Seeing yourself through a different filter

A popular quotespirational phrase that people pass on to their daughters and loved ones goes something like this: “If you could see yourself through my eyes, you would know how special you are to me.” My first question is and always has been, why not our sons? Don’t they deserve to know how we see them? My second thought is that, while the sentiment is lovely, it’s still a little selfish. As in, you’re special to me … but you might not be special to that guy over there and definitely not to that other person over there. Wrong. Nope. Nuh-huh. Plain and simple, I will correct the other phrase for you and remind you of this simple fact: you are special.

You are present, powerful, awe-inspiring because you are you. Maybe you got distracted and forgot to pay attention to yourself. The other day you were quick to point out that you couldn’t bench press 200 pounds like some other person, totally ignoring the fact that your current bench press is up 20 pounds from when you first started. Another you was saddened by the fact that someone else got to be the keynote speaker at the event, while you got passed over; you didn’t know that this person has been trying for six years, while you’ve only tried this once. Give it time. Another you is jealous of how easy another person has it – they’re brilliant, stylish, popular, and you feel invisible. Do you see yourself? Or are you too busy looking at someone else?

Here’s the thing: I see you. I see you try, and I see you try again, and I see you smile, and I see you when you’re angry and frustrated. I’m not Santa Claus or the Ghost of Christmas stalker-land, I’m just reminding you that you’re pretty cool. No, I haven’t been watching too many Barney shows (is he even on TV anymore?) and singing “You are special” until my brain has become anesthetized; I just see how conflicted we are this time of year. Do we give a gift to the friend who doesn’t celebrate Christmas, do we share goodies, bake them/buy them, and oh my gosh can you believe that Suzee is going to France over the winter break? She’s so lucky.

That’s where we get off track. We shouldn’t compare ourselves to these other, more wondrously awesome-seeming people because we don’t know their whole context. We can’t walk a mile in someone else’s shoes (as a way to understand them) when we can barely make it a mile in our own shoes without taking a break to regroup. Like anyone, I tend to get distracted by what everyone else is doing, or at least what it seems like they’re doing, I lose focus on my own goals, my own sense of purpose, my commitment to myself and the people I love, and for what? So that I can compare myself to an idealized version of someone else? That’s not the recipe for contentment and well-being; that leads to envy over someone else’s presumed situation.

So, especially this time of year, please take a moment to look at yourself the way you would look at someone else you love. Do it often enough and you might even become a little more focused on all that is you, and less focused on whatever all those other people of awesomeness are doing. You have your own awesomeness to nurture.

Joy

Do you remember when you were young and you would spin in a circle with your arms spread out, whirling and whirling until you dropped to the ground from the dizzies? You’d watch the clouds spin from your ground-level vantage point, if it didn’t make you too woozy. Essentially, you were self-inducing the same feeling you would later come to recognize as drunk. The point is, though, that you would spin in the circles for the simple joy of it. No need for someone to correct your technique or tell you that you were spinning wrong, there was only this moment when you played with gravity and gravity may have pulled you to the ground, but you still won. It was wondrous.

Then you “grew up,” stopped spinning because you realized that it gave you an upset stomach, or too closely reminded you of being drunk and nauseous. Other activities induced similar feelings of ‘glad to be in the moment’ for you: maybe it was spending time with friends, or spending alone time with a special someone, or reading a book, jumping from planes – whatever it was, you did this thing for the simple fact that it brought you joy.

Being joyful is a tricky proposition during adulthood because there’s so much that threatens it. How can a person be joyful when there’s so much pain? Joy isn’t a constant, or at least not for me, but it is there among the other emotions and deserves its nurturing too. We do ourselves a disservice when we refuse to allow ourselves that small respite from everything else we’re supposed to be doing to engage in the activities we love. I submit that our capacity for joy is one of the few things that makes life bearable. It isn’t money, or 500 skamillion friends, or an overabundance of things to do: it’s an appreciation of the moment, a connection to the very things that make us glad to be hanging around on this planet in the first place.

I am serious about protecting my own joy. This is an awkward time of year for many people, and definitely for me. I don’t handle conflicting demands on my time very well and instead usually opt to behave in a zombielike fashion because it’s easier that way. That is until this year when I promised myself I’d simplify. So far, and I admit it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, I’m doing well at cutting the excess out from the to-do list so that I can enjoy myself (go figure).

One of the most enjoyable activities for me this time of year is sending holiday greetings. Even though I’m killing trees and spending money on postage, I like to send a happy hello to another person that they can hold in their hands – like a 49 cent hug, I suppose. I know email is quicker and the graphics on my social media are all cute and what-not, but I haven’t put my hand to pen to cardstock so it doesn’t give me the same happy feeling that getting paper cuts on my tongue from licking envelopes does. That’s my unapologetic nod to doing a thing that makes me happy.

The other nod is that I love movies. On the big screen, popcorn beside the point. I love hanging out in an alternate reality for a length of time so that I can feel the feels without any sense of responsibility for them or any need to make them better. It’s the same reason I like to read, but my more immediate circle of friends understands the reading more than the movies. Why would I love to go spend too much money for a couple hours of escapism? Well, because it’s fun. The movie I saw yesterday, for its entire 130 minutes, momentarily filled a place in that part of me that still believes there is no problem that can’t be solved as long as we have hope. I left the theater with the same feeling I had when I used to whirl around in circles until I fell: a little woozy, but joyous.

As a warm-up with hopeful carryover beyond the New Year, I encourage us all to engage in the activities that bring us joy. They aren’t less important than our other commitments; that’s like saying our commitments to other things are more important than our commitment to our own health. That said, with all movie-going, card-sending joy in my heart, I encourage you to do the things that bring you joy. If it’s spending time with people, go do it. If it’s sitting around the house eating Cheetos, bring extra napkins to wipe that orange-y goodness off your fingers. If it’s writing your story, or telling your truth, or walking the dogs, go. You deserve the joy.

Reworking a Children’s Classic for a More Politically Correct Experience (But Not Really)

To reword Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas very poorly:

          All the Whos down in Metroland liked their holiday experience a lot
         But the Grinch who lived directionally North of Metroland did not
          The Grinch hated the holiday experience, the whole holiday experience season
          Now please don’t ask why, you might offend him for no reason.

Sound ridiculous yet? I hope so.

I’ve been seeing the Grinch around a lot lately, and not just because ‘Tis the Season to Judge the Crap out of Each Other. Put simply, I’m flummoxed. Confuzzled. Bamboozled. There’s so much going on that ought to bring us joy, but we’re not really paying attention. We have fantastic treatments for some pretty scary diseases, our ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound are less Superduper and more a matter of technology – and yet, we’re forgetting some pretty important things. Here’s what I notice:

We spent way too much time recently fussing about a logo on a coffee cup, but we said heck no to those who sought sanctuary within our country.

We mock those who go out shopping for a deal on Black Friday, or CyberMonday, or Whatthecheese Tuesday, but at the same time our own Wish Lists are longer than the lines at the shopping emporiums.

I’m fussy today, in large part because I used to love the holiday season. Lately, it seems that regardless of what holiday you celebrate this time of year, you’re going to tic someone off. Not so gently, I remind us all that this is not what the holidays are for. Celebrate in whatever fashion brings meaning and joy to your lives. Well, unless you celebrate Be Mean to Everyone Day – then, I suggest you turn that energy elsewhere, like into spackling walls or regrouting tile. If a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim, and a Sikh can get together and play board games, as a popular internet meme suggests, it’s no particular symbol of tolerance; it’s a symbol of How Not To Be A Jerk.

Variety is the spice of life and for those who look, you’ll see that there isn’t a religion that requires you to be a poopoohead; quite the opposite. Most religions teach a form of being as kind to others as we are to ourselves; of not taking stuff from people or taking out our anger on others. You know, basic ethics. I find atheists to be every bit as engaging and lively as Christians, and I seriously love that my friend who has already celebrated Hanukkah will spend Christmas day with family and friends at their favorite Chinese restaurant.

Togetherness, people. We can learn to laugh together, to celebrate together, and yes, to tolerate each other. You’ll recall from your childhood that the Grinch joined the Whos for dinner and even sliced the roast beast. Not being a particular fan of roast beast, I would nevertheless be able to enjoy some good ole Who-hash and Who pudding. There’s room at the table of humanity, my friends, and I’ll give you my roast beast.

A Place to Rest Your Head

 

Home. That word connotes a spectrum of perceptions ranging from sanctuary to hell, depending on the circumstances. For some, home is the place they love best, metaphorically if not physically. For others, it’s the place they need to escape. I always hope for all of us that home is a sanctuary, even though I’m awake enough to realize that this sentiment is naive.

This is a strange, wonderful, mostly strangely wonderful time of year. People rush around in some sugar-induced frenzy to do All The Things, even though many of those things don’t really make sense or generate well-being. I’m already there if the reason for a gathering is to share company and laughter. I am going to come up with some urgent doctor’s appointment if the reason for a gathering is some obligatory nonsense. Do I really need to go see the scar from Aunt June’s wart removal? I will, but only if Aunt June would be cheered by the visit. How about the fifth celebration some dude I don’t even know is having to build good cheer (and his business)? That’s when I have a sudden gynecological flare-up. I use “girl troubles” and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I figure I make up for this social fib by going to plenty of functions with actual girl troubles and no complaint.

Holiday gift exchanges are beasts of an uncannily stress-inducing nature. I celebrate the people who want the sparkly wrapped packages complete with raffia and tastefully beribboned goodness. I just don’t live anywhere near that home-and-garden-type glory. People who love the joy of gift-giving, please enjoy. I am left confused and bewildered as to what to do on any given year for the people who I love but who are not family: my close coworkers, my orthodontist (we went gray together, so that counts), my friends, and my children’s friends who are the children of my heart.

I can usually make a decision and run with that choice, secure in the knowledge that I’ll reap the consequences, good or bad, without hurting anyone else in the process. Gift giving, not so much. I worry, I fret, I bypass worry and fret and go straight toward baking. The challenge for this nowadays is that so many of us are watching our health plans that, unless I’m including flax seed, glucosamine, and B-complex vitamins, we’re all supposed to walk away from the cookie platter. I hope we don’t, but I know we will have our socially acceptable thank-you bite and then plead some gynecological or joint-related excuse (I know I’m not the only one making the excuses here).

After a silly amount of fretting, I decided this year to make pillows for the people I want to give a physical token of my me-ness. I figure that, even if my friends, coworkers and such don’t particularly like the pillow, they’ll get the symbolism of the fact that, really, I just wish them a happy place to rest their heads and the knowledge that they always have a home in my heart.