Make of It What You Will

It’s an odd space to be in, after someone dies in the midst of a holiday season. We have, over the years, planned our rituals and meals around my mother-in-law. With her passing, it’s a time of sadness, but it also takes away expectations. I’ve never much cared for the holidays, because I’m just that kind of sourpuss who revels quietly in ordinary living, but loathes over-the-top squeals of delight, social interaction with people I wouldn’t share a lifeboat with, and lavish meals that last an entire day. Although if that meal were entirely made up of mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, I might stay for seconds.

Rampant expectations send many of us spiraling into a murky depression that is only relieved after the accoutrements are shoved in the attic, the crappy gifts are on their way to a thrift store, and we can enter an establishment without being regaled by some pop star puking out Little Drummer Boy. This is my snarling self on full parade.

My thoughtful, caring self has found a quieter, less rancorous way to get through the canstockphoto24902042holidays without the depression sinkhole. I say “no” a lot. I focus on those things that bring sensory joy – music I like (today it’s pop 70s music), favorite foods, sparkly lights, my child’s happy face when she finds out that we bought those expensive tickets to some nerdy classical music event. But this is not much of a change from our day-to-day. I imagine that is the actual point I’m trying to make. I don’t want the holidays to be a high point in the year. I’m greedy that way – I want happy moments throughout the year. Without all the social expectations.

So we patchwork our way through the holiday. An atheist, a Lutheran, and an undecided. My husband and I brought forth the traditions of our youth – a tree, stockings, and special meal. We added things we liked – like never going anywhere on Christmas day, making cinnamon rolls, staying in our pajamas, playing board games. Quiet joy and love and simple pleasures.

It’s taken decades for me to no longer have that twinge, that hungry expectation of a mended and loving extended family. Spending many years of holidays alone taught me a lot. That we can make whatever of it that we feel like. Sometimes I made overtime and double pay. Sometimes I’d invite a smattering of displaced friends who had nowhere to go. Sometimes I’d not leave the couch all day, after checking out a stack of videos from the library.

The expectation was that I’d survive, that the depression would pass, that someday I’d get to this point, where it wasn’t that big of a deal, where it didn’t become a way to highlight absence, disappointment, or the holes in my life. Instead, it has become a time of reflection, gentleness, gratitude, and compassion.

I wish you peace and small kindnesses, to yourself and those around you, throughout this holiday season.

Auntie Scrooge’s Unsolicited Advice for the Holidays

Now that the competitive shopping marathon has begun and social events designed to crush the soul are in full swing, I’ve grumbled my way through a mall, a holiday party or three, and the receipt of numerous greeting cards with pets and coordinated outfits, and sometimes pets in coordinated outfits. I’m in the mood for unsolicited advice-giving. You’re welcome – in advance of the overwhelming gratitude you will surely feel.

Let’s get the respective holiday greetings out of the way. Merry Happy Holiday Christmas, Hanukkah,  Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, Ōmisoka (大晦日), Three Kings Day, Winter Solstice, Festivus, Quaid-e-Azam Day, and fill-in-the-blank Day. And for people like me, good luck with avoiding hugging, food poisoning, and advice from well-meaning and sometimes just mean relatives, on how to be someone other than who you are.

In addition to my much-loved (by me) post on how to survive the holidays as an introvert, here are some other invaluable tips:

Shopping for Gifts

canstockphoto4907306Remember that we all die. Remember what happens to our stuff when we die. Remember what other people do with the stuff we give them – usually before they die.

One year I gave a relative a yoga set – a mat and DVD. She’d been talking about her stress and various aches and pains and was considering yoga. The next year when I went to visit her, she’d cut up the yoga mat and made treads out of the pieces to keep her from slipping on the stairs. Indeed, it likely served the purpose of reducing her stress and prevented injuries, but actual stair treads would have been cheaper.

Don’t spend a lot of money on stuff. Sure, it makes the economy go round, but after the latest tax “reform”, we’re going to be in a recession in a few years anyway. Save your money. You’re going to need it for healthcare when you lose your job.


canstockphoto32200781I hate going to the Y in January, because the resolution gang is there trying to work off holiday pounds, accidentally flying off treadmills, talking more than moving, taking workout tips from any random employee who will talk to them, and wandering from machine to machine without wiping any of them off after use.  I’m all for working out and for people finding their groove, but come mid-February, when my retinas will have recovered from all the neon polyester workout clothes, I’ll look around only to see me and four senior citizens.

So don’t do, eat, drink or buy anything that requires a follow-up resolution, pregnancy test or bankruptcy filing. Or at the very least, don’t go to my gym.

Mental Gymnastics

If you’re a writer, there’s a fun little exercise you can do. Find that relative that makes you want to flip a table and back into their car as you tear out of the driveway. Watch them. How would you write them? What would their death scene entail? Or less violently, which Muppet would they be? Which reminds me of a great way to enter (and exit) any gathering:


Practicing Gratitude. In the mirror.

Get your game face on. Someone is about to give you a really ugly, useless gift that has nothing to do with any of your interests or personality. They either a) want you to change or b) don’t remember anything about you c) received it last year or d) are viciously delighted that you’ll be forced to put it out every time they come to visit.

canstockphoto15420316There’s the nostalgia/long distance relative gift. Your aunt remembers that when you were 11, back in 1978, you used to collect porcelain hedgehogs and she just happened to see one in a souvenir shop in Nashville that says I ♥ Tennessee on it and thought of you. Smile big now. She thought of you, even though you’re 50 years old and traded that collection in for boys when you turned 13.

I joke a lot, but my favorite gifts are good pens, pictures, a cherished poem written out, any creative endeavor, books if you know me, socks if you don’t or Ghiradelli’s Limited Edition Peppermint Bark Chocolates (always be specific on which chocolate you like, or you’ll end up with spackle-filled samplers). This is all to say that I’m a cheap date and most people, with a little thought and a whole lot less money, are too. And if they’re not, make sure you give them a card that tells them you’ve donated money in their honor to some charity you know they’ll hate.

Look for the Moments

It’s an odd year. I’m not much inclined towards commercial or cyclical sentiments in the first place, but this last year has been a real test of the idea of joy and what that means. I know it doesn’t mean the holidays, which entail too many expectations, too much work, too much of everything.

canstockphoto15427711There are moments, though, that give one pause. My daughter’s orchestra performed in the middle of a busy shopping mall (hence the forced mall visit). The music swelled and drowned out the chatter, expanding up to the high ceiling. A full orchestra of kids from every background, playing this beautiful music. My eyes welled up as I listened. People slowed down, taken off guard by an orchestra in the middle of everything. I like those moments. Moments that transcend shopping.

Some moments are just unexpected. I joined a voting rights organization earlier this year and made myself attend their holiday party in spite of my inclination to hide. I ended up sitting next to the city mayor and had a great conversation. I’m a bit of a political junkie and learning about city level politics fascinates me, as well as learning about the people who are willing to enter that arena. I met quite a few interesting people. What I thought would be merely tolerable, was surprisingly enjoyable.

Those moments sometimes find us, but most of the time, we have to keep our eyes open, be willing to say yes, not burden them with our nostalgia or expectations. It’s important to find the time to give ourselves room to breathe, to slow down, to step back. And to imagine a piano falling on the head of that relative who dominates every conversation with bumper sticker politics or vivid descriptions of their fungal issues. Pass the eggnog, indeed.

Wishing you and yours an uneventful holiday season, and a whole lot of peace!

Premature Glee at the Holidays Almost Being Over

This morning I was wrapping the last few Christmas gifts and humming carols. It’s the happiest I’ve felt in about three weeks. Last night was my in-law Christmas event. Tonight we have a small eve dinner with my mother-in-law and then, on Christmas day, my husband, daughter and I spend the whole day padding about in our jammies.

And then, the day after, everything gets cleaned up and put away. Holiday boxes get canstockphoto8088029lugged up to the garage rafters. Nobody will attempt to foist their tarted-up joy on me. I don’t have to throw elbows to avoid hugs. I don’t have to smile for pictures. I can wander off and no one will notice and ask me if I’m okay.

This year, if authenticity is to be lauded, I’ve been a very good girl. To the point that I may not be invited to any holiday events ever again. And that makes me so very, very happy. An introvert’s bliss.

2017 is going to be a good year for creative spirits. Our politics will be shit and we’ll all possibly die during a Putin-Trump dick measuring contest, but we’ll be inspired. Art flourishes under duress.

I have no resolutions except to find my own way, to not be sidetracked by shoulds, to find kindred spirits with whom to survive the attempted destruction of values that I hold dear. To stand up when needed. To intervene when required. To dig in when asked. To hope for that which seems improbable.

On that note, I’d like to say thank you to those who have subscribed to The Green Study, to commenters and to anyone in general who have tripped over this blog on your way to somewhere better.

Happy Almost End-of-the-Holidays!


Surviving the Holidays: An Introvert’s Guide

It happened in rapid succession. The emails landed with a resounding thud on my psyche today. “Hello Everyone, We’re thinking that for Thanksgiving…” and “I know it’s early, but we’d like to coordinate the family Christmas…”

I am an introvert. I find human contact only manageable in small doses, before I need to run away to a dark hidey-hole to process the interaction. Extended family celebrations, with the enforced captivity, doubly so.

Does this get-together feel as awkward as it looks?
Does this get-together feel as awkward as it looks?

If you’ve been reading this blog over the last few weeks, you know I’ve been finding my middle-aged spine. It’s a little angry and resentful and involves me inadvertently shouting “NO!” at random strangers. I’m usually not gracious about the holidays, but I suspect this year, it will be a torment unlike any I’ve ever known. Relationships will be permanently altered. Gifts will be taken back.

I’m trying to come up with a survival plan. I believe it involves duct tape and a plane ticket to anywhere else. Not as useful as you’d hoped, right?

Here’s some tips for surviving the holidays of the next couple of months.

Be picky about the time and place for celebration.

Have your holidays at a restaurant with a long wait list. That will force a reservation end time under an hour and 15 minutes. Perhaps if you’re lucky, your wait staff will be irritable and clumsy, which will make for an abbreviated, but entertaining meal.

If you must go to someone’s home, engage in passive-aggressive hostilities immediately upon entering the host’s house.

“Do you have slippers? I don’t want to get my socks dirty.”

“Maybe I’ll just hold onto my coat.”

“What’s that fish smell?”

Partake in uncomfortable family traditions with authenticity.

Random bossy relative: Let’s everyone go around the table and say what we’re thankful for.
Me: Um, I’ll go first.
Random bossy relative: Wonderful. Quiet everyone! Michelle will be starting us off.
Me: I’m grateful that I only have to see you wankers twice a year. I’m grateful that I already ate before I got to this salmonella-fest. I’m grateful that…what? What’s she crying about?

Reminisce, especially if there are newlyweds or out-of-town visitors.

“Remember that time when Aunt Betty’s sweet potato pie gave everyone the bends for days on end? Oh, would you look at that, I see you’re using the family recipe.”

“Didn’t you bring Cathy last year? She was really pretty. Who’s this one?”

“You’re looking good, Mitchell. That stint upstate did wonders for you. Did they ever find the body?”

Be boorishly entertaining.

Re-enact scenes from “Soylent Green” while walking around with the cheese cube tray.

Start a lively political discussion by calling everyone something+the word Nazi.

Insist that your child, who has just started playing the trombone, perform for everyone. Until he or she gets it right.

Make small children cry.

“I’m sure Santa won’t eat you if you are very, very good.”

“It just broke off! I’m sorry – I thought Barbie was supposed to bend that way.”

“Isn’t it sad that all the Lego people die at the end? Oh, I thought you’d already seen it.”

Make a discreet exit. Do not return.

“Let me get those extra presents out of the car.”

“Oh, it looks like we’re almost out of whipped cream. I’ll run out to the store and get some.”

“Where’s the bathroom?” It’s best if it’s on the first floor and has a window.

Administrative Note: The Green Study “What’s on the B Side of that 45?” Contest is revving up with some very thoughtful entries! You have until Sunday, December 7th, 2014, 12:00 pm (US Standard Central Time) to get your entry submitted.

The Green Study Holiday Humor Contest

canstockphoto0021896As I got ready to participate in my favorite tradition of the season – the delivering of treat bags to my daughter’s school, I had a brainstorm of an idea. My spirits have been a bit low, between the events of the last week and our recovery from the family flu. So I’m going to sponsor a contest with prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. Welcome to the first, and possibly last, Holiday Humor Contest at The Green Study.


Write a previously unpublished blog post (with title) 200-500 words long about the funniest Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice or New Year’s you’ve ever experienced. Submit it through my Contact page by Tuesday, December 25th, 12:00am (US Central Standard Time). Update 12/25/12: I’m extending the deadline until December 27th, 2012 (12:00pm US Central Standard Time). 

One entry per person please. The contest begins as soon as this post goes public.

The winners will be notified on December 28th before 12:00pm (US Central Standard Time).

Guest blog posting, shipping of the prize and donations will take place the first week of January.

All entries will be judged by me, myself and I. It’s entirely subjective.

1st Prize: Your entry will be posted as a guest post to my blog, you will be sent one Harry and David organic fruit basket and I will make a $100 donation to the American Red Cross on your behalf to your local Red Cross Chapter or their International Disaster Response fund. If you do not have a US residential address, the basket is off the table, but the donation will still be made in your name.

2nd Prize: Your entry will be posted as a guest post to my blog and I will make a $50 donation to the Red Cross on your behalf to your local Red Cross Chapter or their International Disaster Response fund.

3rd Prize: Your entry will be posted as a guest post to my blog and you will receive a postcard from Minneapolis, which will be a collectors’ item in a century or five.

Let’s have some holiday fun – and we’re off!

Update 01/02/13: List of winners and links to winning entries.

Making Family Where You’re At

The holiday season is a great time to realize, once again, everything that is wrong with your family. This used to be a really hard time of year for me. I have a very small family of origin that fled our shared memories of misery and abuse. I haven’t spoken to my brothers in over a decade. My sister, who is considerably younger than I, stays in touch, but we have an uneasy relationship, much of which is tied up in mutual ambivalence about our mother. My normal is like a lot of people’s normal. It’s not.

As I continue to write my novel, Phoenix Rock, the character relationships are complex, alternating between deeply ambivalent and complete apathy. But I have created some loving relationships between siblings – relationships tainted by a secret, but relationships that can heal. It has made me think about my siblings and the past and the complex emotions we have shared. I am revisiting a sadness that I have not felt in a long time. After years of trying to awkwardly, painfully talk to each other, we gave up. There was too much geographical and emotional distance between us. We see each other as the children of thirty years ago, frozen in a time when there was incredible unhappiness.

A friend pointed out to me that I am trying to resolve those issues in writing this novel, but I believe that there is no resolution in real life, only acceptance. Like a Lifetime movie, one of us would need a unique organ transplant before we’d be able to unfreeze and move forward. We’re beyond blame and recriminations. We have lives and families across the country from each other. When what you share is an overarching unhappy story, there is little to motivate you to try and start again. Maybe one of us will need that organ, but like mending the past, it’s a long shot.

Over the years, as I’ve traveled and moved about, I have spent very few holidays alone. Early on I developed the skills to create a family wherever I was at the time. In the Army, I’d organize parties for many of us that weren’t traveling home for the holidays, cramming people into my small German efficiency apartment or serving a holiday meal to 30 people from the closet-sized communal kitchen in the barracks at Ft. Ord. Like my childhood holidays, it usually involved a lot of booze.

When I was single, I’d make a big meal on Valentine’s Day and invite disparate people like me, from work or school or the neighborhood. I’ve had some oddball gatherings. When I was struggling financially and didn’t have a car, I would still make a big Thanksgiving dinner and friends would travel to see me. I learned to appreciate the relationships I had and how to meet my needs for a sense of shared camaraderie – a sense of belonging somewhere in the world.

I have a small family now as well, but it’s a loving one. Even though both my husband and I came from relatively big families, we married late and that determined that we’d only have one child. She’s enough for us, but I often worry about the task we’ve set before her. She was disappointed at Thanksgiving this year. She’s always been the youngest, but the other kids have grown into teenagers who are not so interested in playing with an eight year old. She is an outgoing child who has had to learn how to live in a world peopled by adults. We have a lot of play dates for her, but the holidays are different, highlighting a lack of similarly-aged companions.

My husband and I console ourselves by recognizing that the presence of siblings is no guarantee of friends or playmates. But in the end, when we are gone, they would be the people who would have shared her collective memory of her childhood and family life. I’d like to believe that if she’d had siblings, they would have had happy adult relationships.

There are a lot of ‘only child’ myths that persist, but my daughter has a wide open heart that says she will be loved by people other than her parents. I hope that as she grows up and begins travels of her own that she can make home where she finds it. I hope that we will have helped her develop the skills to seek out those people who would be her family. I hope that she can find her sense of place in the world. I hope…