Starting With My Room

Have you heard the old joke about the idealistic teenager who tells his mother that he wants to clean up the world and she replies, “Good! You can start with your room!”? I’ve heard countless variations on the joke over the years. It was never more than mildly humorous. Like most jokes, it’s gotten less funny with each repetition.

But, as the humor has waned, I’ve come to see the wisdom in the joke. The world needs to be cleaned up, now more than ever. It’s not just that some things are going wrong with the world, but that most of them are. All the progress that we’ve made as a society over the last 100 years is being deliberately undone by evil and destructive people, plus climate change is no longer just a theoretically bogeyman, but a frightening reality. The world is both figuratively and literally on fire. I wish I could say that was hyperbole. It’s not.

And 2019 was especially difficult, because I could see how much worse everything was getting, but I couldn’t do anything to stop it. I couldn’t control any of it, not the government, the big corporations, Republicans or Democrats (or anyone else, for that matter), guns and gun owners, the climate, or any of dozens of the other things that were making me anxious and depressed.

Powerlessness in the face of so much horror is a bitter pill to swallow. I didn’t take it well. I hit a breaking point in 2019, and I broke.

But I’m not made out of glass, and I didn’t shatter, thanks to the much needed epiphany I had along the way. I don’t remember which self-righteous, nasty piece of work I was watching on TV when I had the epiphany. I just remember thinking that this person would take one look at me and my house, laugh at me, and say, “Hah! You’re a mess. Your house is a mess. You can’t even control yourself and your home, but you think you know what’s best for this world?”

That person would be right. (They’d also be a hypocrite, because you know that if you could examine their lives up-close, you’d discover that they’re even more of a hot mess. But the point still stands.) I do have a lot of nerve telling anyone how the world ought to be run when I can’t even run my own life well. But I know that I can run my life well, and I will run my life well, or at least better.

So, though 2019 taught me the painful depths of my own powerlessness, it also taught me about how much power I do have. I have power over myself. I have power over my immediate surroundings. And I think it’s possible that after I’m done taking control of myself and my surroundings that I might be able to extend my sphere of influence. But for now and for the foreseeable future, I am concentrating only on what I can control in my own life. I may be able to help clean up the world someday, and I hope sooner rather than later, but I need to start with my room.

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Musical Thinking

It had never occurred to me before that music and thinking are so much alike. In fact you could say music is another way of thinking, or maybe thinking is another kind of music

Ursula K. Le Guin
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Fish in the Sea

Sometimes I see, hear, or read things that cause a strange sensation in my brain. It’s like an itch, or a prickle, a premonition, a flutter. I often think of it as a “nibble,” like a fish rising to take the bait. It’s an idea swimming up from the depths of my mind. Whether it’s an idea for a story, post, or poem, or for a piece of music or art, it’s always exciting.

There’s so much potential in a nibble, but a nibble is not a catch. A nibble is just an invitation to the struggle. It means there’s work to be done. Landing a fish takes time, finesse, and luck. It might get away, or I might catch it only to find that it’s too small to keep. Every once in a while, I catch one worth showing off and bragging over. But I can’t know which it will be until I’ve pulled it out of the water.

The problem is, and always will be, that it’s easier to dream about all the fish swimming in the sea, and to romanticize the ones that got away, than it is to do the work of reeling one in.

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My husband asked me today, “Are you coasting yet?” The answer to that is most definitely yes. I slept until about noon. Though I had to rush to the post office (where there was a package waiting for me) and to the library (where there were books waiting for me), I went into Sloth Mode as soon as I got home. I refused to do anything workish or difficult. I simply finished my coffee, ate a leisurely lunch, and then did some “arting.”

Arting (or “making art,” as most people would call it) is one of the main activities going on around here right now, on account of the ongoing Snowflake Art Contest. The contest was part of our Advent calendar, and my goal was to spend time with the kids. I thought an hour or so of crafting paper snowflakes with them would be just the thing.

But, as it turned out, the kids wanted a big, serious contest with big, serious art and they wanted to start right away, without me. So, now we’re all working on art projects as we find the time and inspiration. We’re allowed to make as many entries as we like. The only rules are that the projects must be forms of art, they must contain at least one snowflake, and they must be completed by New Year’s Eve.

I finished my first project today. There is hardly anything more relaxing and satisfying than making paper snowflakes, so my project is very snowflakeful. I’m pleased with the way it came out. When I finally find my camera, I will take a picture and post it.

The 1st-prize winner will get to choose first from among four prizes: a stuffed animal, a tin of putty, Tic Tacs, and a $1 scratch-off ticket. The kids both want the stuffed animal. Livia asked me today about which prize I’d choose, because she wanted assurances that I wouldn’t take the animal. I’m thinking some Tic Tacs might be nice, but I wouldn’t say no to the lottery ticket, because maybe there’s some Christmas luck in it.

I haven’t decided yet how I’ll sloth away the evening. I might go to Target to look at the clearance Christmas items. That might not sound super slothy, but I find bargain shopping to be relaxing, so it will feel slothful to me. Other options include working on another snowflake project, reading a book, or watching a movie. It doesn’t matter much. They’re all fun activities. I’m just relieved to have made it through the holidays and to now be coasting along to the end of the year.

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Two Days ‘Til Coasting

I did not break down yesterday, scream at the kids, or cry afterward. OK, maybe I did a little, but I got it back under control. Now I repeat to myself, “Stress is for rookies, and this ain’t my first Christmas Rodeo. Stress is for rookies, and this ain’t my first Christmas Rodeo. Stress is for rookies . . .” And if I can survive these two days, I can coast to the end of the year. All I have to do is get through two days. Two days ’til coasting.

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Stress Is for Rookies

I am trying to remember today that most of my holiday stress is self-imposed. I have a lot to do, and it’s probably more than I can realistically accomplish. So I am dividing my to-do list into three parts:

  1. Must Do
  2. Ideally Would Do, but the World Won’t End If I Don’t
  3. Would Be Great, but We All Know It’s not Happening

The critical details are that the house must be clean enough that my parents won’t be repulsed, we must have food to feed them, and we must have a wrapped gift for everyone we’ll see on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Everything else is merely icing on the Christmas cookie. My mantra: Stress is for rookies, and this isn’t my first Christmas Rodeo.

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All the Best

We can know that the darkness is coming, know its ways, and be prepared for it, and it can still creep up on us and nearly swallow us whole when we’re least prepared for it. But we won’t let the darkness win. It’s time to turn on the prettiest lights, play the cheeriest music and movies, drink the warmest beverages, eat the tastiest comfort food, curl up under the coziest blankets, read the most wonderful books, talk to the nicest people, and whatever else cheers us up the most when the days are at their darkest. We have made it almost to the end of the year, and we deserve all the best of everything.

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Favorite Things: Christmas Stockings

Today is the 21st day of the Virtual Advent Tour, hosted by my best friend Sprite at Sprite Writes. Every year the Tour reminds me to think about what I love most about the holidays, to be grateful for the gifts of the season, and to broaden my mind by learning about other people’s traditions. I’m excited to be taking part in the Tour for the first time this year.

One of the things I love most about the holiday season is digging into my boxes of Christmas decorations and reacquainting myself with certain old and cherished belongings. I know that Christmas isn’t supposed to be about about things, but some things help me connect with Christmassy feelings of love and joy, and today I’m going to tell you about two of them.

Magical Christmas Stockings

My mother crocheted these magical Christmas stockings for my brother and me when we were small children. She made his first and mine a few years later. Having been crocheted at different times, they are not exactly the same. One is noticeably larger than the other, so they are not a “perfect” pair. That seems to bother my mother. “I guess my stitches changed size,” she said to me when I asked about how she had made them. She lamented that she’d never been that good at crochet, comparing her own skills to those of other women in her family, who had been able to produce remarkably delicate doilies and whatnot.

She’s not giving herself or the stockings enough credit. I doubt there’s ever been such a thing as a magical doily. Meanwhile, the magic of these Christmas stockings is still going strong decades later. I actually feel a little guilty for having taken my brother’s stocking to pass along to one of my children. I asked my mom if she thought that was unfair, and she replied, “Well, you asked for it and he didn’t.” It pays to ask for the things that we want!

You might wonder what, aside from nostalgia, makes these stockings magical. Their greatest magical power is their stretchiness. These stockings can accommodate any number of gifts in all sorts of shapes. They can be filled until they’re huge and misshapen, and when emptied they shrink down to their normal size and shape as if nothing had ever happened to them. If you’ve ever read Jan Brett’s The Mitten, a story from Ukrainian folklore about a lost mitten that becomes home to assorted woodland animals, it’s a lot like that. I’ve never tried squeezing a bear into either stocking, because I hardly have time during the holidays for bear wrestling, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I could.

The stockings bring so much joy on Christmas morning. I remember how, when we were children, my brother and I would creep out of our rooms Christmas morning. It was still dark outside, and chilly, and the house was silent but for the peculiar noises that only come out at night. It might have been scary if it weren’t for the light of the Christmas tree to draw us through the darkness. Our stockings were laid out in front of the fireplace. We always spent what felt like hours looking through and playing with our new treasures. This was part of the magic of Christmas, and we believed in it so completely. It was not only Santa’s gift to us, but also to our parents. Without the stocking stuffers to keep us busy, we would have woken our parents up even earlier.

Now Santa fills the stockings for my children, who are forming their own magical Christmas memories. My parents visit us for the holiday, so my mother is here to see the stockings filled. She is still amazed at how they stretch to whatever shape and size is needed. We bond over it, which is also a kind of magic.

And that’s why these Christmas stockings are two of My Favorite Things.

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Icy Transformations

The icy weather turned every blade of grass into a statue . . .
And made drapes of the beeches . . .
And transformed pine trees into giantesses in icy dresses . . .
Or arches, sadly.
It showed off the blues . . .
And brought out the reds . .
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Scatterbrained Day

Fatigue made me even more scatterbrained today than usual, but at least I managed to get a few things done. I worked. I did several loads of laundry. I remembered (though late in the day) to put something into the kids’ Advent calendar. I also bought some Christmas gifts. So the day cannot be called a total waste.

One thing I did not do was to go to the impeachment rally. I had hoped to, but the weather was just too nasty. The driveway was a sheet of ice, and the car was frozen shut. The weather has only worsened since, which has relieved me of any guilt I was feeling over staying home.

Meanwhile, the poor trees are struggling under the weight of all the ice that has accumulated on them. I cringe every time I hear the wind blow. I’ve already heard two limbs break and fall to the ground, and my hubby thinks he heard a third. I expect there will be more losses overnight. I hope they don’t fall on our vehicles or power lines, and I hope the temperature gets high enough to melt the ice tomorrow. Otherwise, we may be stuck with it for a few days.

Now it is late, and I must go to bed. Wish me good sleep. I will need it. Christmas is only just over a week away, and there’s still so much left to do!

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