It Finally Feels Like a New Year

Today it feels like the new year has finally begun. Yesterday we shook off the last traces of obligation to 2020, and now I am free to move forward into making this year different. Much of this feeling comes from the presidential inauguration yesterday. I have a sense of profound relief that Trump has been rendered irrelevant instead of being a hazard that I had to keep track of. The first moves of the incoming administration have been focused on increasing access (the white house website is available in Spanish again,) setting expectations for behavior (telling the attorney general’s office they work for the people, not the president. Telling staff that they’re expected to be polite and respectful or be fired,) and setting plans into motion to manage vaccine administration for the ongoing pandemic. For the first time in four years, I am pleased with the direction my government is aiming. I expect that I will not always be pleased in the four years that are coming. To paraphrase a quote I saw on twitter: I am looking forward to being frustrated and disappointed by my government instead of being horrified and mortified by it.

Yet the shift in governance isn’t the only source for my new year feeling. My youngest son passed his final GED exam. None of my kids are in school anymore. Instead of finishing up this final necessary thing, we can look forward to what we want to come next. Unfortunately for him, the very next thing is getting his wisdom teeth removed. But after that, he can look around at options and decide what he wants his life to be. We have a list of short term projects: learning some video editing so that he can be a better-paid skilled assistant for our family business, learning about computer components so that he can build a new machine for himself, continuing driving practice to get his license. Medium term might include getting a out-of-the-house job once warm weather and vaccinations reduce pandemic risks. Long term, no one knows. That’s all fuzzy with too many variables to decipher. We don’t need to try to bring it into focus for now.

It is really nice to see my two youngest starting to grow and plan their lives. I don’t think it is a coincidence that most of the growth started happening in early November, right after the election demonstrated that maybe the world wasn’t completely doomed. I’m excited that they’re in an emotional state where I can start teaching them real-world assistant skills that could translate to jobs where their mom is not their employer. Because I can teach them these skills, more things become possible for me. I’m able to teach classes and host online social events because I know I’ll have help.

A third thing that is making the year feel new, is that I gave the final approval to print on the Big Dumb Objects book project. This book has been something of an albatross for almost two years. We had to scrap and re-do the bonus story twice. The Kickstarter for it was delayed by the massive expenses and disruption of our 2019 plumbing disaster and related home renovations. Then fulfilling the Kickstarter was disrupted by Howard’s health crashing and the pandemic. Slowly we managed to find our footing. Now the book is done. The next time we have to think about it will be when the shipments of books arrive and I need to mail several thousand packages. That is familiar work for which I’ll have two skilled assistants.

I taught a class and it worked. I finished a draft for a personally impactful essay. I’ve got a short story in process. I’ve got a research projects to find agents who rep middle grade and picture books. I’ve got plans for building community and connecting with other creatives. I’ve set myself some creative goals. I’ve even told myself firmly that I need to settle into these new obligations before saying yes to any other things I decide I want to do.

The year feels new, and that means it is time to get to work.

Permission Granted

Early in my daughter’s senior year of high school she came home excitedly telling me about a group of friends who were planning a road trip to Disneyland after graduation. She was wondering if I would let her go. I pointed out to her that she was due to turn 18 in a couple of months, and that meant she could make her own decisions about things like road trips. If she could pay for it, she could give herself permission to go. “I can do that?” she asked, amazed. For a dozen reasons the trip did not actually happen, but I still remember that moment, seeing my daughter have a dawning realization of adulthood. That she could just give herself permission to do things and then do them.

Which is where I find myself today. I taught a class online to a group of fifteen people. It wasn’t part of a conference or other event. I just wanted to teach, so I set it up, solved the tech hurdles, announced my plan, and made it happen. Inside me there is a much younger version of me who is amazed that I just went ahead and did the thing, who has spent the last eight months asking “are you sure we can do this?” But I did do it, and people bought tickets. Then they came and asked good questions, shared interesting resources, and smiled or nodded as I taught. I gave myself permission to be an expert and people showed up and treated me like one.

I’m so glad I found the courage to make this thing happen, even though it felt scary. Even though my anxiety was a resisting force at every step. I got to teach a class today and I’m very glad it all worked. I feel energized and exhausted. I feel like I put something useful into the world and helped people along their own creative path. I feel like I made a good thing happen with only my own decision and determination. Now I’m going to go collapse and do something comfortable. Next week is soon enough to do another brave thing.

Use of Privilege

With my prior post being about personal accountability, I’ve been thinking about a couple of specific accountability things I can be putting into place in my life. I want to call them out and name them because I think the more people who decide to hold themselves accountable in these (or similar) ways the better our world will be.

I need to be paying attention to who is missing in my social circles.

I participate in many communities both online and off. I have church, neighborhood, writer, and friend communities to name a few off of the top of my head. I’m glad to see people and connect. However I need to take responsibility not just to connect with the people who show up for a community event, but also to notice who does NOT show up. If my neighborhood is 5% Latino, but the neighborhood potluck is all white, that is an indicator of something amiss. Did my Latino neighbors not get invited? Did they decide not to come because they’ve felt awkward and out of place at prior events?  I’ve used a neighborhood potluck example, but the principle applies to the demographics of all communities. If no black people are in your online knitters forum, it isn’t because black people don’t like knitting. Something is keeping them out or pushing them out.

 In order to help my communities be more inclusive I need to first notice who is missing, try to identify why they are missing, then address the problems that the answers to those “why” questions reveal. More attention might need to be paid to barriers to entry: extending invitations, giving people rides, offering to cover expenses, changing entry requirements that accidentally (or intentionally) filter for race/disability/poverty. The other thing answers to “why” reveal is the ways that people decide to opt out of a community rather than participate. My responsibility is to help people feel welcome when they do show up. This requires education of existing community in how not to make people feel “othered”  I have a responsibility to correct my friends when they commit microaggressions against marginalized people. (Like asking “where are you REALLY from?” to a non-white person who was born an American citizen. The intention is to engage with the other person’s heritage and have a conversation, but the person ends up feeling like their right to be present was questioned and invalidated.) The work is on me to figure out how to open my communities to include more people.

A step I’ve taken to address the “who is missing” problem in my life is via social media. I realized that my friend and follow lists had a demographic skew that matched me. I decided to expand my lists. I followed/friended some new people. My goal wasn’t to get them to notice me or give me approval. Instead my job was to observe their lived reality. See how their life differs from mine. I found it  particularly helpful when I found someone who is willing to speak out loud the ways that being disabled/lgbtq/autistic/white/female/trans/black/single/childless affects their life. It was uncomfortable at times. Sometimes they say things that make me feel defensive. I’ve practiced sitting with that discomfort for a bit to figure out why I feel defensive. Often I discover that ingrained prejudice is the reason I’m uncomfortable, which means I have learning and adjusting to do. Other times I decide that my discomfort is based in cultural differences. Sometimes the person is wrong and I’m responding to that. In all cases I’m learning to understand modes of being that are different than mine.

Being mindful of my use of privilege

Privilege and disadvantage are not mutually exclusive. Lives are complex. People are complex. Most of us are simultaneously privileged along one axis of our lives and disadvantaged along another axis. This is often why people get upset when you try to explain privilege to them, because the things which have made their lives difficult are very obvious to them, but the things which made their lives easier are invisible.

Knowing that I have both privilege and disadvantage, I am responsible for my use of privilege in overcoming my disadvantages. I had multiple kids with special needs and I had to advocate for them in the school to get them resources and additional help. Every time I did so, I was leveraging my privileges of being a white, college-educated, articulate, middle class, blonde woman. I was listened to, and my kids usually got either the help I requested or some other equivalent help. With every interaction I met administrators who listened to me and actively engaged with finding solutions for my kids. I know from talking with other parents of kids at the same schools, not everyone got that same treatment.

There is no fault in my use of privilege to help my kids. The fault comes if I use my privilege to claim a scarce resource that my kid only sort-of needs but that would be vital to someone else. That is opportunity hoarding. The best use of privilege is when I use mine to make something easier to access for everyone who follows, not just for my kids. If I apply “my kid needs this, lets make sure everyone can have it.” Unfortunately, the school system is often set up in ways that encourage competition thinking rather than cooperative community. Parents hoard resources and bend rules to help their kids get ahead. This same behavior is observable other communities, workplaces, areas of our lives that are not school based. We can use our privilege in ways that advantage “our” people without self-examining that “our.”

So I’m going to pay attention to any time I ask for individualized attention or for a guideline to be bent in my favor. Does my action simply advantage me in a way that is harmless to others? Does it give me an advantage which is then not available for someone else? Does it make life more difficult for someone who comes after me? Or does my action make the path easier for those who follow?

In my small actions I can make the world a little bit better. I have to try.

From My Newsletter

Most of the “letter” portions of my newsletter are focused on creativity or what is going on in my life. This one was different, because the past week was different. If you’re interested in subscribing to my monthly newsletter, you can do that here.

Dear Readers,

At the beginning of a new year I would like to be focused on my excitement for the projects I have planned, the classes I get to teach, ways I plan to move forward. I do talk about those things down in the Projects in Process section of this newsletter, but here in the letter itself my focus must be different this month. The recent riot at the US capitol building has reminded me of my responsibilities as a citizen. I join those who are calling for accountability for all the people whose words helped spark the riot and the people who physically did the damage.

Note that I say accountability rather than justice or punishment. I am choosing my words carefully in this letter so that they can carry my meaning precisely. I have been doing a lot of listening to friends who are prison abolitionists. I’m not fully on board with having no prisons at all, but they make some powerful points about accountability and restorative justice compared to simple justice/punishment models. Simply locking up a perpetrator may prevent imagined further harm, but it does not take steps to heal the damage which has already been done. My country needs accountability, restoration, and healing right now. Achieving that is far more complicated than merely imprisoning some people, though it definitely begins with taking power away from people who used their power to induce others to cause harm, and to prevent those who physically caused harm from doing more.

Power. This is a word and concept I have been considering a lot, particularly in the months since George Floyd’s death and my conscious commitment to anti-racism. It is so easy to feel powerless against national-scale events: pandemics, insurrection. On some level that is true. I am such a small pebble in the flowing river of my country. There is no way for me to change the course of the whole river, however when I focus my attention on the entire river, I miss seeing how much power I actually have. My pebble is tiny, but my learning about privilege has shown me that I do have some power over every molecule of water that I touch as it flows past. I can position myself to shelter those who need space to grow safe from heavy current. I can boost people and shore them up. I have a lot of power to influence the world that directly surrounds me and the people to whom I’m connected by social networks both online and in real life.

Learning to recognize my power comes slowly and counter-intuitively for me. I’m mired in social norms that teach women to stay behind the scenes, keep everything running, but don’t seek attention. Yet behind-the-scenes people who keep things running have enormous power. They are the ones who maintain status quo, or choose to disrupt it. This is where accountability comes in. On a national scale we have to look at the people whose decisions supported and empowered people who then decided to breach the capitol building to try to change the outcome of an election. What decisions gave that movement space to grow? This question must be asked of elected officials, tech companies, judges, and private citizens. With a follow up question of: what are you going to do differently going forward to prevent this from happening again?

The thing about accountability is that it has to apply to all levels of power, even my tiny pebble level. We may all be pebbles, but we all participated in the sequence of events that let up to the deaths of five people and the riot at the capitol building. We are all accountable for the things we say, the memes we share, the “jokes” we let pass unchallenged, the times we didn’t speak up because we didn’t want to upset anyone. We must each examine how we move through the world and ask ourselves if our small daily choices are really consistent with who we want to be. If we want to be healers, we must put in the work to heal. If we want to be anti-racist we must make ourselves and others uncomfortable by pointing out systems that keep us all mired in racism. If we want to be inclusive, we must actively look to see who is missing from our spaces and do the work to invite them in and empower them. Accountability work is hard and it never ends. We will have periods in our lives where we need to rest from pushing ourselves to be better, but after we rest we must pick up and work at it again. Particularly those who inhabit positions of privilege, which is almost all of us in one way or another. (Most people also inhabit places of disadvantage simultaneously with their priviledge. The one doesn’t cancel out the other, nor does it negate our responsibility to be accountable for our power. But that is an additional essay.)

As I watch the aftermath of the riots unfold, I have to remind myself that no amount of doomscrolling will give me a control rod on national-level events. However holding myself accountable does give me power. I must seriously consider how I affect the things and people I can touch. In my case, I’m going to stay politically engaged and communicate with my elected officials about my opinions. I will continue my personal anti-racism education. I will be more willing to speak my thoughts about the world at large, even when (or perhaps especially when) I think those thoughts will bring criticism. I will work on speaking up against the small incidents because challenging bad behavior on a micro-level is actually a kindness to everyone. It allows people to correct their bad behavior without there needing to be An Incident. Incidents create hurt and defensiveness which leads people to entrench in bad behavior. I’m more likely to choose the “pull person aside and discuss behavior” route than the “public confrontation” route, but I also need to be willing to deploy public confrontation if it is called for. I’m sure as I go forward I will find additional ways I can be better as I move through the world. And on that thought I want to borrow the words of Maya Angelou:

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

I hope whether you’re a US resident contemplating the current mess, or a resident elsewhere seeing it from afar, you use this opportunity to recognize the power you do have to make the world a better place, and that you choose to use that power wisely.

All the best,

Sandra

I am Not Surprised

I wish I could say I was surprised by the rioting and insurrection in my nation’s capitol yesterday. But I am not. Everything that happened was consistent with behavior I’ve seen from individuals and groups over the past several years. I feel many things today. Surprised is not one of them. I feel empathy and frustration for those who are shocked/surprised. It is hard to have your worldview shaken, but also, weren’t you paying attention? Or listening to people who have been predicting outcomes like this since 2016? Then I have to turn consideration toward myself and my own actions. Was there more that I should have done that would have helped others see this coming? I’m such a small pebble in this social flow, I doubt I could have changed the course of the river. Also, we would then be in the pandemic problem. A disaster averted leaves a sizable portion of population disbelieving that there was any reason to be concerned at all.

Today I’m still a tiny pebble. I’ve got friends online who are predicting that things are going to get worse before it gets better. I hope not. I want this to be the moment that the vast majority of conservatives wakes up and shakes off all the trappings of Trumpism. I want conservatives to lead the charge in removing Trump from power. I’m happy to see that Facebook has decided that Trump doesn’t get to speak on their platform until after inauguration day, and maybe not ever. Take away the man’s microphone. Take away his legitimacy. Yes that creates a new set of problems as those who support him will find ways to congeal and will likely learn how to organize and be more effective. We could end up with an ongoing domestic terrorist problem. That is better than another full coup attempt.

I’m not sure what true accountability looks like for yesterday’s actions and for all the choices that led up to yesterday’s events. But accountability needs to go deeper than simple punishment. It needs to last longer and be more transformative. Each of us needs to search our hearts and decide what accountability we have to democracy, community, to our neighbors. I was not in Washington DC yesterday and committed no crimes, but I can still be a better and more vocal citizen to help build a society that I want to live in.

It can be as simple as paying attention to the words we use to describe yesterday’s events. Some news sources are talking about a protest of patriots gone awry. Others are using words like mob, riot, insurrection, and violence. In order to make people accountable, we need to use the hard words. The precise words. An insurrection is a violent uprising against an authority or government. Breaching the capitol building was an insurrection. A riot is a violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd. That word applies too. The fact that the body count was so low doesn’t change the application of those words.

Use the hard words. Confront the hard things. And somehow do those in a compassionate and educational way. This is my challenge for myself.

New Endeavors for a New Year

I’m planning some on launching some new projects this year, and I’m excited about them.

I’m teaching online classes. The first is only ten days away when I teach Structuring Life to Support Creativity. I’ve already got 7 people signed up, which is almost half of the seats in the class. I am excited to engage with fellow creative people and help them find ways forward in their lives. I’ve scheduled a second class for February, Creativity vs. Social Media which will explore how to protect our creative selves from the corrosive aspects of social media, while still being able to leverage it as a necessary promotional tool, as well as a tool for connecting with others. Once I’ve got the first class complete, I’ll consider what I’m teaching in March. My hope is to teach one class per month, I’ve already got a list of presentations I’ve given before, and ideas for things that I haven’t previously taught as well.

I’m developing my crochet skills. I’ve had basic level skills since I was taught by my mom at around age 5 or 6. However I never followed up that basic knowledge with any further learning. It is nice to have an area of focus and study that is very kinesthetic rather than word-based. Yes, I’m reading a book to learn the skills, but the practice is in the hands. I hope that I can make something wearable by the end of the year, a cardigan probably. I like wearing cardigans.

I’m producing the next two Schlock books. To be honest, I’d love to put out the last four Schlock books this year, but I’m focusing my attention on two for now. The idea is to run a Kickstarter featuring these books in either March or April. But I want all the bonus stories and cover work done before the Kickstarter launches, so those dates may push later. There are large portions of this work that is not in my control. I have to wait on Howard. So having the other projects is critical for me to not feel helpless in my life.

I want to write between 12-20 short stories. I’d like to be posting one story per month to my Patreon, and then spreading the word about that so that I gain patrons (and therefore readers and income.) I also want to send some of the stories out to other publications where they can have a broader readership and hopefully entice people to come to my Patreon for more stories. I’ve got a specific publication in mind that I want to have three submissions for by March when they open doors (and allow 3 submissions per writer.) I think this effort will stretch my mind in good ways.

I plan to progress on renovating our kitchen. We can start the process of taking out a wall this week. Then there are many pause points for us to consider how to proceed or for us to pause until we locate the necessary funding to pay for the next step.

I want to polish up a picture book and send it into the world seeking an agent for me. I realized that I’m currently sitting on three nearly-complete picture book drafts. I’d like to run another picture book Kickstarter, but the maximum number of books I’d put into that Kickstarter would be two. This leaves the third book kicking up its heels and waiting for years. It might as well spend its wait time in the To Read pile for agents. Because I’d love to have a hybrid aspect to my writing career to compliment the self publishing and teaching. In the mean time, I’m squirreling away funds to pay for art for the other two picture books because I need to pre-pay for art before running the Kickstarter.

I’m absolutely certain that the year will hold more projects than the ones I’ve listed here. New projects always show up and sometimes existing projects need to be set aside. Yet it is nice to feel the new year / new project energy for now.

Marking the New Year

I wanted to write a blog post yesterday to mark the new year and lay down some words to shape the year that is to come. Instead I find myself skittish, as if I could jinx the coming year by speaking unwisely. I spent New Years Eve of 2020 with a clog in my throat that would not clear. I spent the first day of 2020 in the emergency room getting a medical intervention for that clog. Compared to that, new year 2021 is measurably better, and yet I didn’t dare speak that thought until today, when New Years Day had passed without an ER visit. It appears that one of the effects of 2020 is an increase of superstition in my mind and heart. I wonder how long that effect will linger.

A year ago today I’d just had an ER trip and was anticipating having my throat scoped the next day. We were two weeks out from my daughter’s wedding and everything else in our lives was on hold while we managed that event. The wedding felt like the capstone of the prior year, as if we couldn’t move on to new things until that was complete. Perhaps that has carried over to this year where it feels like many events of 2020 haven’t fully drawn themselves to a close. The election still wrangles instead of being settled. The pandemic didn’t end just because we got hopeful video of medical personnel being vaccinated. It still feels like 2020 has the power to grab me and pull me back into the mire, so I step softly trying not to draw it’s attention.

I have to step softly, because for all the mire, I gained many good things from last year. I want to keep the way I feel more centered and less afraid. I want to continue making slow and steady progress on goals. I’ve liked having a reason to scour my schedule free from outside obligations except those that I deliberately choose. The pandemic granted me permission to do that in a way that I didn’t know how to allow myself before. I watched as my young adults first shrank into themselves, then slowly started growing like little seedlings tentatively unfurling leaves one at a time. I feel like I did less well managing to stay connected to my out-of-house daughter and son in law. The distance forced by pandemic would have been easier to navigate if we’d already had an established pattern for how we socialized with them living separately. But the pandemic arrived right on the heels of the wedding and muddled our adaptation.

I wonder when I will trust that the world won’t shift under our feet, forcing us to retreat again. At some point the growth will be strong and sturdy enough to withstand whatever weather life throws at it. For now, I still feel wary that some other slow-rolling catastrophe will require us all to adapt yet again. Even as I don’t want that, I also have a new confidence that we CAN adapt. We can stumble and regain our footing, change core tenets of our lives, and still move forward. We adapted to pandemic. We adapted to incessant political ridiculousness. We adapted to Howard having poor health and then to it being improved. We adapted to the end of the Schlock Mercenary comic which had been our primary income and thus forced family interactions to bend around the need for productivity. Change upon change upon change. Yet whenever I compare status of family members, projects, finances, household now to a year ago, things are almost universally better off. That should make 2020 count as a good year for us, except it didn’t feel so. And I very much want to step away from it, and for it not to keep leaking into 2021.

In 2017 I focused on growing my heart large enough to handle whatever came next. In 2018 I focused on being less afraid. In 2019 I took that a step further and told myself to be courageous. In 2020 I carried an image with me into the year of a cloak of peace that I could wear no matter what else went on. Each year I lost track of the intention within a few months, but each time at the end of the year I could look back and see how the setting of the intention shaped the path I wended through the year in question. I don’t yet have an intention or image for 2021. Perhaps it will arrive later, when I truly feel like I’ve left the old year behind, when the compression of the pandemic truly begins to lighten. Until then, I’m just going to keep my head down and try to make sure that I continue to build a pandemic existence I can be happy living inside for another whole year should that become necessary.

Reconfiguring for Health

One of the things I would like to prioritize in the next year is healthier eating and movement. I’m aware of the cliche of having new health habits at the beginning of the new year, but I want to be healthier more than I want to avoid cliche. The key is to approach health in a healthy way.

I have an online friend who is in recovery from several eating disorders. She is vocally opposed to any sort of restrictive dieting. She speaks often about health and weight being separate things. Also about the ways the modern society mistreats fatness both socially and medically. I like seeing her perspective, though occasionally she gets very deterministic about health saying that it is genetically pre-determined and that there is very little an individual can do to control it. I’m not sure I buy into pre-determined health, just as I don’t believe nature has full power over nurture. Our choices matter in health just as they do in parenting or any other aspect of our lives. But the array of choices we’re offered is definitely affected by genetics. A person with an autoimmune disorder has a different set of health choices than someone who has diabetes. A person with athletic gifts has different choices than someone whose body doesn’t easily form muscles or manage fine motor skills. On top of that we have different body options at 20 than we do when we’re 50. Learning to work with our individual set of ever-shifting health choices is the work of a lifetime.

The goal then isn’t to pick a desired body configuration and contort my life to achieve that. Instead I need to pick an emotionally and physically health configuration for my life and then accept the responsive shape my body adopts in reaction to that life. Bodies are incredibly adaptive both in ways we want and ways that aren’t what we pictured. I’m carrying more body fat than I would prefer because my body is responding to my current mode of living, my age, hormonal shifts, and seasonal cues. It is trying to help me survive and thrive by storing abundance against future need. It is doing this because my pandemic life has been too sedentary. It has also featured food choices made for emotional reasons rather than good life maintenance ones. I’d like to readjust the balance of those portions of my life.

(Note: when I say “emotional reasons” I am not scowling at the choice to eat chocolate in an emotionally low moment. That has happened and I intend to keep treat food in my arsenal of treatments for mental health lows. Food is valid medicine, and like any other medicine its use needs to be monitored and kept within healthy bounds. It can be a real help for a bad evening, it is not an effective treatment for ongoing daily depression. However I’ve also been eating when I was bored. I want to watch a show, but want something else to occupy me companionably while I watch. Instead of eating-to-be-occupied I want to find a non-food option, like crochet or some other craft.)

Having decided that I want to reconfigure my life to include exercise and healthier eating, I then have to make a plan for implementing that decision. I need to put small obstacles between me and the thoughtless habits I would like to eliminate. I also need to smooth the path so I can easily flow into the habits I’d like to have instead. Where do I place exercise into my day? Can I attach it to some other task so that I don’t have to make a separate decision to exercise? How do I remind myself to be mindful about food choices? I haven’t fully got answers to these questions yet, but by stating the questions and looking at how my days currently run, I’ve begin the problem solving process.

Starting to Shake Off 2020

We’re one day post Christmas and members of my household are ready to shake off 2020 and move forward into something else. This has manifested in two bedrooms sorted and cleaned, new acquisitions hung on walls (it was a very swordy Christmas for my youngest,) and us slowly eating our way through the Christmas leftovers. The 23yo has adopted our new Roomba and has a plan where he sets the robot in motion in the mornings when he showers. This is likely to result in a lot less scattered kitty litter for us to step on. The 19yo has set up an alarm for 10am each day with a different task for each day of the week. If things go to plan, they’ll be emptying all the garbages in the house every Monday. Plans are likely to fall apart, but I like that my young adults are stepping up and trying to build household contributions into their lives.

I have plans for next week where I haul my two in-house assistants over to the warehouse for some year-end maintenance and inventory. On another day we’ll be moving furniture to re-configure my office and to prepare the front room for the dividing wall to come down. The wall-removal work will begin after the Christmas tree is stowed post-New Years Day. We’re ready for our lives to be shaped differently. And we’re ready to put in some work to make it happen. I’m glad to feel this way. I was concerned that 2020 wouldn’t feel over until the pandemic ended. At least for today that isn’t the case.

Christmas Eve and Tradition

On this Christmas Eve morning, I’m thinking about other Christmas Eves. Today I’m feeling content. Some cooking projects are begun, others in the planning stages, but none are under any sort of pressure. The results of the cooking don’t have any more importance than the project of cooking them, which is a nice way to approach the necessary fact of needing to eat and wanting the food to feel celebratory. I remember the year that I ran myself ragged creating holiday for everyone else and obliterating it for myself. I remember the years when I carefully coordinated all the gift giving between family members because I felt like it was my job to make sure no one was sad on Christmas. Then there was the year where the whole holiday season felt fraught because of frictions between family members. Last year we folded my daughter’s fiance into our celebrations. This year will be the first one where I don’t have all my children gathered together on Christmas Eve, because my daughter has her own family traditions to build. So many years, so many different emotional states when approaching the holiday.

Every holiday season I spend some time thinking about traditions, how they form, their purpose, how they frame the holiday, how they can trap us, how they can thrive or fade away. Though my kids are all adults, we still do the morning entrance into the room with Christmas morning surprises, though youngest-first got shifted to shortest-first a few years back. That grand entrance was designed specifically to help contain over excited children and give parents a chance to see faces when they saw the surprises. Our core Christmas Eve focus of lighting candles on our “poor man’s Christmas tree” was also born of me trying to figure out how to get small children to focus. Turn out the lights, give them a spinning candle-lit wooden nativity to watch, read them Christmas stories, ask them to write down a gift of service they plan to extend in the next year, then reward them with cookies. We continue because the shape of the tradition works for adults as well, the right blend of contemplation and snack food.

Even this year our traditions are bending to meet needs. Food is heavily featured this year because making food and sharing it is a means of connection for several family members. Pandemic increased that connection need, so: more cooking. This evening when we blow out the candles, we’ll have to decide who gets to blow out the extra one. We’ve had exactly the right number of candles for years, one per person. (Again, a tradition developed and codified during the years when we had to restrain children from blowing out candles too early or too many.) Now we’ll seek a meaningful way to extinguish a candle in honor of the person who has launched into her own tradition-building adventure. The nice thing is that whatever we decide for this year, we can decide differently for next year. Traditions connect us with heritage and who we used to be, it is important that they flex and shift to accommodate who we are now.

And with that, I need to go cook some more foods.