A Letter to December.

Dear December,

I’m not sure when it started happening, this horror you bring to my life every year. Perhaps it’s always been this way and I’m just now noticing it. That’s entirely possible. So I shouldn’t be quite so angry with you. It’s mostly my fault.

But other months don’t do this to me year after year.

This week alone I was out until 8 or 9 p.m. every night–three nights work-related, one night spent with friends, one night running errands because of the other four nights spoken for and Saturday completely booked.

This morning I was going to wake up early, go to Jazzercise and run more errands before picking up a friend to go see the musical “Waitress” and then attending a church Christmas party that has had my stomach in knots for three weeks.

When I got home last night at 10:15, my whole being chided, “Julie. Tomorrow morning you are going to sleep in. You will eat your favorite yogurt and a bagel for breakfast, while in bed watching something mindless. Spend a little time writing. You’ll eventually get up and get ready for the day, maybe even vacuum, maybe grade a few papers, maybe even get a jump start on holiday baking. You are taking the morning off. It’s the only way you won’t lose your mind.”

The problem with that chastisement is I have goals I set last January, and guess what, December–you make it nearly impossible for a last-minute push to meet any of them. Plus I have a mountain of tasks, all priorities, that need tending to. I feel guilty for taking a morning off.

So I have to make a choice: meet my goals and complete my tasks, or lose my mind. What would you have me do December?

All the things.

That’s what you would have me do, because it’s what you have me do every year. All the things. Which, for a month that is supposed to be about love and joy and peace, seems counter to your alleged theme and purpose.

The only positive thing I can say about you at this point, December, is that this morning is December 16, which means you are half over, and then I don’t have to see you again for another year.

But I am taking this morning off.

Sincerely,

Julie

 

 

A Long November.

So November is over and I didn’t write as often as I’d planned, but I did do the following:

Spent time with friends.
Spent time with family.
Saw one play and two musicals.
Kept my environs tidy (a big deal this time of year).
Watched movies.
Read books.
Listened to music.
Called senators.
Called congressmen.
Graded. And graded. And graded some more.
Laughed with my students.
Laughed with my colleagues.

Tomorrow is December 1 and a Friday, so for my Friday Morning Soundtrack I will fire up the Christmas music and on Sunday, start thinking about Advent. Time keeps ticking, and while I spend a decent amount of time every day in existential dread, I also spend a decent amount of time every day living a pretty great life.

And I can’t think of anything else to really be grateful for besides that.

38 Days.

Thanksgiving is Thursday, which doesn’t seem possible, but here we are. Today at church we sang “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing” and “For the beauty of the earth” and “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” I reflected on my week and wrote in my journal and led a discussion with other women about how we can do better at fellowshipping. I sang at a choir rehearsal to prepare for the Christmas program.

The holiday season is here, whether I’m ready. I feel I have much to do–at school, at church, at home–but I’m going to breathe. I can only do so many things in one day. I can do quite a bit in one day, of course, but some things can wait. Family, friends, sanity each deserve space and attention.

I count 38 days between Thanksgiving and New Years’ Day. Our focus for those 38 days can either be “Ugh I’m so busy” or “Waah I have so much to do.” Or.

Or.

Or you can “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow” that your life is full and messy and even though you left the green beans in the microwave and slightly burned the rolls and the cat destroyed the ornaments and the gift wrapper at Barnes & Noble needs to just work the register, the holiday season still is not a disaster.

Lin-Manuel Miranda said it best this week, when he tweeted:

Screen Shot 2017-11-19 at 4.57.31 PM

I hope starting tomorrow, and this week, then 38 days after Thanksgiving, I can remember to start with grateful. And I hope you can too.

A Birthday Request.

 

For my birthday, I want... (1)

So my birthday is Monday, and for two decades now, it’s a day I have dreaded. A day where all I seem to be able to focus on is how much of my life is a disappointment or a failure. A day where, one year, my sister literally had to force me out of bed and then she drove me around while I sulked about another year gone.

A couple of weeks ago, I read Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Option B,” which tackles grief and loss at various levels. The impetus for her book was the unexpected death of her husband. At one point in the book, she shares a conversation she had with a friend who was lamenting turning 50. And Sandberg quietly noted, “Dave won’t ever turn 50.”

I’d been thinking for some time that I needed to make peace with my birthday, much like I finally made peace with Christmas. And Sandberg’s anecdote was the final push. I should celebrate another year in this chaotic world, instead of shaking my fist at the skies that my life doesn’t look the way I thought it would when I was 18.

So here’s my birthday request. There are two parts. First, at some point between now and Monday, do something that you really and truly love, but you’ve either put off or denied yourself. Get two scoops of ice cream. Go on a hike. Read a book. Get a massage. See a movie. Write. Paint. Sing. Lay on the grass and look at clouds. Anything that reminds you how wonderful it is to be alive, do it. Maybe write about it, even, or take a photo of it, just so you can return to that reminder in darker times.

Second, give a genuine compliment to someone you’ve been meaning to praise. Send a thank you note for a comment made at church. Text a sibling how much you love him. Call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while and say, “Hey, been thinking about you.” Connect in a real way to remind you how wonderful humans can be.

I have a few things planned–Jazzercise, hair cut, Sephora, a movie, sushi, and I hope cake at some point. I’ll probably read a little and write a little and buy some flowers.

But most of all, I will relish that I am alive and that as messy and troubling as the world can be, it can also be beautiful and full of love.

Measuring 2016.

Regardless of my attempts to normalize New Year’s Eve and make it just like any other day, I still find myself reflecting on 2016, trying to figure out if it was a good year.

Despite Jonathan Larson’s wise words of how to really measure a year, we tend to measure our years in rather tangible ways. Marriage. Children. Home ownership. Promotions. Brushes with fame. Deaths. And if none of these more tangible markers of growth, loss, and happiness occur, we think to ourselves, “Heck, nothing really happened this year.”

I caught myself thinking that last night as I drove out to pick up a friend for a party. I took my favorite back-country road, just as the sun was setting. The sky was beautiful–pink and orange swirled clouds blended perfectly into a sky-blue backdrop. I listened to the “La La Land” soundtrack as I drove, and the words to “Someone in the Crowd” made me think about last year and the expectations I had for 2016.

I’m pretty much in the same place. Same career, same apartment, same friends, same family. On the surface, it might look like nothing changed in 2016. As the road curved and the sunset shifted from in front of me, I realized I was smiling, that I felt happy. By most metrics, I shouldn’t have felt such a surge of happiness, reflecting on 2016. But I did.

I won’t make you read a full laundry list of how I’m measuring 2016, but I will include the highlights:

I wrote.

I sang.

I made music.

I laughed.

I created.

I laughed more.

I cried.

I learned.

I traveled.

I loved.

And then I laughed even more.

I hope I can say the same for 2017.