Low Expectations Holiday Gathering

‘Tis the time of the year for my annual celebration of hosting mediocrity.

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The invitations went out. By email. With no reminder two days before.

This is your casual, heartfelt, and festive but unadorned invitation
to our annual Low Expectations Holiday Party. Come to our house for a
minor-key gathering of joy, adoration, and minimal preparation as we
begin the seasons of Too Much to Do and Too Little Time.

Cheer with us an ambivalent welcome to Hanukkah, Winter Solstice,
Christmas, Kwanzaa, and any other cultural eating and drinking holiday you
embrace.

With music!

Come as you are, with your favorite minimal-prep-time food or drink.
We will be here, without any promises to clean or decorate, but with
warm exclamations of how much we cherish you in our lives.

Guaranteed to be unassuming, but not underwhelming.

RSVP so we know how big a pot of apple cider we need to leave
simmering until you get here.

The day before the party I bought some cheese. I’m not gonna lie: it was good cheese. The kids were fighting and I offered threats and bribes in equal measure so I could select a triple-cream brie, petite basque, herbed goat cheese, and salty mountain gruyere. Later I ate the gruyere and had to serve a cheddar/parmesan blend.

I cleaned the bathroom. Then went for a run.

A few minutes before the party was supposed to begin I surveyed the Martha Stewart scene I had created.

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Microwave covered in crap: check.

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Mantle undusted and still home to a Lego piece, Pokemon card, and related detritus I have no home for: got it.

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Decorative gourds still on the porch two holidays too late: handled.

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Wax-covered menorah ready for next week and almost hiding random Halloween gift bag I’m too lazy too move: check.

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Lots of crap shoved in a closet: nailed it.

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Bag nobody uses and box of important projects crammed under antique seating: perfect.

I knew then that we were ready to underwhelm.

I think we exceeded expectations, actually. Hard to disappoint when you promise fair to middling.

I’ll admit it: I moved the candy corn bag off the table. Because good cheese deserves better than that. But I didn’t move the cat toy.

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Or the spider ring and backpack tableau. Yes, seriously. So little effort required and so little given.

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How do you talk to a friend with cancer?

I’ve found in the past few weeks that the fastest way to kill a blog is to post long, depressing content about a challenging houseguest.

So now I’ll revive my blog with everyone’s favorite topic: cancer!

I’ve pointed readers over the past year to my friend Jay’s blog to read about his amazing perspective and approach to life. And to parenting with cancer.

He posted his answer to a question: How do you talk to a friend with cancer?

Please read it. It might help with people in your life who is struggling. I hope none of them have stage IV cancer, but if they do, maybe discussing this will give you another reason to connect.

And if someone is struggling with another type of crisis, maybe his post will help you connect with them, too.

Because heaven knows we all , genuinely, need reasons to be human with each other.

Go read his post.

Shake things up

I posted a couple of weeks ago about being overwhelmed and not knowing which sources of stress were worth the anxiety and which needed to be jettisoned.

And I have a few remedies to share, in case you, too, have those days when there is just too much to do. When you have to choose between blinking and breathing, try these:

1. Visit a wise relative. I spend a morning with my grandma and felt refreshed. At one point in a conversation about a neighbor, she said, “You know. the whirlwind of small children is a blink in the span of your life. It feels really big, but it’s just a blink.” She’s wrong, of course, because having small kids for ten years or so amounts to more than 10% of your adult life, no matter how long you live. But the fact that she remembered at her age how challenging the frenetic under-five set is, that she’s seen several generations go through that, and that she didn’t warn me about how much harder teens are all sufficiently reassured me. That people get through this. That it’s not as big as it feels. That things change, every day. And that someday all this 80mph will be a memory.

Perspective offers a long-lasting respite.

2. Meet a friend. In the past week I met, face to face, with four different people—by choice—whose company I enjoy. Drank coffee, watched laugh lines, marveled at grey hairs that weren’t there the last visit. It’s a rather impressive phase of life in which to have good friends you’ve known for a while. My friends are getting older, and in the process honing a more condensed version of the person I’ve always known. A lot of the chaff falls away in your 40s. My friends are ditching the bullshit. They’re glimpsing mortality and deciding what they want to do with their lives. They’re caring for older parents and they’re caring for kids. And they’re still smiling and listening to new music and seeing art exhibits and writing short stories. You can get information, but you can’t get full sensory pictures from email or phone calls or blogs. Go watch a friend’s face while they tell you a story. Really watch them. The process is compelling.

Friendship provides a salve.

3. Change your music. I am, by nature, a creature of ruts. Not just habits. Deep, well-worn grooves. I used to listen to a tape on a loop for weeks without cease. (Hey, that was fancy in my day…tape decks that offered continuous play changed my life. Don’t go on and on about your MP3 playlist. When things are important, you sit with the tape recorder by the radio and you push pause before you hit record and play so that when the song finally comes on the air you can catch it without the sudden sounds of stops and starts by just releasing the pause button. And then to play the whole thing on a loop? Technological nirvana.) I once went three months without changing the tape. That’s some serious dedication (and change aversion, but that’s another story for another post). I do it with foods, too: eat the same foods for weeks at a time until I can’t stand to see them anymore. But feeling panic at being overwhelmed and having too much to do and being paralyzed with stress does not benefit from ruts. Sometimes releasing the valve on the pressure means getting some air in there and shifting the contents. (Not, for heaven’s sake, like the scene in Just One of the Guys. Playlists don’t itch.)

Music informs mood and alters rhythms.

4. Change your food. As mentioned again, I default to habits. Pressed for time and energy, I tend to default to what’s worked before. The same veggies, the same fruit, the same protein courses over and over. Lentil-bulgur burgers. Scrambled eggs with cheese. Bean stew. Stir fry tofu and udon. Pasta. Burritos. Goat-cheese-flatbread rollups. Salad. Peanut butter on apples. Pancake sandwiches. Eggs and cheese in rice. Al prepared with kids fighting around me, as quickly as possible, with stress pressing me to move quickly, efficiently, and without genuine engagement.

So I went to the fancy grocery and found a few small ways to bring adventure to a process that was wearing me down.

Dragonfruit

Dragonfruit

Dragonfruit cut and lifted off peel

Dragonfruit cut and lifted off peel

Star fruit

Star fruit

Passionfruit

Passionfruit

I quickly cut and arranged the fruit on a plate. Then I made a typical dinner. And we had adventure night. We all sniffed and tasted the fruit, compared notes. We talked, we used our senses, and we spent at least five minutes present, aware, and engaged. Together. And ate our so-called boring, expected, normal dinner with a sense of newness.

Adventure engages all your senses.

Adding a knowing grandmother, several good friends, some new music, and dragonfruit to my week, I felt as though things had really changed. Spring cleaning for the rut of stress and fluster. I’ve begun to remember that life is pretty manageable. That we’re lucky and that it doesn’t take a week in the tropics to feel as though we’ve restarted. That sleep is important and so is art and writing and family and food and exercise. And that a little taste of each whenever I can get them is what my current reality. Little bites of adventure, little efforts at balancing and exploring and listening and smiling are exactly what will fit right now.

And that’s pretty adventurous for me.

Every day miracles for once in a lifetime

Remember when I asked you to send your thoughts, prayers, and good vibes to my friend? I promised you an update on his battle.

Here’s an update, in his words.

Go read this post. I don’t bandy about hyperbole often, but it is a breathtaking story of heart and humanity.

Look, aphorisms are cheap and annoying. But genuinely good friendships are something into which to pour your every energy. Use whatever words you want but send to some lovin’ to your friends.

And, as you did when I wrote a weepy plea for your thoughts, send a little love to my friend.

Please.

I don’t have much power in this world, but I need something. I don’t have fame or fortune or a huge readership, and I don’t know what to do. I need help.

I need your hope. Because I need my friend to be okay.

He’s been through enough. He’s had a whole lot of shitty thrown his way, and each time he’s bested it. He’s finally with the woman absolutely meant for him. He has three amazing kids. He has hundreds of friends because he’s a miraculously good person. The type who gets a raw deal time and time again (and again and again) yet still smiles and makes people feel that they’re special. Makes us laugh and cry and appreciate being alive.

The motherfucking cancer that tried to kill him didn’t. And he had one blissful year after the torture of chemo and radiation and surgery.

And that stupid fucking no good cancer is back.

I don’t really have the power to do anything, and, of course, it’s not about me. Except I hurt just hearing that he’s in pain. That he’s scared. That his family is upside fucking down with fear.

So I want to get every single person I can thinking good thoughts. I can turn the Universe, right? Heartfelt pleas for good thoughts mean something, right?

Pray if you do. Hope if you will. Send him some good wishes if you please. I know there are lurkers amongst you, those who come out when it’s important.

He desperately needs something, and I want to give everything I can. So please. Send him a few thoughts or prayers or wishes. Type him a few words, would you, even though you don’t know him. Please.

The world needs him.

Well, that’s that.

Some of you know of the saga of the friend who disappeared and hid from emails and voicemail for over a year and finally admitted she didn’t like me anymore.

Well, last week (over a year after she severed all ties and two-plus years after she stopped communication) I sent an email, telling her how I missed her. I explained how the things around the house reminded me of how kind and generous she had been with me. I expressed nostalgia for our friendship and told her I was sad I didn’t know about her life anymore.

She returned my email with a curt message that said I should burn or sell the things that reminded me of her. And that she’s glad I have friends because she didn’t want to be one.

Damn, y’all. That is cold. I know I’m prone to melodrama, overreaction, and hyperbole, but damn! (Come to think of it, remmebering how I am prone to melodrama, overreaction, and hyperbole, maybe I’d stab me in the heart if given the chance, too.)

So I was sad for a while. And I was disappointed. And insulted. And I’m resigned now. A fifteen year friendship gone against my will.

I waited a week to unfriend her from Facebook. Because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t spiteful. I just think that someone who specifically says they don’t want to be friends shouldn’t get to see my neuroses, photos, or photo collages of neuroses.

So here’s my question. Why can I not let this go? Am I so upset because she doesn’t like me anymore or because she was so childish and then rude about it? Is there any healthy way to be grateful for the enormous loving effect she had on my life for a while without letting it cloud by her current behavior?

And is there any way to blame the partisan bickering in Washington for this deep hole in my heart? Because I do, really, enjoy blaming most of the malaise of our nation, times, and daily lives on those effing asshats.

highlights of my year

You know why I love KBG? Because she is the best mom I know and makes it look absolutely effortless to find a loving balance. Not sure how she does it but I want to watch a lot.

You know why I love MPG? Because he’s so earnest and thoughtful and intense and silly all at the same time.

You know why I love KFRD? Because she’s always, always, always there, for the little stuff and the important stuff. Just shadow-like.

You know why I love HRH? Because when he’s good he’s very, very good, and when he’s bad he’s horrid.

You know why I love JDG? Because she’s way cooler than me but makes me feel that creativity, joy, and pie are all within my reach.

You know why I love KGT? Because some people just feel like home when you talk to them, and if they deign to talk back, it’s like sunshine. Talent and love and smart all poured into one phone call or email that feels like a gift but not the obligatory kind or the please reciprocate kind.

You know why I love CKi? Because aside from right place right time, she gave me more than I could ever ask of a friend: intelligent clarity built on a foundation of respect and trust. On our first date.

You know why I love CKb? Because she’s wild and funny and so intensely soulful she knocks me off my chair.

You know why I love LF? Straight up talent, y’all, with the real world proof that creatives can be good at business, and business can have a heart.

You know why I love SL? Because she is changin the world, minute by minute, hour by hour.

You know why I love BK? Because you don’t need to be that good and decent when it might cost you personally, but fear does not puck that man up. He just keeps smiling.

You know why I love CB? Because she has every reason to be in a bad mood but instead she creates her own happiness and trusts her friends; she gives to them unconditionally and they repay in kind. She’s just a good model for humanhood.

You know why I love NFK? Cuz I do. She’s all that and a bag of rich chocolately goodness.

You know why I love PJH? Because every time I pick up the phone I’m agitated and nervous, but if it’s his voice I instantly relax and smile.

And it’s only March.