Thursday, December 31, 2015

Things I Can Give Up

It is the last day of 2015. It's monumental, I suppose, this 38th year of mine, a year full of change, turmoil and triumph, highs and lows, work and play... but it feels like a Monday. Like I have to get up and get stuff done as soon as possible. Maybe a night of heavy drinking will fix that.

I was researching the tradition of New Year resolutions for a story I am writing in the Silverado Express, and it was fascinating to see that the custom of using the beginning of the year to make changes, to repent and forgive, to purge and cleanse and start over, is almost universal, whether the new year celebration is on January first, on the Chinese lunar new year, or Rosh Hashanah. The underlying theme of new year resolutions is sacrifice - the giving up and letting go of anything that hinders us: grudges, bad habits, clutter... Even the sacrifice of pride that keeps us from owning our failures or forgiving the people who have hurt us, or giving up something we love for the greater good. This tradition is rooted in the Catholic tradition of Lent which requires church members to forego the eating of meat among other things for a period of time.

In the spirit of the season, I laid in bed for awhile pondering what sacrifices I would make this year (because it was a great excuse to lay in bed for awhile), at the beginning of 2016, to start the year off unencumbered and ready to get some shit done. So here is my list of things to give up. Things I don't need hanging off of me in 2016:

1. Ungratefulness - this is something that has come up for me again and again and again. I have so much to be thankful for, but I habitually resort to complaining about what I don't have. And it's ugly.

2. About 30 more pounds - which means leaving behind the bi-weekly habit of cheesy bread and beer. I am on the path... just a little more paring!

3. Anger at situations that I cannot change or control. I am pressing hard after a deep seated peace, knowing that I am exactly where I need to be to get me where I am going.

4. Worry about my growing-up kids that are no longer under "my protection." I need to trust them to the Arms of Someone more powerful than me.

5. Substituting things for people. I pacify loneliness by shopping, and all that results in is a whole lotta stuff and still nobody here to make me feel better. When the urge hits, I need to reach out to a friend or pick up a book. Hey - imaginary friends are better than credit card bills!

6. Fleas, lice, round worms, ringworm, and all other vermin. You are no longer welcome in this house. Find somewhere else to haunt.

7. Relationships that are false, shallow or lecherous. I don't need to be sucked dry anymore, and in the same token, I need to evaluate how I relate to others and always make sure that I am giving and honest.

8. Neediness: I have been given everything I need to be a whole person, without being dependent on someone else. I forget this every day.

9. Judgement - I have enough of my own failures to focus on without being distracted by the shortcomings of others.

10. Excuses: For the first time in years, I am virtually pain free. I am capable and I am willing. It's time to be the person that I want to be, without letting my laziness and apathy slow me down.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Things Unseen - Why to Believe, and Why to Push It



It isn't just that I've had a couple of gin & sodas. It isn't just that it's The Holidays. It isn't that my good friend who really couldn't afford it footed my bill at the bar, or that by some weird God-related coincidence some random weird guy at the bar knew that this entire day swirled around and came back to It's a Wonderful Life and referenced it to me. It isn't because I am a spoiled brat and throw a lot of fits. Even if all of those things are true, that's not what it is.

What it really is, is that It Matters. No matter how much I feel like in any given moment, that it doesn't matter what I do, what I say, who I see or talk to, it really does matter. Just like if George Bailey had never been there for Mr. Gower, you never know when just being there matters the most. And you never can tell how the one time you made cookies with somebody, or read them a book, or made them watch a ridiculous Christmas movie, could be something So Big in their lives that they never fully recover.

Tonight I was feeling sorry for myself after sending my kids off to their dad's house for a Christmas celebration, and then I got into an argument with kids that aren't mine about Santa Claus and Christmas and believing. Even my own kids chastised me this holiday season about being too relentless with the Christmas Movies and the Christmas Music and TRADITION. Other kids think I am just plain nuts in my Santa Claus dogma.

I don't know how to say all of the feelings in my heart. All of the frustration for the 8 year old who tells me Santa Claus is a lie, because his parents believe in the importance of  teaching him to thank them for the presents they paid for. Or because perhaps they are afraid that as he grows older he will think that his parents lied to him about a mythical being. Or the 17 year old who doesn't even the know the name of Santa's reindeer because no one ever bothered to tell him. I probably sound petty when I say that it seems horrific to meet someone who has never seen White Christmas or Holiday Inn, or who has never laid awake all night listening for reindeer hooves on the roof of their house.

What baffles me is how you can expect your child to believe in a God that you cannot see or hear but banish so completely the wonder and faith of believing in Santa Claus. If there is anything of value that we can give our kids, it has to be the richness of believing in what we cannot touch or see. It has to be the mystery of Christmas Eve and the wonder of Christmas morning.



Years ago, as I slogged through the mess of my own spirituality in the wreckage of my soul as I was living in a hell on earth, I wrote a poem for my mother. It was shortly after my Grandma had passed away, the Grandma who had told me stories of brownie kiss freckles, mermaids at Twin Rocks on the Oregon Coast, and stories of fairies dancing in the ferns around Multnomah Falls. She told me the legend of The Bridge of The Gods, the ancient Klickitat brothers who fought over a fair maiden and wreaked havoc on the villages and lands of their people, ultimately destroying the naturally formed bridge over the Columbia River. In Punishment, their father, the Great Chief, struck all three down and they became the mountains: Adams, Hood and St. Helens, standing as mournful sentinels of caution to the native people. My grandma, with all of these stories, taught me faith in ages that have gone by before me, belief in knowledge that can not possibly be proven, and she is the reason I will always love, and always believe in Santa Claus, and even more, God. Don't tell me that there is an unseen world but that you are the only one with accurate information about it, according to your badly translated book of stories.

Christianity is in such an all-fired hurry to shun traditions and legends that originate before the advent of Jesus, because of their "pagan" roots - which interestingly, are ALL of our roots. There is history before Christ, y'all. Deal with it. There were miracles and mystics, and if God is yesterday, today and always, then most likely he was hanging out with the pagans before Jesus wandered along. Our little box of religion that is a few thousand years old puts a lot of limits on an omnipotent God, who, incidentally created all of the cultures behind all of the legends and stories and mysteries.

Here is the poem I wrote, and the belief that I feel compelled to share with my children and any others that I come into contact with. Because this is faith. Because it probably matters. Because I think my grandma had it figured out.

I believe in things unseen
In brownie kisses and faerie rings
I believe in gnomes and elves
And pixies that disguise themselves

I believe in sprites and nymphs
Mermaids and mischievous imps
Little things we never see
That hide in toadstools, rocks and trees

I believe there is a world
Of unseen things as we’ve been told
With lots of different creatures there
Irksome ones, and some that care

Now I think I understand
Why Grandma told me faerieland
Was not something I had to see
But trust my heart and it could be

Although this world I cannot see
I know it is as real as me
This trust has grown throughout the years
Throughout the joy and all the tears

And things unseen have grown beyond
Faeries dancing on the lawn
To faith in God and heaven above
And giving unconditional love

for Grandma Schiffman, 1997



Monday, December 21, 2015

Things That Are Disgusting

I have decided that if there is anything gross in the world that it will happen to me. While I will spare you some of the more sordid details of my long past, I will bring you up to speed on the manifest disgust that I have had the pleasure of enduring recently.

It would be easy to just tell you to imagine the grossest things you can and then take it on faith that those things are going on at my house.

Say for instance, you imagined something as horrific as the idea of roundworm larva that live on the microscopic backs of fleas. And say for instance, that you imagined a demon-possessed kitten with the face of a miniature tiger that came to live in a house that was equipped with a dog door, and you couldn't actually keep the kitten out, but it brought these back-packing little parasites with it and shared them with All of The Dogs.

Then say for instance that the dogs, after a few months of chewing the obnoxious fleas off of their itching spots, swallowed enough with the happy little round worm larvae on their backs, that the little worm-eggs hatched out and then the dogs (and probably cat) all had round worms. And then say that the worms started crawling randomly out of your dogs anus on to the living room floor as he slept angelically. I mean just imagine that. Wriggling little white round worms on your living room floor. All around the vicinity of your dog's precious rear end.

And just imagine if the same cat who basically ruined your ENTIRE life, along with 30% of your Christmas tree ornaments which he flung wantonly off of the Christmas tree and into the waiting maws of a vengeful dachshund who got left behind on the last trip to town, imagine that this cat was also a fierce and ferocious hunter, and his favorite activity was bringing half-alive and all-the-way dead, and best of all, ripped-in-half baby rabbits and birds into your bedroom to tear apart and devour. Ripped in half, folks. Little furry halfs of baby rabbits. With fuzzy little cotton tails and hind feet. Under your dresser.

The carnage of an ornament. But slightly less gross and more photographable than anything else in my house. 

I mean, I am sure you've already heard the horror story of the people with the kittens who infected the Entire 12 Grade School with ringworm? And also the story about the poop floods at Christmas time.  Or even better the poop floods and head lice! Those things? They all happen here. All of them. And more.

All of these things are of course survivable, as is the bean soup that I fed the kids with the drowned fly in it. It's just that I thought that throwing a splash of "vintage cooking" wine (i.e. I opened it last summer and then left for fire season) in for flavor was a great idea. How was I to know there was a long-dead fly floating in the corked bottle? The internal moral debate that ensued was tumultuous. I could have thrown the whole pot out in a paranoid frenzy. Or I could calmly scoop the fly and surrounding soup out and let it boil for a very. long. time. Obviously I settled for the latter. Mostly I did it because one of my loving offspring announced to me recently that I am the only one in the house who likes soup anyway, and I have clearly been force-feeding this terrible slog to my children against their will. Who cares if it had a dead fly in it?

The good news is that nobody died from the fly-soup. The worms and the fleas have been routed (God willing!?!?!), and there hasn't been a trace of ringworm in well over a year. At least not here, which means things are getting less gross, right?