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!

Resolution: Being a Failure in 2014

canstockphoto15625619I am not, in any external or commercial sense, a successful person. I am not a beauty queen, a math whiz, a super athlete, a great singer or any other Breakfast Club stereotype. I do not overwhelm people with my cult of personality or charisma. I’m an average student, a laissez-faire gardener and an inconsistent parent. I am, by all accounts and appearances, average.

In spite of all this mediocrity, I have a super power. I lose well. I lose repeatedly. And then I get up to lose again. The power of being average, of being a little strange under the surface, of never having success handed to you, is that you can be outrageously happy doing whatever loser thing you are doing. I don’t know if it is the tantalizing seduction of a mere possibility of success or if it’s simply doing something, that in that very moment, gives delight.

Whenever the resolution chatter rolls around at the beginning of each new year, I begin to think about intentions. I realized that the overwhelming theme of the upcoming year for me will be failure. Everything I intend on doing this year is unlikely to be a success. This is not false modesty. I’ve picked some projects that have the odds against them. There will be tremendous amounts of effort with slim chance of a jackpot at the end of the rainbow. I don’t find this notion depressing. I’m going to be doing some scary things this year and I think it will be awesome.

Readers of this blog know that I’m an aspiring writer. I’ve finished one draft of a novel and am bouncing around between a 2nd novel and short stories. Work must sooncanstockphoto13103442 equal some money, so now I have to run the wannabe published author gauntlet. While I’m chipping away at that work, I will be taking a run at my other fantasy job. It does not involve a pole, but it is fraught with huge amounts of humiliating failure all the same. I am attempting to perform stand up comedy this year. It should be quite horrible and devastating. And I’m looking forward to it.

Each time I resolve to do something I’m terrified of, I feel just a little bit stronger, a little more fearless, a little more free from the constraints in my head that whisper “you can’t do that”. I’m not funny under pressure. In fact, I’m terrified when speaking to a crowd. I’ve done some improv classes and comedy sketch writing workshops, but aside from listening to comedians most of my life, I have little in my experience to suggest I’d be funny.

But here’s the deal – I don’t want regrets. I don’t want to dance with the “what ifs” the rest of my life. I want to be excited and energized and engaged, even if it means I’m two steps from throwing up on myself from nauseating anxiety. I’m okay with losing. I’m not okay with not trying, not challenging myself, not learning new things. Fear is a fantastic antidote to complacency.

Amid all your good intent and resolutions, put something on that list that scares you just a little. It might seem tiny to the outside world. It may be insignificant compared to the grandiose accomplishments they give out prizes and paparazzi for, but if it takes the edge off the repetition of daily living, inspires and excites you, makes you breathe a little deeper, opens your world a little more, it will help to make you be a more successful human being. And that’s a resolution that can last year round.

How will you be a failure in 2014?