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Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
"No, really!"

My Favorite Bit of Paper Cup Philosophy

The Way I See It #76

The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating - in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

It Sneaked Up On Me!

Well, maybe I allowed it to sneak up on me, but the end of the year is upon us. I had so much to write about. And I had time to write, but I didn't. Maybe I didn't actually want to confess my time spent as a Christmas Nazi. I've been called Cleopatra (Queen of Denial) regarding other issues in life. So now, the quick version of my former Nazi-ism.

By the time of my last Christmas spent in the marital home, our rituals were firmly entrenched. Everyone knew his or her duties. Each of us was recognized for our special talents ~ Les, Ex and Amber. We lived in a small, 4-square-mile city completely surrounded by San Diego and we were related to about half the population. We were community activists, involved in city council, school board, PTA, Friends of the Library, Soroptimist, Kiwanis, Concerts in the Park and the Chamber of Commerce. We had one hella gift shopping list and the card list was longer. Somehow, over the years, it developed that we gave not one, but several gifts to each person on our list, unless they were more like acquaintances than actual friends or family. We shopped year-round. eBay, Amazon, quirky little shops, craft fairs. I kept a bound journal in my purse at all times for lists and other lists and lists that talked to each other. Somehow, it happened that we got so "cute" about wrapping gifts that if we were giving a dress to a little girl, I'd find a way to use a sweater as the "wrapping paper" and a pair of tights as the "ribbon". Wrapping Weekend at our home included hot glue guns, shiny dimensional objects and 48 hours in pajamas, all meals being delivered to the door. Ex wasn't grand at wrapping, but he could cut, glue, take out the trash, stack the gifts. The child showed a marked suitability to Nazi-ism at a very young age.

We hosted many of the Christmas Day family get-togethers. By October I knew how many extra tables, chairs and table linen we'd need to rent. The menu was in place by November. Somehow, it came to pass that our home would be decorated with some form of Christmas tree in each and every room, and I'm not talking about small ceramic Christmas trees. Even the dollhouses we built as our family project were decked out for the holidays. Every door in the home had a wreath on each side of it, unless it was the inside of a closet door. My little dog wore Christmas clothes . . . . is the reader getting the picture here? We spent life doing Christmas. I baked and made candy. I owned more Christmas music than the law allows. I was partial to the one that featured guitar music accompanied by a babbling brook. And the most fun I had all year long was shopping the sales after Christmas to get ready for the following Christmas. This was life for years.

This paragraph contains no tongue-in-cheek information. What I've described above is literally true. It was that frantic. There is a certain sickness to it and I know that. It was my sickness. The child was a child. She didn't create it. The only thing Ex ever knew about Christmas was whatever the Indian Center handed out for meals and gifts to indigents. Lest the reader believe I am stupid or vapid, I want to put something else forward. First, I'd like it known that we also delivered meals or served them every Christmastime, all three of us. I always chaired the Christmas Caring program at Amber's school, personally buying food and gifts for 20 families. Secondly, the answer today is: Yes, I do know what I was running from, why I had to have so much frantic diversion in my life, with whom I was avoiding interaction, where I needed to land, and when it was time to let it go. For you see, I have grown. I am living proof that people can make meaningful change. It shows a little on the outside. But the bigger shift occurs in our operating systems. When one is as tightly wound as I was, and the spring is finally sprung . . . . well.

That last Christmas Eve, the heavens opened and the rain came down in torrents. My home had miles of terra cotta tile flooring and as we greeted the 50 or so guests, the floor became treacherous. We employed every rug and beach towel we owned, trying to avert a lawsuit when someone took a dive. Things were progressing nicely and everyone was seated at the tables for dinner. One of the relatives' kids - a smarmy 12-year-old smartass - said, "Hey, there's water coming down the stairs!" I exchanged a glance with Ex that he probably understood pretty well - we'd been together 31 years by then. "Little asshole." However, I'd no more than turned my attention back to my dinner plate when the tidal wave announced itself. Water heater. Upstairs. Emptying its contents downstairs. It was a stressful time, dear readers. I've never groused about the $800 it cost to replace a water heater on a rainy Christmas Eve, nor about the work it took to dry everything out in rainy weather. But I was truly disturbed at the sequence of events that messed with my entertaining. I hadn't yet learned that I don't control anything. Tightly wound. Uh-huh.

Now I do the holidays differently. I don't call them "Christmas" any more. I don't trick out my home in tinselly stuff and I don't buy gifts for 8,000 people. I am still tightly wound about some things, so I get a little out-of-sorts trying to work out a holiday-like meal translated to primitive camping conditions. I do it pretty well. I sleep on the ground instead of my warm bed, and sometimes I sleep with all the same clothes that I've worn all day - one wants to avoid hypothermia. My face chaps and my nose runs and sometimes the conditions are just . . . . miserable. I sit in a sling-style camp chair that makes my back hurt if I sit too long reading. Dishwashing and bathing are best accomplished at the warmest hour of the day. One hikes miles and miles and sees stark great beauty. And animals and old mineshafts and "stuff". And that's where I find my peace. Although I could never have told you I am bothered by noise pollution, I've never failed to arrive in any corner of the desert and immediately exclaim, "Listen to the quiet!" It quiets me in every way. I put down my burdens and live in the now. Just a little less tightly wound.

In my ears right now: Jefferson Starship ~ Miracles. That danged Erin O'Brien got me going and I can't stop. Tightly wound! I wish I was wearing a twirly skirt.

Something that charmed me: I work only peripherally with a man I dislike intensely. When he approaches, I feel my jaw clench. He always manages to offend me in most every way. Sometimes he does it in one sentence. He came into the office and started in on what a wonderful year 2009 has been and yada, yada, yada. Well, 2009 has not been a banner year for me, for many reasons. In fact, I've been inviting any interested parties to help me boot its ass on out of here tomorrow night. I said as much to him and he started in on all the expected things: my health, my job, my home. I maintained my Little Miss Crabby Ass demeanor until he rumbled off. And when he did, I grinned. I don't give this man much, but he hit on the things that matter. I adjusted my attitude. 2010 has to be better!


  1. Like I said on my blog (I think it was my blog; I get confused sometimes) Christmas appeals to my romantic side (not romantic in the falling-in-love sense, but the word's broader meaning) but not my cold, icy, emotionally distant side (as you know, I recently wrote about that on my blog, too). I start out wishing the Christian holiday with pagan origins would just go away, but eventually get in the spirit. Speaking of holidays, I probably won't have access to a computer again until Saturday, so you'll be spared these rambling comments for awhile. Happy New Year.

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  3. @ Kirk ~ But you KNOW I am the one who loves the rambling comments! I'm right with you about your recent posts both about the romantic and the colder sides of yourself. I get that. I wish I had a cold, distant side. It might provide some balance. I'll miss hearing from you both here and at your place. Best of everything to you in 2010!

  4. I'm in awe of anyone who could be so devoted to anything and have the energy to accomplish so much. I've never over-done Christmas, but I can become driven in other respects. I have a friend who shops for Christmas all year long, and sometimes I wish I could do this. I usually end up giving anything I buy beforehand as soon as I buy it because I can't wait. I want to see their reaction NOW. I'm glad you are finding peace. It makes me feel more peaceful to read and see your time in the desert. Thanks.

  5. What an amazing piece of writing. So powerful. I am horrified at the thought of your life before now, all that emphasis on Christmas.

    2010 would have to be better - anything would have to be better - than the state of life and mind you describe in the first three quarters of this post.

    So more power to you, more peace and quiet, more joy in your life this new year.

    I've had a tough year, too, for multiple reasons, so like you I say roll on 2010.

  6. @ Kass ~ My friend, "awful" might be more appropriate than "awe". I CAN juggle a lot of balls in anything I take on, so the organizing of all that really came quite naturally to me. And, yes, I have tremendous energy and drive - still. What appalls me, what I almost failed to tell after deciding I would tell it, is that I used all of that to avoid living. All that schlock took a lot of time and energy and made such a grand shield between me and what I needed to be doing with my life. I lost so much precious time in life.

    And, yes, now I find peace. I needed it. I've needed it forever and now I find it, sometimes. Now I don't have to spin and whirl. Now I can just let it be.

    And now you know why all those organizations want Les to head up their projects and events! This chiquita knows how to make stuff happen!

    Watch for tomorrow's post - you're going to laugh!

  7. @ Elisabeth ~ I thank you for using the word "powerful". That is something I've not felt much in my life until very recently. Sadly, Christmas Nazi-ing wasn't my only method of avoiding. I used many ways, and all at the same time - which is to say constantly for the full first 50 years of my life. That state of mind WAS my life - the details didn't matter. Christmas Nazi, best unioin rep on the planet even if it DID take 23 hours a day to do it in. I'm pretty adept at filling up every moment with "stuff".

    My "before" life ended 7 years ago, abruptly and completely at 8:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve. The line of demarcation is extremely dark and permanent. I've grown a lifetime in those 7 years. I am beginning to live.

    I wish you only good things in the coming year. It's so good to see you here!

  8. Here's a little bit of white space, just for you -

    Have a peaceful and truly happy New Year! :)

  9. @ Rachel ~ What a lovely holiday gift! You can tell I need a bit of that, huh? Happy 2010, Rachel. It's lovely to know you.

  10. "What appalls me, what I almost failed to tell after deciding I would tell it, is that I used all of that to avoid living."

    I've seen others try to avoid living by being destructive and hateful toward others. So you went a bit overboard. You still brought joy to others by giving, perhaps too much, to others. A very unselfish way to be selfish.

  11. I haven't been around long enough to know whether you've written about the demarcation (sp?) catalyst 7 years ago. If you haven't I hope you do, and I hope I'm around to read it.

    I also have a Xmas hotwater heater story. Sat pm, this Dec 26, I went in the garage where my X lives, and our son, and found the water heater leaking all over the floor. No wonder the hot water was barely warm. The good news is that my son, Allan, helped my replace it. It was a big job because it had been linked up with a passive solar pre-heating mechanism with seeming miles of copper pipes snaking around. We had to rip out much of it, and re-do things. Very messy, but with his torch soldering skills and me running to the store for more connectors, we finished the job at 6 pm, just in time for me to drive 430 back to Orange County ... Arrived at 12:45 am ... Starbucks to the rescue!

    The good part, I didn't stress it sufficiently, I fear, is that this was one of the so-far rare occasions when Allan and I have worked productively together. He's stuggled with drug addiction, and is clean and sober now, and I'm very grateful.

  12. @ Friend Tag ~ You're good to me. Thank you. You may believe that not all of my avoidance behaviors have been benevolent. I hope I have not ever been very hateful to any others, but I surely have been destructive.

    It is my sincere hope that no small children have been traumatized by the absence of the Christmas Nazi in that 4-square-mile city.

  13. @ Dan ~ good for you and Allan! That's time well spent with one's kid. Clean and sober is a good thing, too.

    About the line of demarcation thing: I have and will continue to write a bit about the marriage and the relationship. I was in it 32 years, so it's a big part of my life. There was no sudden event that ended it. No one found anyone else in bed with a third party. Nobody shot up the city council meeting and shamed the other. It's more that we are two people who shouldn't have even tried to sustain a marriage ~ it just wasn't going to work. About the time I realized that, I became pregnant (huge shock after trying for almost 20 years) and hung another 13 years. What is remarkable is the NOISE at the end. Our ice shelf did not melt or erode away. It snapped, breaking away from the mother continent at one precise moment in time. I've always said my divorce story is as ugly as any I've ever heard about. Maybe my perception is skewed because I had a starring role in it. But it was bad. We're both very extreme, and . . . . I may never get over some parts of it. This holiday season, however, I found myself telling stories about him during other holidays. I didn't spit when I said his name. That's progress. I'm not being comical here.

  14. Right back at you, my sweet one, Tree! Looking forward to your continued growth and strength in the new year.

  15. Parts of this Christmas history belong on public radio. There is such redemption embued in your account. I wonder what your voice sounds like. Your writing is so compelling, I'm even drawn to the horror you describe through comments.

  16. @ GJ ~ Happy holidays! It's good to have you aboard today. Thank you for your nice comments. Funny you'd pop up today. I'm working right now on a post wherein I mention another comment you made to another of my posts.

    Also funny you'd ask about my voice. My mother, daughter and I sound so much alike, even we can't tell one another apart on the phone. It's said we have really compelling voices, soft but a little deep. At work, I am "the voice" of our company. If I'm in the office, I am to be the only one to answer the phones, because David believes people bond to my voice ~ that I actually attract business that way. If one goes online to our company websites, I can be heard yacking away about carpet cleaning as one schedules an appointment. Not very interesting stuff, but the voice is there. I'd probably do OK on NPR.

  17. Hmm. For me XMas barely exists. I have to work at it. It's unnatural. Your account(s) of it don't ... I don't have words for it. They're just so outside my experience. Holidays in general. All of them. They don't penetrate. In some ways, every day is a holiday; everything is a miracle, or nothing is, as one sage said.

  18. @ the Badge ~ I know the holidays barely show up on your radar. And you're persuasive, Badger, because I'm not only found where once I was lost, I still feel like my "now" way of celebrating is wonderful. Well done! I was a special ed student requiring intensive tutoring - you ARE good at what you do. I'm glad you boarded my pink bus today. I vote for "everything is a miracle". "Nothing is" would be way too cynical for me.