I do invite you to consider, however, whatever it is you really might want from this time of the year, no matter how invested you might or might not be in any of its more mundanely celebratory or religiously-based streams of events and customs. No matter how much you hate them or love them.
Let’s face it. We’re stuck with a plethora of feelings about the season whether we like it or not. Let’s stop pretending we can escape it or make it something it’s not or cannot be.
Let’s stop pretending we can get away from the constant dome of bad music in every public place we walk into, or that we can quit trying to find the one version of that one song we haven’t heard yet that makes us cry because mom or dad liked it and they are gone now.
This is a list about not pretending.
It is a list that does not pretend that buying or giving material gifts is wholly satisfying when what one wants, in a more and more fractured and anti-intimate world, are more opportunities to be intimate… to know more love.
Nor does this list imagine that somehow our list of gatherings of friends and family will be without dread, without pain, without too-small portions of unmitigated and unqualified joy and love the way it is portrayed by every blessed advertisement for everything from electric shavers to the hoards of plastic doodads and hoozits that come parading across our consciousness every time we open a magazine, a book, newspaper, email or internet site.
This list imagines that life goes on and that, during the holidays, there are opportunities to make it more livable, more understood and understanding, more truly connecting and more accepting of what cannot be connected, understood or livable.
So are you ready? No? Well, give it try anyway. Something might work… even a little. And if it does, I’d sure like to know!
1. Say no to events and people that drain you and have drained you every year for the past three years or more. Do this especially in regard to family gatherings you dread and have always dreaded. Can you afford to sacrifice yours and perhaps your significant others’ holiday by trying yet another time to make your Uncle-in-law into something other than a fat Nazi drunk? Say you have other plans, and then don’t waste time feeling guilty. Try the next thing on the list.
2. Schedule one-to-one face or phone time with someone who nourishes you. At the end of the initial time together, schedule the next time. Don’t leave it at “We’ll get together soon” Mark it on your calendar. A variation on this would be to make a face or phone time “date” with someone whom you’ve only ever communicated with via the internet. Try it, hetero, bi-, or homo, with a same sex friend, or, as a couple, try it with another couple.
3. Charmingly corner someone you think you might like at a holiday function. Ask them an open-ended question that demands more than a yes or no answer.
4. At a party tell the truth about a complicated way you feel about something to someone you inherently trust and do not know well but would like to know better; someone you haven’t connected with in a long time, or have had a long past misunderstanding that has never cleared. In the last case purposely avoid making a statement about that misunderstanding. Make an opportunity for meaningful conversation first.
5. Make an agreement with yourself to quickly end your part of any conversation that revolves around “dissing” someone who isn’t there. Change the conversation to one about the moon last night. If that doesn’t work, walk away complaining of urinary urgency.
6. Make a list of open-ended questions (see #3) that have the potential to start in-depth and rich conversations. Take the list with you to gatherings that you aren’t sure you will enjoy. Review the list in the bathroom in-between mingling. Practice them before you use them and don’t expect success every time. Remember, people are hungry for this kind of talk… and don’t worry about excluding politics or religion. You’ll find out soon enough what isn’t acceptable, or you might make a joyous connection with others who agree with you and each other more than disagree.
7. Make time for great, memorable sex with someone you love.
8. If you end up at some gathering of people and it is turning out as badly as it has every other year, try responding in a way you have never responded before. Be silly and loud. Laugh loudly and run from the room, taking someone with you and then look out a window and call everyone’s attention to the stars, or the snow. Stage a fake fight with someone you came with who is also having a bad time. Say: “I told you to use the rubber", loudly but not too loud… then "now look at the trouble we’re in” as you walk angrily from the room. Try anything… including going upstairs and visiting with the children who aren’t really asleep. They’ll love it.
9. Make your grief and sorrow over the deaths and/or absences of lovers, family members, beloved friends, spouses or parents a part of how you observe your holiday. It does no good to repress such things. And feeling badly about feeling badly becomes an exercise for sleeplessness, a bad drunk, or panic attacks. Find ways to give yourself and others time to remember. Feel good about tears even when it hurts… and it mostly does. It matters not how long ago the loss was. I always suggest a place in amongst the decorations with remembrance candles and/or pictures of loved ones lovingly and frequently tended to. Regularly start conversations with others who knew the person who is gone.
10. Don’t expect that bad family/friend relations can be mended or made better by doing the same things that have always been done. If you want to reconcile, you must invent new places and ways to attempt this. Start a conversation, not a solution. Be ready to forgive yourself and let go of the way you have been hurt so it does not continue to hurt you.