Friday, November 27, 2015

One is the Loneliest Number

More than any other season, the end of the year orgy of togetherness is most difficult for those who are not 'blessed' with friends and family. At least that is the conventional wisdom. I'm not so sure about the statistics. I believe it's all about expectations and needs.

For some, a nice quiet day alone, doing what the heart desires with minimum effort, can be a great gift. I have several friends across the globe who are 'onlies', some by choice, others through circumstance. I have observed that those who truly don't want to be alone on holidays make an effort to be with other folks. One person I know spends holidays feeding the homeless. Another prepares a feast and invites other onlies to share it.

Over the years I've been blessed with holidays I spent with a multitude of relatives and I've also had others alone. One is not better than the other. One Christmas seventy of my nearest and dearest sat down to dinner. It was a spectacular experience. But dare I admit I've reached a place in my life when three or four friends sharing a quiet dinner is more my style?

I think we've let that Norman Rockwell painting influence our expectations to the point of silliness. Do we really need to cook enough food for an army so we can spend time with people we don't even like? Are we so determined to deny the truth--the painful truth--that many of us dread spending time with extended family?

I once had a conversation with my father about how things were with our ancestors. They didn't travel long distances to share a meal on a specific day. Heck, often, families were so far flung they might not see each other for years. Holidays (if celebrated) included everyone on the homestead, related or not. And if family came to visit...say in August or March, well then there was a dinner and conversation.

I wonder how it would be if we went back to small congenial gatherings, or even better, just stayed at home with our loved ones, spending time together? What if we banned electronics for that day? What if we planned for surplus spending on food to go to a food bank or homeless shelter? What if we invited that neighbor who lives alone to join us for dinner? Often, folks who spend holidays alone are that way exactly because no one invited them to join them. After all, most of us don't just show up on our own. So are we observant enough, compassionate enough to share our bounty and good fortune with others?

Instead of packing up a food basket for a disadvantaged family, why not invite them to join in with our celebrations? Then send them home with the leftovers so they have not one meal, but several?

Technology hasn't brought us closer. It's provided the means and opportunity to foster great loneliness and alienation. Ultimately, our unrealistic expectations leave us with dissatisfaction and sadness at the end of the day. We wearily return to our homes, put the too generous leftovers away, do the mountain of dishes, and wonder why we don't feel any joy. Maybe...maybe, one isn't the loneliest number.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Speak to Me

From the time I was very young, stones--whether in place naturally or arranged by man--have spoken to me, deep in the heart. My early years were spent in northeastern Arizona, land of sacred mountains. Then we moved to Indiana, Illinois, Texas, always living in urban environments. Often I mentioned to my husband how much I wished we lived closer to the mountains.

Then we were transferred to the Hudson Valley in upstate New York. On the drive up there, he said, "Well, you're going to finally live in the mountains!"

I believe everyone is drawn to someplace in particular, irrespective of familial ties or significant personal history. Folks might not even know what they're seeking until they stumble across 'their' place and everything shifts within them, telling them they are home. It would be nice if we could all live in the places that speak to our hearts, but that is seldom possible.

I know people who long for the ocean and beaches. Frankly, if I never visit a beach again, it will still be too soon for me. I've never wanted to go on a cruise. Though the ocean is a fearsome and beautiful place, it is not my place. I have friends who thrive in urban environments, reveling in the rush of the city. That's not my place either for the noise and hustle-bustle drown out the spirit of contemplation.

No. My heart yearns for the places of stone. A deep longing fills me when I see pictures like the one above or scenes from the lonely places like Cathedral Rock in Arizona or Shiprock in New Mexico. Perhaps that's why I climbed my local mountain, Schunemunk Mountain, New York, every weekend when I was in my forties. That was home. For my college graduation, the hunk gifted me with a painting of the mountain in all it's fall splendor, that hangs on the wall over our bed.

I wonder how it would be if everyone knew what their 'place' would be? Do you suppose people would be more content if they could visit the home of their heart every once in a while and just chill out while they relaxed and let it speak to them? Something to think about on this eve of the day we're supposed to give thanks. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Sometimes the Curtains are Blue

There's a story about a professor who insisted there were all sorts of hidden meanings and significance in the sentence, "The curtain was blue." Another individual pointed out it just might be a simple statement of fact, "The curtain was blue."

Writing is a lot like this. Some writers spend time planning story arcs and deep meanings and character development and black moments and...

The rest of us just write. We work more along the line of first this happened and then...

I have great respect for those writers with their color charts and their outlines and their character sheets and all that other paraphernalia. But some of us find that intimidating and off-putting. For some of us, it's all we can do to sit at the computer and type coherent sentences. Sometimes the curtains are just blue.

November is the month writers set aside to write 50K in thirty days. And as is typical of writers, some have planned their fifty thousand words meticulously, with outline cards (color coded) and character growth charts and incredibly terrifying black moments, while the rest of us are fortunate to remember our hero's name and what color his hair is. Whatever your style, it's okay. Writing is not a team sport or a competition. It's a deeply personal, private adventure.

I'm a rebel so my curtains are purple, 'cause that's how I roll.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

One Size Fits All

In my younger years, there was a song about 'ticky-tacky boxes' that referred to all the subdivisions springing up with identical rows of houses and folks with no individuality. Back then, in sixties/early seventies, young people in particular were striving to be different, to be a new generation. I find it ironic that the very folks striving for that individuality are the same ones who crave and demand the one size fits all mentality now.

I posted a link to an article that had personal meaning--that spoke to my frustrations, especially with my non-writing. Evidently, it struck a chord with quite a few other writers because they shared it, too. But I noticed a couple writers that pooh-poohed the idea of the post, more or less saying it was a cop-out.

That's pretty much the attitude of people all over the world when exposed to an idea that doesn't fit in with their world view. Buck up people. If you just believe/live/eat/exercise/drink/whatever I do, life will be bright and happy and...blah, blah, blah. Rather than celebrating our individuality, we're inundated with demands to be just like everyone else. And woe to those who don't fit in.

In the human history, it's always been a case of 'you are your place in society'. Once a peasant, always a peasant. Once a king (unless you really pissed off the peasants) always a king. When I was a kid, there was nothing as deadly as a woman who showed up in church without a hat. Or didn't wear a dress. If you were too poor to own 'go to church' clothing, then you'd better sit on the back row to hide your shame. Charity apparently did NOT begin at church.

I could type the same paragraph above, change a few words and make it relevant to color, ethnicity, gender, or just about any other way we humans use to separate and classify ourselves. While we demand uniformity, we seize on our differences to show our superiority. Why?

We are not all one size. What I might find relevant or encouraging, another might disagree with or reject. So what? If the shoe fits me, why are you insisting it's all negative because it doesn't fit you? We are all sizes, ages, colors, and have different life circumstances. What I might be struggling with, another may have no knowledge or experience with. That doesn't mean my struggle isn't real.

One of the writing skills I absolutely cannot wrap my head around is POV. I cannot get it. LOTS of well-meaning editors, fellow writers, teachers have all tried to pound it into my head to no avail. I imagine there are other skills just as elusive to other folks. That's because we're all different.

Some of us embrace our individuality with obvious flare. Others are quietly different. That's as it should be. I once had a conversation with a neighbor who came over to my house. She was...OCD about her home. It looked like a model house. I had four kids, plus all the neighbor kids running in and out of my house. At this particular time, it was summer. We didn't have AC so all the windows were open. Construction trucks were hauling 'fill' dirt down our street at the rate of four trucks an hour.

So, my neighbor ran a finger through the deep dust on one of my book shelves. "Don't you ever dust?"

I just stared her for a moment, then soberly replied, "Don't mess with my dust. When it gets deep enough I'm going to plant marigolds..."

I don't think she ever got over that. But really, it's all a matter of perspective, isn't it?

Monday, November 9, 2015

Christmas Rumors

It's started. The annual bombardment of false rumor mongering about some nebulous group of individuals who object to how some other nebulous group celebrates Christmas/Yule/Kwanzaa/Hanukkah/whatever.

Stop it. Stop posting idiotic crap on your social media pages. NO ONE cares how you greet folks, whether you call it a Christmas Tree or a Holiday Tree, what songs you sing, or any of that other bullfeathers. No one really cares what kind of cups some coffee place serves their product in. If folks quit spreading this garbage around the internet, it would go away. Think about it--you're helping spread dissension and hate.

If you want a tree, get one. Decorate it however you wish. Say 'Merry Christmas' or 'Happy Holidays'. About ninety percent of the population won't even hear you because they're busy trying to survive. When you're worried about having food next week or wondering where you're going to sleep, you just don't have the energy to worry about what color a coffee cup is.

Pressing 'share' on some dubious article, written by some group no one knows is an act of laziness. I repeat. No one cares. If you're worried about keeping Christ in Christmas, then I'll tell you the true way.

Feed the hungry. Don't just empty all the cans of no-name veggies and expired food from your pantry for the food drive. Kick in some money. Food banks desperately need real dollars instead of stuff they can't use. Consider. If you don't want to eat it, why would anyone else?

Care for the destitute. Do you know how many people in our country are homeless, living in tents, sleeping in cars, surviving on the street? Do you know what the homeless need? Basic necessities. Socks. Soap. Tooth brush and tooth paste. Toilet paper. Comb. Razors. Shampoo. Warm coat, hat, gloves. Oh, yeah. Food.

Protect the elderly. Check up on them. Make sure they have enough to eat. Offer to take them to their appointments. Spend time visiting. Value them for their contributions.

If you profess to be a Christian, then you'll be following Jesus' commandment to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. In other words--be selfless, loving, giving. All the rest of it is just useless distraction. I'm pretty sure Christ didn't have Christmas trees, decorations, present orgies, or gluttonous feasts. Didn't he command us to go out into the byways and invite the homeless in to eat? Can you imagine what kind of world it would be if no one was in need?

Instead of worrying about unimportant things, why not start posting about food pantries and homeless shelters that need help? This Christmas, why not talk to your family about giving up their gifts for someone who has nothing? Do it up right. Pick a family to sponsor. Buy the gifts. Wrap them. And don't forget a box of groceries. I can absolutely guarantee they will never forget it for the rest of their lives. I know my brothers and I will never forget the Christmas we were on the receiving end of such a gift. It's a life changing event.

That's the meaning of Christmas.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Year I Stopped Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner

For most of our married life--soon to be 48 years--we have lived many miles away from the rest of our extended family. When our children started moving out on their own, they didn't have the space or utensils to cook a big dinner. So it fell to me to produce a holiday meal.

Early in November on the particular year in question, I was chatting with my neighbor, Marie in our joint back yard when she asked, "What are you having for Thanksgiving dinner?" I know I shocked her when I shamelessly admitted I had no idea and furthermore I didn't plan to worry about it.

"But, but, but--" she stuttered.

"If the family wants a big dinner, they'll cook it. I'm done."

Now it wasn't nearly the arbitrary decision you might think. Most years my birthday falls either right before or right after Thanksgiving. The previous year was one of the years it was actually on Thanksgiving Day. I was up early roasting and baking and so forth while the kids and the hunk were off doing 'something' important. At dinner time, they all showed up, devoured dinner like a plague of locusts, and... left. Total elapsed time: 35 minutes.

As I cleaned and scrubbed and struggled with leftovers the rest of the afternoon (by myself), (with nary a simple 'Happy Birthday'), it occurred to me I was completely at fault. If you will allow yourself to be a doormat, well why get upset when folks walk all over you and wipe their feet on you? I resolved to stop being a doormat.

The next year, when the troops started discussing Thanksgiving dinner, I firmly announced I was going to order dinner from Boston Market and pick up a couple pies from the grocery bakery. My goodness what a fuss! That would never do. But I stood firm. I pointed out it was MY birthday and in all the years our family have lived miles and miles from the rest of our family, I had NEVER had a birthday cake--unless I baked it myself. That was understandable when the kids were small, but now, well now they were all adults. It was time for someone else to take over. AND clean up.

From that time on, until we moved out of state away from our children, I never cooked Thanksgiving Dinner again. And I never was reduced to ordering it from Boston Market. And I always had a birthday cake, one that I didn't bake.

When folks on social media moan and groan about how much cooking and shopping and baking they have to do, I struggle to keep my mouth shut, because I want to ask how it can be a family dinner when no other part of the family is participating in the preparation? Sometimes, you just have to speak up and let your family know you're not the holiday chef.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

An Encouraging Word

Folks that don't write professionally may not understand the debilitating consequences of discouragement. It's easier to embrace failure than to continue on in the face of slow sales, bad reviews, and rejections. In the past, I've more or less ignored NaNoWriMo as a gimmick I didn't really have time for. But I haven't written anything of note for about two and a half years. That's thirty months. 30.

This year, I didn't sign up for it either, but I'm striving to 'write along' with those who did. In the first two days I discovered something valuable. Never underestimate the importance of an encouraging word.

At the end of each day, I post my word count, meager though it might be. It's still more words than I've written in a long time. Once I've posted my word count for the day, friends stop by with an encouraging word. Those words are priceless.

Writing is lonely. It's all in the author's head. Until the words are down on paper, we really have no way to share our vision, our story. And there's likely nothing more boring than a writer trying to share that vision before it's been written. It's kind of like telling another person about this fabulous movie or television show you've watched. Trust me. It never works.

So. If you're a reader who values my work, stop by and let me know. No one will appreciate your encouraging words more than I will. And if I'm not the writer that floats your boat, then go encourage the writer that does. We all need a cheering section. All of us.