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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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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Dotted line

There is no better motivator, the thing that gets you down to business, than looking to buy a home.  Yes, please let me go into debt so that I can live out the American dream of owning property.  Where do I sign?  But seriously though, when the price is right and the interior is nice I sometimes say, what, is this house haunted?  All jokes aside though it’s so motivating to see your starter home within reach especially after years of being a graduate student.

I also am living in a town in Massachusetts where housing prices are reasonable and you can obtain some beautiful properties and still not be a slave to your work.  The white picket fences naturally fit in a community where people hold open doors, ask “how you doing?” and smile.  They actually strive to be good neighbors.  God, I come from a city where everyone minds their own business and if someone smiled at me on the street I’d wonder if they were about to rob me.  This place is wearing down some of the cynicism.  Slightly.  It’s nice not to be a big grump anymore.

What I feel more reflexive about is how I used to feel sorry for those who didn’t live in large urban centers.  For awhile Toronto was the centre of the universe and those who were not within her orbit were just dreadfully unlucky.  But the fact is, I would roll my eyes at the old me.  There are different ways of living and being.

There are self-important people who feel that their bleeding hearts do the world a service.  Even if you sent them an email with images of your new house and tell them that your dreams of escrow finally came true, they would find a way to feel sorry for you.  Because you know, you might feel at home but you live in the country.  To these individuals I just want to draw a distinction between empathy and taking away someone’s agency.  Not everyone wants to be just like you.  If someone is struggling, of course be supportive, open and there but they can probably do without your worry.  Because these types of interactions quickly become stale and can even verge on toxic.  They just might take the next flight out of town to not be stifled by the weight of your expectations.  Chill.

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