Tinsel and all that

There’s no better time than the holidays to live out your childhood scars.  I don’t mean this in a bad way.  Without the proper emotional regulation and perspective Christmas time tends to be quite the shit-storm filled with highs and slight annoyances.  In my early years and right through to my teens I worshiped at the alter that was a holly jolly Christmas.  This was slowly and surely tempered by a little bit of reality, which made my perception a whole lot healthier.  Rather than expecting the perfect performance of rituals, I came to accept that the days are and should be mainly for celebrating the love you have for your friends and family.  To honor that we are so blessed to be together again.

Because I view the holidays this way I assume that I’m allowed to celebrate it even though I’m a Buddhist.  Right?  If we are celebrating the birth of a teacher, leader and compassionate individual surely he would have wanted everyone to feel that type of joy without judgement.  So now that we have that covered, the next few posts are going to center on the rituals and rites of this wonderful season.  They will take on the themes of decor, gift-giving, dinner and party planning.

For those of you who don’t know, I am a geographer and a feminist political geographer to be exact.  The concepts I study are located in human geography which is a field that theorizes place.  Therefore, when it comes to anything I believe that care and consideration to the feel of the space is very important.  How do you work with such an abstract concept?  You decorate and you decorate well.

I have a weakness for holiday aesthetics and it requires so much will power to not purchase the entire Pottery Barn catalog.  Returning to the principle of minimalism though there are just a couple of key items that you need initially: tree and stockings.  Garlands for the mantle, mercury glass trees, wreath, throw pillows, bed linens and a rug at the front-door can all come later.  So let me tease out the concept of the tree and stocking for you.

Most of my Christmases since arriving to Canada involved celebrating at someone else’s house.  Though I’m so grateful for the invitations, being a guest means that the tree was always decorated.  Now, that began my obsession with oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree.  So can you guess what I did when we moved to Massachusetts?  I got a real tree from a nearby farm and decorated it from top to bottom.  It was all mine.  From many of the lifestyle sites I read there is a method.  Apparently the best trees have repetition.  So essentially you choose a colour palate and theme, buy several of 3 to 4 ornaments and you’re set.  I actually go the sentimental route and all of my ornaments represent certain times, places and people.  Though it may not look uniform, it is special to me.

You don’t even want to know how many Christmas stockings I own.  Being a guest meant that many years I received my stocking gifts in some sort of bag.  Thank you to the lovely individuals who filled them in the first place but apparently things like this mattered to me.  Therefore, now I have monogramed red and white velvet stockings with holders that spell out “Noel.”  Dream achieved.

Have you ever heard the song “In a sentimental mood” by John Coltrane and Duke Ellington?  Every time I hear the slow, sensuous notes I am taken to somewhere hot, lazy and fine.  It’s kind of the same with the holidays.  Get yourself in the mood by making your indoor winter wonderland.  The turkey may overcook and people might be late but it won’t matter when the twinkle lights blink and your red wine goes down nice and easy.

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Subtle

When we were recently leaving a furniture store my husband commented that its contents were for Meglomaniacs.  Having heard this term readily but not fully knowing its meaning, I asked for the definition.  Apparently when it comes to matters of aesthetics, Meglomaniacs are obsessed with wealth and markers of privilege.  They lack the soft touch when it comes to displaying their accomplishments.

Now, this got me to thinking about how important subtlety is in our everyday lives.  There is a certain respect I have for straight-shooters.  Their ability to be blunt is much more appealing to me than the ones who are too afraid to say what they mean.  But I feel that relationships are easier to maintain if one strikes a balance between brutal honesty and some finesse.

The problems arise when truth bombs, whether they are warranted or not, can compromise people’s confidence.  These statements are often not precise enough.  Improvements need to be made but there are workable components too right?  But I feel like there is nothing better than having these types of people in your life.  They offer valuable opportunities for self-reflection and keep your wits sharp.  You just have to learn to pick out the useful parts of their critiques and be grateful that they help you build a thick-skin.  You will always gain more from those who push you than the ones who have nothing bad to say.

The other case for the soft touch is that no one likes to define their tasks as being only a duty.  Nine out of ten times I’m sure that people will go out of their way to do something for you.  It’s when you assume that it’s a given that there is potential for conflict.  They just want to be asked and given the privilege of saying “yes.”  I’m pretty sure that everyone is deserving of at least that right?  Also, if someone is doing you a favor, I would try to make their life as easy as possible and to save the non-essentials for when you can do it yourself.

Simplicity is a principle that I return to again and again.  Whether it’s related to fashion or home decor I feel that there is a skill associated with minimalism and something so beautiful about how it leaves room for interpretation.  When it comes to relationships I also subscribe to the notion that the most logical reading is probably your answer.  How many of us have read over texts or emails looking for something that just isn’t there.  So often “simple” is associated with lack but I disagree.  You gain so much by filtering the noise, both in terms of what you give out and what you receive.

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Blank slate

I want to buy my first house and paint it fifty shades of grey.  Most people get rid of their IKEA furniture when they move in with someone or buy their condo.  We are finally at that stage and I am so excited.  I’m using the same precision I practice to rid myself of things I do not want, to thoughtfully invest in pieces I actually want to own now.

Furniture shopping with my husband is a constant negotiation.  Ha.  Much like our marriage.  But still I’m pretty forthright when there is no room for discussion.  I think my exact words are usually “that ugly-ass lamp is not coming with us.”  His solution is to always put it in the basement.  If you ever come over to our house you’ll understand why you are not allowed down there.

I am inspired by two schools of interior design because of their warmth: arts and crafts and french country.  These styles look like actual people live in the space and it is not a transient hospital room or airport lounge.  But the reality of making a house functional for a family is that you need clean, minimalist designs with materials that can be easily washed like leather, glass and metal.  Plus, I think Andrew once cited an academic article about the connotations of low cultural capital associated with hoarding.  He’s made his point.

If we’re going with contemporary, which is a melding our tastes, then I am going to work hard to add some humanity to it.  Like with fashion I think rooms look awful when they’re too “done”.  There is always one piece that puts it just over the top and makes it camp.  The most stylish ladies look a bit undone.  Even for the boardroom there is a way to balance your business casual to look like you didn’t come straight from Ann Taylor.

But these design objectives are reliant on us committing to living in a certain place.  One time Andrew mused on how we are not “cottage people.”  Funny thing coming from someone who never had a cottage to run to every weekend in the summer.  But still, we both agreed that we’d rather go to Paris or any other place with museums and restaurants.  I sometimes think that being rooted to one city scares him because we would have to get someone to water our plants or something.

I believe that it was John Green who said, “It is so hard to leave—until you leave.  And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world.”  Moving to the States was exhausting not just physically but mentally.  Trying to make sense of all the different bureaucratic circles was harder than taking the MCATS.  But I think in some ways Andrew reveled in it.  During the snow storm last December when half of Toronto had no power, he looked to me and said, “I kind of like this because it means I have to problem-solve.”

We figure we’ll reevaluate things in five years and decide if we just commit and move to Europe.  Some people call it a plan B, we call it an exit strategy.  Furnished apartment, three suitcases, and you’re there.

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