Where the River Meets the Sea

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On vinyl since before I was born, my family had the John Denver and the Muppets record. When we upgraded to the 90s we bought it again on CD. It’s been an important part of the season throughout my life – as has the Muppet franchise as a whole.

Sesame Street is virtually a universal experience for North American children, so of course it started there. I grew up when Fraggle Rock was first aired. My parents were fans of the initial Muppet Show series in the 1970s and exposed us to the show, which helped give context for the characters in the few movies that came out in the 1980s for us. It was a major part of my upbringing, like Kids in the Hall but age-appropriate.

When Jim Henson died I was 7 years old. It was my first crushing experience with the concept of mortality, the first one that really sunk in. But as time went on – as Sesame Street continued and more movies were made – it helped my developing mind build the concept of immortality as well. Creative works remain posthumously to the creator, and legacies of the exceptionally affecting entertainers collectively live on. Even being commercialized and owned by Disney hasn’t ruined the value it played in my life.

This Christmas my sister drew my name from a hat for Secret Santa. She bought me the recently published biography of Jim Henson. It made me cry to open the gift, and will doubtless do so even more as I read it. It was not just the entertainment value of the shows, music, and movies that meant a lot, but the ideologies it portrayed. The values of those creatively responsible for entertainment are entrenched in the final product. Getting to know the life story of a remarkable influence will expose just how much of my grasp of the world, of consciousness, of purpose, and of morality aligns with what entertained my growing mind.

Secret Santa exchanges can leave you with challenges on what to buy, but I’m pretty sure my sister knew what to get me right off the top.

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Getting It Right, Year Round

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I wrapped my sister’s wedding present in what may or may not have been Christmas wrapping paper. For a moment I was mortified and wondered if I’d be ridiculed for the rest of my life.

I talked myself out of that soon after, although the initial blow to my perception of self worth resonated for a while yet. I bought a new roll of wrapping paper, one of few that wasn’t specific to birthdays at the store where I also bought a card (funny how there would be low stock of one in a place that sells the other…) and the colour scheme wasn’t ill suited – grey and dark blue and purple and white and silver. The pattern on it looked like strings of beads and circles and chandelier-type shapes resembling Victorian wallpaper but without being a pattern.

When I unrolled it upon getting home, however, by trick of the eye the circles easily became ornaments and the strings of beads could look like tinsel. It’s a stretch to say the Victorian shapes were snowflakes so that’s what I used to argue that it wasn’t Christmas wrapping paper. It was ambiguous, for all occasions. I never fully convinced myself, but I decided not to toss it and buy more (and I will admit that’s partly to save money).

I could also reason with myself that I wouldn’t be there to look at her unwrapping it because I could use avoidance tactics until she was done unwrapping everything from everyone who bought her and her husband a gift. She may be too exhausted to notice, or may simply not agree that it’s intended for the Christmas season. It’s irrelevant to the purpose of what it wraps, and the thought and time and effort put into everything else, but a joke is a joke and this might very well haunt me for years to come. It exposes what I had successfully hidden for so long: that I’m kind of imperfect.

Okay, I’ve never successfully hidden that fact. I screwed up enough times at the actual wedding for stories to last the rest of my life, not to mention the past thirty years of obvious flaws including terrible wrapping jobs. It’s a stereotype that I’m a bumbling unfeminine person who couldn’t make something look nice and put together to save my own life, and I try so hard to prove that wrong. It doesn’t matter how many neat and tidy feminine things I do right. All it takes is the wrong wrapping paper and there I am being a tomboy again, with no sense of grace or class.

It will take a mind-blowing wrapping job to break this etched impression of me, with just the right wrapping paper and an air-tight fit, with some kind of certificate of authenticity that I did in fact wrap that myself. Or I could just take the easy way out, seize control of the joke, and use Christmas wrapping paper for every gift I give in the future. But I’ll wait to see if I’m made fun of before I make that commitment to never do anything right ever again.

Sovember

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It’s already the end of November! That means so many things.

First, it means I get paid, but that happens twice every month. It’s hardly remarkable, then, and especially since so much of it is being withdrawn for my rent.

Second, it means as of tomorrow Christmas things are allowed, under my father’s house rules. But, second-dot-one, it means as of tomorrow my parents acquire a new house, so they probably have higher priorities than Christmas lights, baking, and decorations.

Third, it means my brother is shaving tomorrow. I bet his girlfriend is enthused.

Fourth, it means what was already a consumer-heavy November is going to grow into a holiday shopping frenzy. I’m not braving the malls if I don’t have to, but there are ceaseless reminders in the form of advertisements that not only ’tis the season, but that it’s a MUCH BIGGER holiday shopping season than ever. It’s no coincidence that our city saw hyped-up grand openings of Victoria’s Secret and Ikea in this past month. People were camping out overnight to shop for Scandanavian companions to their Allen keys, and it may continue to take that dedication and persistence to shop there at any point in the next month if you hope to get in and out of the store within shopping hours.

I was originally going to write of this in a post about the overexcited feeling of validation these stores seem to bring upon people, that it’s only now they’re here we live in a real city. But no, that’s not the source of this annoying disgrace. It’s just this time of year.

The Spirit of Giving

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I’ve eliminated “Christmas”. I won’t be buying gifts beyond simple stocking stuffers for family this year because we’re adults. It becomes a mixture of risk of getting the wrong thing, and having to gamble on whether something will be of equal or greater value to what that person gets me. We’re adults now; if we don’t have the means to get the things we want, that’s our responsibility. And the materialism of gift-giving is a known evil. We should be honest, and say it’s pointless to continue buying into this lie of presents being at the heart of the holiday spirit.

This frees up a few hundred bucks. I don’t really need anything with that saved money. What I want should be spaced out over time, if I want to take higher ground. What is there to do, then, with money?

  • The “Rolling Jubilee” movement, started by the Occupy Wall Street collective. This is donating money to buy debt from lenders for a lower price than was originally lent – because they are guaranteed a minor payoff as opposed to the debtor going into bankruptcy – and forgiving that debt. The kind of debts purchased are student loans or medical bills, highlighting things that are basic parts of civilized societies and yet drive people into financial ruin. Donating even $20 can relieve sufferers of hundreds of dollars owed.
  • Local charities. To make up for my lack of acting on an obvious solution to a person’s obvious need with last week’s jacket fiasco, I need to kick myself in the ass and ensure the basics are met for the people who live around me. Winter wear, food, and funding for shelters are obvious needs that nobody in a wealthy society like Canada should have unfulfilled. A jacket is the ounce of prevention.
  • International charities. Even other wealthy countries, like the US, have their people-in-need, like the New York/New Jersey victims of Superstorm Sandy. Girls’ education in misogynistic societies like areas of Pakistan where an outspoken girl named Malala got shot in the head for advocating for girls’ right to go to school. There are unfortunately no shortages of injustice or suffering, and as my extended health insurance paid entirely for a new set of contact lenses I have doubly no excuse to pretend I’m blind.
  • Microloans. As implied in the first point, I find the financial sector is loaded with bullshit and it’s unhealthy to put people in deep and haunting debt – but that $50 can turn around a family’s life across the world, and will be returned for me to lend again is a far superior financial system to bring poorer families in poorer countries to prosperity. An added benefit is that this empowers mostly women, who are often neglected by resources in their home country on the path to a thriving economy.

I’m still going to spend on myself. All of these only call for modest individual contributions. The back-patting is only secondary to visible differences as movements are recorded through mass media, through continued personal involvement, or through changes in immediate surroundings. I’m writing this not asking for advice on which to choose because I should contribute to all. It’s just more of a kick in the ass to put it out there that I acknowledge charity I can give. Enforce me to live up to this.