Downswing

So, I hit a downswing last week.  I warned you at the start, didn’t I?  That sometimes things would go sideways because sometimes my brain decides to shake itself all out of balance and all I can do is hold on for the ride?  Well, sometime last week, apparently my happy brain chemicals decided to check out for a while and here I am in a downswing.

They’re all different, at least for me.  I’ve never been inside anybody else’s head, of course, but for me, every round of depression is different.  Sometimes they’re violent and frightening, like a storm in my head and I’m never more than a half-breath away from breaking out sobbing.  Sometimes they’re so subtle, so sneaky I don’t even realize I’ve slipped into Downswing Bizarro World until they let up and I look around and go “huh, that’s different.”  Sometimes they’re insidious, with a hundred little voices filling up my thoughts, pretending to be me, pretending to speak truth, and telling me every second every awful thing they can come up with to cut into me.  Sometimes they’re more physical, the symptoms manifesting like a cold or PMS, and I’m just tired and achey and not sleeping and everything else like being down with a cold minus the cold.

This one has been part physical and part mental.  The physical aspect has been draining. My energy reserves have been low no matter how much sleep I got or how much I ate or how much I rested between other things.  It was an effort, mental and physical, to get up and do something, anything, and then an impossibility to do more than one; I’d sit back down and have to start all over again.

The mental part has been some mix of the constant voice of self-hate and a propensity to be easily overwhelmed and need to escape.  Which was kind of terrible timing.

Since we had planned to have 18 people in the house on Sunday for Ostara.

I don’t celebrate Easter — not being Christian will do that.  But I do celebrate Ostara, and I invite my Clan, my family-who-are-friends-who-are-family to come join me.  Sarah and I cook a bunch of food, hide plastic eggs in the yard, and prepare baskets of chocolate and goodies (and other non-food goodies for those who prefer) for everyone.  And everyone else brings something to share and games to play, and we take a whole afternoon and evening to eat and have fun and spend time together. The kids come, too, and they get their own egg hunt, and then the last few years they’ve vanished into one room to play Legos.

I couldn’t actually tell you how I got the house ready for Ostara this year.  I always get less tidy when I’m heading for and then in a downswing, and this was no exception.  But, this time, I had to fight almost to the point of tears to get up and do things, from the grocery run to setting up chairs.  It was maddening and exhausting and I truly didn’t think I’d manage it. Even with Sarah helping as she could, there’s a freaking metric ton of work to do for that many people in the house.  Cleaning, cooking, organizing…

But then, this is my Clan, my family.

And the truth is, if I’d failed, it would have been okay.

If I had needed to cancel Ostara completely, they’d have understood.  If I’d been okay to host, but couldn’t do the food, someone else would have taken it over for me.  If I’d not been able to set up chairs, someone would have come early to assist (as it is, a few people did come early and they mopped the kitchen for me).  If I’d left the house a mess, everyone would have been fine. There would have been no judging, no disapproval, no blame.

Because this is my Clan, and they are amazing.

I spent a huge portion of the party in whatever room was quietest.  Games happened at our big table upstairs, and I hid out in the downstairs with the people not playing games just talking.  And that was easier than being surrounded by noise. I played with the kids a bit, but less than other years because to have the energy to be good with them was simply beyond me.  I didn’t fuss over the food or the mess once things got going, and I didn’t worry about if everyone was individually fine or having fun or happy. I just…settled into a comfortable niche and let everything else go.

And it was all okay.

I wish everyone in the world had a family like this.  I wish every family was like this. This Clan of mine…it’s based on trust, on respect, and on love.  And there is room for us all to be whatever and whoever we need in it — and we’re all okay with that. So if I am having an off week, or if someone gets horribly sick, or if someone needs help, it’s all fine.  Nobody can be everything to everyone, but there is probably somebody in this group who can be what someone else needs for a little while.

All I really needed on Sunday was to be around my Clan, to sit at the side and see them playing together and having fun, and to know that I was perfectly safe, that I was wanted, that I was loved.  That’s all I needed. And that’s what they give me.

My family is the BEST.

The downswing goes on and I’m as tired and downtrodden and self-hating as I was before, but I know it’s okay.  I know it’s temporary, it’s Brain Out-of-Order Come Back Later time, and it’ll pass. I know that if I get in a jam I can’t handle, or if things go so far sideways I’m falling down, there will be a boatload of people I can reach out to for help, and one of them will come.  I know that tomorrow may not be better, or the day after, but that ‘better’ is out there. And I just have to hang on until I stumble on it.

And one day I’ll open my eyes and go, “huh, that was different” and it will be over.  And I might be annoyed that I missed Ostara and had to spend it in a downswing, but even that is okay.  Because my Clan will be here next Ostara, and the one after that, and all the parties in between. My family isn’t going anywhere, and neither am I.

My downswings are sine curves, so they never truly bottom out and fall off the graph.  They can go pretty damn far down, but not forever. At some point, the graph will curve and I’ll be heading up above the suckitude again.  And, in the meantime, even if it feels like falling, I won’t hit bottom. I’ve got too many people to catch me.

And even my downswing brain can’t take that away from me.

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More Precious, Indeed

In college, I took an entire course on the political philosophy and thought of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.  I have so many copies of speeches and letters and articles, excerpts from books and the books themselves, and, of course, the very famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963.  But to honor this man, his work, and the dream he stood for — the dream we are still chasing even today — what I would like to highlight are some passages from his acceptance speech on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 1964 (as provided by the Nobel Foundation online, reproduced verbatim).

The words belong to a truly magnificent man.  The emphasis is my own.

I accept the Nobel Prize for Peace at a moment when 22 million Negroes of the United States of America are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice. I accept this award on behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice. I am mindful that only yesterday in Birmingham, Alabama, our children, crying out for brotherhood, were answered with fire hoses, snarling dogs and even death. I am mindful that only yesterday in Philadelphia, Mississippi, young people seeking to secure the right to vote were brutalized and murdered. And only yesterday more than 40 houses of worship in the State of Mississippi alone were bombed or burned because they offered a sanctuary to those who would not accept segregation. I am mindful that debilitating and grinding poverty afflicts my people and chains them to the lowest rung of the economic ladder.

Therefore, I must ask why this prize is awarded to a movement which is beleaguered and committed to unrelenting struggle; to a movement which has not won the very peace and brotherhood which is the essence of the Nobel Prize.

After contemplation, I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time – the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts. Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

The tortuous road which has led from Montgomery, Alabama to Oslo bears witness to this truth. This is a road over which millions of Negroes are travelling to find a new sense of dignity. This same road has opened for all Americans a new era of progress and hope. It has led to a new Civil Rights Bill, and it will, I am convinced, be widened and lengthened into a super highway of justice as Negro and white men in increasing numbers create alliances to overcome their common problems.

I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. “And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.” I still believe that We Shall overcome!

This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born.

Today I come to Oslo as a trustee, inspired and with renewed dedication to humanity. I accept this prize on behalf of all men who love peace and brotherhood. I say I come as a trustee, for in the depths of my heart I am aware that this prize is much more than an honor to me personally.

Every time I take a flight, I am always mindful of the many people who make a successful journey possible – the known pilots and the unknown ground crew.

So you honor the dedicated pilots of our struggle who have sat at the controls as the freedom movement soared into orbit. You honor, once again, Chief Lutuli of South Africa, whose struggles with and for his people, are still met with the most brutal expression of man’s inhumanity to man. You honor the ground crew without whose labor and sacrifices the jet flights to freedom could never have left the earth. Most of these people will never make the headline and their names will not appear in Who’s Who. Yet when years have rolled past and when the blazing light of truth is focused on this marvellous age in which we live – men and women will know and children will be taught that we have a finer land, a better people, a more noble civilization – because these humble children of God were willing to suffer for righteousness’ sake.

I think Alfred Nobel would know what I mean when I say that I accept this award in the spirit of a curator of some precious heirloom which he holds in trust for its true owners – all those to whom beauty is truth and truth beauty – and in whose eyes the beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace is more precious than diamonds or silver or gold.

For myself, I can only say that I wish with all my heart we had not lost him so soon, that I think ours would be a better world and a better society if we had been given more time with this man, with his wisdom and his integrity, and most of all his fierce courage.

And above all, I wish I could say we live now in the world he envisioned.

But I can promise to keep working towards it.

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The Wheel Turns; Darkness Into Light

Welcome to the new year!

I hope everyone had something fun or exciting or heartwarming over the holiday season — which is also the time when the Northern Hemisphere meets and endures its longest night of the year and begins to slowly spin back towards warmth and light.  For me, I had a few highlights throughout the holidays, but the best part by far was my NYE party.

We had a fluctuating number as some had to leave early and others came late, but I think all told we had 14-16 people in the house eating dessert, exchanging gifts, and playing games to bid GOODBYE WE WILL NOT MISS YOU to 2017 and SOME IMPROVEMENT WOULD BE GOOD HERE 2018.  Which we did with the use of fire.  And piñatas.

I bought a pair of piñatas, a 1 and a 7.  Throughout the party, people wrote things on slips of paper and notecards and whatever else they chose — things they wanted to banish, things they wanted to release, things they wished to leave behind — and stuffed them in the piñatas.  People wrote lists, or the same grievance over and over, and I think at least one person fed an angry word in letter by letter.  We even took “orders” from our cousin party being held by some friends a few states away.

And at midnight, we took the piñatas outside in the -15 degree weather or whatever it was, and burned them to ashes.

It’s very therapeutic.  To take the frustrations and fears of the year that was and to let them go, to watch them be unmade and cast into the midnight sky.  To set down the burdens of one year and feel them melt from the shoulders — only to make room to carry new weight in the days and weeks to come, probably.  But it’s nice.  It’s not spectacular, and it’s not super dramatic, but it feels good to watch those feelings and experiences and shadows burn.

Maybe next year, if it isn’t -15 degrees, we’ll do a bigger fire and toast marshmallows.  That seems fair, right?

Personally, I’m still lobbying for a green or purple fire, too, but that’s tougher.  Luckily we have a designated friend-as-fire-marshal, and he handles that complicated stuff.  I just provide the piñatas and the backyard.

The thing about our NYE party is that it has evolved over the years.  A decade ago, it would be just Sarah and I and a friend some years, watching movies all night.  Then we started to gather with greater numbers of people, to make it more of an event.  In the last few, it’s become an all-out party which doubles as the friends gift-giving celebration for those who attend.  For the last 2 years, I’ve added an element of Christmas stockings.

Which is to say, for every person who comes to the party (or who is connected to this friends-family in some way), I make them a stocking.  A few people have real ones we hang on the mantle — those are the people who look to me and my house as their alternate home.  But for everyone there is a bag of candy and an orange and some nuts (the latter 2 from German tradition) and something else.  This year, I gave people CDs.

Half the friends-family got funny CDs of, well, this.

The other half got a CD mix I made.

I know, I know, that’s so 2003.  Whatever.  It seems silly to buy flash drives to hand out 17 songs as a playlist, and I just don’t do streaming music yet.  If anybody has a better idea, I’ll gladly hear it out.  Until then, CDs.

The mix I made for them is one I really like, and it has a lot in it that carried me through last year and will continue to carry me into 2018.  I called it “Light in the World” because, at heart, it’s a mix of songs either about the light that is already in the world — love, kindness, courage, honor — or songs about hanging onto and nurturing the light within when such light is needed against a colder world.

In the end, we’re all only what we give to the people in our lives, to the world beyond our immediate circle, and to the future yet to come.  And I, as I have said before, intend to give light.  And love.  And hope.

So here is the mix I made:

The World As I See It by Jason Mraz
Bridge Over Troubled Water by Gregorian
I’ll Be The Light by Colton Dixon
So Alive by The Goo Goo Dolls
Fearless by Kat Perkins
Kinder by Copper Wimmin
Courage (Come Out To Play) by Justin Hines
Say Geronimo by Sheppard
Shatter Me (feat. Lzzy Hale) by Lindsey Stirling
I Am the Fire by Halestorm
The Light by Disturbed
Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself by Jess Glynne
Over and Over by The Goo Goo Dolls
Life is Wonderful by Jason Mraz
Weightless by Courtney Jones
Fly to Paradise by the Eric Whitacre Singers
O Fortuna by Gregorian

You might wonder at that last track.  “O Fortuna” is not a song about light, or courage, or standing up against the dark.  The Wikipedia translation of it is:

O Fortune,
like the moon you are changeable,
ever waxing or waning;
hateful life first oppresses
and then soothes as fancy takes it;
poverty and power
it melts them like ice.

Fate – monstrous and empty,
you whirling wheel,
you are malevolent,
well-being is vain and always fades to nothing,
shadowed and veiled you plague me too;
now through the game
I bring my bare back to your villainy.

Fate is against me
in health and virtue,
driven on and weighted down, always enslaved.
So at this hour, without delay,
pluck the vibrating strings;
since Fate strikes down the strong one,
everyone weep with me!

Not light, right?  It’s a lament, a cry for others to see the cruelty that Fate has dealt and sympathize.  A testament of injustice and unfairness.

Uplifting?  Well, the song itself it, but not in the context of its meaning.

But for me, that’s WHY this song is important in this mix.  Because you can have all the courage you want, can be armed with kindness and honor, can breathe light and sing hope through your veins, but eventually random chance and events beyond your control *will* take their toll.  You can skip through life on the road of ideals, head full of dreams and optimism, but someday the rocks of reality are going to come down on your head.

What matters is what you do next.

If — and when — Fate strikes down the strong person, what does the strong person do?

What choice do you make?

Do you weep and cry that Fate is unfair?  Do you curl up and surrender?  Do you blame the unkindness of Fate and petulantly refuse to accept the truth?

Because dark and light cannot exist without one another.  Hope doesn’t have power unless it has been born by overcoming despair.  Courage cannot be strong unless it is forged in fear.  Kindness has no meaning if it is insincere.

“O Fortuna” is the last track on the CD because it leaves the unanswered question for the listener:

In the face of callousness, of despair, of cruelty, will you stand up and be counted amongst the kind, the loving, and the brave?

What will you choose for 2018?

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TCWC Concert and the Fight Against the Season

On Saturday, I sang 2 concerts with the TCWC; it was our usual “Illuminations” concert we do in lieu of a more traditional holiday concert. The music this time was STUNNING.

We opened with different settings of the words attributed to Chief Seattle (though not really said by him; thanks Snopes!):

This we know.
The earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth.
This we know.
All things are connected like the blood that unites one family.
All things are connected.
Whatever befalls the earth befalls the children of the earth.
This we know.
We did not weave the web of life.
We are merely a strand in it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
This we know.

We sang songs about the earth, about stars, about the moon, and about the rise of the sun. The words from one of them, “Cycle Four,” made me cry EVERY DAMN TIME I sang them:

The earth itself is a spaceship; the crew rides on the outside in everlasting orbit around the sun.
Seen from the moon, it is so tiny and fragile.
I wish leaders from every nation could see the world from here.
Those precious borders are invisible.
The brilliant globe is surrounded by blackness and turns serenely in the sunlight.
Viewing our planet from the moon, I cry.
The pristine blue and whiteness I see is an illusion.
Hiding beneath it I know there is an ever more senseless ugliness.

And we did the Randall Thompson version of “Choose Something Like A Star” whose words by Robert Frost are, I think, truly inspirational:

O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud;
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.
Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says “I burn.”
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.
It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
And steadfast as Keats’ Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.

I’m not going to link to this song, but I’m sure you can go find a version of it on YouTube if you wish, and I highly recommend it; it’s truly beautiful.

(Also, it goes HIGH. I mean, I’m a high first soprano and it can be exhausting after a while. This whole concert was that way, though. My poor vocal cords were DONE on Saturday night. Anyway.)

The thing about music at this time of year is that, while I am tired tired TIRED of Christmas carols, pretty much all of them, I love the music that fits the season without being about it. I love the music about the darkness that gives way to light, about people making their everyday lives about joy, about hope and rebirth and kindness and generosity.

The winter tests people when it comes; the cold and dark and early sunset push against the shadows in our minds. I am typing this now at 4:01pm Central Time, and already the sun is gone from the sky. Night will fall in a matter of minutes. It was dark when I left the house for work and it will be dark before I get home. The shortest day of the year up here in the north is truly short.

Sometimes I think we fill it up with a false cheerfulness from the holidays, the blaring bouncy songs on the radio and in stores, the aggressively green and red decorations, the screaming lights. Sometimes I think this whole Christmastime bustle is one big fight against the darkness that closes in on all sides and heralds the cold and ice and snow to come.

And you know what?

While I am SO TIRED of the overplayed music, and I roll my eyes at the commercialization, and I get irritated by the false cheer and kindness that melts away on December 26th when it should be a way of living year-round — in spite of all of that, I find it deeply appealing to live in an entire culture basically telling the dark and cold and gloom and despair to go choke on a Christmas tree.

“Yeah, yeah, dark and cold and blah. I’ll show you! I’m going to put up the most OBNOXIOUS lights I can, deck my house and my store and everything with as much gold and red and green and silver as I can lay hands on! You think the wind and snow will keep me quiet? How loudly do you want to hear my music? You think you can make me stay home and sulk? IT IS SHOPPING TIME.”

I don’t really think it’s intentional, but I do think that’s what happens. I think the year closing to the winter solstice is one big drain, and the way we fight it is with light and laughter and parties and singing and flowers and bows and good food and sappy movies. I think it’s an entire people using the same tricks I use against depression to hold back the season.

And it does work.

Even if I’m rolling my eyes while it goes.

But then, I usually appreciate a good show of defiance. As soon as you tell me that I need to bow down and let shadows fall, I usually start thinking about ways to light a candle. As soon as you tell me that being cold is an inevitability, I promise you I have figured out how to keep warm.

The thing we need to work on overall, as a society, is to quit thinking that giving and cheer and kindness and smiling at strangers is only really a ‘thing’ in December. Charities need money and supplies every day of the year. People need music and lights and that uplifting display all the time. Smiling at people on the street or in the store should be the default, not the exception.

Kindness and generosity should be everyday miracles, not Christmas miracles.

I actually get weird looks sometimes when I do that sort of thing. I got glared at in the grocery store last week because I was making eye-contact and smiling at people, or gave a sincere, pause-rather-than-rushing-off-with-my-stuff thank you to the person at the register. More than one person gave me a look that should have been withering. Should have made me back off letting my own light shine.

But. Um.

That’s not…really how I roll.

Uh, at all.

Ever.

If I have light, when I have light, I share it. That’s what I do. That’s what I’m FOR.

And you know what? For every variation on a glare, I got a smile in response. Tired smiles, surprised smiles, grateful smiles. I don’t expect any cashier to remember me, but I do see them breathe a little easier when I greet them cheerfully rather than with a dour or gruff look.

But maybe that’s the advantage, if there is such a thing, to living in a world of competing opposites. Of living day to day not knowing when the happiness and light are going to bleed from my soul and the cruelty inside my own head will start whispering again. When the energy I have to offer is poisoned and stripped until it is me who is needy with nothing left to give.

When you know the meaning of permanent, waiting-to-strike sorrow, maybe you know how precious it is to share joy when you have it.

When the mob in my head is swayed, I choose the star of kindness and defiance to set MY mind on, and I am staid.

For all the ugliness in the world, there is beauty, too. We have to look for it sometimes; we have to seek it out and draw it forth and wave it like a sword in the face of the advancing armies of darkness — but it is there.

And this is something I know.

Whatever we do to the web of life, we do to ourselves. Whatever I can put into the world will happen to others, those around me and those I’ve never so much as seen. When I vibrate the strands that connect us with a smile, with light, with laughter, I have to trust that my offering is reaching others. And know that theirs will come back to me.

We are all connected shouting against the winter dark in anticipation of the light. We are all one voice singing, sometimes aggravatingly, about joy and cheer. And we can’t stop the dark from falling, any more than we can — or should — stop the world from spinning.

But we can stop it from falling on each other and let it stay up in the sky where it belongs.

And that is a real miracle.

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Thanksgiving!

This week is Thanksgiving for those of us who celebrate it.

Thanksgiving means all kinds of things to different people, and it has meant different things to me over the course of my lifetime.  As a child, it was a huge gathering of my paternal grandmother’s whole family, her sisters and their kids and all my cousins gathered around long tables with folding chairs and everybody bringing at least 2 more dishes than we really needed.  It meant hiding in Grammie’s back room, making houses out of boxes, or piling in with all the kids of a like age to see if ANYBODY could get past the 3rd level of Battletoads on the NES (spoiler alert — we couldn’t).  As I grew older but still lived close by, I really began to enjoy Thanksgiving with that extended family.  I started helping out with dishes more, or serving more, and I started to learn why it was interesting, not boring, when my grandmother and her sisters gathered around a table with mugs of tea just talking.  (The football watched by the men was still boring until I met Sarah and she introduced me to OSU.)

Living in Minnesota necessitated many changes on my part when it came to traditional family gatherings.  Some years, I’ve trekked back to be part of Thanksgiving, but it isn’t the same.  A lot of the relatives whose presence I most enjoyed have passed since then.  Now, the gathering, when it happens at all, is smaller, mostly populated by my generation and my nieces and nephews.  Grammie still makes the best stuffing and mashed potatoes in the family, though.

The years that I can’t or don’t go back to the land of my ancestors, however, I host Thanksgiving myself.  Now that I have a home of my own, I make a point to open it for Thanksgiving to anyone who wants that same connectedness and closeness I do.  It’s my very-firmly held belief that no one should be alone on Thanksgiving who doesn’t want to be, and that everyone should have the option of a warm, inviting, loving atmosphere in which to spend their day.

Thanksgiving is often my favorite holiday of the year because of that.  I get to open my house and invite in whoever needs or wants that shelter, that fun.  Some years we’ve had lots of people; some years we only have 4.  This year, I’m going to be hosting between 9 and 11, which is just enough to make the house seem really full (and just enough to necessitate bringing down the second table).

It’s always a big event when we host a party like this.  For Thanksgiving I almost always do turkey because, obviously, but some years I’ve added a ham as well depending on the crowd.  Last year’s turkey was ALMOST a disaster and required a 5am run to a grocery store which I never ever want to do again.  This year, with only 1 meat, I’m less likely to end up in panic-mode at 5am.  I hope.

If it DOES happen, this time I’ll take pictures.

I always brine my turkeys, which, the first year was HILARIOUS because I didn’t have a pot big enough so I, uh, kinda made one.  By taping paper bags to the outside of my pot and putting the turkey and the brine in a brining bag and kind of…propping it up in the fridge.  It DID work and it did NOT spill all over the fridge, and it was epic.  Now I have a proper brining bucket.

(I have searched for a few hours for a version of the picture of my epic paper bag brining solution and I can’t find one, unfortunately.  Otherwise I would happily provide the photographic evidence of its hilarity.)

I’ll also be doing squash and pudding, and Sarah’s handling the stuffing.  Others bring the green beans, the potatoes, and whatever else they like the best.  We’ve had everything from tempura to khir at our table, and it’s all welcome!  We set it all out along the kitchen counter like a giant buffet and leave it out all afternoon.

Because once the food has been eaten, it is time for games.  Board games, card games, pen-and-paper games — depending on the crowd, we play.  (I usually miss this part.  5am does NOT get along well with me and I end up napping most years.  Last year, post the run to the grocery store and the emergency backup plan, I napped so soundly I didn’t realize everyone else had done all my dishes for me.  My friends are AMAZING.)

Some years, we open our house again a few days after Thanksgiving to celebrate with those friends who spend their holiday with their other families.  This year, we’re a little too busy to pull that off, but we might yet have what Sarah calls Pie Night another time.  Possibly for NYE.

But the “when” isn’t really the part that matters.

The part that matters is the part where I get to sit around a table with family and friends.  Sometimes the family is related by blood/marriage, but more often, it’s those people who are family of the spirit.  The part that matters is being together, sharing food, snarking at each other, telling stories, laughing, being safe, being welcome, being wanted.  It’s no different from what I knew every year at Grammie’s house, even if I didn’t understand while I was building a train out of cardboard that *that* is what made the day so special.

Thanksgiving is when I get to spend special time with the people who make life worth everything, and when I get to remember how very, very thankful I am for every step that led me here.  For attending Carleton and meeting Sarah.  For stumbling into the TCWC and finding a choir family.  For being invited to perform at CONvergence, and then wandering up looking to volunteer, and being drawn into a community and a fellowship.

Every step, wrong or right, backwards or forwards or right off the path, has carried me until I’m standing here.  And I cannot, cannot imagine my life any differently.

So I’ll spend Thanksgiving a little teary-eyed and a little overly sentimental.  Because I am so very thankful.

Also, because of the parade.

I have THE BIGGEST CRUSH on one particular float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, folks.  No, seriously.  It’s been my favorite for as long as anyone can remember.  And I have watched the parade EVERY YEAR without fail.  When I’m not hosting, I tend to live-blog it (hosting makes me too busy, to say nothing of being high-strung, for that).  I watch it, and I laugh at the silly things, and I rag on the bad commercials, and I cheer at my favorites.

But I always start to cry when I see Tom Turkey.

I have to think that at least part of my extreme love of the parade is that it heralds a season of family and a season of humanity.  It’s the time when, for about a month, people become what they pretend to be the rest of the year.  It’s the time when we think about each other a bit more, care for the little things a bit more, notice each other more.

But there’s also an inherent value and charm to the parade itself as well. Maybe it’s that sense of commonality that I always feel, just as I did with the Olympics.  Thanksgiving morning, 3.5 million people don’t care about political parties or artificial divisions.  They just stand there on the sidelines screaming for the people who come by.  Everybody along the sidelines becomes about 10 years old, enchanted by the simple magic of giant balloons, joyful kids, and thumping music.  For that morning, in that place, people become the community they want be.  And that means something very real to me, too.

And Tom Turkey?  To me, that crazy float has become the icon for all the good things of the season.  I think he is to me what Santa Claus is to lots of kids — he’s the hero of the season, the one who makes all that goodness possible.  He brings the parade, heralding the holiday season and all the things that come alive with it.

And once I’ve seen Tom Turkey, I know everything’s going to be all right.  Even if MY turkey goes horribly awry, I’m going to be spending my day in laughter and love and welcome joy with friends and family, and no amount of disaster measures up.

But if there IS a disaster, I’ll let you know next week.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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Indigenous Peoples Day

For this, I would like to refer to far wiser words than my own, written by someone with the genuine authority to say them.

From the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, by Jeremy FiveCrows:

Indigenous Peoples’ Day gives us the opportunity to honor the millions of citizens with indigenous ancestry, to celebrate their culture, and to reflect on the evils, sacrifices, and struggles their ancestors were forced to endure. It also gives us the opportunity to educate the citizens about what can be gained by a greater understanding of indigenous history. By learning about the native cultures of this place and what the first residents knew about living here, the country is enriched with a greater understanding of its shared history, understanding of the ecology, and the philosophy of stewardship that could help heal the nation’s environmental woes.

The land upon which this nation is built molded the cultures of the tribes who called it home, just as it continues to mold the culture of the United States today. The tribes believe that we are of this land; this is true for everyone on earth. For all of us, this land is both the source of our strength and our greatest responsibility. This might be the most important teaching that the modern world could learn from indigenous peoples’ cultures and experiences. Of all changes the message of Indigenous Peoples Day could bring, perhaps the most important would be the realization that the native people’s story is part of the nation’s collective story. We are all connected to one another and to this place we call home.

 

Today, please make room for these stories told by those who were here long before the rest of us, and whose voices we should respect and honor every day.

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St Patrick’s Day

I have a strange relationship with this particular celebration of Irish heritage and also green doughnuts.  Which, by the way, — no.  Seriously.  We have green milk, green rivers, green beer.  Not EVERYTHING needs to be green today!

Anyway.

When you’re born and raised anywhere near the East Coast of the US, you have at least some connection to St Patrick’s Day.  I remember being in elementary school and there being a regular game of pinching anyone who didn’t wear green.  I also remember one friend of mine getting out of a day full of pinching by virtue of having green eyes.  Then we had green cookies and milk at lunch and made shamrock cut-outs and, you know, all the kid stuff.  I don’t think I knew how much else went on, from dyeing the Chicago River green to the parades and general revelry, until later, though.

I do have a fair amount of Irish heritage, though nobody seems to know exactly how much because both sides of my family approach any study of genealogy like they are considering riding on some sort of horse/cougar mix — they’d just rather not.  But my grandmother can tell stories about the Irish women she heard stories about back in our bloodline somewhere.

My other connection to St Patrick’s Day comes from a religious source by way of YA fantasy.

Among the most formative books I ever read as a kid was the Time Quintet series by Madeleine L’Engle.  Particularly the first three to be published — A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet — made their marks in my mind and my soul.  The last of these is the adventure of Charles Wallace trying to rewrite history so that the world can be pulled back from the brink of nuclear disaster.

Along the way, he makes use of what the book calls “Saint Patrick’s Rune” which is really a poem derived from the more famous Lorica, or Saint Patrick’s Breastplate.  It reads:

At Tara in this fateful hour,
I place all Heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And the fire with all the strength it hath,
And the lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the wind with its swiftness along its path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the Earth with its starkness;
All these I place
By God’s almighty help and grace
Between myself and the powers of darkness.

This rune has been with me for the majority of my life, and I’ve always found it helpful to recite in times of stress or irrational fear, like taking off in an airplane or facing down a bad storm.  Whether it has any empirical effect, it’s always helped me center myself, reorient myself in the scope of the world, and find the inner balance to keep going.

So I owe a lot of inner peace and fortitude, especially in my younger years, to Saint Patrick of Ireland.

I’m not nor ever have been Catholic, but I feel gratitude that one person of that order penned (or, allegedly penned) the full Lorica, which is a powerful, swelling recitation that, to a person of the Christian faith, must be like sounding the ultimate anthem of courage and victory.  Even I am moved by its power and its intensity.  Get that thing going, rev it up, and you could take on the world.  For me, it’s been a light of prayer even when I didn’t pray, and I’m grateful for that.

So, between my innate, if muddled, Irish ancestry and my personal appreciation for this work of Saint Patrick, I “do” St Patrick’s Day.  I wear green, usually various pieces of different shades of green.  I will not eat the appalling green doughnut or bread or whatever awful thing someone’s stuck dye in this time, though.  There are LIMITS, you guys.

(Also, I don’t, I DO NOT, attempt a Lucky Charms-like accent or throw around the ‘faith and begorrah’ nonsense because YUCK.  Anti-Irish racism was (and still is?) a thing, you know.  So is cultural appropriation.  And that’s BEFORE you start tossing around problematic stereotypes.)

This is my perfect example, though, of my expression of St Patrick’s Day:


On the one hand, my American, commercialized version in the bow I actually do have in my hair.  My proof of being what amounts to a “Plastic Paddy,” since I truly never have been to Ireland and it would be disingenuous for me to claim to *be* Irish, but my pride in the Green all the same.  And on the other is this pendant which was given to me by my grandmother which she received from one of her own Irish relatives.  The pendant is pure nickel and is based on an Anglo-Saxon or Hiberno Norse long cross penny from a thousand years ago.  Though nobody can really figure out what it says.  The words don’t QUITE match up to the originals.  But this pendant was carried by my bloodline long enough to make it an heirloom, to make it real.  Even if it isn’t “genuine” by any technical definition.

A person can be a lot of things.  I am American, but I am proud to have even a trace of Irish ancestry.  I wear my green in ignorance of what it really means to a person actually from/in Ireland, but I also wear the memory of my family which traces its roots to somewhere in Ireland’s history.  The affinity is real, even if the lineage is lost.  And the respect is real either way.

Happy St Patrick’s Day, everyone!  Enjoy it however you like.

…Even if you like green beer and greener doughnuts.

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