Let’s face it – when it sucks, it sucks

Since losing my job, I’ve spoken with a lot of people.  Friends checking up on me.  Family members making sure I’m okay.  Former co-workers keeping me in the loop with the latest gossip.

A few times, when they’ve been complaining, somewhere during the conversation they’ll say, “Wait… I shouldn’t be complaining.  I mean, look at what you’re going through.”  And then today, I saw a post on Facebook with someone well-meaning lampooning fellow Facebook connections for complaining too much, and not being grateful, enough.  “You just wasted a breath with a complaint while someone else took their last one.”

…..please.  Really?  THAT is the new standard for our lives?  Be happy and grateful 100% of the time because someone else has it worse?  By the same token, should we refrain from celebrating because someone else has it better?

That is possibly the dumbest possible way to set yourself up for failure I’ve ever heard.  Because here’s the thing, folks – we *need* time to process our feelings.  We need to experience them.  All of them.  We need to experience disappointment and anger and happiness and frustration and sadness and excitement and boredom.  We have been given the ability of cognitive thought.  And with that comes a range of emotion.  That emotion allows us to tie feelings to experiences, and thus, enlightenment.

Think about it: You spend a whole week at work putting off an important project.  On Friday, the project is due, and you don’t have it completed.  Your boss expresses his frustration, a little less than politely.  You go into the weekend feeling angry with yourself for not getting it done.  You feel embarrassed because your boss called you out.  And you’re sad because, instead of socializing with friends, you’ll be doing the project you should have done during business hours.

Without the emotional ties, we would struggle to learn from our experiences.

When my friends shame themselves for complaining, simply because I’m unemployed, I graciously respond, “Don’t do that to yourself.  Don’t feel like you can’t complain about a situation because of what I’m going through.  I’d rather you express your feelings to me because we’re friends, rather than censor them because I’m in a rough patch.”

Without emotion, nothing happens.  As I’m sitting here, I realize that my coffee cup is sitting precariously close to the edge of the table.  That makes me anxious; I don’t want my coffee to spill.  So I move it.  Conversely, I notice that my running shoes aren’t put away.  But right now, I’m not worried about it, so nothing will happen.

You feel how you need to feel.  From processing emotion comes insight.  From insight comes enlightenment.  From enlightenment comes next action steps.  From next action steps comes success or failure.  And the process begins again.  Getting stuck in any one part of that process is problematic.  But going through them?  Perfectly healthy.

So here’s my public service announcement for the day: Feel how you need to.  Bitch about life when it has you down.  Celebrate when something good happens.  Someone always has it worse.  And someone always has it better.  And don’t worry about me.  I can’t stop myself from expressing myself.  So I’ll be just fine.


The true meaning of Christmas

**Last year, I posted this on my blog after reading The Bloggess’ post about how she gives, and the way she inspires her readers.  It’s worth re-posting, in my opinion.

I’ve long spoken of my disdain for the holidays. The greed. The outrageous behavior. The ridiculous parents who spoil their children (who are already spoiled and misbehaved). The people going further into debt because they just *have* to give that present to so-and-so because “it’s what you do for Christmas.” The fighting between family members. The nonsensical drinking at functions and the following justification because “it’s Christmas” and that makes it okay.

BFF#2 even got me a “Humbug.” This little creature that is ugly and, for me, symbolizes the ugliness of the season.  I love it.

But beyond that, you might be asking yourself, “Why? Why, flame, are you so fired up about this?” I’ll tell you why. It’s a little sad story I like to call the history of my life. It may be depressing in the beginning, but stick with me. It gets better, in the end.

I wasn’t always so jaded. For the first few years of my life, I didn’t know enough to be jaded. That all changed when I hit the ripe old age of 6. I learned, then, that things aren’t fair. And you know what? I was okay with that, for a while.

We were poor. When I hear my friends (who are all doing well for themselves) talk about not wanting their children to “go without,” you’d think they meant food or shelter or something equally important. But no… they’re talking about laptop computers and other bullshit. When I say, “I went without,” I mean that quite literally. At times I didn’t eat. At times we didn’t have electricity. I was even homeless, for a small time, and lived in a parking lot.

By the time I was 8 years old, we lived in San Diego and had it rough. My mother was sinking further into addiction (her drug of choice was meth, but I suspect she did other things, too). She was also struggling with undiagnosed severe hypo-thyroid disease and narcolepsy. My step-father, at the time, was sexually abusing me, and using heroin. We had several other people living with us, all unemployed and all addicted to drugs and alcohol. Both my brothers were working or away from the house a lot of the time, trying to make a living and/or escape the madness. I had no such luck. I immersed myself in books, school, and other cerebral activities. If I was in my head, my heart was less attached to the awful situation I lived in. We got two checks at the beginning of the month, every month. Disability and child support. We lived like Kings and Queens for the first couple of weeks.

The problem is that Thanksgiving and Christmas come at the end of the month. When I was 9 years old, I didn’t eat on Christmas Day. Nothing. Not compressed ham-loaf. Not mushy stuffing. Not even gross gelatinized cranberry sauce. Not. Any. Thing.

When I was 10, we got on some sort of list that delivered food baskets for the holidays. We also got presents that year. I got a jacket. And a toy, I think. I remember my mom asking me what I wanted, and I felt uncomfortable asking for anything. I didn’t know who was giving me a present, and I certainly didn’t think it was right to *ask* for anything when they were being generous by giving me anything at all. I would be happy with what I got. And at the end of the day, that’s something that’s never changed.

When I was 11 years old, I got a bike. Someone, a stranger, bought me a bicycle. A 12-speed. I was floored. When I was 13, I got make-up and a journal to write in. The very first entry I made in that journal was that, someday, when I was older, I would do the same thing for a kid who was in need.

When I was 13 years old, I understood these things:

  • Life isn’t fair. And you had to deal with it.
  • Poverty existed, and I was living it, but “poor” is a state of mind.
  • The best gift you can give or get is love.
  • Regular people had the power to do extraordinary things.
  • Although adults make really bad choices that make their lives the way they are, children suffer. A lot.
  • The kindness of strangers can literally change someone’s life (and it’s changed my life a number of times).

By the time I was 14 years old, I lived with my dad. We didn’t have a lot. I’d even say that we still lived below the poverty line – but we were not poor. We chose to make do with what we had instead of going on welfare. My daddy sacrificed so I could have little things. I did without, sometimes, so my dad still had money to go out and have adult space.

Fast forward to adulthood. Those bell ringers you see? I give whatever change I have in my pocket or purse to them. And my daughter does the same (she’s been doing it since she was 5 years old.  She’s 17 ½ now). I was in line at the grocery store, once, and a woman wasn’t able to pay for her Christmas meal (ham, potatoes and stuffing), so I paid for it.

But the tradition I have that is the most important to me is “The Giving Tree.” (If you don’t know what that is, go to your local grocery store and find the Christmas tree that’s normally near the service/customer service desk. There will be a tree that has little paper ornaments on it. You can choose a name, go buy a present, bring the name and present back to the store and they will get it to the child.)
I go to the store every Christmas, and pick a name off the tree. I look through the names and almost always find a name of a child who reminds me of myself, at that age: a girl about 11-14 who has general interests listed but no specifics. I look, hard, for a gift that matches those interests and bring it back. Sometimes it’s been a diary. Sometimes a winter coat. Sometimes an art kit. Every year I do this.

That is what Christmas is. Christmas is the act of giving. It’s the act of giving to make someone else’s life better, without the expectation of receiving and without the sense of obligation. I do this every year because I said, when I was 13 years old, that I would. If you’re looking for Christ in your Christmas, this is where you find Him. In giving.

Last year, I was amazed to find that strangers who stumbled on to my blog were inspired to give.  So many people, last year, went out and sought out their own local Giving Tree.  Guapo read my post while waiting for his girl.  He went inside the bookstore he was near and bought books to donate.  Right then.  After reading my post.

I only hope to do the same thing this year.  I picked my child to give to this year.  I’m going shopping for her on Black Friday (the day when humanity is at it’s worst, in my opinion).  I hope I inspire you, this year, to give. It doesn’t have to be money. Give of your heart. Give of your time. Be kind. Love people. That is the spirit of Christmas. Everything else is just noise.