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December 25, 2011

So Much More than an Ornament

Merry Christmas to everyone who is lucky enough to be with people they really care about and even more to those who find Christmas a huge challenge with more sadness than gladness attached to it.

We all know that the Christmas season and Christmas Day can be a really difficult time for so many people. As I heard on the CBC yesterday, there probably isn't anyone on the planet who doesn't - if only for a second - experience a moment of existential despair at some point during the holiday season.  It can be very emotional. Expectations. Music. Relatives. Memories. Estrangements. Overindulgence. Conflicting Traditions within families. Blended families. It's ripe with the potential for emotional meltdowns.

It's a time when we can't help but think of so many of the people who are no longer a part of our lives but who remain in our hearts. Or, the memories from childhood Christmases which in my case are full of magical memories; times where the dining room table required every extension inserted to accommodate aunts and uncles, cousins and friends who joined us.  My childhood Christmas memories are probably the happiest memories of my childhood which may explain why Christmas as an adult has been so much - well - less.

When I was with Peggy at The German Market this year and saw the fireplace ornament (above), it immediately transported me back to my childhood and early Christmas mornings with Gordon, my twin brother, when we'd awake long before it was "time to get up."

As children, we shared a bedroom and slept in a bunk bed. He had the top bunk. I slept on the bottom.

We'd awake in the darkness from barely sleeping because of the crescendo of anticipation and excitement. It would probably be around 6:30 am when we could wait no longer. We'd steel out of our bedroom past our parents' room. We knew how to navigate the stairs in our large house to be quiet, although I have no doubt now that they were listening to our every whispered communiques. We knew that if we could make it to the first landing we were almost home free.

Hitting the edge of the living room we'd see the mass of presents and be amazed. Sometimes the pile would slide halfway into the living room. After an awed moment of silent wonder, we'd tiptoe through the living room and head straight for the attached dining room. We were lucky enough to have a real fireplace in the dining room with a black metal grate. Along the mantle hung five stockings. We'd bypass the three that belonged to our older sisters and we'd gingerly take down our own. There would always be a mandarin orange and a candy cane inside. Those were givens. And, then a bunch of other trinkets that we'd dump out to examine.

We'd confer. We'd eat our oranges and suck the minty candy canes and delight in the moment. It was a special time of togetherness between him and I even though we never acknowledged that through words.

So, when I saw this little ornament at the German Market  with just two stockings, hanging down from a fireplace, I immediately thought of him and that time more than 40 some odd years ago that we'd spend together when the house was still silent and my mother and father and older sisters had yet to descend for breakfast and the busiest day of the year would arrive.

Now, what you need to know is that as fraternal twins, we are as different as is possible for two siblings to be.  And, as a result, as adults we have spent more Christmases and most of our adult lives, apart.

I'm actually writing this blog post on Christmas Eve at 4:00 pm as I'm about to get dressed to go to his house for dinner.

I have wrapped up this seemingly ordinary ornament that was made in Germany with a note inside that tells him the same sort of thing that I'm telling you here.  I hope when he reads the note he understands how much this tiny wooden ornament  leads me back to a time when we were connected in a way we would never be again.

It would make our father, who passed away on December 2, very happy to see us together.

I hope my brother's memories of those quiet times on Christmas morning are significant enough for him as well  so that this very small ornament and my very small gesture mean something to him. I'd want him to look at this ornament each year forward and think of me and our togetherness so many years ago.

Love to you if you're reading this, wherever you are and whoever you're with, especially, I should add, if you happen to find yourself alone.

December 18, 2011

Covet Peace, Not Perfection

Another year is winding down and you and I are still above the grass. Hallelujah! Lucky us.

We can feel like a princess and very cared for when a friend treats us to having our toenails painted a beautiful gold. We can think of the new friends we met this year, the friends we said good bye to, those that crossed our paths fleetingly but remain in our hearts, the dreams we accomplished  and the new ones emerging.

We've added more memories to the memory bank that will sustain us when our wandering is reduced to exploring from an armchair and recall how all the beauty, geographical and human inspired, that we witnessed  has helped fuel our imaginations or expanded our perceptions.  Perhaps there have been re-connections. Change rules. Don't swim upstream.

Here are 10 ways of being I'm mulling over as the year winds down. 

1. Genuine human connection, not ancestry, is the key factor in shaping the quality of  relationships.
2. "As you wish" is a phrase that leads to empowerment for the person uttering it and the person it was intended  to empower.
3. When both your parents are gone, it's simultaneously scary and freeing.
4. We are all in control of our own reactions to any given situation.
5. Intent that is not coming from a place of sincerity is obvious. Be aware of your intent.
6. What's just one thing that will bring me joy today? Get in the habit of asking that each morning.
7. If I was him/her how would I feel under the same circumstances? A good thing to try and gain insight into.
8. Listen  to the words people use to get a quick idea into what they are feeling - about themselves mostly.
9. Figure out what your personal gift is and recognize situations where it can most come alive.
10. Stop aiming for perfection or even agreement. Covet peace.

December 11, 2011

The Prayers God Always Says Yes To

When you go Christmas shopping on Salt Spring, before you even leave the house you pretty much know what's out there to purchase and where to get it. Wonderful chocolates.  Beautiful soaps. Organic cheese. Wine. Vegan desserts. Fair traded and locally roasted coffees. CD's by local musicians. Gift certificates from restaurants such as the Harbour House. What a great gift that would make for someone. Did you say Seafood Linguine? Thank you Santa!

I really like the idea of focusing on edible gifts or giving experiences so that you're not adding to the garbage heap that has become Planet Earth.  On Salt Spring you go to craft fairs or visit Winter craft, the galleries or the independent little stores that dot Ganges and Fulford Villages. You buy some home made jelly. You talk to friends. Santa arrives via floatplane and then transfers to a boat. You shoot the breeze with people you know. You get a latte and chew hard on Fleur de Sel chocolate. Christmas music blankets the village. It's so easy peasy. It's almost enjoyable.

Now, fast forward to the city. I'd forgotten what it's like to be in the mileau of downtown Vancouver and shopping. It's especially bad if A) you have no list and B) you are intentionally choosing not to buy stuff or exchange gifts and C) you are overwhelmed by too many lights, sounds and people. I fit all of those categories. Not a list maker, don't want to give or receive any more crap and completely overwhelmed by excess stimuli.    I become a full-fledged Zombie and fear for my life. But, having been away from it, like an addict, I just wanted a whiff. I fell off the wagon for an afternoon.

Here are a few irrelevant things I noticed in doing so:
  • The staff who work at Chapters downtown Vancouver don't actually know where any books are even though the computer says that the book you are seeking is in the Canadiana Bargain Bin. Apparently that Bin is in some mythical land like the World of Og. 
  • It breaks my heart to see incredibly talented Canadian writers: Guy Vanderhague. Patrick Lane to name just two with their books practically free. Their blood, sweat, tears and souls reduced to $5. A year or two of creative, fictional intensity transferred to the page and now available to any stingy Tom, Dick or Harry for $5.  Isn't that just heartbreaking? You'd have to be a lunatic masochist to want to write a book is what you start to think. And, then your very next thought? "Count me in!"
  • I was in search of a particular author. His name is Brian Payton. He's going to be my mentor at the SFU Writer's Studio. He's written several non fiction and one fiction book. In searching for one of his books in Chapters, I felt like I was on the expedition he wrote about.  
  • First unoriginal thought: Christmas and coffee (Starbucks) are capitalist plots that should be avoided at all cost. When I move through the mall in a semi-conscious state, I begin to feel like a zombie or a Visa seeking missile and all around me are similar automatons as if the only ancient video game that I've ever played - PacMan -   has come to life in the humans all around me. The  programming has gone seriously wrong people. You can only really clearly notice this to an extreme after being away from the consumption junction for a few years. It's ridiculous. Stop it right now!
  • Having just said that, I did see in the Vancouver Art Gallery gift shop some lovely wooden ornaments made by Vancouver First Nation carvers. Price? $13.00 They have inspiring sayings on the cards. The  proceeds go in part to supporting women who  are recovering from addiction and who probably have better memories than mine at this point or I'd remember the exact name of the charity.
  • There are a lot of beautiful gay men selling perfume at Christmas. What must it feel like to be a gay man selling perfume? It's a reality I just can't fathom. Something about it makes me sad. Their wages for one.
  • There is  a book out there with Clint Eastwood on the cover although it looks as if he's had a little more plastic surgery than he should have or the Photoshop touch up person was totally pissed.  The book is called Wisdom. It's full of leaders, thinkers and the wisdom they have to share based on their experiences. I flipped through that book and I thought, I want this book. I'd read this book. I did not buy said book.  Instead I bought a book entitled, The Prayers God Always Says Yes To. You mean somebody's already figured it out? They wrote the shit down. You just have to read it, stupid. Who knew?