Finding Fault With New Years Resolutions

(I should tell you up front that the inspiration for this post came from a column I write for The Chronicle Star Facebook page. I churn those out weekly and this one got really got me thinking. I might repeat some things here I wrote there. So if you read both, don’t be surprised if this seems a little familiar.)

The holiday decorations are coming down, the strings of lights are being rolled up, and the torn wrapping paper remnants have all been thrown away. The stores are still playing Christmas songs but candy canes and holiday gift sets are now half priced. We’ve met our yearly family quota and now have at least half a years worth of stories to tell about how wonderful or fucked up they are to tell. The cookies were eaten (or thrown away) and leftovers stacked in the fridge. Christmas/Yule/Whatever You Celebrate is now officially over.

But wait, Dear Reader, that’s not all. When it comes to winter holidays, we aren’t out of the forest just yet.

In just a few days from this post, we will usher in the beginning of a brand new year. As we get ready to say goodbye to 2018, there is no doubt in my mind we are going to be seeing a lot of New Year’s Resolutions pop up on our social media feeds.

#NewYearNewMe is going to be everywhere telling us how this is going to be the year they turn their lives around and lose that 20 lbs or get that good job, or finally settle down and marry the right one. We read all these promises as to how the people we know are going to change for the better in the upcoming year. Just wait and see! It’s going to actually happen this time! It doesn’t matter if it’s the same resolution that’s been made ten years in a row. This year it’s going to happen.

And while I support anyone who wants to change and better themselves, I can’t help but roll my eyes a little at some of these resolutions. Maybe I’m a little cynical but it seems that very rarely do New Year’s resolutions actually work.

Because, to me, here is where resolutions are usually split. You have the people who make them and post them so they can feel they belong to the crowd. And you have people who really want to make a change.

The first group are the ones that make my roll my eyes. They are the obnoxious #NewYearNewMe crowd that fill your social media timeline. Deep down they don’t really care about changing themselves, they only want to be part of the fab. They are the same people who go extra crazy over anything at that is the hot thing at the moment. I see these people as those crazy fans you see in old clips of The Beatles. What ever the crowd is doing, they are doing too.

For them, the problem comes in when it’s time to actually put in the work. When it starts being less about internet cool points and being part of the herd and more about real life hard work, the dedication to reach those goals drops hard and fast, like flies under a bug zapper.

When no one online cares anymore or is too busy in their own lives to take part in a congratulatory circlejerk, most people simply stop. They take their resolutions, hang then on a shelf, and replace them instead with expertly crafted excuses. They spend more time and spirit to crafting up stories about why they quit than they ever did to their original pursuit. These people never wanted the “New Me” they talked about in their goals. They wanted to cash in on the fad of the moment by taking part of something. Not of changing themselves.

And I can kind of understand why. Changing yourself is scary. Changing things about yourself is hard. More than that, releasing that there are things that need to be changed is even harder. Sticking to a regime change in your life that takes your bad habits and throws them out the window is super difficult. Change is hard. It is uncomfortable. And more often than not, it’s lonely. So when we go to the internet to look for companionship or support and don’t find it, it makes it that much easier to just give up.

The other group of people who make new years resolutions are the few that actually mean it. They are the ones that know how hard it is and put in the work anyway. They are the ones still plugging away and busting their asses in March, April, even all the way into November and December of the year.  Those are the people who are serious about making a “New Me”. They are the people who have not just the dedication but also the discipline to accomplish the goals they set.

And that’s some really freaking hard work. Not just physically, but mentally as well. Forcing yourself to have discipline is one of the most strenuous things we have to do as adults. Being lazy is easy. Being lazy feels good. It’s comfortable to sit back and let things continue the way they always have been. That is what makes the difference when it comes to resolutions. Resolutions require work. If you aren’t actively working on them, they no longer manner.

That’s why, personally, I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t fall into the #NewYearNewMe hype. Not because I have commitment issues. I mean, I might have some commitment issues. I had a hell of a time committing to this blog and I’m pretty sure there are half a dozen unfinished books laying around here. But I usually stick around to thinks I want to accomplish. My reason for not joining in on the resolution train is that I don’t do change well. And dedicating myself to change so much wouldn’t be something that would be good for me mentally. I wouldn’t be able to mean it. I wouldn’t be able to fully dive in. So I would in up just giving lip service to the act of change without actually doing that. And honestly, I’d rather not do it at all than half-ass it.

Real change comes from within. And until I’m ready to accept that, I don’t want to be one of those people just spouting off plans online so I can get likes and shares. Changes should be done for yourself, not for people scrolling by.

Pagan Hide and Seek: Christmas Edition

For the record, when it comes to Christmas, I’m kind of a Grinch. Christmas music annoys me. The endless rush of shopping spikes my anxiety like a kid left unattended at a trip at a dessert bar. And while I love gift giving and sharing a huge feast with people I care about, the strain of getting together and rushing about, traffic and schedules, wish lists and shipping dates, often leave me stretched thin.

We could blame it on the martyrs in my Christmas Past who made the holiday less a family-focused event and more an over the top drama fueled pageant. You know the kind of dog and Pony show that becomes a “my way or the highway” fueled by Martha Stewart worship and spiked with guilt. We could also blame it on growing up poor and being the oldest who understood “that the youngins need it more”. Even if the youngins in question weren’t siblings but cousins, second cousins, friends kids, and kids at school the had been to the house a time or two. Or finally, we could chalk it up to not being a Christian and year after year having everyone tell you that the reason for this season, the only thing we are really celebrating for, is a God you don’t believe in.

I know all of that makes me sound like a big old sour-ass. It paints me about as bitter as the crab apples at grew in my grandpa’s front yard. It adds just a little bit of validity to the jokes my husband and I throw back and forth about my saltiness level (which is somewhere between the level of rent and Willie Nelson). Maybe I am a salty old crone who fun sucks the life out of the party. Or maybe I’ve just had it with the typical holiday rigamarole.

Observations about my personal flaws aside, let’s get back to that whole reason for the season issue I mentioned earlier. Being told year after year that Jesus is the real reason for the season, by loved and unloved ones alike, takes it toll on a poor Pagan girl. That’s why out of all the holiday shenanigans, my two favorite things about Christmas are watching my loved ones be happy and pointing out all the wonderfully Pagan things being celebrated by nonPagan people.

Let’s start with an easy one. 

The Christmas Tree

There’s a lot of Pagan lore about the Christmas tree but it’s roots are commonly said to be in the story of an English Benedictine monk named Boniface who was doing some missionary work in Germany during the eighth century.

One day Ole Boniface was doing whatever missionaries do when he observed some locals performing sacrifices in front of an oak tree for their god Thor. This angered Ole Boni because by God, Thor was a false God! How dare these native folks to worship their own gods in their own land while he was there!! So he grabbed his axed and felled the mighty oak tree in an effect to stop the heathery where it stood. When he wasn’t struck dead by the local’s gods for, you know, shitting all over their holy site, Boniface decided he could use this as a teaching moment. He hauled the tree inside and thus began the Christmas Tree tradition. Like many holy people after him, he would take something belonging to the Pagan locals and claim it in his God’s name thus using it as an outreach and a subjugating tool.

From that story alone, it’s clear to see that even before dumb old Boniface was roaming the German countryside, the German people were using trees in their devotion to the Norse gods. It was Boni’s appropriation of the tree worship that helped bring it into mainstream usage.

So remember,  every time you see straight-laced Christians oohing and awwing over a big pretty Christmas tree, they got the idea from a practice much older than their religion. They got it from us.

Of course, this is just one of many different stories that feature a connection between trees and pagan practices. Trees are a key element of Nature and Nature is a foundation of Paganism. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, because I really try to be an accepting and nice person, but it boils down to this: Pagans did it first and when Christians saw it, they stole it and rebranded it without giving us credit. And then they tried to erase our fingerprints from its history.

Maybe I’ll use a little of this long-held salt to make some salt dough ornaments with my kiddos.

The Man Who Put All Those Presents Under The Tree

 Well, if you didn’t know that Santa’s origins were Pagan in nature, I’m not sure where you’ve been.

While we most commonly know Santa Claus as the Coca-Cola red suit, white-bearded big belly version, we also all pretty much have a passing knowledge of him as Ole St. Nick and Father Christmas. Some of us are probably even familiar with the story of the bishop St. Nicholas and the legend about how he provided gifts, including doweries, to the poor. The juicy part of Santa’s history that a lot of people don’t have knowledge about is that Santa has a lot more in common Odin.   

Before Christianity took over Germany, the people there (probably the same ones Boniface ran into) celebrated Yule like many of us do. And during Yule, as many of us know, The Wild Hunt happens. It is part of that happening that many believe influenced the idea of Santa for those who don’t subscribe to the Norse beliefs.

In her 1972 book Discovering Christmas Customs and Folklore: A Guide to Seasonal Rites Throughout the World folklorist Margaret Baker postulates that “”the appearance of Santa Claus or Father Christmas, whose day is the 25th of December, owes much to Odin, the old blue-hooded, cloaked, white-bearded Giftbringer of the north, who rode the midwinter sky on his eight-footed steed Sleipnir, visiting his people with gifts. […] Odin, transformed into Father Christmas, then Santa Claus, prospered with St Nicholas and the Christchild, became a leading player on the Christmas stage.”

You are free to believe what you will. I personally can totally see how the lore of the Odin could be taken and morphed into the idea of Santa Claus. There would have to be a lot of creative editing, but as we have seen, for the Church, that has never been a problem. Once again, I’m not trying to be disrespectful, but I’ll be damned (pun intended) if after a while it doesn’t feel like most of their canon is just hastily written rewrites.

Before we leave the topic of Santa, I’d just like to throw this in for consideration. While originally, Santa’s sleigh was only pulled by one reindeer in Old Santeclaus with Much Delight ,an anonymous poem published in 1821, by the time Clement C. Moore’s “A Visit From St. Nicolas” came out two years later, Santa had upped his caravan to eight reindeer. The interesting part?  

Odin’s horse Sleipnir has eight legs. I mean,  I’m just saying.

Deck The Halls

Even the decorations Pinterest is all about this time of year aren’t something that just organically popped up in the mind of the Christian faith.

In order to protect the celebration of the birth of the brand new baby Jesus, early Christians would often make a wreath of holly and hang it on their door. In Roman mythology, holly was the sacred plant of the god Saturn so this was a clever way for them to make it seem like they were celebrating Saturnalia when in fact, they weren’t. Since then, holly has been overtaken and used heavily as a prominent decoration.

Photo by Annie Spratt   https://unsplash.com/@anniespratt

And if you want to get petty, which you know I do, you could even say that the tried and true holiday colors of green and red are in fact lifted from the red of the holly berries and the green of their leaves.

Another plant that has become part of common Christmas decorations is the mistletoe. Originally used for more than stealing the random kiss, mistletoe has been held as a sacred plant by the Celts, the Norse, and the Native Americans. Used by as a symbol of peace and joy, during the Roman era, enemies would meet under the mistletoe to reconcile their differences. Thus, during midwinter, it would be placed in houses and temples to appease the gods.

Photo by Annie Spratt   https://unsplash.com/@anniespratt

In Norse mythology, mistletoe is a big fucking deal to the goddess Frigga. The weak little mistletoe was the one plant that Frigga did not make promise her to leave her son Baldur unharmed. So of course, it was the one that Loki went and found when he was ready to stir some shit up. It, in the end, made up the spear that killed Bladur. The importance of the story of Baldur’s death and later resurrection is a pivotal part of the Norse belief. And the mistletoe plays an important role in it. There are different endings and interpretations to the tale but I’m pretty sure none of them include seeing Loki seeing Mommy kissing Santa Claus under the mistletoe.

I don’t want you to think I have waged my own personal war on Christmas. I haven’t. I wish people “Merry Christmas!” when it’s expected and when I truly mean it. And I truly mean it often!  Although I usually say “Happy Christmas!” instead because I’m a socially awkward weirdo. I still want those people around me to have the very best holiday they possibly can. I do wish them well.  I want them to celebrate however they feel is appropriate and makes them happy. I want everyone to be jolly and full of love, even if its just a few hours. If anything, the world needs more of that.

But I also want the world to stop mandating that we celebrate the season one specific way by using trying to pass off time-honored bits of other religions’ traditions as belonging to one specific religion. Not everything falls under the Christian umbrella. Not everything is about the Chrisitan God. There are many gods, many traditions, and many religions under that holiday umbrella.

So really, there are many, many, reasons for the season. And if you look hard, you can see them all.


It’s been a while…

I really hate that so much time has passed between postings here Dear Readers. I’m sorry for the unintended break. 

As Fall has slipped deliciously into Winter, it seems the Holiday season has hit full force and covered my everyday activities with the stickiness of maple syrup.

With the official end of The Husband’s employment and all the ensuing doctors appointments and paperwork that followed falling right before Halloween/Samhain, then my birthday and Veteran’s Day being followed by Thanksgiving, it really has been hard just to find time to have a normal day. Especially when our normal days aren’t even that normal. It feels like everything is overlapping and requiring so much of my attention that after I try to attend to it all, I’m left with nothing but cold sticky oatmeal for brains.

That’s left me with the capacity for nothing much but mindless Facebook and Instagram scrolling. I haven’t even been posting or interacting there much, just scrolling by, slightly amazed at the colors as they bleed down my phone or monitor screen. I have contributed to a friend’s Facebook-based newspaper, The Chronicle Star.  Each Friday I drop a short column there. (If you don’t mind crude and often offensive humor like Iron Shiek impersonations and horoscopes that are knowingly wrong, you should totally give it a follow) But even that has become something I have to force myself to write. The ability I had a few months ago to make words just fall from my fingertips like a leaky faucet feels long gone.

It’s not that I think the well has run dry. I’m 34 now. I know my ebb and flow. I burn hot on things for a while and then I cool off. Part of me feels it could be that. But a larger part of me doesn’t really buy it. This doesn’t quite feel like I’ve lost interest in writing. I have pieces I make up in my head that I really do want to peak out at the keyboard. Sometimes it’s just the act of getting to said keyboard and having the mental energy to make myself function. Even using an app on my phone sometimes is too consuming. It’s so much easier to be lazy and just gawk at already created content than to make my own.

I’ve seen my dear friends who struggle with disabilities and illness talk about the Spoon Theory. The Spoon Theory says that each day you x number of spoons to use, and each activity you do in that day requires energy (physical, mental, or emotional) costs a certain amount of spoons. You may have 10 spoons on a good day, but washing your hair takes away 2 of them. But on a bad day, when your illness or disability is really kicking, you only have 5 spoons. The same activity from your good day could still cost you 2 spoons but it would be a greater hit to your energy supply on your bad day. So somedays you are able to achieve all your usual activities with ease. But some days you hit empty long before you reach the finish line.

This theory intrigues me because it makes so much sense. While I do not consider myself in the same world as my friends who suffer from chronic illnesses and disabilities, I do struggle. I’m a caregiver to three children. I struggle with migraines and depression. And I am married to someone who has an autoimmune disorder and all that goes with that. There are times when I am the battery that powers the family machine. (And I don’t say that to boast. I’ve been around too many people who put stock in being the “matriarch” of their family. It ain’t like that here.)

We are a machine that works together. Sometimes though, it’s not an equal 50/50 slip and some parts work more than others. In our case, it’s not because someone is lazy or neglectful, it’s because that’s how the cards fall. There are things that are just outside our control. So when someone needs to step up and wear the crown and control the kingdom, sometimes it has to be me. But while that sounds glamorous, in reality, it’s not. It’s cleaning the litter box and meeting with school officials. It’s checking to make sure bills are paid and phone calls are returned. It’s making sure everyone has clean clothes and has eaten and taken their medicine. So maybe my troubles in getting things created come from my percentage being greater than my spoons can handle? Maybe I’ve used up out too many spoons so now I have none left in my “create cool things” reserve? It’s an interesting concept that I think has some truth to it. 

One of the contributing factors to this piece getting written right now is that I’ve been forced to take it easy for a few days and relax. I hurt my knee while taking the dog out the other morning and have orders from The Husband to stay off of it as much as possible. So instead of my factory setting of “Chicken Little”, I’ve been set to “Couch Potato” or “Propped In Front of the Computer”. There is a nagging voice in the back of my head that keeps saying this is a painful reminder from the Universe to slow my ass down and focus on myself for a little bit. I have a feeling that it’s right. Maybe by allowing myself to write this up, I am acknowledging that voice and honoring it with the reclamation of a few more spoons.

Thank you for sticking around, even thought the sporadic postings. This blog is a project that I very much love and want to continue. I really want this to succeed. And by that , I guess I mean, I want myself to succeed in keeping it up to date and alive with content, thought, and connection. It seems that the biggest hurdles I face are always the ones I put up myself. 

I hope the Holidays and all their madness have found you well and continue to treat you well Dear Readers. 

Happy Obligation Day

Mother’s Day 2018 is officially in the bag. Another year, another series of cards, flowers, saccharine dollops of love and clickbait headlines like What Moms REALLY Want filling up your feeds. TV and radio commercials tell you about bouquets, hearts that look like butts necklaces and weekend getaways more frequently than they bring you the news. Every store has circulars and signs explaining how best to use your money to prove your love for your mother. Instead of being inspiring, these endless suggestions make Mother’s Day seem like an obligation.

And like Victory Gin, holidays of obligation leave a bitter taste.

I should be the prime target for this Hallmark holiday. I’m a mother of four. I like flowers. Shiny things catch my eye. I’d be so down for a spa day. But something about how Mother’s Day is celebrated really crumbles my cornbread. It feels too commercial, too disingenuous, too consumeristic.

My umbrage for it all probably has something to do with my personal mother quandary. Yes, I have a mother. Yes, she’s still alive. But she’s not worth the spit on the back of a stamp. She’s the fly in my self-esteem punch bowl. I have more things to vilify her for than celebrate. If anything, Mother’s Day is a reminder that of the hole in my life that she created that keeps me on the other side of normal.

Personal feelings aside, Mother’s Day has a pretty interesting history.

anne-maria-jarvis

Ann Maria Jarvis

The roots of Mother’s Day start with Ann Maria Jarvis. She was an OG social activist who cultivated women’s and health groups during and after the Civil War. With only four of her possibly 17 children reaching adulthood because of the effects of childhood diseases, she became a champion for better care and fought for more sanitary conditions.

It was Ann’s daughter, Anna Marie Jarvis (Yes, Ann Maria the mother had Anne Marie the daughter. How Norman Bates is that shit?) that made Mother’s Day an event.

220px-anna_jarvis

Anna Marie Jarvis

Looking to find a way to honor her deceased mother, Anna held a memorial celebration at the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in 1908. (In the years since the site has been renamed The International Mother’s Day Shrine. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992.) In the flair of her mother, Anna made the memorial for more than just herself. She incorporated all mothers in this remembrance as she felt that maternal figures were “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world”. It was Anna who introduced the idea of gifting carnations to mothers. She gave the Church 500 white carnations, her mother’s favorite flower, to commemorate her mother’s decades long service. In sharing these flowers with the mothers in attendence, a trend was born.

But eventually, even Jarvis struggled against the river of commercialization. She wanted the purity and sacredness of the day of remembrance observed, not made into a money-making tool by the floral, jewelery, and candy industries.

She was quoted as saying:

“A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.”

Jarvis went so far as to try to rescind the day in 1943 by organizing a petition. Her efforts did not get far because later that year she was, and I swear Dear Reader I am not making this up, committed to Marshall Square Sanitarium. She would die in that sanitarium five years later, penniless.

The history and the commercialism of the holiday make it a bit complex. My personal feelings make my experience of the day a little bit more complex. But my experience is not the same for everyone. Some people love Mother’s Day. Some people very much respect the idea and the methods in which that idea is delivered. And that’s totally cool! I am not here to ruin what others care very deeply about. That would not be fair of me at all.

We are all familiar with what Nietzsche said:

“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”

Applying that thought to Mother’s Day is wise. Not every mother is Kitty Foreman or Clair Huxtable. That also means that not every mother is the cold cream faced Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest. Somewhere between is where most mothers, just like people, land.

Celebrating or not celebrating is an individual choice.  Whatever your decision is, make sure it’s one made out of compassion and not out of obligation.obligationday