For most of the last 20 years I’ve been lucky enough to have the job flexibility (and enough paid-time-off) to take a few long weekends before Christmas and some time off around the holiday itself. The last several years I’ve taken all of the Fridays after Thanksgiving plus the week of Christmas (and usually through New Year’s Day). Now, one of the reasons I do that is because there are always extra tasks to do at this time of year: presents to acquire for those I love; shipping of some of those presents to far away places; food shopping for the get-togethers with friends; decorations to put up; any extra cleaning or repairs around the house that we realize need to happen because we are trying to put up decorations; et cetera. Not to mention that I write a Christmas Ghost Story every year. And then there are family obligations.
For reasons spelled out in some previous blog posts, we’ve been avoiding spending the actual holiday with my relatives. Which means that I pick a day off shortly before the holiday to drive down to my Mom’s house, drop off presents, visit with her, take her to dinner, and stop in briefly to see other family members that live in the same town. Then I come back home to my husband the same day, and we have the actual holiday just to ourselves.
So, even though technically I have been on vacation for several days, I haven’t had a single day that feels like a vacation. The first day I had to do final grocery shopping for the party, wrap presents, drop off Christmas stuff with a friend who was leaving town, do some of the cooking, and finish the ghost story. The next day we both had to finish cleaning the house, cook everything for the party, host the party (including my performance of the ghost story). And then do some of the cleaning before going to bed. The next day I needed to do more cleaning, turn some of the leftovers into soup for us to eat, watch my favorite football team lose a game they should have won handily, and wrap all the presents I’m taking to family. Then the next day I have to get up, pack the car, drive a couple hours down the freeway, do all the errands down there, drive a couple hours back.
And then it will be Christmas Eve. And at a minimum, there will be some cooking for us (and I’ll likely have to run to the store for something). And then on Christmas Day there will at a minimum be more cooking.
Please note: none of the above is meant to be a complaint or venting. These are all things I am choosing to do because I want to spend time with people that I love and so on. But, I have had more than one friend or acquaintance who has heard that I’m on vacation ping me to find out if we could do some fun activity on one of the aforementioned busy days. All four of them have been perfectly understanding of the fact that I’m all booked up for those days, so I am also not complaining about them.
What I am complaining about are the dang brain weasels in my own head that start trying to make me feel guilty and admit I am a total failure because I don’t have time for unplanned things for a few days.
And those weasels usually manifest as either the voice of my late nice grandmother or the voice of my late evil grandmother, each in their own way twisting the screws of guilt to the maximum.
I had a blast at the party. It is wonderful to see these friends, some of whom I have known and loved and been celebrating with for 34 years. I love seeing people enjoy food I have made. I love even more getting to eat wonderful things those friends bring to the party. I love chatting with and hearing those friends. I love the various performances some of them bring to answer the Ghost Story Challenge. I love seeing friend unwrap presents and express delight at their gifts.
I know there are going to be many fun moments while I’m doing my one-day zoom through with family. I know I will enjoy hanging out with my husband on Christmas Eve and whatever we decide to do that night (likely watch some Christmas movies). I know I will enjoy whatever I find in my stocking from Santa on Christmas morning. I will have fun as my husband and I open the presents from under the tree. I will enjoy whatever meals we make on those day.
All of this busyness isn’t without purpose or meaning. But sometimes at least some slices of my brain gets whiney about it. And I know I’m not the only one.
And yes, there will be some more busy days. I skipped our usual laundry day because we were prepping for the party, so one one of these coming vacation days there will be a reckoning for that. There will be more cleaning. There will be attempts to meet up with some of the friends we haven’t gotten to hang out with. There will be at least one trip to a movie theatre.
But there will also be at least a few mornings where I get to sleep in and be lazy for part of the day. I just don’t know exactly which ones, yet.
In short, it feels like my real Christmas.
When we were still all publishing a sci fi zine together, we would publicize the date and location of the party to the subscribers and contributors. And that meant we often got a lot of people who weren’t part of the regular monthly writers’ meeting crowd showing up. Which was great, but I also used to go to pains to de-emphasize the gift exchange part of the evening. I didn’t want people not to show up because they thought they were obligated to bring presents for strangers. That also means that I got in the habit of picking up and wrapping a bunch of extra presents–just in case. Because I didn’t want anyone who showed up not to get a brightly colored package to open.To pull that off, one of the things I’ve been doing for years is keeping an eye out for things to give people for Christmas all year long. So at any time after say mid-January, there is a box hiding back in the bedroom with various things in it as I slowly accumulate presents. So, for instance, if I read a book that I really, really loved earlier in the year, I’ll buy a second copy (or several) to put in the box to give to people at Christmas. I don’t always have a specific person in mind when I do, but I know that enough of my friends enjoy some of the same kinds of books as I do that there will probably be someone I can give it to.
Because of moving the year, and what a big hole it blew in our schedule for months (not to mention eating my brain), I didn’t have as many things as usual already sitting in the box by the time November rolled around. So I spent a bit more time scrambling for presents this year than I have usually done. Still, I had something for everyone, and a collection of extras. And we all had a lot of fun unwrapping things and discussing what we got or where we found that thing, et cetera.
This I got something that made me tear up a bit. It takes a bit if explaining. My friend, Keith, comes from a whole family of artists. His parents ran a commercial art company for many years, and one of their product lines were the Alaska Snowbabies Christmas ornaments, designed by his mother. I own a bunch of their ornaments, mostly from the Snowbabies line, though there are a few others. Keith, as you might expect, has a much larger collection of such ornaments, since he worked for years in the company as both a business manager and a mold designer (among other things). Keith’s parents retired and closed down the business a number of years ago, and Keith’s father has since passed away, so there haven’t been any new products for some years.
Anyway, Keith and his wife do two trees in their house most years, and he posted pictures of this year’s trees earlier in the month, and I noticed that several of the Snowbabies visible in his pictures had red Santa hats, rather than the usual white parkas, and I commented on how cute they were and that I was a little jealous.
So shortly after arriving, Keith handed me a small package and said, “And that’s from my mom.” It was very pretty paper, and it said “To Gene and Michael from Suzanne” and I thought it was odd for her to send us a present, but I wasn’t quite smart enough to put together the dots until later, when we were opening gifts and I got to hers, felt the package, and suddenly realized what it was. She’d seen my comment on line and decided I needed to have one of the later ornaments.So it’s now hanging on my tree. As she said afterward, it’s where he belongs.
Not often you get a gift straight from the artist, right?
“For those alone today, I didn’t find my one until I was 30. She was 50. There’s no ticking clock on finding the right partner.”
I’ll just add that there are many kinds of love. That you can love and be loved without being in a relationship. That you can find love and be loved by more than one person. That a lot of love is discarded or missed by some people because they assume that the relationship escalator is true and that all relationships have to ride that thing to the exact same destination.
And don’t believe the myth that you can’t love others until you learn to love yourself. Sometimes, it works the other way around. Sometimes, letting someone you love into your life is what helps you find the lovable in yourself. Love isn’t always symmetrical and mutual. And it doesn’t have to be.
We’re celebrating a friend’s birthday with a group of mutual friends today. Because love is love.
This year’s party was a milestone in a couple of ways. For me, it’s now been 30 years celebrating Christmas in Seattle with a group of friends that includes Keith and Mark. It has also been 20 years since the first time that I wrote an original Christmas Ghost Story to read at the party. Since the first one was written and read 20 years ago, that means this year’s story was the 21st such tale. I’ve mentioned before (Conjuring the proper ghosts) about the the variations I’ve explored under the notion of a Christmas Ghost story. Several of the tales have been set in a hard science fiction universe and tended to use more metaphorical ghosts, for instance. I’ve written comedic ghosts, dramatic ghosts, grim ghosts, and hopeful ghosts.
This year’s story had a fairy tale approach. It was the fifth or sixth Christmas Ghost Story that I’ve written set in the same universe as my fantasy novels. I’ve described this particular universe as a light fantasy world using anthropomorphic tropes with an epic fantasy wrapper. So the novels have sorcerers and dragons and knights and epic battles. The Ghost Stories have tended to be a lot more intimate. The most recent one before this year’s was a comedic murder mystery in which one of the constables in the City Watch is confronted by a headless ghost on Solstice Eve to kick of the action. This year’s was a more serious tale, and I think for the first time since I started doing this, directly related to one of the others. It’s actually a prequel to a funny Christmas Ghost Story which, it happens, was mostly written originally long-hand while I was staffing a table in the Dealer’s Den of Midwest Furfest.I had a costume this year. Michael talked me into getting a Father Christmas costume for our friends’ Halloween party (to go along with a devil costume he got to do a silly pun). He’s been talking about getting me some sort of Santa suit or similar to wear to the Christmas party for a few years. This was wasn’t bad. It needs some more work, if I’m going to use it again.
Anyway, one of the Ghost Story ideas that’s been sitting in my queue for a while involved my fantasy world’s version of Santa, who is “one of the oldest of the dark fae” and goes by the name Grandfather Frost. If you know your cross-cultural history, Grandfather Frost is the usual English translation of the Russian character Ded Moroz, which means literally Old Man Frost. In the original Slavic myths he was a snow demon or a winter wizard—generally a creature to be feared. As the Orthodox Church took hold in those regions, some aspects of Saint Nicholas were grafted onto the character he became more like our Santa.
So, since I had the costume, and since some other aspects of the fantasy novel I’m working on were related to Grandfather Frost, I wound up in late October starting a Ghost Story about the character. I had a good start before NaNoWriMo, so I figured this year the story would be done early for a change. No such luck. I had been hung up at about 1200 words for a few weeks into December before I finally figured out where I was going wrong and got the tale straightened out.
People seemed to enjoy the story. Yay! I need to get a couple of short story collections together and either self-publish them or something.
This week I’m in that weird headspace I often find myself in after the party. Spending time with this group of friends, exchanging gifts, and continuing the Ghost Story Challenge tradition (this year Mark and Edd each had a story ready to read to answer the challenge) feels like my “real” Christmas. So I end up feeling a little weird during the days between the party and actual Christmas day. I keep having to stop myself from asking people how their Christmas went, past tense. Or from wishing strangers a Happy New Year.
Today I need to finish packing up the car to head down to Mom’s where I’m going to deliver presents. If all goes well, I’ll be stopping off at Mom’s, one of my sisters’, my older niece, my aunt, and a friend I haven’t seen in person in many years. It’ll be a bit of a whirl, but should be fun. And I hope I wind up saying “Merry Christmas” enough that I remember that Christmas isn’t quite here, yet.
Happy Solstice! Merry Christmas! And have a great day!
I love overcast days with light rain. It’s my very favorite weather, so it was like nature was giving me a birthday present. I posted to twitter and got caught up on personal email until I was out of coffee. But the weather was so nice that after I unlocked the door and refilled my coffee, I grabbed one of our cloth folding/picnic chairs and my iPad and went back onto the porch. I sat there, reading, visiting with a neighbor, watching three bluebirds have a fight, and so forth for for a few hours… Read More…
Particularly in the online world, February 14th is a terrible mine field. You can’t go online without running into angry rants and bitter commentary about those of us who are happy on this day. If you make the mistake of actually admitting that you are happy and wish other people a happy day, someone’s feelings will be hurt. If you try to avoid the topic altogether, someone will ask you why you’re not waxing eloquent about your husband/boyfriend (or wife/girlfriend or whatever significant others you normally talk about). When I avoided saying anything anywhere online at all one year on February 14, I got an angry message accusing me of being too busy celebrating with my boyfriend to even spare a moment to help some of my single friends feel less unloved.
How can you possibly answer that?
Not that I don’t understand where all these mixed feelings come from. I do. I haven’t always been in a relationship. I got so used to being in the emotional space of being single and not terribly happy about it, that it’s still something of a shock to me every morning to wake up and discover I’m not alone. Even after seventeen wonderful years with Michael. So, yes, I understand what it’s like to be single.
I know what it felt like seeing people happily paired off when I wasn’t. I knew the pain of being completely smitten with someone who was in love with one of my best friends. I knew the double-pain of having a crush on a guy and not being able to share my misery with anyone else or seek sympathy from anyone because not even my closest friends knew I wasn’t straight. So I understand, really, I do, why just seeing Michael and I together being happy can cause someone else heartache.
There were times I felt that heartache. There were times I said something to one of my friends that might have made them feel guilty for being in a relationship. There were times I lashed out, making a snide remark to make them hurt as much as I did. So I understand where the negative comments come from.
I’ve had the incredible luck (and luck does have more than a little bit to do with it) of falling madly and deeply in love with someone who loved me back. When you find that kind of relationship it’s impossible to keep it to yourself. You want people to know what a great person your significant other is. You want to share the joy with your family and friends. Even when you’re a gay man living in a very homophobic society, it’s very difficult to be in love and keep it a secret. So I understand why people want to talk about their relationship with other people they care about.
I don’t need the calendar to remind me to tell Michael I love him. I don’t need a holiday to give me an excuse to buy him presents. More than once we’ve celebrated Valentine’s Day by just taking an exhausted nap together. I don’t think we have ever remembered to make reservations for a dinner at a restaurant on the big day. Michael scolds me for buying flowers on the day because prices are always jacked up. Just a few days ago I asked him if he wanted his Valentine’s gift then (since it had arrived that day), or wanted me to wait until the actual day.
I don’t believe in the so-called coupled ideal. I don’t believe that there is one and only one soulmate out there for everyone. I don’t believe that no one is capable of loving more than one person at a time. And I don’t believe that everyone would be happiest if they were in a relationship with their “one true love.”
But I refuse to feel guilty for being in love. When I was single and made other people feel guilty, their guilt didn’t alleviate my loneliness by one iota. When I lashed out and hurt their feelings, it didn’t get me one step closer to happiness. All that happened was they were hurt, and I wallowed in self-pity.
So, it’s Valentine’s Day. The eve of the Ides of February, which was the beginning of an ancient Roman celebration of fertility and purity (hard for some people to believe those go together). Some parts of the Roman festival were rather shocking to the prudish sensibilities of the early Catholic church, which is probably the reason that a pope declared Feb. 14 the Feast of St. Valentine in 498 AD. The oldest surviving Valentine Greeting (a love letter which specifically mentions St. Valentine’s Day as a day to celebrate one’s love) is a letter written by the Duke of Orleans to his wife in 1415, while she was imprisoned in the Tower of London (take that, everyone who claims the holiday was invented by greeting card companies; in fact it was the other way around).
For the last several years, the biggest celebration we’ve done on Valentine’s Day is meeting up with a bunch of friends to celebrate our friend Jared’s birthday. It’s an evening of laughter and love with a diverse group—some single, some not. The important thing is that we’re together and not mired in bitterness nor guilt.
On the day itself, Michael left two presents for me to find while I was getting ready to go to work: a polo shirt with the Tardis embroidered on it, and the War Doctor’s sonic screwdriver. There was also a very sweet card that made me a bit teary-eyeed. He knows me so well! When I got home from work there was a much sillier card, and two more presents: a string of Tardis lights (we might end up doing another science fiction themed Christmas tree, at this rate), and in a plot twist I didn’t see coming, a pair of Princess Bride pint beer glasses.Then we walked up to my favorite restaurant for dinner. As often happens there, they gave me extra full glasses of wine. Both of my favorite waitresses were there. I had learned last year when we had my birthday dinner there that one of the waitresses has her birthday the day before mine, so I got to wish her a happy birthday. Even though I didn’t have room for dessert, they insisted I take home a slice of chocolate cake.
I had invited a bunch of our friends to meet us at AFK Tavern (where so many of our group outings happen) on Saturday afternoon. Since I needed to make reservations before everyone had time to let me know whether they would be there, I had to guess. We wound up with three more people than my upper-end guesstimate, so you will notice in the first picture we’re a bit squeezed in.
I had a lot of fun. This was the first time at AFK for Julie, Julie’s Mike, Jon, Sheryl, Chuck, and Mark, I believe. I only had three Fluttershy Mai Tais, plus a pint of Swill (which is actually a really delicious ale).
We were there about four hours.
I got a bunch of presents. A cool plant (which is going into the office, I think; I’ve had a window for over a year and keep saying I need a plant or two, so here goes!), a set of Tardis & Dalek salt & pepper shakers, the Firefly edition of Clue (which I didn’t even know existed!), a Seahawks stocking cap, two pairs of dark maroon/purple fuzzy socks (in men’s size!), iTunes gift card, not to mention some really cool cards.
My big present from Michael is still on its way. After years of me being unsuccessful at finding a Smith-Corona Silent-Super model manual typewriter in pink with white keys (sometimes called the “Easter Edition”) that was in at a price I could afford or had not already sold to someone else, he found one. It’s not in pristine condition, but the place that sells it does a lot of manual typewriter restorations and has a good reputation, so when they say it is in working order, that they’ve cleaned and serviced it, et cetera, I believe them.
I had a great time. I was so glad that so many folks could join us.
It was a fantastic birthday!
Some mornings I wake up, it’s dark, the clock radio may have started playing NPR’s Morning Edition, which means the alarm will be going off soon. Which does not fill me with joy, because I’m never quite ready to wake up and get out of bed.
But about then my husband comes back into the bedroom. He goes into work earlier than I do, needing to leave before my alarm even goes off. Anyway, he walks into the room, he may turn on the lights because he’s looking for something, or he may just need to grab one thing. The important thing is he walks into the room, and a fun thing happens.
I remember that I’m married to that man.
It’s not like I have amnesia or something, but there’s a part of me that is always pleasantly surprised to remember that I’m not alone. Not only am I not alone, but I have the best husband in the world. He’s smart. He’s funny. He’s sweet. He’s cute. He’s sexy. He’s very practical. One of my friends once described Michael as the most capable person he’s ever known. He can fix things—all kinds of things!—and he likes doing it. He can take a pile of fresh vegetables and turn it into several very neat piles of very nicely sliced vegetables in the amount of time a normal person would spend deciding which knife to use. He cooks. He cleans. He puts up with me (not exactly the easiest person to get along with). He puts up with all my weird hobbies and projects. He’s cheerful, even after living with me for over 16 years. His response to any disaster is not, “how can I fix this,” but rather, “I have a plan to deal with this.”
And did I mention that he’s sexy?
As if having this wonderful man in my life wasn’t already more good fortune than I deserve, my life has also been graced with a large assortment of wonderful friends. It’s hard to know where to begin, but here goes: Read More…
It’s a lot of fun.
It’s especially fun when our involvement in a particular enthusiasm is new. One of the reasons why is that when we first discover a new book or series or band that we really like, often most of our existing friends have never heard of it. And we may try to get them interested, and it doesn’t grab them quite the way it does us. And we may think that maybe this new thing isn’t as cool as we think it is, or maybe worry that we’re boring our friends. So if we then find some people who are as enthusiastic as we are about the new thing, we suddenly feel validated. “Yes! I’m not alone!”
But the sweet spot is where we have found a new thing, found new people who seem nice and like this new thing as much as we do, and where at least some of our closest friends also like this new thing as much as us. That’s a win-win-win!
Sometimes that triple-win can be misleading. Let me explain… Read More…