Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Reboot Christmas

I'm writing this now, a few days after Christmas, so that I can hopefully keep it in mind enough to help me avoid another Christmas like this one in 2011.

Not to blame my family or friends, but once again, Christmas was disappointing... I am grateful that I didn't suffer the crushing depression I so often felt in December in my 20s, but any attempts to make Christmas worthwhile or meaningful just failed miserably. It can't be done. It is one long round of unmet longings, of excess and expense that makes no-one but children happy.

I know it's a different set of disappointments for everyone, but in my case, it's a month of frantic activity and checklists that culminate in... nothing. It's isolating, a stripping away of the work routine that keeps me plugged in to society and content, and having stripped away that schedule and left me with nothing useful to do, leaves me bereft and dependent on the hospitality of family members who never built up any traditions to give us some structure for the holiday.

Having just written that paragraph, an epiphany has just occurred to me: why don't I hold the Christmas gathering next year? I've always assumed as the Single of the family that my role was to arrive at a larger house with a supplementary side dish, a dessert, and gifts. But what if I were to host the thing, to direct the course of the day instead of hoping for someone else to arrange something enjoyable for all?

I say this with anarchy in mind... because the best, most memorable holidays I have had are the ones that resemble a sitcom plot for a Christmas episode. Primary example:

For decades our family has gone every Christmas to our relatives in Batesville, AR, because it was the habit of our childhood. We would sometimes escape the slight claustrophobia of my Grandmother's house (where nothing much was done beyond meals, TV, naps and conversations) by going on an errand to the Super Wal-Mart. One year my mom, sisters and I all went together, and in an uncharacteristic move, bought some sodas and sat in the little corner food court after our shopping. We ended up sitting there and talking for over an hour. We realized that we didn't really want to leave and go back to the house... that we didn't really enjoy these Christmases in AR because we never did anything fun... and that we all felt the same way. It ended up being a long group therapy session, and even now over a decade later, we will still talk fondly about that time in the food court at Wal-Mart.

It wasn't that we didn't love and enjoy my Grandmother, and that we didn't like seeing my cousins (who were always the big drawing point for us)... it was the very separation from that tradition that was memorable and a turning point for us as a family. This was before my sisters had kids, and we hadn't yet realized that it could be enjoyable sitting around and talking, just the women of our family.

I guess the conclusion I'm arriving at here, is that as much as we need the traditions of the holiday for structure, we also need to scrap them on occasion. Baking cookies every Christmas can be an enjoyable habit... but the minute it becomes a burden, it needs to go away for a while! I stopped holiday baking for several years when it ceased being fun; well, this year I had a longing for making sugar cookies and decorating them, and so I stocked up on cookie cutters and sprinkles and went to town on the baking for gifts. I also ended up making over 25 dozen sausage-cheese balls over the month of December.

So I think I want to scrap both the (subconscious) traditions/habits of the last few decades (or the lack thereof)... and maybe be the host next year. I may just make pasta, I may have no presents but a movie marathon, I may have only a tiny tree for decoration or every room covered in ornaments and wreaths... there are no rules beyond trying to create some new traditions (Zero-dollar gifts... homemade gifts... sushi and cheesecake...) to help take us out of this misery of disappointed expectation.

I like my family. I don't have any stress being around them, they don't torment me or get drunk or cause unpleasant scenes or drama, and I am deeply grateful for that. But I think we can use a reboot.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Word du Jour

Paraprosdokian (from Wikipedia)
making the rounds... not sure of the origin!

A paraprosdokian (from Greek "παρα-", meaning "beyond" and "προσδοκία", meaning "expectation") is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect, sometimes producing an anticlimax. For this reason, it is extremely popular among comedians and satirists.

Ø I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn't work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.

Ø Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.

Ø The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on the list.

Ø Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

Ø If I agreed with you we'd both be wrong.

Ø We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public.

Ø War does not determine who is right - only who is left.

Ø Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

Ø The early bird might get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

Ø Evening news is where they begin with 'Good evening', and then proceed to tell you why it isn't.

Ø To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.

Ø A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk, I have a work station.

Ø How is it one careless match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?

Ø I thought I wanted a career, turns out I just wanted pay checks.

Ø A bank is a place that will lend you money, if you can prove that you don't need it.

Ø Whenever I fill out an application, in the part that says "If an emergency, notify:" I put "DOCTOR".

Ø I didn't say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.

Ø Why does someone believe you when you say there are four billion stars, but check when you say the paint is wet?

Ø Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut, and still think they are sexy.

Ø Why do Americans choose from just two people to run for president and 50 for Miss America?

Ø Behind every successful man is his woman. Behind the fall of a successful man is usually another woman.

Ø A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.

Ø You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.

Ø The voices in my head may not be real, but they have some good ideas!

Ø Always borrow money from a pessimist. He won't expect it back.

Ø A diplomat is someone who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you will look forward to the trip.

Ø Hospitality: making your guests feel like they're at home, even if you wish they were.

Ø Money can't buy happiness, but it sure makes misery easier to live with.

Ø Some cause happiness wherever they go. Others whenever they go.

Ø There's a fine line between cuddling, and holding someone down so they can't get away.

Ø I used to be indecisive. Now I'm not sure.

Ø I always take life with a grain of salt, plus a slice of lemon, and a shot of tequila.

Ø When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water.

Ø You're never too old to learn something stupid.

Ø To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.

Ø Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.

Ø Some people hear voices. Some see invisible people. Others have no imagination whatsoever.

Ø A bus is a vehicle that runs twice as fast when you are after it as when you are in it.

Ø If you are supposed to learn from your mistakes, why do some people have more than one child?

Ø Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

Monday, December 06, 2010

The 2010 Christmas Letter

Christmas 2010

Dear Friends and Family,

After 10+ years of Christmas letters, I finally have had a year that has really provided me with something to write about!

... In Which I Become a Homeowner

In April I finally bought my own place! I had been looking for over a year for a house, and in fact put an offer on a short sale property in July 2009. After over 7 months with no updates and no response from the bank making the sale, I gave up and started looking at condos, which turned out far better than I expected. I now live in Brighton Village, a small, brand-new complex right next to Nipper's Corner (also known as Brentioch by some of the locals; between Brentwood and Antioch, obviously). I had the great luxury of picking out my floorings & some fixtures, and now have the joy of a condo where everything except me and my possessions is brand-new. I do miss my old neighborhood terribly - the first month or so I was a little depressed and I kept driving back to Cool Springs on the flimsiest excuse.

I was also fortunate in that my condo was high up on a hill, which proved a great advantage when the Nashville May Day flood came roaring in less than a week after I moved in. For all the tragic losses of people and homes, it has been an absolute joy seeing how charitably the city responded. Nashville really does take care of its own, and even now I still love hearing stories of how people immediately pitched in, helping both neighbors and strangers to safety and then helping to clean up the destruction. My mom and dad's basement flooded and there was some damage, but my family and I were all safe (if inconvenienced), thank God!

I still have a lot of work to do; I turned the master bedroom into the Office/Computer Gutting Station/Library/Craft Room/Guest Room. Since my bedroom is just for my clothes and sleeping, I took the smaller one; I'd rather use the bigger bedroom for living in! After taking several months to get some nice bookshelves built (not built-in; I want to be able to take them with me to my next place!) I have finally put away all my books, which have remained in boxes for over 6 months now. What luxury! Then paint a couple of accent walls in the Great Room, and all my pictures can be hung up. It will be nice to have a (mostly) completed home. I still have some bigger pieces of furniture I hope to get.

... In Which I Become a Cat Lady

About 6 weeks after I moved into my new place, I finally took the plunge after years of waiting and got myself a couple of kittens. They are 2 grayish/brownish tabby twin sisters, and I named them Daisy and Bunny (although they are frequently referred to as my Lazy Daisy and Dumb Bunny). When I went to visit and see if I liked them, I discovered that they were born on the day I moved into my new home, which I considered a good sign! I still can't tell them apart unless they are right beside each other (Bunny is skinnier) or I can see the color of their collars. They make me glad to go home at night... although their medical bills? Not so much.

Daisy is proving to be my smart girl; when told NO or scolded, she usually meows wistfully but stops misbehaving quite quickly. She also comes when I call (if she isn't doing something particularly absorbing) which is unusual for a cat. I was giving her antibiotics for an ailment for a few weeks, and now whenever it's time to give her a dose, I call for her, she meows and comes running and stands by my side until I pick her up and give her a dropper-ful of medicine. She also likes being cuddled like a baby, or to curl into my neck and shoulder. She saves her energy for later, unlike her sister.

Bunny is my quicksilver girl; she is incredibly fast and has almost a morphing ability to get into my closet when it's open for a couple of seconds (where she dearly loves to pull clothes off of hangers). She's braver than Daisy and not as easily startled; at the same time she's slower on the uptake. A few months ago I had to give both of them medicine, and while Daisy (initially) would make a run for it and hide the minute I got out the medicine each morning, day after day Bunny would just sit and look at me with an expression of "What's that you got there, mommy? I've never seen that before... Will I like it?" She also adores playing Fetch with fake mice.

Believe me, I am being RESTRAINED in my description. I can talk about them endlessly. And do!

... In Which I Become Editorial

I had an unexpected opportunity arise this fall when I started looking into the world of public domain publishing. There is an author I adored as a child named Gladys Malvern, who wrote almost 4 dozen Young Adult historical novels. Her books went out of print years ago (she wrote from the 1940-60s) and so it has become difficult to find her books except in the occasional library, or for sale online for up to $150 for popular titles. I started scanning copies of the books into PDF files a couple of years ago (after checking them out through Inter-Library Loan at Vanderbilt) and have about 20 of my favorites preserved.

Recently I reconnected with an old high school choir friend through Facebook who has his own publishing company that specializes in reprinting and repackaging classic books in the public domain, and asked how hard it was to get out-of-print titles reprinted. One thing led to another, and I ended up signing a contact with him to serve as an Associate Editor and reprint the eligible Malvern titles! We hope to bring out the first book in Spring of 2011; it is one of her most popular titles, Behold Your Queen!, a novel about Queen Esther from the Old Testament. I am very hopeful that it will sell well and we can start bringing out other books in the coming years. I really believe that my fondness for history came in large part from reading books like these when I was young, and I would love for them to be available to my nieces and nephews.

... In Which I Become Insured

At the end of the summer, I was asked to increase my hours at the American Economic Association from 20 to 30, which made me eligible for medical insurance through Vanderbilt University as a full-time employee. This made me very happy! Not having had insurance for the last 3.5 years has been occasionally scary, although I am grateful that no significant medical expenses arose during that point. Now I regard my insurance as a treat, like a pedicure or a shopping trip: "Ooh, I can get that mole checked out now! I can get my eye exam! I won't have to pay to go to the chiropractor anymore!"

It has meant fewer hours are available for my House Calls Computer Service, and for a while there I was so overwhelmed with both jobs that I stopped taking new clients. But it has evened up now, and I finally adjusted to the additional hours. It wasn't as stressful as it might have been, since I adore my co-workers; I am really lucky to have such an agreeable group of people to work with! I am glad I do get to continue doing both jobs; it keeps me from getting bored or burned-out.

... In Which I Behave As Usual

Church Music: Still singing!

Crafts: Still stitching!

TV: Still watching!

Nieces and Nephews: Still sitting! Not that they really need it anymore... *sigh* the youngest one is 7, the oldest 17! Except for Greta's girls, who STILL live too far away.

I hope that you and your families have a wonderful Christmas season, and that 2011 is a great year for you.

The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord lift His countenance upon you, and give you peace;
The Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. Amen!