What to do when you hear yourself say, “The holidays can suck it!”

An excerpt from a lengthy out-of-the-blue rant given in the direction of my poor spouse, by me: “THE HOLIDAYS CAN SUCK IT! I have done ZERO shopping. No one is getting ANY presents. I don’t care WHAT we eat. We can have peanut butter and jelly FOR ALL I CARE!”

To his credit, my spouse didn’t reference that particular rant again, opting instead to let it evaporate into the ether like it never happened. (Although the next day he suggested we consider setting up a regular food delivery system via Amazon Pantry. “One less thing to stress us out,” he said. He’s known me for awhile.)

Even though I laughed about my rant later that day, I was troubled. It seems to me that shouting “the holidays can suck it” and really meaning it, is not me being my best self. It’s probably a sign that something is off. And more troubling still, I continue to carry the residue of that sentiment, I’m just not saying it out loud….as much.

So I made a list (like you do this time of year, and checked it twice, etc.) It’s for me, but if it gives anyone else inspiration or comfort, then I’d love to hear that.

What to do to de-suckify my attitude, get myself together, and stop being a Grinchy jerk:

  1. Check myself and don’t spread the suck. This season is fun and meaningful for some; for others it’s a damn difficult time of year. I don’t need to suck the joy out of people who are riding the wave of holiday cheer, and I don’t need to make folks who are struggling feel worse. So, shut up, Tamara. [See also: Check your privilege. There’s a lot of legit bad shit happening in the world, so get a grip about your stocking stuffers. ]
  2. Contain the suck. Find an appropriate container and pour the sucky feelings into that, and only that. Appropriate containers: a journal, a friend who gets me, a spouse who understands that I’m not always a crabby, mean-spirited person — basically someone or something that will listen without comment or judgement. Like #1 above, don’t pour your suck on everyone who happens to pass by.
  3. Name it, don’t shame it. When a feeling arises, I skip straight to asking whether I should have that feeling or I deserve to have that feeling or whether that feeling is appropriate. If I decide that I shouldn’t feel that feel, then I squash it or ignore it. This is a bad idea because it backs up my feeling tubes — which is a fancy term for the channels that your feelings flow out of when you need to release them and move on. If you’re not a scientist, then that probably didn’t make sense to you, but I’m just saying when I work really hard to deny feelings, then my feeling tubes get clogged and that’s problematic. So, hence forth, I will name the feeling that I’m feeling, and regardless of whether my brain thinks it’s ‘appropriate’ I’m going to hang with it for awhile. I’m gonna do some observing and feeling and chill out with that feeling until I decide whether to kick it out like an unwanted guest or take it on the town and introduce it to all my friends. Either way, it’s gonna flow. Cuz I don’t need to control the feeling. I need to manage the action that I take because of it. Or something like that?
  4. Breathe. My therapist told me I’m bad at breathing. Well, she didn’t say “bad”, but that was the upshot. We were doing belly breathing exercises that I totally goofed which was so irritating because I’m like, an actor, and I can breathe….most days. But it’s true, I couldn’t breathe while lying on the floor of my therapist’s office. My belly wouldn’t cooperate and all my breathing muscles were too tight. I looked like a fish on dry land. “Your body isn’t helping your emotional state,” she said, “Calm your body to calm your emotions.” Over here, I’m practicing my breathing.
  5. Go deep. Anger isn’t my go-to emotion; I generally try out all the other ones first before arriving at anger. (The reasons for that are 1. I’m not an angry person, I’m more of a sad person. 2. I’ve internalized that anger is so wrong that I’d rather implode than actually express anger even in a healthy way. Yay, me!) Anyway, I’ve learned over time that Epic Crankiness is the final stop before I really go to Crazy Town, so for me, getting angry is a definite sign that I need to slow down and figure out what’s really going on. Anger is me masking the deeper questions and concerns that I’m struggling with, but don’t want to actually deal with. Going deep is a drag….but it’s necessary.
  6. Be grateful. How embarrassing that I get so caught up in childish First World problems that I forget who surrounds me and how lucky I am and how exceptional my life is!!! Gratitude journaling STAT. Gratitude is good medicine.
  7. Take care. We know kids often act out to get attention. We know that self-care is a really important component to maintaining a healthy mental state. So when I hear myself saying shitty kid words, well then, I think that means I need to give myself attention and take better care of myself. It was hard for me to type that sentence. I find self-care really confusing… but gosh, I think…it’s important? Cuz here’s the thing — after venting about the Great Holiday-Suckfest, I  went to a play and saw some friends, and I LAUGHED. I stretched before bed. I ate an actual dinner. I went right to bed instead of staying up late stoking my anxiety. And in the morning, I could picture a season with some cheer. I didn’t do those things on purpose to make myself feel better, but all those accidental care-taking things had a noticeable effect. Imagine if I actually put my mind to taking care…of me.

I have two small children. Christmas will come to our house. The question is, “How will I show up?”

I wish you a gentle season of love and ease and just the right amount of fun.

Praise for libraries, clogs…the list goes on

It’s that blessing-counting time of year again. It’s good, right? To be reminded once a year (cuz we need reminding!) to count our blessings and to explain to our kid what thanksgiving means. After this year’s explanation of thanksgiving/Thanksgiving/gratitude, my daughter told me she was thankful for lollipops. I told her I was thankful for her and our family and a warm place to live. I asked her if she was thankful for anything like that, and she said, “No, just lollies.”

Right. Better luck next time.

Yes, I’m truly madly deeply grateful for my family and friends and my job and my home and theatre-making  and the multitude of amazing obvious-to-me blessings in my life. However, when making this year’s gratitude list, I decided to a take a step beyond the knee-jerk gratitude items that are always on the tip of my tongue. Once I started digging in, I was reminded that I’m grateful for so much. There’s so much.

Below, you’ll see the first ten (somewhat random and sometimes superficial) items I added to my gratitude list. I will tell you that my day got much better after brainstorming a gratitude list. Suddenly, I caught the gratitude virus, and I was thankful for LOTS and EVERYTHING. (I’m grateful for this tissue, so I can blow my nose. I’m grateful for this window, so I can see the sky. I’m grateful for this hot shower, because HOT SHOWERS ARE SO AWESOME. Only two things are more awesome than a hot shower. I’ll let you guess what those are.) Being grateful from moment to moment for LOTS and EVERYTHING feels really good.

Although I suspect this is true for many people, I know that I take much for granted in my life. This is unfortunate, not only because it decreases the pleasure I take from my life and the gifts of my life, but also because by taking so much for granted, I also make the assumption that everyone has what I have — which we know is not true — and I become complacent and complicit in perpetuating the inequality and inequity in this world. Many many people don’t have hot showers, or showers, or clean water to drink, let alone bathe in. [See The Water Project. See Half the Sky. See Save the Children. See Durham Rescue Mission. See Hidden Voices.]

A sampling of ten items from the long list of things for which I’m grateful:

  1. Libraries.  One of the first things I did after moving to Durham (that is, after finding a place to live and locating the Whole Foods) was get my library card. The library is a place where I feel safe and hopeful — answers are in the library, stories are in the library, knowledge is in the library, Storytime is in the library!– all available for free. My weekly visit to the public library gives me great joy. Public libraries are a beautiful gift to the community.
  2. Health Insurance. Listen, without health insurance, my family could be very broke, or very sick, or very anxious. It ain’t cheap, but it’s affordable and it’s comprehensive. That’s something everyone should have, don’t you think? Go, Obamacare.
  3. Smooth roads + good signage + our old GPS. Like many people, I spend a lot of time in my car. Unlike many people, I am directionally challenged. I never know where North is; I can’t call up a mental street map; I don’t have one of those smart phones with Google Maps. I am always .005 seconds away from being completely utterly lost. Good roadside signage plus a GPS are key to arriving on time (I was going to say “key to my survival” which feels true, but is not true). Also, both of our cars have passed the 10 year mark, so driving on a bumpy, pothole-pocked road is noisy, uncomfortable and could quickly result in a trip to the mechanic. Sure, there’s a ginormous cavernous pothole right outside the gas station near my house, but otherwise, we’re lucky to live in an area with roads in good repair. Me = grateful
  4. Music for children that doesn’t suck. Since we have to listen to the same songs and CDs five billion times in a row (Did I mention that I’m in the car too much? Did I mention that my child is the boss of me?), it’s nice to have children’s music that (mostly) doesn’t make me want to rip my face off. Thank you, Laurie Berkner Band. Thank you, various Putumayo CDs. Thank you, Elizabeth Mitchell.
  5. Clogs. Yes, I said clogs — don’t judge. Dansko, LL Bean, Target-brand, whatever. Easy  to slide on and off; comfy clogs make me two inches taller without hurting my feet. And they look dressy? Sort of? I only have two pairs, but if I could be the Imelda Marcos of clogs, then I would be.
  6. People who grow food in their own gardens and keep their own chickens. I love the idea of this. These people are super cool.  I aspire to be these people…sadly, I have a hysterical aversion to ticks, my daughter has an egg allergy, sometimes chickens frighten me with their cold, beady eyes, and I manage to kill all of my plants sooner or later. This is not my thing. Thank goodness people do this. Thank goodness they share with me. Wait, hold up….actually, I’m grateful for all farmers (of the small and large scale variety, and especially those who practice humane and environmentally-sensitive agriculture). That’s some damn hard work. Thank you, farmers, for feeding me.
  7. Doulas. Giving birth is rather, um, intense. A good doula rocks. (My doula literally rocked me.)
  8. Free-to-the-public places to be and stuff to see, such as public parks, playgrounds, nature trails, beaches, museums, public works of art. (I’m noticing a trend here with numbers 1, 2, 3, and 8.) Thank you to the folks who make and keep those free public spaces available (and keep them clean and safe and beautiful).
  9. Though-provoking and lightly snarky podcasts. (These are free too  – once you buy the MP3 player and computer, of course) Here are some of my favorites:  BBC casts (Women’s Hour, Forum — A World of Ideas), Inside Acting, Slate Magazine casts (Double X, Culture, Political, Lexicon Valley), Audio Dharma, American Theatre Wing, On Being with Krista Tippett, TED. My secret wish is to have my own podcast. Until then, I listen with pleasure to the podcasts of others. Let me know if you have favorites to suggest.
  10. Funny people.  Here’s the truth – if you make me laugh and keep me laughing (and laugh at my jokes too), then I will love you. I don’t even have to know you  — you could be a complete stranger to me on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me or SNL or just have something to do with creating the Planters Peanut ad that says “Spend this holiday with the nuts you love.” I love you for keeping my spirits up in this challenging world, in these challenging times.  Yes. Love.

So, what are your less-obvious gratitude items? I’m curious.

You can learn about yourself, and learn about other people by sharing your gratitude lists. See, now you have a fun, revealing, inspiring and free(!) party game!

Counting my blessings. Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving.

I’ll be back on Dec. 3.