Collaborations of Abstraction

Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

I’d rather spend the day with homeless strangers than Christmas with my family.

It dawned on me slowly, smudged in guilt, rather than coated in it, as I’d expected it to be. I set the heaping platefuls of food on the white, tablecloth-clad table.

The restaurant I worked at was serving Christmas dinner to homeless families, and I was one of the waitresses. Last year I got to use the excuse that my husband and I were on the brink of divorce. I couldn’t pretend to like him for a full day. Now my appetite for authenticity had grown. I couldn’t pretend to like my parents for the few days. And feeding the homeless seemed more honorable. An honorable excuse.

I wasn’t alone thankfully. My friend Jennifer couldn’t make it back to the East Coast so we drank wine and opened stockings the night before. I may have even abandoned her to sleep with Nathan the previous night. I couldn’t remember. Maybe that was why I didn’t feel coated in guilt. The alcohol from the previous several days had left my brain feeling slippery, unable to hold onto anything. It’s OK though. That’s how people get through divorce. And Christmas.

After Jennifer and I finished our shifts, her in the kitchen dishing up plates and me waiting on loads of very grateful, very sweet people, we headed back to her place on the north side of town. It was quaint, with a nice kitchen table and some chairs. We drank hot cider and chatted. It was growing dark, even at 3:30 p.m. Thank goodness the Winter Solstice had passed, I thought.

My phone rang. It was Nathan. He invited me to his parents house. Some of his friends would be there, he said.

Maybe I could bring Jennifer, I asked?

Of course. The more the merrier. Jennifer enjoyed the O’Brien family. Nathan had a few brothers who drank about as much as he did, told great stories and flirted with her mercilessly. They all had girlfriends, though. Still, it was flattering.

I felt tense. Maybe it was all the coffee. Maybe it was the endless days of curing a hangover with another glass of wine. Perhaps it really was that the holidays suck for people like me. I never really did like Christmas. I was trying though. That was more than I’d done in years past.

Although Jennifer was excited at the prospect of another amusing evening, I shared my worry. Nathan had been hinting at his interest in wanting more from me. Well, hinting wasn’t exactly right.

He’d been jealous when I stood outside smoking with his friends at an ugly sweater party. A month previous when we first met, he barely looked twice at who I spoke to. He told me he thought I really wanted to make a home and have a family, even if my bitter demeanor suggested otherwise.

Spending Christmas evening with him at his parent’s was a step toward the girlfriend direction — a direction I had no intention of going. I didn’t know where I was heading, but girlfriend wasn’t the destination. Hell, it wasn’t even on the map.

Jennifer convinced me that it was a party, that I would just be one of many females there, and I should consider it. Christmas night is always a weird time, she said. And she was right. It was either that or go to a movie, and that was a Watson family tradition, something I wasn’t eager to remind myself of.

We drove the 40 minutes into the suburbs and pulled up in front of a ranch style home, snow-covered lawn sprawled out in all directions. Nate’s car was already there. Not one other vehicle, not even his brother’s car, was in sight.

Maybe we’re early? Jennifer said, not sounding very sure of herself.

We knocked and Nate let us in. Family pictures hung on the walls as we walked into the split level entrance. I took off my snow-covered shoes, left them in the hallway and tossed my coat on the bed as instructed. That’s where coats go in Minnesota, you see. On the bed.

We headed into the family room, where his parents were watching Agustin Borough’s Running With Scissors. Nate’s brother nursed a beer on the corner couch. He must’ve driven with Nate. Nate’s mom jumped up to meet me, eager to size me up, sweet as pie in the Midwestern way.

Nate’s dad set the mood by making a mildly inappropriate comment about my hips, and we settled into the couch to watch the movie. When offered a beer, I immediately accepted.

The movie didn’t sit well with either of the O’Brien parents, so Jennifer suggested we play a board game. Jennifer is always suggesting games, and this time I was grateful for the distraction. However, Nate picked Life out of the bunch. Yes, the one where you choose a degree, a spouse, a number of children and go on to buy a home and achieve mediocrity.

When I celebrated getting past the child-bearing stage unscathed, Nate’s mother seemed concerned. Don’t you want kids dear?

I needed a cigarette. Now.

Jennifer stood outside in the cold and got me to laugh at how uncomfortable the situation was. I took a few deep breaths of cold air. Then I took a few more nicotine-filled ones.

OK, I’d go back in. But only for a bit. Then we’re leaving.

Of course.

It was time to have a snack. All that beer was making us hungry. Nate’s dad pulled out some pickles and olives. I started to notice the alarming amount of Catholic garb covering the walls. I tried to calm down by reminding myself it was Christmas, a perfectly normal time to have shitloads of Jesus paraphernalia around.

When I floated back into the conversation, it was just around the time that Nate’s dad called Jennifer a communist. For what? Who knows? Maybe belonging to a newspaper union. But more likely I think it was because she was a woman who had the nerve to have an opinion.

To change the subject I asked about the pickles. They were good. What brand? In Minnesota, this was a perfectly legitimate question because pickles were a legitimate side dish.

Oh, you like them? He was pleased. Nathan, you’ll have to get her involved in your business.

Business? I wondered. Are you in the pickling business? I thought you were an insurance salesman.

Oh no, my parents sell Amway.

Stunned silence.

You’ve heard of Amway, right?

Well, yes. But I thought it was like, illegal or something now. I mean, that still exists?

Of course. You’ve probably seen commercials for it before. Late night TV?

I shook my head. I didn’t have a TV. But I suddenly was the proud owner of a brand new stomach ache.

We left, with two jars of pickles as our parting gift. So nice to meet you, everyone said. So glad you could make it. See you next year.

I’d rather spend Christmas with a bunch of suckers than my own family. Or was that just another version of my family? Another nightmare film entertaining me while I kept digging the same hole?

After reliving the evening’s most shining moments, Communist Jennifer and Childless Rebecca drove in silence back to North Minneapolis.

At one point, a lot of the homeless folks we’d served that day had lived in this neighborhood. When they could still pay rent. Before they’d lost their jobs. Now that was a hole to dig yourself out of. Maybe my Amway Christmas wasn’t so bad. Maybe it was exactly the gift I needed.

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I couldn’t sleep. It was another full moon and the light of it combined with the street lights practically made it day in downtown Minneapolis. I sat up and turned on my lamp. I picked up my notebook and the pen I loved so much. I sat there for awhile just staring at the empty page.

Something about it comforted me, like walking alone after the first snowfall. Everything is so clean and white and untouched — virginal.

blank pages

 I had been kinda itching ever since the morning, when I was walking to work listening to music. A song came on my iPod: Dazed and Confused by Led Zepplin. A stanza in particular made me a little irritated:

 Lots of people talkin’

Few of them know

Soul of a woman was created below

I wrote in my notebook now:

 I’ve never considered myself much of a feminist, but I guess my definition of a feminist might be a little broken. Defined by someone else rather than myself. The word feminist leaves sort of a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t want to be associated with it.

All I can think of is man hating groups of women who demand to be treated equally but end up alienating everyone in the process. They want equality but in the process eliminate themselves from the masses.

 While I have no problem with standing out, I don’t want to be angry and demanding. I just want to be me.

And I want to be able to say I like sex without being called a whore. But that doesn’t give me license to act like a whore and get mad when I’m labeled as such. 

Really what I want is to be able to exist without preconceived notions, and what irks me is that I’ve been labeled as a trouble-maker my whole life and I’m not sure why. I was a virgin until my senior year of high school, but to many I was a slut.

I was smart (13 in a class of 400+) and involved in loads of extracurricular activities (debate, band, speech, key club, speech, drama, camp counselor, piano lessons and more) but still I couldn’t be trusted by my family.

It was as though I was inherently bad. Somehow things were always my fault.

I was getting going now; I was feeling angry like a combination of teenage angst and righteous indignation. I hunkered down – this combination made for great writing and writing was great for purging this energy.

When you think about it though, any woman who stands out is always going to be ridiculed in one way or another. It’s just easier to keep your head down.

Don’t be a slut, don’t be too prude, don’t be rude, don’t be too nice, get a job, raise kids, keep your husband happy, keep your house clean, keep your nose clean, be one of the boys, stay in shape, have great hair, cook awesome meals, get it all done in under an hour and take some time for yourself too.

How impossible is that but yet it’s all there in the magazines for us … the user manuals of our current age. And if you don’t, you better have something wrong with you that you can expose to the world. A drug habit, a compulsive shopping disorder, a chemical imbalance. 

Don’t question it; don’t ask questions. Just keep your head down and do what needs to be done. Otherwise you’re crazy. Or worse yet, a crazy bitch. What a fucking joke. 

And why is it that it’s so easy to say the soul of a woman is created in hell? That women are the devil? Even when you insult men, it’s usually that they’re dogs or cold-hearted.

 When you think about it, all the world’s problems have kind of always been blamed on women.

Eve was in cahoots with the devil, a serpent, and not only did she disobey her God but she tempted her partner to do it too. Because she wanted knowledge.

And what was the result? Oh just the struggle of mankind to toil the land and pain in childbirth for womankind. Because before in the Garden of Eden, God was just making food, animals and people out of thin air. Sounds like God was just getting a little lazy and needed someone else to do the work. 

And what about Pandora? I’m not sure why, but this story hit home more than Eve’s when I heard it for the first time. Probably because I was 11 and starting to have my own opinions, as opposed to being spoon-fed Eve’s story as a toddler. 

I remember thinking how ridiculous it was to say that the curiousity of one woman could cause all of humanity to suffer. She opened it up to let out all the maladies of the world out, but closed it before hope escaped? What kind of silly story was this? I asked my teacher. What bullshit! 

As I sat on my bed scribbling this all down furiously, my head started to feel light. I took a deep breath. I was lying on my bed, propped up on a few pillows with my notebook in my lap.

I surveyed my posture. Nothing off there. None of my limbs were asleep. I had read and written like this for hours before without feeling this way. I took another deep breath and waited. It wouldn’t go away; in fact it seemed to be getting more intense, like a swirling feeling in my head, but it wasn’t nausea or illness. It felt kind of like vertigo.

Suddenly something was pressing against my body. It was a physical feeling, at least it appeared that way. What the hell was going on? I had better pay attention to whatever this was.  I set down my notebook and turned my lamp off. I could always focus more with the light off.

The pressing feeling started at my feet and legs and moved up into my torso and finally my head. It felt like something was laying down into my body.

I tried hard to not to freak out. Part of me was genuinely frightened because I had been brought up to think that this must be possession by the devil, but another part of me was really curious because I had felt that pressing on parts of my body my whole life but never paid much attention to it.

This was the first time I had ever stopped everything I was doing and gave it my full attention and this is what happens? I was shaking out of fear and excitement.

What scared me a little more was that I noticed I could no longer move my body. I felt paralyzed. I tried to breathe. At least I could do that. Perhaps it wasn’t that I couldn’t move but more that I didn’t want to.

In my mind I demanded, Who are you? What do you want?

I took another breath.

In response it said, “Don’t be afraid. I am you.”

Now that completely confused me. What the hell does that mean? How can you be me? I just felt you sit inside me. Doesn’t that mean that you were apart from me?

The voice was calm, quiet, soothing.

“I’ve always been with you, but when you were young I was cast out of you. So for your entire life I’ve been watching you, waiting for a time when you’d be ready to be complete again.”

To say that this interaction was a conversation would be like calling a symphony performed a piece of sheet music. There was so many emotions and sounds and moving pictures in my body at that moment it was hard to condense into words.

I heard swords unsheathing themselves. I saw fire and a cold planet – it was dark and covered with ice. It had stalagmites on its surface with castles to match. It looked medevil but I knew somehow that it wasn’t Earth. I heard a battle but couldn’t see it.

After all of this, these memories, that this voice, this spirit, was showing her, I asked, Why are you showing me all of this?

It said, “I want you to know your background and why you were sent here to this planet. You’ve been fighting through life after life and now is your chance to do something different. You have been given the chance to do whatever you want. You must pay attention.”

I still couldn’t move. I felt wonderful and scared all at once. I wanted to weep both from sadness and happiness. I felt my body in a way that I never did before, and even if I couldn’t move it I knew that nothing would be the same again.

It continued as though it could read my mind. “Well it could, couldn’t it?”

If it was me it probably knew everything about me.

“I will never leave you again. You are strong now and can protect yourself. Before I needed to leave in order to protect the part of you that can never be hurt. You are special and can’t be spoiled. You are whole.”

I felt the tears fall; I felt the relief wash over me, but still felt the pull of my old life, my Baptist upbringing, casting doubt over the situation.

Why don’t you show yourself? I asked. Why can’t I see you?

It sighed.

“Oh Rebecca, seeing isn’t always believing. You must explore yourself in order to see everything you’re made of. It’s a life long discovery. And besides, I don’t think you’re going to like what I can show you.”

Why wouldn’t I like myself? I asked. Show yourself, I demanded.

“Well, you were raised not to like part of yourself. It’s not your fault; I’m just saying it might bother you,” the voice said.

I took a deep breath. I’m ready, I said.

“OK.”

And in my head I saw scales like that of a snake but a little more rough, with greens and purple hues. As the voice sent more of its picture it zoomed out and I could see a large reptile head with a long neck with spikes sticking out.

moon dragon animal purple pictures, backgrounds and images

Finally I saw wings, and as it took flight I saw it flying high over the dark planet I saw earlier. It breathed fire onto the planet, near the place where I’d heard the battle before.

The voice was right. I got so upset I mentally shook the image out of my head.

I’m a reptile? I asked in surprise and disgust.

“Not a reptile,” the voice replied. “You’re a dragon. Or rather, you were a dragon. You come from another planet in the constellation Draco. I told you you weren’t gonna like it.”

I took a breath. Draco is bad, I said and couldn’t help but think of the character in Harry Potter. Dragons are reptiles and they are evil. From serpents in the Bible to snake bites and fairy tales, dragons aren’t exactly the best creatures.

“It’s OK that you think that, but I encourage you to look into it more when you’re ready. Not all stories with dragons are bad, and not all residents of Draco are bad either. But I understand why you think that way.”

Why now? I asked. Why would you join me at this point?

“Well,” the voice said, “it’s complicated because I’m you. We all belong together.”

We? I asked incredulously. There’s more than just you?

“There’s Pandora as well,” the voice said, “but she doesn’t speak so often. She’s pretty … well she’s extreme and better taken in small doses. She doesn’t like you or me so much; she feels betrayed I think.”

 Pandora? As in Pandora…the first woman in the world? She’s me?

I knew now I was going crazy. If hearing voices isn’t enough, delusions of grandeur will definitely send it over the edge, I thought. Textbook. I guess my ex was right.

“You’re special, Rebecca. You are meant to do great things for this planet,” the voice said. “You’re not crazy; you’re perfectly sane. You’re just more in touch with your body and your soul now.”

I took a deep breath and thought, OK. I can handle this. I’ll just speak to my friends about it. I’ll see what they have to say about it. Thank God I have friends.

The voice cautioned her. “You can speak to your friends but be careful how much you talk about it. Pandora isn’t a big fan of people knowing where she is. She’s sort of incognito, I guess we should say.”

Incognito? I puzzled over that. What do you mean?

“Well, she’s not really aware of herself unless she sees herself right now. Some think she’s a bit of a handful, so she’s been given limited powers. But don’t worry about that right now. It’s been a long road, and we don’t want to overwhelm you after we’ve been bound for all of these years.”

Why did you leave? Why were you bound? I had so many questions, but I was so tired suddenly. I yawned. I could move!

“We’re all together now. We’ll never leave you again. Take your time and enjoy being complete. You’ve got plenty of time to learn and ask questions,” the voice said.

Draco and Pandora, I thought. I must be losing my mind.

“But you’re not,” the voice said. “It’ll take a while, but it’ll feel natural one day.”

I moved my legs and arms, stretching slowly. My body was exhausted but I felt more alive than I had in what life I could remember. I yawned, smiled, smacked my lips and fell asleep.

The next day I awoke and thought, Nothing will ever be the same. And I was right.

Saint Dwynwyn

St Dwynwen

Over the past few years I have stopped celebrating Valentine’s Day, there is couple of reasons for this and the easiest one to point out is that I’ve been single on the day for the last few years and that once I left secondary school the idea of a secret valentine became counterproductive for my needs. The second reason is I see it as nothing more than a money-making scheme for Hallmark and so many others, the idea you can make money of someone’s feelings kind of sickens me, and so February the 14 is just another normal day for me.

Also, the story of St Valentine is by far the most un-romantic story that could exist for the official patron saint of lovers, apart from the fact he carried out his duties as a priest during the reign of the emperor Claudius and for that he died a martyr (beheaded after being beaten and stoned) there really is little else that connects him to the day of love. Along with other duties of being patron saint of lovers he is also patron saint of affianced couples, bee keepers, engaged couples, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, happy marriages, love, plague, travellers and young people. So unless I’m dating a young, epileptic, bee keeper with the plague I’m quite happy to cross this day of the calendar.

As a Welshman all is not lost, and I would extend this to all who find Valentine day most distasteful, for the today (25th of January) is St Dwynwen day, the Welsh Patron Saint of Lovers. Saint Dwynwen Lived in Wales during the 5th century and fell in love with a man called Maelon Dafodrill, but she had already been promised by her father to marry someone else, heartbroken she begged god to help her forget him. Dwynwen fell asleep and she was visited by an angel, the angel gave her a potion that would help her forget Maelon and granted her three wishes however if she took the potion Maelon would be turned into a block of ice. Dwynwen took the potion and asked told the angel of her three wishes, the fist was that Maelon be thawed out; her second that God meet the hopes and dreams of true lovers; and third, that she should never marry. All three wishes were granted and in return as a mark of her thanks she devoted her life to god.

http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/Wales-History/StDwynwen.htm

I am aware there is three versions of this story but that one is my favourite and shows that there is an alternative to all the fluffy bears, silly cards and the nauseating pink and red of Valentine’s day.

Diwrnod Santes Dwynwen Hapus!

Artwork © Jonathon Earl Bowser – www.JonathonArt.com

Dedicated to my Girlfriend who dislikes Valentines day as much as I do

Every year about this time I am accused of being a Scrooge. It just so happens I am not a fan of the holidays. So sue me. To be honest, I feel like I should be able to give the middle finger to all those people who look at me like I’ve demanded the blood of their first born because I said I don’t wanna hang up Christmas lights.

I know maybe I’m perpetuating the stereotype of the Scrooge character by bitching about this, but if people would just let me be instead of treating me like a leper, maybe I wouldn’t have to get so fucking defensive about it.

Thank the Universe for Ani Difranco:

welcome to:
no amount of stoned makes you feel ok
welcome to:
this year’s alone – brought to you by Christmas day
welcome to:
the darkness into which prayin people pray

it’s quiet here except for this song
now that everybody’s gone
but hey
least you don’t have to play along today

welcome to:
something like elation when you first open your eyes
just cuz it means
that you musta finally got to sleep last night
welcome to:
the precipice between groundlessness and flight

it’s quiet here except for this song
now that everybody’s gone
but hey
least you don’t have to play along today

besides which
welcome to:
taking the good stuff down off of the shelf
and welcome to:
the art of conversation with yourself
welcome to:
humming an unbroken tune
all day long
yes it’s quiet here
but hey
least you don’t have to play along today

This weekend Brett Farve and the Vikings beat the Green Bay Packers. For those not familiar with the nuances of the upper Midwest, Wisconsin and Minnesota might seem to be similar, if not identical, states. However, from the food (cheese curds) to vocabulary (A water fountain is a bubbler? What?!?) to the sports teams, we are two very different states, even if we are neighbors.

I also had my first international Halloween in Norway this weekend. The party had attendees from the U.K., Norway (of course), Sweden and the U.S. Halloween really isn’t celebrated in Scandinavia, but it was my friend’s birthday and she had spent the last five years in the U.S., so we were donning costumes!
Ever since I read that the Dutch Santa Clause is from Turkey and beats bad children with socks full of coal, I’ve been curious about how holidays are celebrated in other countries. At dinner I talked with several Swedes about this, and the tradition of Easter came up. Apparently in Sweden, Easter is more like Halloween. They wander around their neighborhoods asking for candy, and according to folklore the witches fly up to Blåkulla (Blue Mountain) to meet with the devil. (It should come as no surprise that Sweden is one of the most atheist countries in the world.)
Later in the evening I was talking to a few Norwegian guys and the topic of holidays came up again. I started talking to them about the Easter customs of Sweden, and I kinda assumed (I know, I know!) that Norway’s were similar. They looked at me like I was crazy. Witches meeting the devil? When I finally got around to saying I got the information from the Swedish girls, it made perfect sense to them.
I guess I should have taken a note from my own playbook and realized that similar locations do not mean similar ideas. Just because someone grows up in one area, it doesn’t mean they have the same ideas as everyone else from the region. And just because one country or state is geographically similar, it doesn’t mean they have the same culture, food, language, or favorite sports teams. 

Collaborations of Abstraction

Two close (though, unfortunately, not in proximity) friends – a Welsh man living in Ireland and a Minnesotan woman living in Germany – come together to share musings, wit and random things of interest in this journey called life

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