I wanted to do something at work, a something that included everyone. Christmas is upon us after all. My first idea originated with finding pictures of everyone when they were younger. I mostly succeeded and especially enjoyed a few that were very difficult to find. Erika prompted me to do something more ornate… which also coincides with my innate tendency toward ostentatious. It took on a life of its own. I loved the reactions of people who were tickled by both the display and the delight of seeing people differently than they had before. A reminder that we are not simply workers and that each of us has a road behind us. Each of us has our own idea of what Christmas means. I would trade it all if everyone substituted in its place a year-long effort to surprise people with small gifts and small affections. And yes, even pictures that make some people cringe at the way they once looked.
I looked at my Christmas column filled with pictures after I turned the warehouse lights off this morning to observe the brilliant color where such color is usually absent. A column of interconnected people. It might as well have been a tapestry of everyone on the planet.
I thought to myself, “I made that!” I took an idea and added a little work and made it a reality.
Erika’s brother drew the original. I spent an inordinate amount of time meticulously creating and editing a png version of his artwork. I started with a picture I snapped of the artwork. There’s something intangible about this Santa, rendered with hundreds of deliberately layered scribbles. It seemed like I owed it to Chris, even though he’s gone and I never met him.
This Santa captures the unkempt fatigue of attempting to reward everyone with the Xmas gifts they deserve. (Much less the horror of knowing who has been naughty or nice.) I joke that Santa could make a fortune selling the naughty list to certain people!
As I do every year, especially now that it’s Black Friday… Don’t let the season distract you from enjoying it the way you want. For some, it is a religious celebration. For others, it is a social season, one punctuated by gatherings, bacchanalian feasts with friends, family, and events. Some sit quietly and simmer in melancholy of bittersweet remembrances of the people who’ve left them.
Xmas is what YOU want it to be. Not the traditions you don’t cherish, not the obligatory exchanging of gifts. You are housed in a body that is a gift in itself. Being yourself and radiating your wit, humor, and affection is more than enough for the people who appreciate you.
Of all gifts I enjoy, I like the goofy, surprising ones. And most of those are moments, not things.
Don’t get me wrong, I love someone surprising me with an ornate toilet seat, a collection of foul-tasting novelty candies, or even a ream of colored paper. It means that person likes me enough to have taken the time to surprise me. It also means that they are happy enough to want to share a sliver of that with me.
Giving people are rarely joyous. Have you noticed that?
Many people loathe that Xmas starts early, especially the music that often accompanies it. They complain about trees showing up in houses “too early.” The stores loaded with commercial offerings. I don’t understand that. To each his own.
The Xmas season is when people can surprise others without the pretext of a reason. Even a hug and a “Merry Xmas,” or whatever salutation you prefer.
I’ll put a picture below, one I made a long time ago – and one that surfaces on the internet with frequency.
When the Sun is at the right angle, my apartment is washed inside and out by hundreds of simultaneous prism rainbows. I leave the blinds open for the ficus tree. Sometimes Guino and I sit here in relative silence and let the colors fill the room. We both watch the beauty as it travels omnidirectionally.
Güino is with me on my lap as I did the short video of me near the window.
“It’s 100 times better than yours, though,” I reply.
“I didn’t tell any jokes.”
“Exactly!” I usually reply. .* I modified the social media meme by exchanging one word; it changed everything.
You don’t have to write, draw, paint, make music, dance, or any of the other million ways to express yourself. But in failing to do so, your life exudes monochrome dullness. Whatever you love doing or creating, do it. You don’t have to do it well. I’ve never seen a newborn baby play Chopin or Merle Haggard. Even if you’re sixty and find enjoyment in whatever form of expression, feeling like you must be an expert is pure insanity.
A beginner’s mind – a beginner’s heart.
Remember when you did something with enthusiasm? Regardless of the result?
Well, the clock is ticking.
There will always be critics.
Even if you do it PERFECTLY, it will not be to everyone’s liking or taste.
Before reading this post, you should read the original post from 2014, at least on this website.:
My favorite cousin and a friend conspired to make me this etch-a-sketch rendition of my grandparent’s porch. It was a beautiful and creative piece of work, one which I loved. Such personalized gifts are rare indeed in this life.
It was destroyed in a fit of anger. Not by me, of course. That I would dare to write about it might trigger a couple of people. It’s my tarnished truth to share.
The strange thing is this: I’m different than most people. A memory of a thing is just as precious as the ‘thing’ itself. The destruction of this beautiful gift only amplified the memory. That someone let anger gain so much control of them is unfortunate; they were possessed by the demon of a lesser god. I didn’t feel anger when I saw that someone had destroyed it. I felt only disappointment. It’s a reminder that anger is relative and that its justification is a sign of a larger problem. No matter what someone has done, it is very hard for me to imagine letting myself destroy something so personal and precious to spite another person. Or let someone else do so. Even if I deserved it or – or even if they do. Anger is the worst filter for reason. It justifies everything in its wake. It is one of the slippery slopes of life. I watched as my parents and a few other family members allowed that to consume them.
Regardless, the loss of this reminded me that everything is transitory. We don’t really own anything, no matter how many decades we clutch them close. It will also be lost, destroyed, or left behind when we depart this world.
All of it.
No eternal monuments can or ever will be erected because the Earth itself is limited by the laws of physics.
I still have the picture of the shadow box and etch-a-sketch.
Until recently, after a couple of near losses, I still had the rusty nail. It grew to become my most prized keepsake and possession.
Now, I have a picture of it.
I have passed it along to someone who might appreciate the depth of my giving it away. I placed it inside a collectible silver cigarette case, one which was salvaged and saved from the wreckage and the remains of another life. A cigarette case in itself has meaning to the person who is receiving the nail.
I did the same with my hand-transcribed copy of Ecclesiastes and a couple of other of my remaining treasures.
I don’t plan on departing soon. That itself is part of the lesson. I will one day, perhaps tomorrow. All the things that I find to be precious will be treasured no more. None of my precious things were valuable per se. Their worth only exists because I see it and experience it.
I’m passing along the rusty nail to my sister Marsha. She’s had a rough life. Even if she doesn’t treasure the nail and its anchor into my memory the same way that I did and do, I will release it into the world for it to find new appreciation or not.
I have this picture of the nail, one I will treasure. It’s not the nail. But the nail itself wasn’t the experience I shared when grandpa and my uncles put the porch swing up.
I hope she understands that it truly represents everything in myself that I find to be worthy.
Grandpa was an incredibly hard man when he was younger. I didn’t know him when he was full of piss and vinegar. And alcohol and violence.
It’s just a nail.
It will soon be in the hands of my sister Marsha.
I’m just a man.
But everything is so much more than the simple sum of us.
I don’t want to preach the idea of minimalism and appreciation for moments and people and fail to live it.
It’s all an illusion. Things are not us.
We need each other more than we will ever need a house filled with gadgets and keepsakes.
P.S. My wife who died, Deanne, years ago while I was working one Saturday, she decided to clean. Though the nail was in a special box, she threw it away. I had to empty the dumpster for an entire apartment complex to find it. That too became part of the long story of “the nail.”
I’ve written a few clever things about the folly of mocking other people’s hobbies or interests. This is not another clever take.
Soap operas, sporting events, reality tv, crocheting, video games, reading, stamp collecting, or having a skeleton display in your yard two months early (excluding serial killers). Putting up a Xmas tree in July. All of these are stupid to some people. It’s likely you love doing something that makes others roll their eyes. I know one woman who is so weird that she attends Billy Idol concerts. On purpose. (I put the last joke in for John K.)
The same is true about complaining about each holiday appearing early at retailers. It’s shocking news, I know, but they wouldn’t do it if sales didn’t justify it. We can laugh and ridicule the stores for doing so, but practically speaking, it wouldn’t happen if human behavior weren’t driving it.
If someone wants to put up Halloween decorations in September, good for them. A Xmas tree in August? Even better. It’s their life, time, and money. If you snark, we’re going to comment on your large belt buckles, commemorative plate collection, or shelves filled with what-knots or tchotchkes. (I included that last word for oddballs from Pennsylvania.)
A considerable portion of the adult population watches reality tv or sporting events. Taken from a certain context, both are equally ludicrous on a couple of levels. If you enjoy them, you don’t think so. That’s the point. We won’t vote you off the island; we might not let you on the boat, but we won’t banish you.
If you want to careen around with your cellphone and collect Pokémon, even if you are seventy years old, go for it. We’ll try not to run you over on our bicycles or cars.
If you’d rather sit on your couch and relax instead of going out and about to socialize, then do it and enjoy it.
If you want to watch grown men and millionaires throw inflated balls around while wearing absurdly tight pants, please do. I mean, it seems perfectly normal if millions of people do it, right? We don’t question your time or masculinity. Not to your face, at least.
Xmas trees in the fall are normal. So are Halloween decorations two months early. Valentine’s candy in January? You bet. Nothing says “love” like diabetes-inducing sugary treats. Except, of course, for doing the dishes without giving an Emmy-worthy “Did you notice?” performance afterward.
Get excited about whatever you enjoy and enjoy those things without guilt.
The next guy is just as full of crap as you are.
We can revel in that.
Just please stop complaining about seasonal merchandise appearing early in stores. It’s not going to lessen or abate in your lifetime.
Just like you can’t drive in traffic without BEING traffic, you can’t participate in capitalism without contributing your own version of “Xmas in July” at your favorite store.
A very subtle sign rock that I made for one of my neighbors. They have a very sweet pitbull who loves cats. Not the r&b singer; rather, the canine version. My car Güino thinks every animal is his friend, but this dog makes his fur stand on end. .
My pet dinosaur Redactyl sits looking out the suddenly barren fence line in the background. I know he will have a lot to say about it. He’s stuck staring at a lifeless, dilapidated scene now. Color once brightened his perspective.
I’m conflicted. I spent countless hours meticulously assembling the decorations for the longest fence where I live.
Nothing is permanent.
It was great fun, finding pieces and creative ways to use things that aren’t intended to be used in the way I chose.
It was also a lot of work. Work that put me in the zone and challenged me to keep going.
I heard nothing but delight from everyone about how much color and character it added to this ugly apartment complex and the area. Friends drove by or over to see it. Several people posted pictures of it on social media without me realizing it until much later. That made me smile.
This is precisely the kind of place that needs and needed color and something wild and different. Otherwise, it’s just a plot of land and a container that many find temporary.
Two days ago, in a blaze of adrenaline, I began to take the tiles, metal pieces, and assorted decorations off. It led to my shorts’ pockets being so heavy they were about to fall off, which led to the dreaded keys-in-the-dumpster incident. Hundreds of screws, washers, tiles, and assorted pieces. I wasn’t mad, but the disappointment grew as I looked at the fence. But seeing it this morning in the dim light made it dreadfully plain and lifeless. Nothing is permanent; I kept telling myself. But in the back of my mind, I wondered about minds so small they have to complain. 1% of me negatively reacted, given how much work and cleanup I’ve put into this place. We’re supposed to do that sort of thing without expectations.
On the other hand, I put in a proportional amount of work apart from the countless hours I spent brightening up the place. Most of my neighbors don’t do their share to keep the place better than they found it. It’s disappointing that someone took the time to complain they weren’t happy. Some people aren’t happy no matter what – and unfortunately, some take delight in ruining other people’s happiness. The problem with such people is that they will never be satisfied; they thrive on such effort. They are dramavores.
I will redirect my urge to color and brighten to something else in small places and wherever I roam. I’ve left dozens of decorations and pieces all over.
When people ask, “Oh my god, X, what happened to your art project on the fence?” I’m going to shrug and attribute it to the impermanence of everything. For a few weeks, it was something to behold. The entropy resulting from complaining took its price.
Now, as I look out onto the fence I repaired out of my pocket and with my labor, I see an ugly board fence, looking out onto a dismal parking lot. I think it traps us rather than keeps others out, especially now that an expensive home is being built on the small lot between us and the trail cut-through from Gregg.
In my head, though? I can’t look at the fence without imagining it filled with color.
As places like that should be.
I’ll put up a single tile in the middle of the fence at some point, one which will read:
“…Site of recent memory’s largest personal art project. It’s gone, but color remains if you seek it. X”