things I have lost or left behind. It’s not an especially poignant moment, and feels more practical, and observant. It’s a journey, and as with most of the journeys I have taken in life, there’s only so much baggage I can lug along the way. Sometimes, it’s necessary to let things go. Hell – sometimes that is the very best next step that can be taken; let it go. Let this go. Let that go. Let the big deal go. Let the petty bullshit go. Walk on. Keep what works best. Keep what supports my intention most. Keep what lifts me up. Keep what lifts up others. Learn what works, practice that, and share it. Let the rest go. Like the last can of summer’s cold brew, savor the experience, drink it in, enjoy what qualities of value it can offer, learn from what isn’t so pleasant – let the rest go, like an emptied can of cold brew, into the recycling. 🙂

Today I’ll sort through memories and life lessons while I sort through fragile glass ornaments, placing each one “just so” to consider and enjoy, to ponder, to learn from. This is a season of self-reflection, and a season of change.

My coffee is still too hot to drink. The alarm clock seemed very loud when it woke me. I feel a bit as if I am moving especially slowly this morning; the clock corrects my very subjective perception of time. It’s a Monday after a long weekend. As if on cue, my brain launches a salvo of small anxiety-provoking attacks about this or that detail at work; I quash them with a minute or two of mindfulness, breathing deeply, present in this moment here. Work can at least wait until I actually get to the office! 🙂

Summer is definitely over. Autumn nearly over, too. Thanksgiving is done. The holiday season – my idea of holiday season, I mean – has begun. It is a beginning I wait for, plan for, and cherish each year. I have my own traditions, built on my values, refined over an adult lifetime, added to by one partnership, then another, over the years. The specifics are less meaningful or shareworthy, I think, than that I do have my own, chosen with care, selected from the celebratory traditions of my childhood, and then made my own, quite willfully. I like the way I do the holidays. It is rare for me to be overcome by ennui or despair during (or over, or about) the holidays, and I’ve tended to attribute that to doing them my own way… though, I don’t have any cite-able proof of that; it is my subject experience, only. For me, that’s enough, at least on the topic of holidays. 🙂

As days go, today doesn’t stand out in any obvious way. The beginning of a new work week. The beginning of the holiday season. I like beginnings, although they usually follow endings, which I often tend to think I dislike (compared to beginnings), but again, I have no clear evidence of that impression, and find myself wondering if the words truly reflect my thinking, or only some moment in my thinking that will quickly dissipate when my attention turns to other things? Change is. Whether an ending, a beginning, or some transitional point on a spectrum between those moments, change is part of the scenery on life’s journey.

I think of my Traveling Partner and smile. We have different approaches to living life in the moment; I prefer to plan, and to maintain a high level of readiness for many likely outcomes, and to cultivate a benevolent tolerance of circumstances that fall outside my planning, with frequent “rest breaks” from the hectic pace of life when I can retreat to a quiet corner of the world to take it all in, before returning to the busy-ness of life’s default settings. He has the boldness required to freely take life utterly as it comes, seemingly fearlessly and without anxiety; embracing change with a spontaneity that awes me, and often leaves me feeling unsettled.  We handle our emotional lives quite differently, too, both very human, both capable of great depths of emotion, both embracing intimacy and connection, and yet such different people day-to-day, in spite of shared values, shared experiences, and sharing (to this day) our journey in life over years. He finds too much planning constricting, and expresses feeling pressured. I find too little planning chaotic, and feel… pressured. lol We are more similar than we are different. This is likely true of each and all of us; more similar than different. Any human being’s most basic needs are likely to be pretty much the same from one person to the next. So many arguments between human beings are about meeting the same basic need in different ways, informed by prejudices, filtered through individual experience, limited by individual perspective, and individual understandings of definitions of terms. We’re still more similar than we are different – right down to not listening very well when another one of what we are is talking to us about their own experience. 😉

Taking time for simple pleasures matters, too.

Taking time for simple pleasures matters.

My coffee is not so hot now. I drink it down and consider a second one… there is time for that. I look across the table, the holiday tablecloth, placemats, and centerpiece are happy reminders of the weekend spent immersed in a wonderland of holiday memories, colorful trinkets, and tiny lights. The entire room is transformed. The tree stands in the far corner, and canisters of freshly baked cookies beyond that, on the bookshelf in that corner. Everywhere some Yule detail catches my eye. I smile. The soft glow of the room feels like it sources from within me. Sure, I’ll have a second coffee. Today is a good day to take time to enjoy simple pleasures. I’ll go do that. 🙂

I woke too early this morning, and by “too early” I mean that I definitely wanted to sleep later, certainly had the time for sleeping later, and just could not convince my brain that sleeping later was the thing to do this morning. I finally got up at 5 am, after tossing and turning, meditating, fussing, and daydreaming for about two hours. I feel well-rested, I just didn’t “feel like” getting up so early. I’m definitely awake, though.

Yesterday was spent quietly; easily achieved without having the temptation of television lurking nearby all the time. I don’t miss the TV. I’m getting by, computer-wise, on my work laptop, although it is not truly a substitute. I can at least write, much more easily than if I had to use my phone each morning. I’m content with things as they are. I have what I need, and that’s enough.

Yule is on my mind this weekend, as I set up the holiday tree, and decorate the house for the holiday season. Each year when I open the box of ornaments, it is as if I am holding precious memories in my hands. I decorate the tree, and remember things. Each ornament is a story, from a place and time before now. Each year I add one or two more ornaments, significant in some way, and they add to this strange memory box that only gets opened once a year – but always does get opened, yearly. Each year I consider who I am in the context of a lifetime. Each year I emotionally gorge on an intense assortment of recollections, until, by New Year’s Day, it is both timely and necessary that it all be put away for another year. Each year I hold in my hands small fragile reminders of good times and bad, of past versions of the woman in the mirror, of old pain, old sorrow, old joy, and old delight.

When I was much younger, the ornaments were selected with less care, more randomly, more about “ooh, shiny!” sorts of moments and impulses, and much less about what story they could tell, later. In recent years, new ornaments have been selected with great care, and the ornaments themselves become part of the story of who I am, told (mostly) in glass… and glitter, sequins, ceramic, paper, and twinkly lights. There is a gap in these memories (my own memories as well, it’s just placed differently in time); when my first marriage ended, I took only my “personal effects”, and my artwork, leaving everything else behind – including 13 years of Yule celebrations, 6 of those in Germany (the lovely ornaments purchased at the Augsburg Christkindlesmarkt we visited each year – all gone).  In their place, the worn cardboard box of small glass ornaments, 18 balls in assorted colors, that were the first ornaments I bought (at the local discount store next to the apartment complex I moved into) to begin rebuilding Yule after my marriage ended (they’re now more than 20 years old). I had visited my Granny that year over the holidays. In a wily Machiavellian act of master manipulation, she engineered a reconciliation between my parents and I, ending an estrangement that had lasted longer than my first marriage had, itself. I returned home with ornaments from childhood, a gift from my mother. She later sent me others. They remind me of childhood Yule celebrations, and more subtle things.

I’ll finish the weekend by finishing the decorating, savoring the moments revealed one by one as I hang the ornaments on the tree. Finally getting to the ornaments I made in that last holiday before I chose to live alone; it was a peculiarly awkward, sometimes rather grim holiday, that year. I celebrated mostly alone, in a shared household. The ornaments I made are lasting reminders that love can’t be forced or negotiated with, and once lost it is gone. They also remind me how much of my experience is chosen, and that even in the difficult moments in life, happy memories can be made, cherished, savored – and can become the lasting recollection of a trying time in life. I’m still working on that; there are verbs involved. 🙂

I sip my coffee and look across the dining table, still covered with ornament boxes of a variety of sizes. I’m only half-finished. It’s a time-consuming process for me to set up the tree alone; I pause for memories rather a lot. Some years I cry rivers of tears, too. This year hasn’t been that way; I celebrate with a quiet joy, and reflect more on what is, than on what isn’t. It’s not a process I rush. I have time – all weekend. Hell, I have a lifetime to unpack what memories I have, to cherish them, to savor them, to return them to their tidy boxes when the moment is done. Time enough to ask myself “why is this one significant?”, and “still?”, and “even now?”, and remind myself it is okay to set down some baggage this year (every year) and go forward a bit more the woman I most want to be.

The story of life's climate, and the emotional weather are told in so many ways; memories, however real they seem, are not moments. :-)

Memories and moments, today will be filled with both. 🙂

Today is a good day for a cup of coffee and a handful of memories. I smile and think of my Traveling Partner, and the memories we have made together, and this strange wonderful somewhat unconventional choice to be both quite partnered and quite solitary. I sip my coffee contentedly. Isn’t contentment enough? Ah, but what about changing the world? Let’s not forget to do that, too. 🙂 I get up to make a second coffee… as with most things, including changing the world, there are verbs involved. 😉

It’s the holiday break from work, and I’ve got a couple of weeks at the end of the year to get some needed down time, celebrate the holidays, and invest my time in my own needs and agenda for a few precious days. Time to share with loved ones. Time to meditate. Time to explore the world within – or the world beyond these walls and windows. Time for me. Time for love. It’s a great idea…isn’t it?

Being home for the holidays holds so much promise, so much potential…so much risk. Yep. Risk, too. Risk of drama, risk of disappointment, risk of ‘failure’…and all of that self-selected and self-imposed. It’s easy to get attached to a particular idea, a particular dream of holiday magic, and find myself disappointed, not in the moment, but overall – having invested too much in a pretty daydream, and failing to enjoy the precious moment that is.  I sometimes also get hung up on what was, and what wasn’t; that’s just the chaos and damage, leaking through to now.

I sing holiday carols – I love most of them, the heartfelt yearning, the love, the wonder, the sentiment. I sing along with them and feel.  There are a few that always make me weep; I am grieving, in some cases, feelings I don’t have for myself, or crying because what is real can sometimes hurt so much. One of my favorite emotional holiday carols is “I’ll Be Home for Christmas“, an old WWII era carol. The homesick sorrow of soldiers on the battlefield, missing their loved ones and the safety of a holiday at home…it’s not why I cry. I cry when I hear/sing that carol because I don’t have that home to go back to; it’s an empty promise. It’s spelled out in the song, too… “I’ll be home for Christmas…if only in my dreams…” Yes. I will also be home for Christmas, every year, no matter what…if only in my dreams. What do you feel when you think of ‘home’? Where is that place for you? Is it a geographical location, or the companionship of a specific other person? Is it a place, or a place in your heart?

I do have a very clear idea of what these holidays feel like, and I’ve been ‘home for the holidays’ on a level that amounted to ‘proof of concept’ more than once. It remains an experience of rare heart and beauty, and great sentiment. The price of admission is feeling the feelings, and being with others who share them. It’s called ‘the magic of Christmas’ because the experience of it is not a given, and it is an experience worth cherishing, nurturing, and savoring.

This morning is an ordinary enough Tuesday morning, I guess. I was wakened earlier than I wanted to be awake by the sounds of doors, voices, laundry… I looked at the clock, stunned to see all that going on at such an early hour, on a day I expected the house to be rather quiet. Morning appointments trump sleeping in.  This morning I find myself recognizing that this particular desire to ‘sleep until I wake’ isn’t so easily fulfilled, the logistics are complicated, and require a shared commitment that is lacking, and the frustration and disappointment of failing to find my way to the quality of sleep and rest I am seeking is becoming its own thing. Time to let it go, I guess; it’s not worth being irritated about not achieving it. “Enough sleep” will have to be enough.

I’m in pain, again today. I’m in enough pain that Rx pain relief doesn’t do much to relieve the pain, just dulls it somewhat and renders it manageable. I’m in enough pain to be uncomfortable to be around, for people sensitive to that sort of thing; it’s just too obvious that I am uncomfortable. I’m in enough pain to struggle to manage my mood, and my temper. Yoga doesn’t take away the pain, but it does make movement easier, and a bit less uncomfortable moment to moment. Everyday pain has become so every day at this point it is now a challenge to remember a time when I didn’t hurt like this, although wisdom and intellect tell me that such a point of view is flawed and inaccurate. I have hurt like this, in winter, for years now. It always sucks just this much.

home for the  holidays...

home for the holidays…

Home for the holidays – the adult version; I know what I want, I know that it is ‘real’, and I know I can’t have it. What I can have is still a wonderful holiday, still worthy, still filled with joy; there are verbs involved, and a certain level of adult acceptance – and self-acceptance – are required, and perhaps ‘some assembly’. We can’t always get what we want… Today is a good day to celebrate the holidays that are, with the people who are here.