January 4, 2011

A friend wrote this to me and asked if I might put it somewhere – something about about not wanting to offend friends and family. I haven’t changed any of it, and I rather like the sentiments, so why don’t you take a minute to reflect on the good ole Christmas spirit?
I have a confession to make: Christmas…really bothers me.
I mean, yes, there are the usual erudite bah-humbug reasons why Christmas is ridiculous: most of us aren’t really practicing Christians, the commercialism and competition surrounding gift-giving, the beautiful ideal that is never quite reached that leaves someone, without fail, weeping at the lack of perfection…I’ll spare us the rest of the rambling list about lies to children and poor translation of customs and symbols that has led to the Disney circus parade of characters that swarm over us in a dizzying tornado for just over a month each year.
What I WILL talk about, the part that bothers me most, is the rottenness of the warm fuzzy core of Christmas. More than Little Baby Jesus, Christmas is supposed to be about family and togetherness. It never really was about Jesus anyway: it’s a celebration after a year’s harvest. It’s a time to kick back amid the bounty of a year’s hard work and indulge in a little excess and catch up with people as the busy earth breathes a sigh after birthing of her muchness and prepares to roll over to sleep for a bit.
We get together to celebrate our successful journey through a year and to fight seasonally affective depression in the darkest part of the year. We remind each other that the growing season will return and we praise the sun for consenting to give us just a little more light every day.
We have lost any of the original relevances of our yearly celebration and most of us don’t miss it because that is not our reality anymore. Fine. But the sickness that plagues us now is that we don’t celebrate a job well done, we celebrate our yearly shortcomings and pray to the gods of plastic items that they will somehow help us assuage the guilt we carry for the sin of being too busy to have meaningful exchanges with people throughout the year. We hope that we can purchase something of value, since we’ve failed to make anything of value ourselves.
Our Christmas, with all its stress and expense and etiquette is a thick and glittery plastic sham that we uphold as a sacred social contract: You don’t call my bluff and I won’t call yours. But that emperor has no clothes, friends! Plastic crap and other novelties given under quasi-duress do not create a meaningful exchange.
My brother and his wife (who doesn’t really like me, I don’t think) dutifully got me a present because I am a box to check on the family list. They do not need to get me a present. I don’t really need anything or merit anything just because it’s Christmas, anyway. And besides, they have a new baby girl and Amber quit her job in November, so I know that the money can go to other things. But they did as we
all do: they wrote the list of all the people they are obliged to get gifts for, searched the corners of their minds for some quirk of mine, and went searching for a deal on something – not too expensive but jazzy enough to pass – that would fulfill the responsibility to get someTHING for all blood relatives, even those that have been off in other countries and on the other side of the state for some years now.
The want that gift to communicate that they ‘know’ me. That ‘knowing’ must then represent a bond and a connection. We still know each other, right? See – I know you like tea and art, so I picked out these TWO Thomas Kincaide mug/tea gifty set thingies! (It must not matter that we only see each other if I happen to talk to my sister on a day that they’ve actually come to town). It was the same with the other side of the family – I got a novelty chocolate-making set that is good for approximately 2 oz of prepared chocolate from my fiance’s sister. God help us.
I do not want to demonize my brother or my sister-in-law- they are fine people just trying to do the best they can at being adults. And I know there is a wealth of criticism reserved for those ingrates who would “look a gift-horse in the mouth.” A gift is a gift, right, and one should accept it graciously – that’s what we’re taught. But I think we’re taught that because gift-giving is so often not just wrong-headed, but wrong-hearted. THAT is the problem I see. Giving gifts just to check off the names on the list, or even giving gifts to make up for a year’s lack of meaningful interaction isn’t really giving at all, is it? It’s more like plastering a bandaid on a finger that isn’t cut or, worse yet, shoving a mug/tea gifty set into the hands of a guy who’s just lost a phlange…or his wife – it’s inappropriate. And while that kind of gift-giving may require some kind of monetary sacrifice it doesn’t actually represent love, thought, craft, work, or celebration of much of anything – at least, to my eye it doesn’t.
You see, I don’t WANT a novelty chocolate kit, even if it is Fair Trade Certified. I despise Thomas Kincaide and the cookies that came with each plastic-wrapped set contained milk whey and I’m lactose-intolerant. And I can forgive the whey and the novelty and be happy that these guys were thinking of me and trying so hard to find a match for me and a thing so I would KNOW they were thinking of me. But the unspoken burning truth on my tongue is that I do not WANT things from the people in my life. I don’t care about manufactured crap – in fact I rail against it constantly. Instead, I would like to spend more TIME with my brother. I want him to know just how much I love him and I wish more than anything that I could help him understand me, make me less of an uncomfortable anomaly to him (and the whole stinkin’ rest of the family, if I had my ‘d’ruthers). I WANT to be able to talk more easily with my sister-in-law…like maybe dig up some of the misunderstandings of our early relationship and settle them instead of pasting over them and pretending everything has always been dandy. I want for her to see that me just being me and living and breathing and having opinions isn’t any kind of judgment on HER. But I’ll likely not ever receive any of those gifts; instead I’ll forever get novelty crap that doesn’t even really suit me.
I say this, and I’m going to follow it with a truth about myself that will seem self-righteous, but bear with me: I do the best I can to make gifts for people at Christmas. I figure if I’m going to participate – and, hey, I have to admit that, for all the reasons it’s bullshit, I still like being with people and sharing good food and catching up – if I’m going to participate, I’ll do it on my terms and in a way that feels deeply satisfying. It helps that I am always hijacked and taken over by my right brain in the autumn.
It wakes me up at night and compels me to create. I meditate on the essences of the important people in my life and create things that I present to them at Christmas gatherings. Granted, I am bothered by twinges of doubt and embarrassment that my gifts won’t be understood, that they’re ugly, that they’ll never be used; my packages always look strange and out-of-place…sometimes they are foods or oddly-shaped, bizarrely-trimmed bundles or just naked products amongst the neat and glitzy packages and bows. But people always seem to like my inexpensive hippie-gifts best, and I think that it’s because my gifts represent a culmination and a connection and a communication – from my essence to theirs. It also demonstrates a sacrifice of time and creative energy that mass-produced landfill grist just doesn’t possess. I received a painting from my mother-in-law that she had done from one of my photographs. I was so – touched?, astounded?, overcome? – that I could hardly speak. In her way, she had used her art to give a nod to mine. THAT is a gift that is thoughtful, loving, meaningful, and, in a true sense, an offering of oneself. I think that’s what Christmas is supposed to be.

Amigos latinos – lo siento que este primera parte es en ingles, pero la majoridad de la gente que conozco no pueden hablar nada de espanol!  Por eso, he escrito un parte abajo para ustedes.  Feliz Navidad!
Dear friends, lovers, compatriots, comrades, respectable citizens, drifters, bums, and those simply unfortunate enough to have landed on my email contact list –
It’s Christmas, and I’m almost certain that means it’s the time of year to send out a thoughtful message, full of meaning, good cheer, and hope, to ones we love and care about.  Unfortunately, in my family, that usually happens in February, so I’m not exactly prepared to do it today, and because of that we’re winging it – stream of consciousness is my strong suit anyway.  Here goes nothing…
It’s my first time “alone” for Christmas – not truly alone, of course, but none of the friends I’m here with were friends before this summer, before my life changed so dramatically and suddenly – for the better I wager, but changed all the same.  I’m in Nicaragua again, using my last minutes in Leon to draft this letter, and by tonight I’ll be in a little place called Los Zorros – you won’t find it on any maps, 150 people in a fishing community, a lagoon, and a wide-open Pacific shore.  In a couple of days I’ll be heading south again, on a frantic rush toward Columbia via Costa Rica, Panama, and a long boat ride over New Year.  It’ll be an adventure, I’m sure, because everything is an adventure if you make it one.  There I’ll be taking Paragliding courses for a month or so, living on a mountain, reading and deciding what to do next.  My money is gone, practically speaking, will be truly demolished after February, and so I don’t know the next step, except that it will probably be a good story one day.
Enough of that sort of thing – I can’t focus too hard on future or past because they distract me from the present moment, and in this moment I have a bus to catch, a letter to write, a beach to run circles on.  I miss you all terribly – every time I let myself, my mind floods with memories of friends and loved ones – It’s good in a way, because it lets me know I still care, tells me I haven’t changed completely.  If I still miss you, I must not be a complete stranger yet.  Yet – that’s the operative.  I’ve changed a lot in the past months – living on the road, out of a bag, in Spanish, does that to a guy certainly, but coupled with a burning desire to change my own world, to reform reality in my own image, to play god in my own life, has led me to torch myself, to rise from my own ashes over and over – I average a 3 month lifespan now – 3 months from new life to the next, 3 months with friends, 3 months before I flee, give away my belongings, and start over.  It’s been fantastic, this fall from grace, this shedding of veils, this desperate search for the truth.  I’ve found inner peace, a recipe for true happiness, love, a muse, my ability to cry again, friendship and human kindness at every turn.  Not bad, considering I left home in February for a job – a job that, incidentally, made this all possible, by throwing me out on my ass in the third world.
I mean, what was I supposed to do?  Take their plane ticket, their $50 stipend, and just go home?  Fail?  Never.  They taught me how to survive, corrected my awful gutter Spanish, tutored me in “how to live” and accidentally taught me “how to survive” in the process.  I owe a great debt to the US Peace Corps, and to Miss Trudy Jaycox especially – if not for her ignorant, intolerant, downright idiotic decision to throw me out, I would never have had the opportunity – nor the inner flame – to take this leap, shed baggage, burn bridges, and leap – desperate – into the great unknown.  I’ve had the time of my life, and I owe it to someone who called me a young idiot, “culturally insensitive” to boot.  How’s that for a lark?  I’m still smiling about it, but then, I smile about most everything these days.  I’m happy with my new life, with my freedom and ability to move, happy that everything I own fits in a backpack, happy that I can do the wild, adventurous things that make me happy, happy that I’ve found so many others – crazy, hopeful, loving, wild, joyous – people like me, in a world where I’d almost given up hope of finding anyone like that.  It’s never bad to find one’s values vindicated, one’s way of life functional in the world – better than sex, to be honest.
I’ve met so many amazing people, travelers, teachers, poets, artists, musicians of every stripe, retired university professors eloping with their former students, hippies unrepentant after a lifetime of love and peace, anarchists, rebels, troublemakers, jokers, ex-workers, Dutch people, beautiful women, mysterious strangers – all the outcasts, misfits, those who can’t, or won’t live a life in a society they don’t like – the dregs of society, if you will, but it tastes like the cream.
These past months, 10 of then, as of 2 days ago, have broken me, reduced me to a heap of human rubble, and reforged me into someone stronger – they say that without constant challenge, the human spirit can never reach its potential, but I never imagined it would be so painful, so all-consuming.  The work is paying off though – I’m a better, stronger, lighter, more certain person then I ever was before.  I worry that those people I left back home won’t recognize me when I come back, but that’s a silly fantasy – this curly mop is pretty much unmistakable, as is the goofy grin beneath it.  What I mean though is that I’m not who I was before – more intense, less passive, much surer of myself – I might look the same, but I sure don’t act it…  Out here, in this world, it’s great, but when I try to picture cramming this self in to that life – well, it ends in fistfights most times.
This is rambling at its worst, because I’m talking too much about myself – its Christmas, and nobody is going to sit in front of a machine and read it when there are cookies and presents to be attended to.  What I really love, looking at this email, is the list of people I’m send it to – half the world seems to be represented, at least 10 or 15 languages, each representing a life, and each life conneected to mine in some way – people I’ve kissed, people I’ve cried with, friends from childhood, friends from last week, drinking buddies, people I want at my (never happening) wedding, people I’ve ridden around in trucks with, others who have really saved my ass when I needed it most.  You’re all a part of me, and I’m just honored to have touched your lives.  Thank you all for our interactions, our small melding of lives, and may you all find what you want under the tree this year.  Merry Christmas to all, and if me and my dirty bags come barreling into your life again someday, I expect we’ll just have to celebrate.  Kiss your loved ones, smile like you mean it, and tell everyone I say hello – if they don’t know me, well, they ought to.
I love you all deeply, and no, I’m not just saying that.  -k
Y finalmente… Feliz Navidad a todos mis amigos espanoles!  Lo siento para todo ese basura arriba – algunos personas de este mundo no pueden hablar el Espanol!  Imagine…  que loco no?  No tan loco como mi gramatica terrible y falta de accentos en este correo, pero, la realidad es que mi compu falta teclas para esos, y he olvidados las combinaciones para hacerlos – es como “alt” mas una pijasa de numeros, y a mi no sirve.  Si algunas palabras son confusandas, la mas ofensiva probablamente es correcta.
Pues, es la Navidad, y todavia estoy en Centroamerica.  Hoy salgo de Leon, Nicaragua para la playa al norte – un pueblito superpequeno se llama Los Zorros.  Una amiga vive alla, y su casa es menos que 20 metros de la playa!  Porque estoy incapable de planificacion, estoy un poco solo este Navidad, pero ojala que todos ustedes sean con tus familias y amigos – no te preoccupes en mi, estoy acustumbrado a este situacion, y si no tenggo amigos mios, pues, necesitare conocer a nuevos, no?
Me extrano mucho a todos ustedes – de mi familia anfitriona de Honduras (Gustavo, porfa diga mis saludos y Feliz Navidad a todo tu familia!  He perdido el correo de sus papas.) a mis amigos de Francia, Mexico, Catalania, Guatemala, y muchos mas!  Todavia no creo mis suertes  – conocer todos ustedes ha estado un de las cosas mejores de mi vida recentamente, y planifico mantener contacto con todos.  Vivan en un parte magico del mundo, y si puedo, continuare mi vida aqui por tanto tiempo que es posible!  En serio – antes de entre Centroamerica, tenia pena que los gentes del mundo eran muy separados, solitarios, y antipaticos, pero hoy se que ese fue solo una caracteristica de mis gente, de mi pais, porque aqui todos me traten como familia. Tu amablidad y carino me importa muchisimo – no hay las palabras decir que te debo, y por eso solo puedo decir gracias para todo – son un parte de mi vida, y mi corazon siempre.  Si puedo hacer algo ayudarte, o mejorar tus vidas, simplemente digame.
Que pase un feliz Navidad, y que toda pase bien en el promixo ano (si, te puedes reir en ese error!)
Con mucho amor -k

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