Dear Mr. Grinch,
I get it after all.
Why you, why some people simply hate Christmas. It all makes sense now.
I’ve never been one of you. I may have been an elf in a former life, or a Who at least. I love the lights, ornaments, carefully picking out presents, writing Christmas cards, hot chocolate with tiny marshmallows. If it was up to me, I’d be celebrating Christmas all year.
Not just because of these little things I just listed of course, also because – most importantly – Christmas is about spending time with people you love. And I suppose that’s where it gets complicated, unbearable even, for some of us.
This had never occurred to me until one particular conversation with a colleague some time ago.
Me: Aren’t you looking forward to Christmas, too? It’s my favorite time of the year!
Me: … oh … how come?
Her: My father passed away on Christmas.
Me: Oh, I’m sorry … then that’s understandable of course …
The thing is, though, I didn’t really get it. I just thought I did. Besides, it was the only reply I could think of that made a little sense when someone tells you something awful like this.
Two days ago I got a phone call. It was my dad. I’d just sent him a picture of the heap of Christmas cookies I’d been making with my roommates. There’s no way on earth I could have seen it coming.
His voice gave him away immediately, though: shaky and sort of muffled. I felt my heart sink, right past my stomach, down to the very tip of my toes. Your dad isn’t supposed to call you in a shaky and muffled voice. If anyone, it should be your mom. My dad doesn’t give hugs unless he’s forced to. He’s a practical man down to his very core. When my sister told him she was pregnant (sort of a little too young, sort of not at the right time), he just shrugged and said: Things happen. He doesn’t f***ing talk like this unless something’s really wrong. And it was.
A death in the family or within your closest group of friends always feels like a smack in the face. This one felt like being punched with a crowbar. I sat down and mumbled something along the lines of I can’t believe it, this is terrible, I don’t know what to say. Then my mom took over the phone because, clearly, my dad was in no shape to continue this conversation; especially with me being the eloquent dialog partner that I was at this very moment.
I spent the rest of the night sorting through all sorts of emotions, fairly unsuccessful. I was trying to come up with a brilliant message to send to my sister, because this terrible piece of news hit much closer to her home. I didn’t want to call her because if I could’t come up with a couple of words in writing, how was I supposed to say something remotely resembling a sentence. It took me hours and the words still felt inadequate and silly and unhelpful. I sent the message anyways because I wanted her to know that I was thinking about her. Because I was, all night.
I still am. I’m thinking about her and her husband who’ve been through so much already. I’m thinking about my two wonderful nephews, in particular the older one of the two, who’s already had so many losses to claim in his short life that it’s breaking my heart whenever I think about it. I’m thinking about my dad’s voice. I’m thinking and thinking and it all seems so horrifying that at times I catch myself wondering whether none of this has actually happened and it’s all just a terrible nightmare.
I’m thinking and thinking –
and I get it.
At the same time, I don’t feel like it. I still love Christmas. I’m dreading this year’s holidays but I’m hoping they’re going to be like a little break from the days filled with grief, confusion and anger that are lying ahead.
This is not an anti-Christmas manifesto. If anything, I hope it’s a reminder for all of you to be grateful for your family and friends, a reminder to let them know how much you care (more often, we should tell each other every single day), a reminder to be there for each other, especially during the hard times.
Have a wonderful Christmas filled with laughter and love
Do you believe in soulmates? I asked her. It was one of these pensive Sunday mornings, the apartment empty as usual. I’d been contemplating life and love and the many layers in between over (at least) three cups of coffee, and suddenly needed to know what she thought. I believe in sublime connections, absolutely; her answer bridged 3000 thousand miles of Atlantic Ocean and 8 hours of time difference. That alone told me that sometimes connections are deep enough to work, even transatlantic. Thank God, I thought, and then: I knew it. Her words were soothing like Advil or a mug of hot chocolate. Why do you ask love? She wanted to know.
Well, why did I want to know exactly? For one, I’m an over-thinker. I love to think about things – be it the question whether or not it’s really necessary to have light products of things that aren’t supposed to be light to begin with (such as frosting – really, who wants light frosting?) or the question whether or not soulmates might possibly exist, I’ve thought about it, at least once. Simply thinking about questions doesn’t give you any answers, of course. So after I’ve spent quite a while thinking, I tend to look for the answers in books. No how-to manuals, of course. Any book really. I believe that if you come across the right book at the right time it can tell you something. Maybe even if you come across the wrong book at the wrong time it’ll tell you something. I’m not sure, though – I’ll have to think about it some other time.
I’d also been doing some soul-searching for a while and had just finished reading a book about soulmates. A bit esoteric but not too far out there and strangely gripping. I stumbled over it on one of my many amazon binges. Actually, a friend had recommended the author to me almost two years ago and for some reason I had suddenly remembered him. I almost ate, slept and breathed the book until I was done. And although I was out to find answers, it just handed me a bunch of new questions. Maybe that’s a type of answer, too. Of course, a book is just a book; it’s not an oracle, not a life-line. Especially with this book, I had my doubts anyways. I imagined the author’s smirk as he typed the epilogue, bedazzled by the fact that he can make actual money by making shit up as he goes (who wouldn’t love that?).
The problem: I’m a cynic and a believer, all at once. Like everyone else, I certainly would like to return a couple of things life’s handed me down the road. I’ve had days (weeks, months) where I felt like kicking and screaming: was this really necessary? At the same time I’ve always had hope: there’s got to be a reason for all this; it’s got to get better eventually. It just had to. It was the same with the book: I wanted to believe, I just didn’t really trust it. In the end, however, I decided a little more belief and a little less doubt couldn’t hurt. If we’re honest with ourselves: who doesn’t love the idea that one or maybe even two or three soulmates exists for every one of us that we are destined to meet (what is done after the meeting, of course, is free will – (un)fortunately?). Not because the book had convinced me to. Just because I wanted to. I guess, that’s what believing means anyways. Also, because the book left me with so many questions, I’d just found my own answer: another soul that agreed with me and made me feel a little less crazy about it all. A soulmate, maybe?
Sometimes life gets so busy, you have to take a moment and recapitulate just so you don’t outpace yourself. And I don’t even mean busy in a spectacular I-just-shot-a-critically-acclaimed-motion-picture-and-now-I’m-having-Spielberg-over-for-dinner kind of way. Because sometimes you’re busy with things that are not that interesting, even though they matter a lot to you personally (like studying, work, cleaning the house or calling your mom). The past weeks, I’ve been jumping back and forth between class and work, trying to (finally!) finish my thesis somewhere in between. I have no idea how people can have a job, get a degree and have kids. The thought alone simply blows my mind. I have two plants (they’re doing fine, no worries), my apartment isn’t a mess and I manage to feed myself and every now and then some friends but that’s about it. So kudos to you guys, you are amazing.
But I digress. This wasn’t actually my point. I was talking about recapitulating, because that’s what I meant to do. So here we go: I’ve had to take cold showers for more than a week because I couldn’t reach the plumber and when I managed to reach him, he forgot about me in the course of his busy day (maybe he should have paused and recapitulated as well). He did come by today, though, and fixed what needed to be fixed – let me tell you: I’ve never been happier about the blessing of running, hot water! So that’s that. I’ve also spent the afternoon with my grandma who just moved into a nursing home. I don’t know about you, but I find the thought alone really depressing. Sleek linoleum covered floors, each and every wall painted in light yellow (because of the soothing effect … yeah, right), people moving around equipped with their emergency medication and wheeled walker. All of this may not be that interesting to you, but to me personally, it matters a lot. Sometimes it’s nice to share something even though it may not be the most earth-shattering of things. Because they are still things that have shaped your reality and maybe they’ve even changed bits and pieces of you as a human being while you weren’t paying attention because you were so busy.
Now, something else entirely! I’ve also written another piece that belongs to my last past, technically. At least, they’re part of one and the same overarching idea, even though it may not yet be apparent. Anyway, I still wanted to share it in its early stages, if anyone has any thoughts they want to share – please do! Enough of my Monday rambles, though. Here goes the next part of the story.
Transatlanticism, pt. II
He was saying that he knew where to go but, of course, I didn’t trust him until we were there. Because I never trusted anyone and also because Nathan’s sense of direction was worse than my own; and my own was already pretty bad.
“Are you sure it’s on Huntington?”
“Yeah, it’s just down the street – I double-checked. I won’t lead you around in circles again, I promise.” He smiled and I could feel that tense muscle in my neck relax a bit.
I smiled back. “At least now I do know my way around Providence.” Okay, armistice.
Not that he could really blame me and my skepticism. When he took me out to dinner the week before, we first ended up getting lost on our way back to the car and then he took the wrong exit which resulted in a two-hour long detour. Not that I minded terribly. I also learnt more about cranberry bogs that night than I thought there was to know about them, ever. You never know when knowledge like that might come in handy, though; especially when you’re a teacher (that’s what I like to tell myself anyways). When he finally rolled into my driveway it was already two in the morning and he felt so bad that he didn’t even kiss me goodnight. I minded that a little bit.
In the end we found the Museum of Fine Arts right away and I tried my best to hide my surprise. I was also still busy trying to figure out why he’d insisted on taking me to a museum, of all places. He didn’t strike me as the type who’d willingly spend his weekends wandering up and down museum halls, eager to learn, looking for inspiration or whatever it is that brings people to museums. That is, unless it had something to do with cars, motorbikes, maybe planes if the design was cool enough.
When we looked at an exhibit of different paintings and drawings, it turned out I already knew him well enough after all.
“Okay, so this just looks like a bunch of shit if you ask me” he snorted.
“Okay, so we should have just gone to see a movie if you ask me” I should have said.
Of course, I didn’t. Because I was the type who would willingly spend her weekends wandering up and down the halls of a museum, getting lost in the wild dabs of blue and green of an impressionist painting; reading about the origins and background of a collection of historical artifacts and other things I’d just forget as soon as I would leave the building. Maybe he’d taken me there because he knew me well enough, too.
I’d realized that we had absolutely nothing in common on our first date already, but I liked his cynicism and his light blue eyes. I also liked that he took me out on real dates and that he openly announced them as such. He always picked me up at home and called me beautiful (and it always seemed like he actually meant it) and so I didn’t really mind that he had a terrible taste in music, movies and that he was rooting for the wrong team. I also didn’t mind that he was constantly complaining about the state and possible decline of America as a hegemon in the world and about the American people as such, even though he was such an all-American guy himself, with his beige khaki slacks and his degree in business and finance. I didn’t mind a lot of things simply because of the way he treated me. I’m sure we’d have had beautiful children. I’m also sure we’d messed them up terribly (then again, who doesn’t?).
The last night I saw him was Valentine’s Day. He came over to give me a single red rose; to say goodbye or maybe I’m sorry or both. Not because he’d also figured out that we didn’t really have anything in common. He simply had to fly all across the Atlantic for work. He seemed to feel just as bad as the night we took the 2-hour detour but at least he did kiss me, his beard rubbing against my chin until it was red and warm. I took his hand and pulled him out of the doorway; gently pushed him into the apartment. Later I took his hand and pulled it out from underneath my shirt; gently pushed it under my skin. There was nothing else left to do.
Whenever I think about it, it almost makes me laugh (one of those stories that doesn’t hurt anymore, you might as well turn it into an anecdote – maybe not for dinner party’s; maybe for drunk and confessional nights out): I watched him climb into his old and way too spotless BMW one last time; I didn’t wave, I just stood on the porch, staring at the tail lights disappearing around the corner.
Sometimes nothing is said and yet: you still know it’s over – despite the promises (“Of course, I’ll call as soon as I get out of the plane”), despite the exchanging of e-mail addresses; even despite the fear of loss, lonely nights and the possibility of falling back into old habits (too many drunk nights in a row and never enough Advil in the medicine drawer to fix all that needs fixing, dear God).
I thought of his eyes and hands one last time and I thought that just couple of hours later he would be able to visit my family as easily as he’d been coming by my apartment for the past months.
Sometimes it’s really hard to beat the irony of life.
I’ve been sick for the last couple of days. I hate being sick. I don’t get around to do half the things I want to do on a regular basis – so lying in bed all day doesn’t really improve things. Thankfully, I’m slowly starting to feel better. I’m not lying in bed anymore, I sit on an actual chair as I’m typing this which feels pretty grand. I feel relatively grand in general – compared to my general state of being over the last week.
Essentially, I spent the last days angry. I’m not an angry person. I try to think my glass is half-full unless there’s some gross substance in it – then, of course, I prefer to think it’s half-empty. Somehow, though, I just couldn’t help it. I felt frustrated and angry. Half-angry at the world because it made me turn sick in the first place (and that really wasn’t necessary now, was it?) and half-angry at myself because my reluctance to go see a doctor made me stay sick – way longer than necessary. On top of that, I was also angry with the world because I didn’t feel taken care of very well. In fact, I didn’t feel taken care of at all.
Here’s why: I usually spend a fair amount of time listening to friends’ problems and I do so quite happily. Yet. Sometimes, of course, I’d like them to listen to me in return. We all carry around our own little package that we need to unload every once in a while. Now, often, my friends don’t realize when I need to unload some weight. Not because they’re tiny evil creatures (I don’t befriend Gremlins or the like – to my knowledge). It’s really not their fault.
The real problem: I simply don’t know how to switch from listening-mode to talking-mode. So I just sit there – nodding, smiling, mhm-ing, understanding – while feeling mildly (or awfully) miserable. And then in the end, I end up feeling angry with myself and that doesn’t really help to boost my spirits either.
Bottom line: I wasn’t at the top of my game. Not even near the middle of it; I was located more at the bottom of things (needless to say, my grumpy mood didn’t make my sickness go away any quicker either).
Now, I have a tendency to wallow in memories and I have no objections to wallow in mud occasionally (hey, it’s supposed to be good for the skin) but I really don’t like to wallow in self-pity. So I did two things: One, I went to the doctor after all and – magically – he found out what was wrong with me and also told me what to do about it. Two, I went to visit a friend. A very good friend that I don’t get to see nearly as often as I’d like to. I had planned to visit her anyways because, as I said, I hardly get to see her (she studies almost on the opposite side of the country) and I had been feeling like I needed to see her for a while. But now, I really needed to see her. And I also really needed to get away from all the things that were bothering me at home.
Once the decision was made, somehow, things fell into place quite nicely. I spent a couple of days with my friend – I did some listening, but I also talked. A lot. She told me she’s often noticed how I’m very good when it comes to letting others talk, yet not so much when it comes to speaking up myself. I like to be a good listener, still. I want my friends to feel like they can come to me. However, it’s important to keep some sort of balance. It’s no use trying to shoulder other people’s weight when you don’t even know how to carry your own. It’s no use listening to a friend when you’re being frustrated and angry yourself. Because you don’t really listen. You can’t.
So she made me talk. She let me unload. All of a sudden, I wasn’t all that angry anymore. I felt like I should kiss and make up with the world. My glass is half-full again. And I like to think it’s not just because I’m on antibiotics right now.
As Olin & the Moon say, I’m a friend of feeling good right now…
This morning I woke up to the lovely smell of – no, not coffee – burnt food. Last night’s dinner to be precise. I haven’t burnt food in approximately ten years. I’m a quite alright cook, I think. So far, I’ve fed a lot of people with my cooking and no one has ever died or complained (at least not to my knowledge).
So last night, I invited a friend for dinner and we had just started preparing the food when another friend of mine dropped by to show me her new — puppy!!! (Excitement!) Needless to say: I got distracted. Very. We went outside to play with little Millie (little distracting furry lovable puppy girl’s name) and when we came back we had to fumble our way from entrance to kitchen through a thick curtain of smoke. The good news: Now I know for sure that my smoke detector works just fine. Comforting knowledge, I think.
After clearing out as much of the smoke (and smell) as possible, we tried to rescue dinner the best we could. In the end, we didn’t starve. All was (fairly) well in Whoville. Yet, I felt a bit foolish the entire night. In fact, I still am. It’s one of these I-should-have-known-better-moments. Also, I feel mildly haunted because of the smell. Lesson learnt: Don’t play with fire – or better: Don’t play with dogs while you’re cooking with fire.
I’ve been having a couple of these I-should-have-known-better-moments lately. Usually it’s not that I burn food – I burn myself. Mostly, because I tend to underestimate things. Such as the amount of time rice takes to cook — and burn. Or the stubborn will of feelings – paired with their reluctance to negotiate on a reasonable level. Unfortunately, the latter can’t be fixed simply by airing.
I’m never sure if something’s worth holding on to, but when in doubt, I usually do. I hold on and hope. Until the number of burn blisters seems too much to take, even for me. It’s probably because to me what’s even worse than these annoying I-should-have-known-better-moments are the what-ifs. I’d rather spend some time cleaning up a bit of mess than wondering whether I should have kept fighting. Knowing that at least I tried always helps me deal with whatever it is that I can’t change. Message hidden between the lines: Sometimes getting burnt isn’t the worst thing in the world. What doesn’t kill you, as they say.
Last words: I’d have really preferred to wake up to this (a little bit of 80ies in the morning: caffeine for the tired ear):
First, let’s create some atmosphere. Here’s the soundtrack that goes along with this post. This song is to this post as is the frosting to the cake, Elmo to Sesame Street,
the oven to Sylvia Plath, the road to Dean and Jack – caring is creepy…listen, read, enjoy. Well, actually, just do whatever. But the song’s really good.
1. Care – ful.
I’m a carer. I care for a zillion things – some of them important, some of them as irrelevant as one speck of dust in relation to the entirety of our quite enormous universe (that is, consequently: very irrelevant).
This doesn’t necessarily mean that I am also an action-taker, a mover or a shaker. Demonstrations unsettle me; I’m not a loud person – so yelling out catch phrases while angrily raising my fist into the air is really not my thing. Also, it doesn’t mean that I’m a convincer – I just don’t like enforcing my beliefs onto innocent victims that are being perfectly happy simply minding their own business. I’m more of a live-and-let-live-type-of-person. At times, I wish this was different. Because at times, caring just for the sake of caring is – let’s face it – somewhat tedious.
So at times, when I remember that also I am a writer (or at least, trying to be something close), I pick up a pencil or let my fingers work a keyboard – I write to let people know I care. I don’t have to be loud and I don’t have to be enforcing – I just put some words out there, for anyone to read – if they care.
I’m afraid, I am too care-ful.
2. What? (Objectives.)
My objectives, admittedly, shift – depending on my state of mind, the amount of caffeine in my system, how much time I’ve spent reading (terrifying/ridiculous/ *insert other adjective here*) news headlines/ a good book/ a bad book; simply on whatever’s been going on during my day. Of course. I suppose it’s the same with most people. Here an excerpt from today’s list: Several friends having a hard or stressful time (dealing with things I can’t, for the life of me, help them with – not in any other way than caring), international education policies (dear politicians: stop the cutting of funding, please – not all children have the auto-didactic brilliance of our dear Abe, for the most part they need at least books and teachers showing them how to use these books…), finals/presentations/papers (and their nemesis – procrastination – looming in the not so distant distance)…
3. Now what? (Post-caring: Taking action. Or not. Or…)
I don’t know. Honestly. I’ve taken to writing, and… now I’m out. That’s the tedious part I’ve mentioned earlier. That’s the thing with being care-ful. It doesn’t make a difference to anyone else, really. And yet. If you care, it’s because you want to make a difference. So here’s some more writing:
For a friend: I just wanted to let you know that I’m thinking of you and although I know that I can’t actually change the situation you’re in right now, I can maybe change the way you’re feeling about it – you’re not going through this alone. Because I am thinking of you. Because I care.
For a politician: You’ve got to be kidding me. Do you even know what you are doing? I don’t think so. Yet, you’re probably not even the one to blame – because back in the days when you still went to school, there were other politicians just like you and they were already eagerly cutting the funding for schools and universities. That’s why there was no one (or no good book) left to teach you any better. And you’re just not an auto-didactic. It’s not your fault that you’re not the brightest crayon in the box.
As for the rest on the list – I’m going to stop procrastinating now (because this is what I’ve been doing writing this). I should probably make the best of my education now, before they cut half of the teachers on my program. Or the program (I’m not certain, they wouldn’t – even though it’s a teacher training program). So I can eventually kick one or two politician’s *insert any body part here*. And teach my students to know better. I’ll teach them to be care-ful, I think.