When Love (and Christmas) Looks Different

On the surface, it’s not particularly Christmas-y in this house. We spent last night watching the Biography channel and eating leftover pizza. My youngest brother and I did a puzzle together, aren’t we the coolest, and I fell asleep pretty quickly after midnight. No twinkling lights lit the pathway to my “bedroom,” a small mattress in the corner of my mother’s attic office. There is no snow on the ground. After a month of ugly exam-time eating habits, eggnog just seems like a bad idea.

The house isn’t decorated this year. It just isn’t.  My mother dragged a cheap, small tree into the bare living room yesterday. My brother proclaimed “It was only ten dollars!”. And I smiled because, oh man, this calm and relaxed version of Christmas is so much better than any National Lampoon-esque stressball.

The extent of our Christmas decorating this year.

That brother is seventeen now. Another brother is twenty (twenty!) and the youngest, the baby, he’s fifteen. I joke that he’ll never be older than seven in my eyes, but really, he’s taller than me now. His shoulders are wide and his voice is deep and his mind is razor-sharp. He can tell a story and have the whole room crying from laughing. All the boys can. We were taught by the best.

No, it’s not Christmas-y in this house, not the way it used to be. We aren’t little any more. We have competing job schedules, friendships, health-stuff, plus ones. Maintaining the same old traditions would just be a headache.

There’s joy, though. It’s here, I can feel it. Sure, it’s not colour-coded in the usual green and red. There’s less of a soundtrack, less of a menu (though I did insist on sausage rolls, because how can you not?). The choreography is limited, though it never really went to plan anyways, did it?

No–the joy, this year, is in simply being able to get together for a little while and sit around and be grateful for those pesky jobs/friendships/health/plus-ones. And be grateful for the fact that, even as those come and go, we are still here. The joy is quieter, time feels different, but we are still here. 

So let’s be here, shall we?

Let’s be together in a place where expectations are small, smiles are genuine, and “Christmas magic” can be simple and quiet. Where we surrender control. Where we laugh in the face of “This wasn’t how it used to be.” It’s okay. You’re okay. You are here. We are here. God is here (in a pretty big and amazing way, or so the story goes).

Love looks different, it looks different every year, but we are still here. 

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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And we are all terrified (but in a good way)

I have been witness to a lot of happy dances this week. I’ve “liked” an obscene number of Facebook statuses. I’ve high fived and comforted and clinked glasses with many excited-slash-nervous students–my friends for the last four years. Everyone’s too tired from the essays and exams to really process that they’re graduating, that this is it. We all talk about it like we know what it means, but we all have no idea. We’re excited, definitely, but we have no idea.

I sit in the student bar, splitting a pitcher, smiling, counting the days, complaining about the weather. I’m not graduating. I have a semester left in my program, thanks to co-op. I graduate next winter, maybe even next spring. I’m just a cheerleader in the middle of this mass exodus. And that’s a big difference, no doubt. A girl I met in residence, who grew so close we even road tripped to my parents’ house, is moving to New Brunswick with her boyfriend soon. Another good friend, an old University roommate, just celebrated her acceptance to grad school. She’s moving. She’s going to be a teacher.

A lot of people are going to be teachers. Or lawyers, or people-with-Masters-degrees. Or they’re just going to find a job, travel some, hope that they’re enough for whatever system they’re thrown into. People are moving to Toronto, to Montreal, to wherever they got accepted. Some are just going “home.”

I wonder how, after 4 years of University, anyone really knows where “home” is.

The people with plans and grad school acceptance letters seem very comfortable with the whole thing. They have a next step in the foreseeable future, and that’s great. I’m happy for them, and I’m jealous of them, and–deep down, really deep down–I’m quite okay with not being them.

Plans and I don’t have the best history. It’s always been about more about possibilities than plans.

Everyone is tired. I see the congratulatory hugs, the crying fits from rejection letters, cheerful bursts of “YOU GUYS, I just finished the last class of my University career EVER.” It’s exciting, it’s anti-climactic, and it must be exhausting. No one knows how to express what they’re feeling. They don’t know who they can relate to. They don’t know if they’re doing it right, if they did it right, if they’re going to do it right. They just know they’re done. They’re staring down the barrel of “So, sweetie, what are your plans after you graduate?”

I feel like I’m cheating the system somehow, by not graduating at the same time as everyone else, by not having a concrete plan for when I do. But I know it’s always been more about possibilities than plans. I like that. Possibilities have more room to move than plans. They’re more fun to chase, easier to move on from. I’m surrounded by them. We all are, and that makes us damn lucky.

And maybe that’s what people are having trouble expressing. The fact that University was one massive possibility, and we picked it, and we’re going to finish it. The fact that there were a million different possibilities within that University–programs, courses, people, dates, clubs, crams, apartments, attitudes. We tried them out. Stuff happened. We learned which possibilities work for us…and which ones really don’t.

And now–at least in a way, at least for some of us–it’s over. Those possibilities are gone. They’re replaced with a million more possibilities, this time in the real world, and that’s awesome slash scary. It’s scary for the people navigating falliable “plans,” and it’s scary for the people grasping at “now what”s. It’s scary for the ones leaving and the ones left behind.

Of course it is.

Possibilities are overwhelming. Watching a possibility become reality can feel surreal.  The thought that the possibility you’ve been dreaming about and working towards might not happen is horrifying. And, of course, there are a million more possibilities where that one came from.

But knowing these people who are graduating, knowing what they’re capable of, knowing how much they care…I can only imagine what kind of badassery will come out of the right person meeting the right possibility. I’m excited. I’m scared.

But I think we’re terrified in a good way.

 

Flashback Post: Hey Christmas, Did you lose weight? You look different this year.

Originally published December 22, 2012.

Part of the reason I started this blog was to chat about the twenty-something lifestyle–or at least, figure out what exactly that means.  So many magazines/blogs are written for capital-T Teenagers, or maybe just overgrown Teenagers, who care about boys and boys and hair and boys. So many more magazines/blogs are written for capital-A Adults, with 2.5 kids, a golden retriever and a dishwasher.

I am neither of these things. I am a twenty-something woman–whatever that means.  I like boys and hair just fine, and family is great, but I’m not really in a position to zoom into any of those niched-out worlds. In my world, I read cracked.com, watch College Humour, and try to understand your favourite webcomics (usually, I even get the obscure jokes…or pretend to).  I try to care about the news.  I scroll down to the comments after paragraph #1 bores me.  I read almost anything put into a list, especially if it makes me laugh.  I enjoy the odd Capital-A Adult blog, if it’s candid enough.

But what of this directly relates to me? Not much.

Fact is, I can’t seem to buy into any “chicklet” journalism.  I also can’t fully skip into the world of those who seem to have their shit fully together, all tied up with a neat little mortgage and morning routine.  I’m not there yet. At all.

And so I’m here, writing about what “getting there” means.  I find myself constantly straddling  the “I totally know what I’m doing,” and “Dude, I know NOTHING.”  Maybe that’s just how life goes, but I’m feeling new at it.  I am new at it.

And, like many people who are “getting there,” I’m definitely new at doing Christmas like this.

I’m new at doing Christmas like a lowercase-a adult who’s very much in between traditions. Last year, I hosted our immediate family Christmas at my apartment–which was good, but weird. This year, I came down to my parents’ place for Christmas.  My parents live in the suburbs of a medium-sized city. The transit system is awful. The backyard is big.  I lived here for eight years, or so they tell me.

This is weird, too. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but it is.

The family is different. We’re older. There used to be people here who aren’t here anymore.  Some have passed away, or otherwise walked away, but some just grew up.  Capital-T Teenage Shauna isn’t here anymore. Neither is the overzealous-about-family-crafts Mom.  All four kids used to live at this house, but now only half of us do.  The puppy is has clearly become a fully-grown dog in my absence.

Obligatory cute dog picture.
Obligatory cute dog picture.

It’s not that there isn’t enough love in the room.  It’s just that it looks and feels different, even though the room is the same.   Any expectations that I hold onto about good ol’ family Christmas are at risk.  I have to get my head around that.

I know that different is okay.

Today, I started feeling kind of odd as I hung new decorations, coordinated with the new furniture, with my newly adult-ish family. I didn’t expect it to feel quite so “new.”  I lived here for eight years, right?  I know these people. It’s December.  We got this.

…right?

It wasn’t wrong. The new stuff looks good.  It’s alright that we waited so long to decorate, that we were only half there, and that we didn’t go all out.  And it’s not a bad thing that we decided to grow up a bit–it has definitely done wonders for our conversation and cocktails. It’s okay that people and traditions change, or even that they sometimes leave altogether.

But it’s also okay if different doesn’t feel perfect right away.

People and traditions stay around so long as they’re good and healthy and make sense. And they leave when they’re done. This is the natural order of things.  It’s change. It makes room for other things to come in, it makes you appreciate that which is stays around, it gives you a basis with which to develop your own traditions.

But the process of un-learning and re-learning what to expect (or how to stop expecting) can be unsettling.  I felt that today.  After hanging those new decorations for a few minutes, I decided to take a breather.  The whole scene wasn’t really working for some reason.  Commence attitude adjustment in my old bedroom (now dad’s office). I looked out the window, read a couple Psalms, considered a nap.

Suddenly my phone went off. It was a friend of mine from Ottawa:

Move safely and be lovely ❤

What? That was perfectly timed, and completely unexpected.

I responded: Haha what a random message! But thank you.

She texted back: I was just thinking of you. Moving off to washington. I look forward to creeping photo albums.

This friend is not a person I knew back when I lived here.  I am not even a person I knew back when I lived here.

Would I trade my new life for some old decorations? Not a chance.  That doesn’t mean I have to be completely comfortable with this updated version of Christmas.  Not right away, at least. I just have to accept that it is the product of a lot of moving forward, and that moving forward is good.  This friend, and all my Ottawa friends, are great. My upcoming opportunity in Washington is fantastic.

I went downstairs.  I sat on a new chair, in front of a new computer, and pulled up a YouTube video I had just discovered.  My brothers, now old enough to face profanity, laughed through it with me. I suggested that after decorating (whatever that means this year) all six of us gather in the living room and watch the Christmas episodes of Community.  Unanimous agreement.  And so, armed with gluten free snacks for our growing number of celiac family members, we sat in front of the television.  Netflix streamed to us the meaning of Christmas according to NBC:

Maybe this Christmas is different. Maybe it’s going to be a little different each year.  I’m not going to like all the changes that happen in life. I might even sob in the face of some of them. But tonight proved that–with a little flexibility, a little creativity, and a lot of love–I can laugh in the face of some of them, too.

Move safely. Be lovely. Let different be.

You Don’t Have to Finish That Book. Really.

Twenty pages left, and I can’t finish this book.

This is deep and psychological, you guys. I’m sure it is. I was fine with reading it—20, 30, 100 pages at a time. I almost missed a bus or two, completely engrossed. Yet here I am, barely making it through a paragraph of the last couple chapters. I even considered returning the borrowed book to my best friend’s shelf because ‘oh, I’ll be back to finish it.’

IMG_1845[1]

But I won’t. I know I won’t, because I did the same thing with that biography this summer. With almost every Stephen King book I’ve ever started. Nearly with 1984, though I finally finished that one on my third try.

So here I am. My friend is showering, and I’m staring at the familiar blue cover. Twenty pages. Not even. You loved this book. It’s almost done. What’s the hold up?

Because I don’t want it to be done?

Because I know, I know, it’s one of those content-y books, where the juice is in the middle and I’m avoiding disappointment?

Because my attention span SUCKS?

As I opened the book and attempted a way-too-conclusive-sounding paragraph (last night, and the night before, and just now before writing this), I couldn’t make myself care. After a couple sentences, I just closed the darned thing altogether with a sigh of oh, this isn’t any fun anymore.

Cue massive wave of guilt:

15-freak-out

What I find interesting about this isn’t my inability to finish the book—like I said, my attention span SUCKS (in all caps). It’s the fact that this so-called failure bothers me so much. Like I’m doing a disservice to the author by not letting them finish their 300 page point. Like I’m abandoning something. And what if the book is like Of Mice and Men? What if it doesn’t hit you until the end?

(Of Mice and Men is only 100 pages. Mostly dialogue. Not a fair comparison.)

Still: Guilt, guilt, guilt.

But this guilt is all nonsense. Not finishing a book doesn’t hurt anyone, not really. It’s okay to skim articles, to fall asleep during a movie, to only watch the last period of the game, to not finish a book. It’s okay. This is playtime. This is you trying to be enlightened, or entertained, and you have a right to that.

On his productivity blog, Chris Bailey wrote a similar simple but honest story:

“In my second year of University, I decided to subscribe to The New York Times (Sunday delivery). Every Sunday morning, before my roommates woke up, I would wake up early, press a fresh cup of coffee, and sit down with the paper, skimming the week’s articles. This continued for a couple of months, until May, when my roommates went home for the summer.

That’s when I realized something. I didn’t actually enjoy reading The New York Times. In my head, I liked the idea of being a guy that reads The New York Times every Sunday.

Like Chris, I want to be a person who reads things. Important things. And of course, I want to care about and finish those things.

téléchargement
If only.

But I’m not that person. I’m a hyper-interested person, emphasis on the “hyper.” I play the field, sampling a chapter or two of every book that catches my eye. Then I feel bad about it, because isn’t that, like, literary promiscuity?

But there’s nothing to feel bad about. Really. And I would much rather be a person who is honest with myself then a person who finishes every. single. book. out of pride.

So give yourself a little permission, bloggy friends. Permission to read when you have something to read, to write when you have something to say, to go to the party when you have someone to see…but also, permission to not finish the book, to not force words that you don’t care about, to leave the party early.

(…unless you’re reading Of Mice and Men. You should really finish that shit.)

Living with No Regrets (is bullshit)

This is going to shake some people up. I think it will, anyways, based on the number of people who claim “NO REGRETS!” as their mantra (hashtag YOLO?).

I’ll disclaimer this by saying that I’m not picking on the sentiment behind the “no regrets” claim. I just feel the need to tear the literal concept apart. “No regrets! ” sounds increasingly like a thin veil of optimism, rather than a genuine way to live. Because, honestly, can you really be an emotionally healthy human being without a little bit of this?

Regret
Basically, regret is what happens when empathy meets taking responsibility. “I feel bad that you’re feeling bad. I feel worse because I played a role in the situation. I’m going to apologize and move forward with my life now, but I will remember this so I don’t repeat it in the future because that’s what a genuine apology looks like, guys.”

Every time you apologize sincerely, you express regret. Every time you feel a little guilty, the lessons from that (constructively) become a part of who you are. Even if you have to cancel on a friend, the regret that it was necessary (again, empathy meets responsibility) is probably a genuine sentiment.

So where does this concept of living with “no regrets” stem from? I think it boils down to two basic principals:

  1. You should move forward with your life, instead of dwelling on the past.
  2. Everything you have been through got you where you are today, so…God bless the broken road, amiright?

These both sound great in theory, but I don’t think you have to completely abandon healthy regret to value these imperfect ideas.

You should move forward with your life, instead of dwelling on the past: Okay, yes. Dwelling is not a good scene in any case–dwelling on future worries, on past loss, on that zit you can’t get rid of. I think aiming for “no dwelling” is a good call. But regret doesn’t have to be debilitating. It doesn’t have to be obsessive. It just has to be genuine and, hopefully, constructive. Maybe this is my history major talking, but completely tossing out the past seems like a dangerous game to me. Healthy regret doesn’t mean wishing moments or people back from the dead. But it does mean conducting a fair autopsy.

Everything you have been through got you where you are today: “But but, crazy blogger lady, ‘no regrets’ just means we value those mistakes instead of feeling bad about them!” I hear you. I get it. Especially on the “moving forward” front, this is a decent attitude. But I truly believe that when you have done something bad, “feeling bad” about it is healthy. It shouldn’t be a guilt that consumes your future, but it should affect you somewhat. It should make you take pause.

Sometimes we make bad decisions. You can marvel at the way “everything worked out in the end,” or see the silver lining, but you are still allowed to feel negatively about certain consequences and take responsibility for your role. You’re allowed to regret making a mess. You’re also allowed to feel proud when you clean it up, or build something new. It’s all part of the same game. Healthy regret helps you learn from your past, and to see those lessons fabricate.

Yes, I think there is such a thing as healthy regret. And while “NO REGRETS!!!” is a pretty ridiculous idea, it’s fair to say that there’s an ugly side of the sentiment that should be actively avoided.

Healthy regret should:

  • Be forgiving and constructive
  • Motivate you to apologize sincerely
  • Allow you to recognize when you are inconveniencing another person
  • Allow you to recognize when you have made bad decisions
  • Help you make better decisions
  • Force you to challenge yourself and find solutions in the future
  • Make you more forgiving of other peoples’ mistakes
  • Make you more grateful for the positive things in your life, as they stand in contrast to those regrets

Healthy regret should NOT:

  • Force you to live in the past
  • Fuel victim mentality
  • Be applied to something that happened to you, which you never had control over
  • Assign blame outside of loving self-reflection
  • Work against forgiveness
  • Create debilitating guilt or fear
  • Lower your self-worth
  • Make you less grateful for your life because of past pain and mistakes

This is totally achievable. It has to be. Regrets are natural, and it’s hard to control when they come up. Instead of denying them, we should learn to process our regrets in a constructive way. And if we don’t…

Our apologies are going to really suck.

What Kind of Woman Do I Want To Be?

Easter is always a major time of reflection for me.

…Okay.  By “always,” what I really mean is “Well, uh, it’s been a thing for the last couple of years?”  Being a young adult is sometimes like that, though. I’m quick to declare things part of my identity.

Easter weekend has played a major role in that identity, so it stays sacred.

I like the idea of rebirth. I like spring. The whole vibe that comes with things getting warmer/more colourful/livelier makes for a very positive, spiritual occasion.  I do a lot of “resolution”-type thinking around Easter. What burdens do I need to emerge from, butterfly-style? Who do I want to become?

“Stop worrying about finding the right person. Start working on becoming the right person.”

I read that the other day, and it stuck.  I agreed with the idea, but it made me wonder: what does the “right person” look like?

What kind of woman do I want to be?

woman

I want to be the kind of woman who writes thank you cards. Who lets managers know when she gets good service. Who writes appreciative reviews for small businesses.  Who lets artists know when they have touched her life, and lets politicians know when they have done the “right thing.” I want to be the kind of woman who wholeheartedly recognizes little miracles—and who approaches those miracles, if they have a face and a name.Who lives through gratitude, and means it. Who has a whiteboard on the wall, with a constantly revolving list of people to notify; ‘Hey, you. You’re alllllright.’

Celebrate people

I want to be the kind of woman whose gratitude is a constantly distributed gift, an open bar; not an investment with an expected return.  Accessible. Unconditional. Loving.   I want to be the kind of woman who is thankful day by day, step by step. Whose thank yous aren’t loaded attempts to control the future, nor quiet warnings of her standards.   She will never say ‘This is good. If I am grateful for this step, can the next step be just as good, please?’.   No; I want to be the kind of woman who is grateful because it is just who she is.  And when she says thank you, she simply means to say, That step was good. You helped make it good. Grazie, gracias, merci. 

I want to be the kind of woman with an open-door policy. Who knows her neighbours by name, aim, and favourite food…if they let her. I want to be that obnoxiously sweet lady-two-doors-down, the one who makes lots of casseroles. Funeral? Casserole. Moving day? Casserole. I could be that woman, I think. That would be a good woman to be.

(Unless the neighbours aren’t into casseroles. I am also open to making cookies.

…Dream big, right?)

I want to be the kind of woman with lots and lots of stories. I never, ever want to be boring. I don’t suppose anyone does want to be boring, but…if I’m aiming to be casserole-lady, I would prefer to be fun-casserole-lady. IMG_0102I want to be the kind of woman who was there for that thing. Who has the scars, tattoos, pictures, friendships, and memories to prove it.  I want to be the kind of woman with guitar-bred finger calluses, with laugh lines and dimples, with sun-kissed shoulders and tired, blistered feet.

I want to be the kind of woman who has mastered the art of witty retorts. Who laughs a lot, and who swears every now and then–because honestly, cursing sometimes makes the punchline better. Sometimes. Not always. And not in mixed company, I guess. Hopefully, though, I can be the kind of woman who mostly keeps company which can handle crazy stories and cursing.

IMG_0070I want to be the kind of woman who exercises. I’m TOTALLY NOT that woman right now, but I would like to be.  Or at least, I want to be the kind of woman who goes for walks, and can throw a ball around with her friends/family. I won’t aspire to be good at sports, or to be anything  other than clumsy and awkward when I play outside…but I do want to be the kind of woman who plays outside.

(Besides, I hear it’s “good for you.”)

I want to be the kind of woman who dresses up for Halloween.  And who puts up Christmas lights.  Who plays pranks on April Fool’s Day–and sometimes on other days, too (’cause she’s funny, remember?).    I want to be the kind of woman who has mastered the art of appetizers, conversation and corny holidays.  Who knows how to make a good martini.IMG_0849 Who has a solid supply of not-so-secret recipes and crowd-pleasing playlists.

(I know, I know, all of this costs money. And I know that money may not always be there.  Hopefully, I can be the kind of woman that is okay with that, too.)

I would like very much to say “I want to be a woman of faith,” but I don’t know if that’s fair. I don’t know that someone should aspire to believe anything, least of all anything supernatural. I would like very much to be a woman of faith–because I currently am, bibleand it serves me well. But again, not a fair goal. I would much rather be a woman who constantly uses the brain God gave her–even if that means that her idea of “God” has to change as she learns things.

What I do want to be is a woman of grace–you know, that thing that happens when personal values meet interpersonal compassion.  I want to be the kind of woman who can hold herself to a code of loyalty, honesty, and kindness, but who uses those things to Love better–not to be condescending or proud.

Right now, I describe that as being “Christian”.  I can’t imagine grace is confined to “WWJD”, though.

So, grace. Lots of grace.  I want to be the kind of woman who is radically patient with people and with herself.  Who has the courage to love the world, even when it seems particularly cruel. I want to be the kind of woman who can (gracefully, gracefully) step in and help someone who is hurting, and understands that “help” and “hurting” have many different faces.

I want to be the kind of woman who is continually educated and insatiably curious. Who speaks a couple languages, who knows her geography, and who travels lots and lots. I want to be the kind of woman who knows enough to be aware of the fact that she knows nothing.  Who has about 10 questions for every answer.  No, I don’t want to be the kind of woman who puts her job and education before family–family should always, always come first.  But I do want to be the kind of woman who brings the family (and the edgy jokes, and the free spirit) along for the ride–and makes sure the ride involves lots and lots of learning.  I want to be the kind of woman who lights up when she talks and hears about the world, and whose curiosity is infectious.

Yes; That’s the kind of woman I want to be.

What about you?

(Happy Easter/Joyeuses Pâques, everyone!)

– – –

A Semi-Informed Guide to Surviving (or maybe even enjoying) Young Adulthood
A Semi-Informed Guide to Surviving (or maybe even enjoying) Young Adulthood
Hey Christmas, Did you lose weight? You look different this year.
Hey Christmas, Did you lose weight? You look different this year.
Jealousy has a stage name. It’s called Inspiration.
Jealousy has a stage name. It’s called Inspiration.

Hey Christmas, Did you lose weight? You look different this year.

Part of the reason I started this blog was to chat about the twenty-something lifestyle–or at least, figure out what exactly that means.  So many magazines/blogs are written for capital-T Teenagers, or maybe just overgrown Teenagers, who care about boys and boys and hair and boys. So many more magazines/blogs are written for capital-A Adults, with 2.5 kids, a golden retriever and a dishwasher.

I am neither of these things. I am a twenty-something woman–whatever that means.  I like boys and hair just fine, and family is great, but I’m not really in a position to zoom into any of those niched-out worlds. In my world, I read cracked.com, watch College Humour, and try to understand your favourite webcomics (usually, I even get the obscure jokes…or pretend to).  I try to care about the news.  I scroll down to the comments after paragraph #1 bores me.  I read almost anything put into a list, especially if it makes me laugh.  I enjoy the odd Capital-A Adult blog, if it’s candid enough.

But what of this directly relates to me? Not much.

Fact is, I can’t seem to buy into any “chicklet” journalism.  I also can’t fully skip into the world of those who seem to have their shit fully together, all tied up with a neat little mortgage and morning routine.  I’m not there yet. At all.

And so I’m here, writing about what “getting there” means.  I find myself constantly straddling  the “I totally know what I’m doing,” and “Dude, I know NOTHING.”  Maybe that’s just how life goes, but I’m feeling new at it.  I am new at it.

And, like many people who are “getting there,” I’m definitely new at doing Christmas like this.

I’m new at doing Christmas like a lowercase-a adult who’s very much in between traditions. Last year, I hosted our immediate family Christmas at my apartment–which was good, but weird. This year, I came down to my parents’ place for Christmas.  My parents live in the suburbs of a medium-sized city. The transit system is awful. The backyard is big.  I lived here for eight years, or so they tell me.

This is weird, too. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but it is.

The family is different. We’re older. There used to be people here who aren’t here anymore.  Some have passed away, or otherwise walked away, but some just grew up.  Capital-T Teenage Shauna isn’t here anymore. Neither is the overzealous-about-family-crafts Mom.  All four kids used to live at this house, but now only half of us do.  The puppy is has clearly become a fully-grown dog in my absence.

Obligatory cute dog picture.
Obligatory cute dog picture.

It’s not that there isn’t enough love in the room.  It’s just that it looks and feels different, even though the room is the same.   Any expectations that I hold onto about good ol’ family Christmas are at risk.  I have to get my head around that.

I know that different is okay.

Today, I started feeling kind of odd as I hung new decorations, coordinated with the new furniture, with my newly adult-ish family. I didn’t expect it to feel quite so “new.”  I lived here for eight years, right?  I know these people. It’s December.  We got this.

…right?

It wasn’t wrong. The new stuff looks good.  It’s alright that we waited so long to decorate, that we were only half there, and that we didn’t go all out.  And it’s not a bad thing that we decided to grow up a bit–it has definitely done wonders for our conversation and cocktails. It’s okay that people and traditions change, or even that they sometimes leave altogether.

But it’s also okay if different doesn’t feel perfect right away.

People and traditions stay around so long as they’re good and healthy and make sense. And they leave when they’re done. This is the natural order of things.  It’s change. It makes room for other things to come in, it makes you appreciate that which is stays around, it gives you a basis with which to develop your own traditions.

But the process of un-learning and re-learning what to expect (or how to stop expecting) can be unsettling.  I felt that today.  After hanging those new decorations for a few minutes, I decided to take a breather.  The whole scene wasn’t really working for some reason.  Commence attitude adjustment in my old bedroom (now dad’s office). I looked out the window, read a couple Psalms, considered a nap.

Suddenly my phone went off. It was a friend of mine from Ottawa:

Move safely and be lovely ❤

What? That was perfectly timed, and completely unexpected.

I responded: Haha what a random message! But thank you.

She texted back: I was just thinking of you. Moving off to washington. I look forward to creeping photo albums.

This friend is not a person I knew back when I lived here.  I am not even a person I knew back when I lived here.

Would I trade my new life for some old decorations? Not a chance.  That doesn’t mean I have to be completely comfortable with this updated version of Christmas.  Not right away, at least. I just have to accept that it is the product of a lot of moving forward, and that moving forward is good.  This friend, and all my Ottawa friends, are great. My upcoming opportunity in Washington is fantastic.

I went downstairs.  I sat on a new chair, in front of a new computer, and pulled up a YouTube video I had just discovered.  My brothers, now old enough to face profanity, laughed through it with me. I suggested that after decorating (whatever that means this year) all six of us gather in the living room and watch the Christmas episodes of Community.  Unanimous agreement.  And so, armed with gluten free snacks for our growing number of celiac family members, we sat in front of the television.  Netflix streamed to us the meaning of Christmas according to NBC:

Maybe this Christmas is different. Maybe it’s going to be a little different each year.  I’m not going to like all the changes that happen in life. I might even sob in the face of some of them. But tonight proved that–with a little flexibility, a little creativity, and a lot of love–I can laugh in the face of some of them, too.

Move safely. Be lovely. Let different be.

The Downside of “Doing”: Why I can’t relax, and why that needs to change

Of my many, many weaknesses, this has been the worst lately: I. Can’t. Relax.

I don’t know when it started, or if it has always been this way.  Deep breaths and a clear mind sound like something I could’ve pulled off as a kid.  But it’s hard now. Relaxation hasn’t been available to me for a long, long time.

To be fair, I haven’t exactly been trying.  My priority, contrary to relaxation, has been getting things DONE–and in that, I have succeeded. Yes, I know there’s more to “figuring shit out” than just doing stuff or finding distractions.  But keeping busy seems to work for me.

Sort of.

It has become habit, at least.  I actively avoid being lonely (being alone is okay, but God forbid I feel lonely).  I avoid silence.  Work.  Live.  Work some more.  Do. Do. Do.  But the question is, why live that way?

Because if you stop, you might not like what you see.

Or worse, what you feel.

That’s my best guess, anyways.  I don’t really know what I’m so afraid of.  What I do know is that haven’t learned how to relax or even stop moving because I’m terrified of what that entails.  This isn’t something that I particularly want to admit.  But I really want to level with you, because I know know know I can’t be alone in the self-inflicted chaos.

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Being too busy isn’t all bad.  The to do list, the full plate, the sense of duty  to everyone and everything around me–it was my saving grace for a long time. Not just in a “Wellllll, shit went down, and I starting doing things to get my mind off it.” It’s more complicated than that.  Yes, shit has gone down. And, yes, I have gotten super-busy with stuff  in order to take my mind off of it.  I don’t suppose there’s anything too unhealthy about emerging from a challenge with a sense of purpose. The problem is now, I’m worried I won’t  find that sense of purpose at all because it is buried under stuff.

It’s so easy in this world to make your own superficial stress to distract you from real, harsh, felt stresses. For some reason, that is seen as “moving on.”  Isn’t that ridiculous?  I’ve had some of the best bounce-backs of anyone, on the surface.  Internally, I’ve had some of the worst.  Shit goes down (loss, sickness, the usual growing pains), and I greet it by getting a new job, upping my grades, making more friends, and obtaining WAY more obscure pop culture knowledge.  Awesome. That looks pretty badass when I write my CV, when I call mom and dad, when I run into an ex, when I talk to a gravestone.  But when I really think about it (if I give myself a moment to think about it) staying busy has done little to change the fact that I still can’t face rejection, broken-heartedness, or guilt. I still don’t know how to deal with a sick family. I know even less how to deal with a healthy one (weird, right?).  I am happy, I do believe that, but I don’t think I’m happy because I’m busy. And I KNOW I’m not busy because I’m happy.  The things that keep me busy may contribute to my happiness, but I could learn how to better spend my spare time–how to properly be alone, how to unwind, how to zone out, how to be with myself, by myself.

I would love to be able to relax.

I don’t relax because the go-go-go-go is a socially acceptable way to stay in control.  Because I live in a world where we value shutting up and moving on.  We value restlessness. We value people who make the most of their lives–and that means activity, even in the face of of adversity.  We value people who get things done.

Yes, that’s admirable. And I will never not be an active person.  But my self-worth, my sense of purpose, and my dreams for the future have all become way too tied to my accomplishments. I have become my inability to relax.  And I need, need, need to learn how to turn it off.  I need to give myself the time and space to be lonely, be silent, be empty…and to be okay with that.  I need to learn what really matters.

When was the last time you looked someone in the eye and said “Hey, what was the last record you listened to all the way through?” or “What was the last long walk you took?” or “Do you take the time to ride the bus to nowhere?” or “Who can you share comfortable silence with?”.  Better yet, when was the last time you looked yourself in the eye and asked those things?

(Bat Out of Hell.  I can’t remember. Sometimes. I don’t know.)

We don’t seem to value who or how someone is when they’re doing “nothing,” and I’m worried that I’ve turned that onto myself.  I seem to be actively avoiding the person I am right before I fall asleep, or when I first wake up…when I’m waiting in line, when I’m praying, when I’m staring out the window, when I’m relaxing (which I never do).

It’s easy to avoid her when she never stops moving.

I have worried more about my CV in the last two years than I have worried about my soul–and, either way, I have spent more time worrying than I have relaxing. Relaxation, as I mentioned, is not in my vocabulary.  Yes, there have been times where I have needed that defense mechanism of being busy or distracted all the time. But now?

Now, I just need me. I just need to relax. And I know that will not come easily.

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Resolution 2013? I think so.