So This Was Christmas

So the holiday has come and gone and I feel like a post-Christmas-post is mandatory.  I suppose that alone shows that on some level, the holiday has meaning to me.  Last year’s post was admittedly non-festive, but left the hope of the holiday spirit in the hands of the children.  This year, after a hard year, the holidays didn’t bring anything special except the reminder that things are getting better for 2016… and that the holidays are about family.

The man I work for had right around thirty guests in his home for the holidays this year – all of them extended family of some sort.  As both his Executive and Personal Assistant I was naturally involved in a great deal of the holiday arrangements: A large tree, gifts for both family and clients, and decking out his mansion in massive amounts of light and ribbon. In execution it was fun.  I met a ton of great people and observed a close family coming together for the holidays.  The house was festive, the tree was beautiful, stockings were hung, junk food was abundant, and christmas music often played in the background (fortunately only when we had guests.)  But the thing about being The Assistant in any case – holidays or otherwise – is that you are a part of everything but at the same time you’re always separated… always in the grey area.

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No Seriously… this is the house. (Next year we’ll do some lasers.)

It’s an enlightening self-study, to see what the effect of seeing an “ideal” and somewhat traditional family Christmas has on me.  Further it reinforced to me that Christmas is indeed a matter of family in my mind, and without it the “holiday spirit” simply doesn’t hold up.  I watched this group of people who were familiar in ways only a close family can be, and I realized that the concept is nearly alien to me.  To be honest there are maybe a handful of people in the entire world that I trust on that level, and out of them probably only two are actually related to me.  And yes, I know, family isn’t about blood relation.  I’ve had many surrogate family members in my time thus far.  Some have endured, many have not, but regardless my family is something that I still need to build… and I haven’t the slightest idea how or when (or with whom) that will happen.

The above sounds whiney… it’s not really meant to.  If anything, it’s hopeful.  I know it’s entirely possible for me to get into the spirit of Christmas, and I even know how.  As usual it’s a matter of patience and making sure I have myself in a position to do it right.  The majority of 2015 was an (arguably necessary) step backwards, but I learned a lot in the process about standing my ground and knowing what my priorities are. Even my current role is already teaching me a great deal about my motivations and where I want to be.  Truthfully I’m not certain in the long-term it will get me there, but for now it’s the balance I’ve sought through many months of barely scraping by, and I’m grateful for that.

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That’s all the holiday spirit you get from me this year.

Also, my Christmas wasn’t bad. I wasn’t alone, it just wasn’t a huge production. The budget was (by necessity) very, very low and I gave little and received little (though to be honest what I received was way cooler than what I was able to give.)  This is all very okay though, I like giving and I kind of suck at gracefully receiving (unless we’re talking in the bedroom… but this is Christmas post, get your head out of the gutter.) To be honest I was grateful that it was what it was and not something far worse.  I have been fortunate that the final month of this year has set up for a vastly improved 2016.  Had I not (finally) gotten some very good options and offers for work in the last couple of months, Christmas might very well have been a dark day for me.

But in the meantime, this year I was a first-hand witness to the sort of ideal Christmas I hope to someday have.  But in order to have that I have a lot of building and developing to do, the least of which involves finding somebody to share that building with.  I suppose it’s entirely possible that things won’t turn out the way I hope and a completely different set of circumstances will bring back the holiday spirit for me.  At least at the moment I can say that although that specific spirit currently eludes me, my personal spirit does not.  As of now I have the hope that can find it, build it,  or make it… one way or another.  But that’s the beginning of the spirit, of anything good really: hope.

The Holiday Magic – Version 2.0

Notes:  Most of the graphics in the post come from one of my favorite comic cartoonists: The Oatmeal.  To go see the full version of his work and much more, click here:  I have absolutely zero to do with him and take NO credit for any of his work.

So, I had already completed a post of over 1500 words for you guys about my holiday experiences, but while attempting to upload supporting graphics, an error of some sort occurred, and I reloaded to find only 200 of them remaining.  No auto-saves, no reversions, nothing.  Just the first paragraph.  Needless to say, especially because it’s supposed to be Christmas (and therefore illogically special or something…) I’m feeling a bit unmotivated to write again.  However, I’m going to go, relax, take a shower, and give this another shot.  Fortunately I’m stubborn.  

A few hours later… *ahem* let’s try this again… Version 2.0  

This may or may not have been me at recent holiday party... I won't tell you which one...

This may or may not have been me at recent holiday party… I won’t tell you which one…

So, even before WordPress decided to wipe out my previous holiday post, I was really close to not doing a “Christmas” or “Holiday” post anyway because, to be honest, it’s not really that special in my life right now.  I’ve been alone all day, and as I sit here drinking scotch and listening to Trans-Siberian Orchestra on Pandora, I know that for now, this is it.  Any family I speak to is far away, the majority of my friends won’t be getting anything for me and likewise I’m not concerned about them.  The very few people that have made themselves important parts of my life will probably exchange gifts with me at some point (though to be honest, I would give regardless of receiving.. I kinda suck at receiving… but only in regards to gifts from those I care about… I mean.. yeah.. let’s just leave that there. )  Anyway, the holiday season for me is more about a little time off (it IS a miracle I have time to write finally!), parties and giving somebody as selfish as I am a little excuse to be giving (similar to Ramadan I suppose… and ironically the two are often compared.)

With all that said it wasn’t always like this for me, I’m grown now but when I was young there was magic.  In “the lost Christmas post” (that’s what we shall call it now) I shared some of my Christmas morning memories; things like my father always getting “Soap on a Rope” or my love of the original Transformers action figures before the advent of video games.  Of course there were always the big things like bicycles, big wheels or air hockey tables (yeah.. my brother got one I think…) that eventually gave way to game consoles as I grew older and the magic faded.  It was less about the time and more about how expensive your item was.

Ohh the magic!

Ohh the magic!

But what was the magic when I was little?  Was it the happy, fat man that supposedly brought me new things? The anticipation when I got up that morning and raced to the tree to see the newly appeared presents glimmering in the tree lights?  The two days of feasts back when my family did it’s best to pretend it was a cohesive unit?  It was all of it.  The magic of Christmas has never had anything to do with Jesus for me, they did their best to try and educate me, but he was always an afterthought at most.  The magic of Christmas was having a day when everything was right with the world.  When everyone seemed happy and there were no strings.  No school, no work, new things, happy family and an abundance of food.  It didn’t matter that it was chaos or messy because nobody was stressing about it (or rather, if they were I was not made aware of it) and everyone was happy.

Naturally, as an adult, I’m fully aware that these are both embellished memories and that there were many underlying things that I didn’t see then.  But the magic was there because I was a kid at Christmas and everyone was on the same page: That Christmas should be a good day, especially for the kids.  So for one day my whole family seemed to set aside bills, drama and whatever stresses they had, and focus on making Christmas… Christmas.  It was all about trying to live up to the ideal, and it worked for us, or for me anyway.

Even I try harder than this though.  I love trick-wrapping!

Even I try harder than this though. I love trick-wrapping!

Now, the one part I can feel a little is what I mentioned earlier: giving.  I only got presents for a couple of people this year, but I enjoyed shopping for them and giving to them.  It seems like maybe some of them where underwhelmed by what I got them, but the process was worth it anyway.  I even tipped the folks where I normally eat lunch a $20 because they were bored, and slow and had to work on Christmas Eve.  But that was worth it simply by the genuine reactions I got.  I guess maybe it’s the unexpected giving that really breeds gratitude.  For adults I think that genuine gratitude from each other is the reward, especially when you can get somebody just what you know they want.  The surprise.  Maybe that’s a little of the magic when you’re a kid too.

That’s what it comes down to.  If anything will ever bring back the holiday magic, it’s the children.  Children are innocent and excited and not yet disillusioned by the realities of this world.  They are pure, and with that innocence they create the magic of Christmas that we can all feel.  Some people really do celebrate in the name of Jesus, and I don’t see anything wrong with that.  But when I celebrate with my family it will be to help create and feel that magic again.  It will be to be woken up at 6 AM after two hours of sleep because the kid(s) couldn’t wait any longer.  It will be to stumble out to the kitchen for the coffee needed to make it through the morning.  It will be to watch their faces light up as they unwrap their skillfully trick-wrapped presents and realize Santa got them exactly what they wanted (because Santa’s a boss.)  It will be the mid-afternoon nap (if we’re lucky) and the prepping of the evening feast before we get dressed nicely and come together to celebrate this day.  Christmas day is one of the few days of the year when we try just a little harder to make it good for ourselves, and especially for the little ones. Whether it be religion, tradition or decision, as long as it’s all going in the same direction it’s a good thing.  I think that’s what makes the holiday magic on this or any day.

And that was V1...

And that was Version 1…

Merry Christmas.

What is it to be happy?

As inevitably happens this time of year, I was prompted to think about what I am thankful for.  I worried a bit about how ungrateful I might actually be when I initially struggled to answer the question.  But the the truth is that picking any specific thing is the hard part.  So I thought to myself “Well… if I’m happy, then I just need to pick what makes me happy.”  But then the realization came to me:  I’m not happy.  I’m content, even cheerful, but regularly happy?  No.  Or am I?  On the other hand I am by no means unhappy.  Overall I’m pretty pleased with myself and the world around me.  Certainly I have a number of misgivings about that world around me and my own lack of progress in many areas thus far, but I have been depressed, miserable and even suicidal before and I am nowhere near any of these things.  I’m “good”.  But is that happy?


Dave Matthews Band in Tampa 2014 – I was happy.

I have most certainly been happy in moments.  There are many moments in recent and distant memory that can only be described as love and/or unadulterated joy.  This can be attributed to anything ranging from Dave Matthews Band Concerts (pretty consistently.. at least once per concert..) to some sort of amazing food (often involving cheese or ponzu sauce…) to memories of when certain people looked at me the right way and it made the center of my chest warm and tingly…  I’m also a sap for certain movies / shows to where I am so happy about the story I’m almost in tears.  But all of these moments are spikes, high points that only last so long as the moment does, and then it’s back to being “good” or “alright” or “content” (with occasional low points as well… we all have them.) None of those terms sound like regular happiness so it makes me wonder… what exactly does consistent happiness feel like!?

My first inclination is to say gratitude.  Indeed I am typically in a better state of mind and feel things are going my way when I can genuinely count my blessings and be grateful for the things I have.  Admittedly (though I’m not where I want to be and/or going there fast enough just yet,) I realize I have a huge number of things to be grateful for, but it simply isn’t enough to allow me to hold on to that “happy” feeling for more than a short time.  Perhaps this means I really don’t appreciate what my life has given me, maybe real happiness is a matter of being endlessly grateful for all this life has provided you no matter how much or how little you have in comparison to others.  If such gratitude should be relative then despite having grown up relatively poor, I and most others living in this country should indeed be happy pretty much all the time.  That would also mean, though, that in order to be consistently happy we would have to compare and contrast our lives against either (or both) our own previous misfortune or that of others.  In a sense that’s almost like celebrating the fact that I have it better than so many people around the world.  I realize that I actually do.  But I can’t imagine that recognizing and celebrating that is the secret to happiness.

Some gifts make folks happier than others...

Some gifts make folks happier than others…

Naturally the way around that dilemma is giving.  I like to give selfishly, meaning that I do so because it makes me feel good to give things to those who are either important to me, have earned it or sometimes are just in the right place at the right time (such as the homeless I usually feed during Ramadan.)  All of these things give me a temporary sense of accomplishment or pride.  However, I also really hate being indebted to people (again pride I believe.)  When I was younger I was forced to rely on others for basically everything.  Now that I don’t have to, I hate to be in a situation where I feel as if I owe somebody something.  Giving to others helps me even the “score” (again generally speaking) or even shift it as far to the other side of owing somebody as I can.  That sort of standing is very satisfying, but is that happiness?  Even if it is, like all the other situations it is fleeting.

I suppose then that I want to see an example of somebody that is visibly, obviously in an elevated mood (as in “happy”.. like Pharrell?) as a regular state of being.  What’s the secret? At what point do you meet the criteria that you can be honest when people ask you “Are you happy?” and you can honestly reply “Oh yes! Absolutely!”  Maybe it is really something we all strive for as often as possibility but we are hard-wired to be unable to grasp it constantly.  Perhaps it is (as we say) “the pursuit of happiness” that continues to give us purpose and causes us to seek out new and meaningful experiences.  Having been in an emotionally grey state of mind for many years now, I’m trying to figure out if it’s just me who isn’t sure about this sort of thing, or if in fact it’s part of the human condition.  In all honesty I try to avoid classifying myself as “human” whenever possible, but some concepts come with the territory of this life and maybe the secret to happiness is accepting that it will never be a regular thing but instead the one universal goal or ideal each individual can shoot for in their own personal (sometimes really twisted) way.  Regardless if you feel you are generally happy all the time, share you secret with me!  But if you’re more like me, as the holidays descend upon us, let’s make it a point to have as many happy moments as possible.  If it can’t be all the time, let’s make it as often as possible.