December 27, 2005

On Christmas/Nativity/Navidad

Christmas is like hurtling through space at ten thousand miles an hour, then landing in an ocean in a watertight capsule --- you run frantic for about thirty-two days, then burst into Christmas Day to float around, numb, experiencing everything through the clear plastic of your materialistic stupor. Or am I the only one who does that?

Of course, Christmas the American holiday is something completely different from Nativity (or Navidad, letís say --- itís Spanish and sounds prettier). And while I had a very nice Christmas this year, I canít say I had a great Navidad. I did good on buying presents (and hooking up my momís new DVD player in a reasonable amount of time) and getting presents, but I really havenít had any perceptible awareness of the stunning reality of God as a baby.

I went with my parents to an 11:00 Christmas Eve service at their very large, very (very) Protestant church, and when I found out there would be communion, I froze. There was something off about it --- taking communion in a setting in which I was neither a part of the congregation nor was there a very strong sense of mysteryÖI just couldnít do it. So, after a swirl of indecisive emotions, instead of going down front to get grape juice and a wafer, I stayed in my pew. My dad took it personally, like I was protesting going to service with him instead of going to Nativity liturgy at St. Antony like I wanted, and my brother thought I was being a snob. I came home and fixed an eggnog a little heavy on the rum, but it tasted gross, so I fixed another, rumless glass.

I guess what Iím saying here is that my Nativity spirituality this year was much like my everyday spirituality: hit and miss, distinctly sucky, feeling that I should be experiencing something completely different and that itís entirely my own fault that Iím not.

Anyway, even though I didnít have a powerful Navidad, Christmas was quite alright. I got a book called Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman. Hereís a great quote:

I have countless friends who describe themselves as ďcynical,Ē and theyíre all wrong. True cynics would never classify themselves as such, because it would mean that they know that their view of the world is unjustly negative; despite their best efforts at being grumpy, a self-described cynic is secretly optimistic about normal human natureÖ.The same goes for any one who claims to be ďcreative.Ē If you describe your personality as creative, it really only means you understand what is perceived to be creative by the world at large, so youíre really just following a rote creative template. Thatís the opposite of creativity. Everybody is wrong about everything, just about all the time.

I commented on this quote to my mom, and she said she completely agreed, that the people who most think of themselves as wise are actually usually the most unwise. She has this friend who likes to pontificate, and in so doing he sounds like an idiot.

So even though I simply donít perform well when it comes to being spiritual, I certainly prefer screwing up to getting things right all the time (or ever), because the second I think IĎm doing great is the second IĎll be doing completely ungreat. BUT, in thinking, ďWell, I must be getting something right because Iím not getting anything right,Ē have I immediately crossed back over into getting things un-right?

Maybe I just shouldnít think about it. Maybe thereís a kind of innocence to Getting It Right.

Bah. Anyway, my mom, despite finding her friendís pearls of wisdom always pretentious and occasionally insane, likes him. Which led me to a certain epiphany: You donít have to like everything about someone to like him or her. Iíve always felt kind of guilty for noticing my friendsí flaws. But being aware of someoneís annoying little idiosyncrasies --- and being annoyed by them --- isnít the same as condemning that person to unquenchable fires of death in your mind. You can love someone and be annoyed by him simultaneously. Itís great.

Anyway, God bless us, every one. If there is spirituality to be found in the mandolin of Chris Thile (of Nickel Creek --- I got his solo CD for Christmas), I shall surely find it. I just hope I donít get anything Right.

December 19, 2005


Book tip: The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith. I just finished it last weekend. I loved it, but I didn't know I loved it until I finished the last page. I like books like that. There were a lot of great, subtle commentary paragraphs at various points in the storyline, but here is one of my favorites:

"I said it was going to be better, not feel better," said Adam, and he was deadly serious. "It is better, even if you can't feel it."

Alex laughed sullenly and set about a cuticle with his teeth. "There's no other good but feeling good," he said, shaking his head. "Ads, that's what good is. That's what you've never understood. It's not a symbol of something else. Good has to be felt. That's good in the world."

That's, like, my whole life. Right there.

Music tip: "Hour Follows Hour" by Ani DiFranco. This is one of those songs that's so beautiful it makes me feel like even my imperfections are okay, because I'm in the presence of this beautiful song, and my good points are immaterial, swallowed up. And thus, it has now tied with "Cannonball" by Damien Rice as my favorite song of all time.

09:23 PM

December 06, 2005

On Beauty

Iím a horrible person. Tonight, my mother was scrambling to get my brother out the door for his band concert when she turned to me and said, ďYouíll go, Jess, wonít you? I donít know how to work the camera.Ē And rather than supporting my brother and helping my mom, all I could think about was how badly I didnít want to go because I didnít want to see anyone from my high school. For one thing, I didnít have any makeup on.

But I went, and grumpily stepped into the sports arena where I once played basketball. Everything was the same: the ďwarriorsĒ mural, the noisy plastic seats, the warehouse smell. Only a few of the same people, but plenty of the same types: The Carhartt jackets, the diminutive moms in Christmas sweaters, the guy with residual 80s metal-band hair.

My job for the evening was to take pictures of my brother with the rest of the band court, the guys in their suits and the girls in their prom dresses. And as I snapped photos, I wished desperately, sickly, that I had been beautiful in high school.

I wouldnít even think so much about being beautiful now, though God knows I fight that fight every day, if I could just have some memory of being a beautiful teenage girl for any length of time at all.

But I wasnít. And Iím not trying to elicit sympathy --- my unbeauty had as much to do with presentation as with genetics. You could say I was sort of post-grunge, lots of loose-fitting clothes, almost never something that hadnít been given to me, and I had rather shoddy posture. No makeup. And I donít even want to talk about my hair.

It was a guy, of course. In eighth grade, I heard a ninth grader say something about me, something cruel. And I knew that even if I had once been a bright, smart, funny kid, I had failed to make the jump to being a pretty young lady. Somehow that one sentence stayed with me, and maybe part of me gave up on becoming a beautiful woman. Stupid guy. And stupid me.

Beauty is all about confidence, they say. Maybe Iíll yet achieve some sort of beauty with a little lipstick and bravado. Or maybe Iíll just forget it and say Iím going for that unassuming beauty thing. Either way, the task at hand is to figure out a way to resist the temptation to spend half my next paycheck on clothes. The taxes and fees for the car I bought in November totaled approximately seven million dollars, making for a very lean December in which I canít afford to assuage my insecurity with a trip to Express.

Hotness may or may not be nigh, and my teenage years are simply gone. And in those high school pictures of me, maybe thereís a girl whoís a little cute and a lot shy, but she certainly isnít enjoying four carefree years as a teen beauty queen. In any case, Iíve decided to cut her a break, not judge her so harshly. I canít get my prom back, but Iíll fight tooth and nail for my sanity.

And just for good measure, I shall be sure to wear makeup tomorrow.

Song of the day: ďIoĒ by Helen Stellar. Lyric sample: ďThis time around / you can be anything Ö you can be anyone / This time around.Ē

10:40 PM