It’s Christmas (Excess) Time: I Need Lettuce

I’m just gonna come out and say Christmas in this here country seems mainly about excess in just about every corner of life: lights and larger-than-life inflatable yard thingummies, unfortunate arrangements of popular Christmas carols, sad-looking folk ringing bells over red pots outside supermarkets and big box stores (do not even get me started on that particular institution), toys, traffic, over-stimulated children and short tempers, and on and on, none in moderation, all to excess. And where holiday cuisine goes, too, too, too much sugar, butter, salt, flour, eggs, chocolate, peppermint. And “tan” foods as far as the eye can see. It’s not like you can avoid any of this: you can try like crazy, but unless you live like a hermit, you’ll still experience total immersion. Or even a full frontal assault, like being whapped upside the head with a two-by-four.

‘Tis the season when I begin to yearn for the fresh, crunchy greens I routinely buy at the farmer’s market on the way home from work in the summertime, now a memory. I also feel the need to apologize to my insides for the full frontal assault that is holiday nosh. A reprieve is coming, and soon. There will be a New World Order when it’s all over (still a few days yet); Handsome Chef Boyfriend and I have been talking about it.

But in the middle of all the excess this year something floated through the ether and landed in front of my nose the way so many things do, these days, via social media. I have a dear friend to thank for it, a former roommate, herself a fount of beautiful things. I was so gobsmacked by this I’ve been thinking about it for days and days. It has made me reflect long and hard about the culture of excess and what there is to show for it, which is often so little.

And yet out of so little, these two young children create profound beauty. Yes, I believe the word profound is not overbaked to describe this pair. I do not know where this lovely little piece of film was shot, nor who made it. I do not know the country of origin, nor the exact ethnicity of these children. There are no frills or spangles, no costumes or other equipment, no special effects, no mirrors: the space through which they are moving is even missing its walls.

Enough said. Here is a Christmas offering for you, or maybe a Christmas antidote, a bit of visual lettuce, if you will. I wish you peace and moderation for the duration of the season.


(Dis)Comfort and Joy


Handsome Chef Boyfriend and I spent yesterday Christmas shopping over in Saratoga Springs. We had fun, observed people, marveled at humanity, privately assessed it as we are wont to do for amusement. We ate lunch and dinner out, rare for us, and arrived home content if a little weary, with a bargain Christmas tree tied to the top of the Subi.

On the ride over to New York I lamented the absence of friends, a void I’ve felt since I moved to Vermont. Once you leave a tightly knit community it is difficult or maybe impossible to rebuild the kinds of relationships that happen when you raise a family there. HCB and I compared notes about the kinship we once felt between our own families and others during our respective marriages.

For my part, I will say those relationships grew out of two important institutions in my life at the time: neighborhood and church. There was much overlap between them, and two families in particular emerged as important cornerstones in the life of my young family.

There is nothing like that here in my new life in Vermont. I have not felt connected to any church community since my arrival here save one, and that was in my first year when I lived near the New Hampshire state line in Vermont’s Upper Valley. Community and neighborhood have a very different connotation in general in a rural state where neighborhoods in the traditional sense are rare, unless you live in one of the few towns with any critical mass to it.

But anyway the reality is HCB and I work hard in our professional lives and spend much of our time outside work mainly dotting i’s and crossing t’s. We are still in survival mode, the two of us, and will likely be a while longer before we can really figure out how the horizon looks, much less try to establish friendships with others of our ilk.

This morning I grinned when I slid into the driver’s seat before my yoga class and found it adjusted for a very tall chef. After class I headed to a little café like so many others you’re likely to find on Main Streets in New England villages; I was there to meet up with a recent acquaintance, another writer with a keen desire to see her own work published, but who also spends her professional life writing as do I. We were united initially by an online lament that it is just plain difficult to do justice to your own writing at the end of a long day spent writing for someone else. I have come to realize it is a good problem to have, and am not really complaining.

When I arrived at the café a jazz trio had just set up and were about to start their Sunday afternoon set. It was quirky and odd to find a straight-ahead jazz trio in this kind of venue on an early Sunday afternoon to be sure, but Vermont itself is pretty quirky and odd. In spite of that the musicians were tight and the original compositions they played were good; the band’s spokesman explained each piece to his attentive audience using humorous language suffused with just the right amount of technical jargon. Jazz can be discordant, and much of this jazz in particular was written in seven—don’t try to dance to this, he jokingly chided. I still found it interesting and listenable.

It is good to be pushed outside one’s comfort zone from time to time; I have been all kinds of pushed outside my comfort zone in the last three years. The comfort of cherished friendships is elusive; forging relationships is more challenging now and requires different skills in this still-new landscape. To borrow the music metaphor, there may be only discordant, complicated harmonies written in confusing time signatures. As Jack Nicholson’s character Melvin Udall (ironically a writer) famously asked a roomful of anxious people in a psychiatric waiting room, What if this is as good as it gets? 

Maybe this new, discordant landscape of hard-to-forge relationships is as good as it gets. Who can say?

But maybe an uncertain landscape brings with it something edgier and distinctly more interesting than a wistful yearning for a chapter long closed. Maybe there will be dancing to music written in seven.

A Reflection for Advent: There is only now. Right now.

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I am terrible at watching hockey games and have difficulty focusing on important things like, say, hockey. Instead I see the diamond quilting in a bright red jacket in the bleachers  in front of me.

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And the little sign bearing a message which seems important, but I bet is often ignored.

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And other non-hockey details (yes, it is the ceiling):

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We drove up to a particular town in the middle-ish of Vermont yesterday for a season-opening  high school hockey game. Here is how bad I am at being a hockey spectator: “our” team, the team for whom a particular teenage boy plays, a boy who happens to be important to us, scored a couple of times, and I completely missed it. Because I was looking at rusted out grommets and little paper signs and quilted jacket patterns.

Earlier when we funneled into the ice rink with the rest of the crowd, the message on this little sign posted at the entrance, a sign everybody seemed to file past without so much as a glance, that message gobsmacked me right in the noodle, and felt somehow so relevant, a mandate for good behavior during the holidays, and really in general, because adults need to be reminded, too.

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Whether we successfully beat down the big box doors to score the perfect present and wrap and ship it on time for Christmas feels irrelevant. The urgency around all that can’t justify bad behavior when you’re standing in a long queue, waiting on a weary customer, or driving through a congested intersection.

It is easy to lose sight of what is important any time, like during varsity hockey games. I’m guilty of missing things that are going on right now because I’m obssessing over some other thing. Like weird, shiny insulation on the ceiling of an ice arena.

It is the second sunday in Advent, the season for reflection and preparation; it possesses its own beauty, unlike the celebratory season that is Christmas. It is introspective, at least for me. But when the rest of the world wants to whack you in the frontal lobes with its own version of what is important, you have to scratch and claw your way to find that beauty.

I did find some reflection and beauty yesterday, here:

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And here:

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And here:

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The boys on the team seemed distracted last night; they did not play well and in the end were beaten badly. Earlier yesterday I was reminded of a favorite George Balanchine quote, something he once said to his dancers, but might have said to the hockey players, as Handsome Chef Boyfriend wisely observed:

Why are you stingy with yourselves? Why are you holding back? What are you saving for? Another time? There are no other times. There is only now. Right now.

I leave you with this simple Advent reflection of my own design, two smooshed-together and partially stolen ideas: be kind, and stay focused on what is important right now.