The Holiday Conundrum; or the irony of gift-giving

To go along with last year’s rant about holiday shoppers and their rather un-Jesus-like behavior, I thought I’d share this year’s thoughts I have about gift-giving during Christmas. To be honest, I don’t exchange presents anymore. My financial situation has made it impractical for several years, although I used to buy presents anyway. I’d love to buy for my kids, but the money just isn’t there, and neither is the credit card. Fortunately, they are old enough to understand economics now that they are adults.

I’m currently in a romantic relationship with a man who buys gifts, yet stresses about spending money, so I started pondering this phenomenon. Why do people feel compelled to spend hundreds of dollars (that they often don’t have) on friends and family once a year? After doing a little research, it would seem the practice started with the Roman festival Saturnalia, which was celebrated on December 17. According to Wikipedia:

The Sigillaria on 19 December was a day of gift-giving.[58] Because gifts of value would mark social status contrary to the spirit of the season, these were often the pottery or wax figurines called sigillaria made specially for the day, candles, or “gag gifts”, of which Augustus was particularly fond.[59] Children received toys as gifts.[60] In his many poems about the Saturnalia, Martial names both expensive and quite cheap gifts, including writing tablets, dice, knucklebones, moneyboxes, combs, toothpicks, a hat, a hunting knife, an axe, various lamps, balls, perfumes, pipes, a pig, a sausage, a parrot, tables, cups, spoons, items of clothing, statues, masks, books, and pets.[61] Gifts might be as costly as a slave or exotic animal,[62] but Martial suggests that token gifts of low intrinsic value inversely measure the high quality of a friendship.[63] Patrons or “bosses” might pass along a gratuity (sigillaricium) to their poorer clients or dependents to help them buy gifts. Some emperors were noted for their devoted observance of the Sigillaria.[64]

In a practice that might be compared to modern greeting cards, verses sometimes accompanied the gifts. Martial has a collection of poems written as if to be attached to gifts.[65][66] Catullus received a book of bad poems by “the worst poet of all time” as a joke from a friend.[67]

Gift-giving was not confined to the day of the Sigillaria. In some households, guests and family members received gifts after the feast in which slaves had shared.[48]1

From there, we go to the frankincense, myrrh and gold the Magi presented to baby Jesus; and a few millennia later, we have Black Friday, Cyber Monday, people going into debt, and in some cases, a “little” crazy ( to buy their loved ones gifts. Americans pride themselves on how they have more civilized mores. And yet, they cling to a tradition started by a society who owned slaves, assassinated their leaders and philosophers, and could be considered imperialists. I’m talking about the Romans, although it would appear that the Christmas ornament didn’t fall from the tree.

As a culture, Americans have given the holiday season its own spin. We, the people, go broke and create stress for ourselves to show our admiration for others. We abuse strangers, literally, while shopping for that perfect present for that special someone. We use gifts as a form of power and preference according to how much we spend per person. We only buy for those who will give to us. At the same time, the receivers are often ambivalent and ungracious about what they received. And yet, we acknowledge that Christmas is supposed to be about peace, love, and giving freely. Ironic, isn’t it?

Perhaps we, as individuals, need to rethink our relationship to gift-exchanging/giving and why we participate in what often seems like utter madness. And how, if we are going to participate in an exchange, we can do so with the sentiments behind the holiday. Maybe then our gifts will make more sense and we’ll be a little kinder to each other as we shop.

Stay tuned for future blog posts on gift-giving and other conundrums on the run-up to Christmas 2012.

1. “Saturnalia,” Wikipedia, accessed May 213, 2018,

The Conundrum of the Holidays; or, how to maneuver crazy-making families

You love your family and you want to spend time with them, maybe even during Thanksgiving or Christmas (they are the time-proven classics for family bonding). But those who share a blood-bond with you have been the sole topic of discussion at your therapist’s office… for years. You’re torn. Do you stay home where it’s safe (and maybe a little bit boring and lonely) or do you walk into the arena? The easy answer is to spend the holidays with friends, get sick (a sure way to get out of a family holiday), travel to where your family is unlikely to follow, or schedule that root canal you’ve been avoiding. Any of these options are likely to be more pleasant than listening to bickering and veiled insults, or watching ordinarily kind people degenerate to barbarianism. Obligation and guilt are strong incentives that may encourage you to choose against your better judgment—and darn it, those nephews/nieces/grandkids are just too cute to pass up.

So, you’ve made the decision to spend Thanksgiving with your family. How does one who is reasonably healthy deal with certain insanity, without copious amounts of alcohol? Here are some suggestions:

Play Games
If everyone is focused on playing cards and doing something fun, there is less time to focus on everyone else and the bickering/gossiping that is sure to ensue. Head games don’t count.

If the weather is beautiful outside, take those adorable kids to a playground, go on a hike, or explore that state park everyone always talks about visiting, but no one does. If you try hard enough, you may even tire out everyone, including the adults.

Either at home or the theater, movies can be a useful equalizer/tranquilizer. Mouths can’t talk when stuffed with popcorn and people who have been eating and drinking may be inclined to fall asleep. Warning: there may be whining if not everyone likes the film.

You probably won’t get everyone to meditate with you, but you can be proactive in your peace of mind by taking even five minutes for yourself. If personal space and boundaries are issues, use the bathroom for your time out. Chances are, no one will follow you in there.

Keep yourself busy while everyone else is going crazy around you. Bring a good book, art/craft project and/or your laptop/iPad/iPhone to keep yourself occupied and out of the fray. It’s much harder to participate in the ritual slaying of family morale if your mind is mostly elsewhere.

Offer to host
If you’re busy cooking and cleaning, you’ll probably be less in tune to what your relatives are doing. And if you’re lucky, they’ll clean up after themselves once they’re through killing each other.

Regardless of how you spend your holidays and with whom you share them, the best tactic to take is one of gratitude. No matter how obnoxious, contentious, or frustrating family can be, if you have one to share time with, remember that you are blessed… with an opportunity to practice love and peace, if nothing else.

The Conundrum of Job Searching: or, how to look for work with no self-confidence

I’ve pondered for a while why I don’t look for work. I know all of the online jobsites and how to search for jobs. I know to network. I know I should have registered with employment agencies—months ago. It’s in my best interest to do all of these things, and yet, I do nothing. I look for work—inconsistently. I rarely find anything to which I feel compelled to apply; and when I do find something of interest, I don’t consider my skill set up-to-par. When the fit seems ideal and I do take that plunge to send a resume, I either get no response or a “thanks, but no thanks.” And so, I procrastinate at the edge of the Cliff of Day-to-Day Survival, with the dirt loosening and falling over the side. It’s scary, yet there I stand.

So, this morning I got real with myself and realized the problem: I’ve lost my work mojo. I’m sure it’s hiding somewhere. It might even be in an unmarked box in the attic, possibly next to where I put my former identity. I haven’t gotten around to looking for it, though. But I digress. The conundrum is in getting it back. How does one find self-validation in their professional abilities? I have an impressive skill set. There was a time when I was highly sought after for my talents—for both jobs and committees. And now, I have friends who don’t necessarily think highly of my abilities. I have former employers who (overly) criticized my work, especially my writing. I was laid off after being offered a lesser job that I declined. I have people who have expressed interest in working with me, then never called. Was I not a right fit, or did they just flake? Even my volunteer experiences have been less than fulfilling. And who am I to say, that in the workforce, I’m all that and a box of chocolates? Who decides my value? Them or me? As one who doesn’t look for validation outside of myself, I don’t know how to answer this question.

So, how do I get my mojo back? The solutions I’ve come up with are to try EFT and a Ho’oponopono technique; and to contact Nelson Staffing. While these may not create closure in my conundrum today, they are a start.

The Conundrum of Not Being Independently Wealthy: or, finding right livelihood

Finding a job is fairly easy, even in a crappy market. Finding a job that keeps you off food stamps and that you enjoy–at the same time–well, that is a conundrum. And after having negative work experiences and little mentoring, becoming gainfully employed has been a scary process. Kind of like dating again after a bad break-up. However, rather than telling my tale of work-related woe, I thought I’d shout out to the world, the Universe, and all three followers of my blog, what I want out of right livelihood and what I’m willing to do to get it. And if this post helps others get clear on what they want in their livelihood, even better. So, without further ado, here are the lists:

My Ideal Right Livelihood

  • Flexible schedule.
  • Feeds my soul and my intellect.
  • Gives me space to be creative.
  • Uses most, if not all, of my talents, strengths and skills, especially the ones I enjoy using.
  • Encourages/Nurtures and provides space for me to gain new skills.
  • Nurtures me to stretch beyond my current comfort zones.
  • Dovetails into most aspects of my life.
  • Compensates me financially so that I can meet all my monthly obligations, afford what I need for survival, have money to set aside for emergencies, leaves me discretionary funds, and provides me with the means to create several savings accounts.
  • Is the type of work that allows me to make the world a better place, locally, regionally, and/or globally.
  • The people I work with respect my boundaries, value me as both an individual and professional, enjoy working with me, treat me with respect, and appreciate what I contribute.
  • Falls into the categories of healing and creative arts, environment, animals, the outdoors, food, and/or spirituality, with the understanding that my highest good may have a different category in mind I haven’t considered.
  • I work no more than 40 hours a week, and ideally, less.
  • Allows me to grow professionally and personally.
  • The work I do is varied and interesting.
  • Allows me to explore my leadership skills.
  • It’s fun!!
  • I love waking up and exploring my right livelihood, whether at home or elsewhere!
  • Allows me to stand my ground, when necessary.
  • Allows me to maintain my integrity.

To attract my right livelihood, I accept the following responsibilities:

  • Being myself, not compromising and holding my integrity, regardless of what else is happening.
  • Loving myself and remembering that nothing is personal (even when it is intended as such).
  • Opening myself to all possibilities and trusting that I will be able to weed out the wrong ones quickly and painlessly.
  • Trusting the process, no matter how long it takes or how scary it is.
  • Having fun with the process and the people I meet along the way, whether colleagues, bosses, and/or clients.
  • Signing up with temp agencies to help me along the path.
  • Not getting discouraged.
  • Networking with as many different people as I can and tell them I am looking for work.
  • Allowing jobs/employers/coworkers/clients to be exactly what they are without judgment and being okay with some not being the right fit.
  • Taking all the risks that make this process possible.

The Conundrum of Letting Go: How to say goodbye to your old self

Yesterday’s blog was about self-discovery. Really, about ones relationship to oneself. After pondering how to say “so long” to an identity which not only no longer serves a purpose, but is detrimental in the embracing of a new one, I came to this realization: relationships are relationships, regardless of whether there are with others or with myself. And so, I treated my academic self the same way I would a significant other. I wrote it a goodbye letter. I talked about our 17+ years together, our happy times, sadnesses, how hurt I was at the departure. All the things I would say to another person. I wrote. I cried. I ate chocolate. Once finished, I considered typing up the hand-written copy, then burning the original, but I had to ask myself: “If I wouldn’t keep a copy of a farewell letter to a lover, then why would I keep a copy of this one?” And really, there is no reason to–the relationship is over.

I do realize that even if I will never pursue a Ph.D. and an academic career, I haven’t lost the love of literature, research, writing, and teaching. I still get excited when I see someone post a poem by Amy Powell. I still have a tendency to reference John Donne, amongst many other writers. I still look up anything and everything out of sheer curiosity and the desire to learn. And I still find ways to teach. Lately, it’s been holding gnocchi making workshops and giving friends writing prompts. All of this will stay with me and will change form as I embrace my new self.

Perhaps the conundrum of letting go is the misunderstanding that all is lost. It’s the the dysfunctional, destructive aspects that we really want to leave behind. The love we feel from past relationships stays with us. The lessons we learn help us grow. Releasing what no longer serves creates room to not only embrace the new, but also what is good within the old.

The Conundrum of Identity and Letting Go: or Who Do I Think I’m Not

I’ve been sorting through myself recently. It’s a lot like going through an attic and finding a box you sort-of forgot about, but not really. Then the box is opened and the “oh, yeahs” start. I opened one of those a few days. It was marked “PhD.” For almost 20 years, my main career focus was to be an academic. Get a Ph.D., find a tenure track position at a college to write, teach, do research. Live out my life happily immersed in my intellect, because, quite frankly, it’s my favorite place to hang out. Conveniently, it’s also my favorite place to hide.

Well, after 15 graduate program applications over a few years and nothing but “thanks for applying, buts,” I realized that this dream wasn’t going to manifest. Time passed. People would ask me about my unfinished master’s and my thesis, or say, “aren’t you supposed to be in a Ph.D. program or something.” I’d mumble some answer, usually, “that’s not what I’m doing now,” and quickly change the subject. It hurts to talk about it, and it definitely registers as one of my life’s biggest failures. So, into the box it goes, all taped up and properly labeled, then shoved into the attic to live with the spiders and dust. However, it doesn’t go away.

I’ve held onto this identity, even after asking the question, “if not academia, then what?” and getting a definitive answer: writing. So, I spend time exploring this option. Writing here, writing there. Even, on occasion, calling myself a writer. But honestly, I don’t write. On a good day, I write morning pages. Most days aren’t so good. The intentions are there, but the will and passion seem to have been boxed up with the graduate school self. So, I reminisce about something that’s never happened and never will, and I avoid what’s in front of me. It’s a dysfunctional relationship with both identities. I can’t fully embrace one because I haven’t properly let go and mourned the other. Sounds like a romantic/intimate relationship, doesn’t it? That’s because it is, and perhaps even more so—it is, after all, a relationship with oneself.

The conundrum of all this is in the letting go. It’s not like breaking up with a significant other. In some regard, that’s easy: delete all emails, text messages, contact info. Return/toss out tokens of love, along with all the belongings left in your house. Cry to your friends, who remind you that you deserve better, and then feed you chocolate and pour you cocktails. “He/She is a horrible person for breaking your heart—let’s find you someone else.” But how do you break up with part of yourself? There’s no one to cry to and nothing to throw away. And, wow, it’s been a long relationship that had a place and a rightness… but it’s no longer the right one for me. I’m not sure I have the answer of how to do this, but I know that if I want to commit to Michelle the Writer, I have to let go of Michelle the Academic. And I suspect that the answer lies, ironically, in writing.

Occupy Conundrum: Tales of holiday angst and morals, part 1

I’ve been trying to write for over a week and a half, to no avail. Since writing about the Occupy Movement seems to be stuck inside the writer’s block, I’ll say what’s really on my mind. The holidays—or helladays as I like to call them—suck! Now, before you tell me that it’s all in the attitude (I know), that the world is full of love and joy (I know, but at times I wonder), and that happiness and peace are found within (yes, unless it’s December), let me share what I’ve witnessed.

Last week I read the following article, posted by Occupy Denver on Facebook:

Rather than give away the ending, I’ll just say that the occupiers did right by offering this woman kindness and support—a community. The government and corporations, not so much. In a country as affluent as the U.S.A., this story shouldn’t exist.

The moral: If you are out holiday shopping (i.e. buying mass produced goods that support corporations, who probably don’t support you), pick up a blanket or sleeping bag and drop it off at your local homeless shelter, occupy encampment, or better yet, give it directly where it is needed—to a homeless person. And remember that while you are hanging your stocking and are snug in your bed to be grateful that you have warmth, a place to live, and money to buy gifts.

This week, I saw the following:

Read the blog post, if you feel so inclined (I highly recommend it), but my comment here is mostly about the picture. We live in a country that prides itself on its religious freedom and tolerance of others. We even go so far as to invade other countries, all in the name of freeing the disenfranchised from the their fascist, corrupt, greedy oppressors. But how, then, do we account for this sign? I’ve come to the conclusion that most Christians are rarely Christ-like.

The moral: Take a lesson from Jesus, the holy man whose birthday is celebrated on December 25. Would he approve of this sign? Probably not. He might even tear it down. He probably wouldn’t appreciate the sentiment, either. So, if you are devoutly Christian, try to be a little Christ-like this month. Be kind and compassionate to others, and tolerant of their beliefs. There are many holidays to be celebrated this month (Hanukkah, Winter/Summer Solstice, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve, Ashura), and regardless of your spirituality, we all share one planet.

Still confused? Then ponder this: during the holiday season, try honoring the Christ by asking yourself: “what would Jesus do in the above scenarios?” If gifts of love and compassion come to mind, you’re on the right track. Actually, I’d say that’s the best way to go any time of year.

Occupy Conundrum: Maybe it’s time to occupy kindness

Perhaps some of you are familiar with Blanche DuBois’ infamous words, “Whoever you are—I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Regardless of being a “fallen woman,” Blanche was also a lady and would be appalled by the apparent lack of kindness found during the holiday season. If you follow the news, then you may be familiar with the story of Walter Vance, the man who collapsed and lay dying at a West Virginia Target on Black Friday ( Here’s another, similar story, told to me by a loved one, which happened during holiday shopping a few years ago:

“Regarding the Man who lay dying while shoppers walked over him. I had an incident a few years ago at Target in Redding. I fell in front of the store and hurt my knee, tore my pants, etc. Men and women stepped over me and kept on walking. Finally a woman with two small children came over and helped me up. She said she could not believe the number of people who walked over me and ignored me. This is a scary world we live in.”

My response: “That’s horrific… It’s disturbing to me how little people care about others.”

To be honest, I don’t think the English language can adequately express my outrage of how, as members of humanity, we can overlook the suffering and needs of others. This explains why corporations, banks and politicians are motivated by greed and personal desire rather than concerning themselves with the community at large. If we, as part of the 99%, don’t care about and take care of, each other, why would the powers-that-be bother? As much as I’d like to hold our leaders to blame for this behavior, I can’t. We are all responsible for not caring about our fellow human. We have allowed ourselves to be convinced that we are individuals, not a whole, and that the power of the dollar will give us more than the power of community and love. If you have an interest in taking over the world, you do it by dividing and conquering, and in current times, through consumerism. I’d say the corporate plan has been effective.

We no longer live in communities, we live in houses where we don’t know the names of our next-door neighbors—and don’t care if they need an egg or a cup of sugar, or if they are being foreclosed. We don’t care about who falls in front of us—it’s not our responsibility to pick up anyone but ourselves. We don’t care about what is going on outside of our own four walls, just so long as we can surf the Internet, watch television, play the Wii. Keep in mind that each “we” is really just “me” with the first letter upside down. And what has this lack of kindness given us? Foreclosures. Homelessness. Poverty. Debt. Starvation. Unemployment. Bankruptcy (financial and moral). This is the world we’ve created for our children and ourselves. It’s ugly and people would rather avoid this mirror, so they don’t even try to look at themselves. However, as a species, we can’t afford to avoid the looking glass any longer.

The human race has survived for as long as it has because community is inherent to us. We have real-world friends and crave them on social media sites. We create groups with people we don’t know personally and think nothing of commenting on someone’s photo or status. The Occupy encampments, whether accidentally or intentionally, have created communities. The homeless flocked to these political shantytowns because they craved a home and they were welcomed. In the middle of major cities over the last three months, villages have been born, with libraries, medics, kitchens, sanitation, etcetera—everything a small town needs. The beauty of this creation is in its simplicity: people set up tents and were kind to each other. Sure, it took a little organization, too, but kinship was quickly formed. Perhaps this is what strikes fear in the hearts of the one percent: people will realize that they can create communities for themselves, and in doing so, they don’t need banks, corporations or politicians. I suspect that this, more than anything else, is the real danger of the Occupy Movement to the current paradigm. Otherwise, why would anyone worry about the encampments? Realistically, it would be less expensive to let them self-evict as winter progresses. Instead, officials want them removed not only from their sight, but also from the sight of everyone else. They want us to keep taking the blue pill. From what I can tell, though, it’s not working. Encampments move or reform. Or rather than setting up tents, people are setting up 24-hour watches, sometimes with shifts. Information about the Occupy Movement is being shared over the Internet; conference calls are being organized to keep this community progressing. And people are sharing what they have. Sometimes it’s food and blankets, often it’s a word of solidarity. Occasionally, one Occupy group will make a request for another group’s need. Often occupiers are doing more than taking down the blinders from people’s eyes—they are directly helping others. During Thanksgiving, many encampments cooked and served or delivered meals to others who would have otherwise done without (

Amazing what a little kindness towards others can accomplish in the blink of an eye. Even Blanche would be proud.

Occupy Conundrum: Maybe it’s time to occupy tourists—or garbage

Close your eyes. Imagine yourself at your favorite outdoor spot. Maybe it’s a national or state park. Maybe it’s somewhere else that only you know about. Hear the sounds of the birds, insects, water… visualize the pristine beauty… smell what’s in the air… feel the air on your skin. Take a deep breath and open your eyes. Now look at this:



This is a minor bit of trash that I saw while at one of the state’s most beautiful, pristine locations (I’m leaving off the name because this happens everywhere). I could have photographed more and multiple bags were found near overflowing trash receptacles and toilets, but I didn’t want to dirty-up my camera (and frankly, the sight made me a bit ill). I also didn’t want to disgust my more sensitive readers with the way the bathrooms were abused—I would have rather peed in front of all those strangers rather than use the toilets.

While looking around at the landscape, I couldn’t help but notice that tourists are slobs. They seem to have no respect for the land, visitor’s centers or public places. And yet, I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the Occupy protestors and their refuse at the encampments. What I don’t hear is anyone griping about tourists leaving the natural world a mess. I was, and still am, incensed, at the carelessness and hypocrisy I witnessed. Dirty diapers? Plastic bags of garbage? Drink cups (from corporate entities, no less) neatly lined up on the can (how ironic)? And these people DROVE into the area. Which means they could have driven themselves and their crap back out when they discovered that the trash receptacles were full. But no, these ordinary, everyday non-occupying tourists leave messes in their wake and it’s okay? Please. It’s not okay for anyone to leave a mess a behind. Leaving trash outside is akin to leaving trash in someone else’s home. Unfortunately, with the exception of raccoons, most of the inhabitants of the outdoors don’t have opposable thumbs to clean up after the visitors leave.

Now that my rant is finished, here’s my plea: Occupiers, if you are reading this and your encampment really is a mess, clean it up and show the world why you are better equipped to run this country, make the earth a healthier place to live, and that you really do care about what goes into the air and water. Be the better example—the world is watching. I want to be proud to call myself one of the 99%.

And if you’re one of the guilty that leave trash somewhere you shouldn’t, risking the flora and fauna of the land, consider yourself chastised and leave an area at least as clean as you found it. Please respect the earth—8.7 million species live on it.

Occupy Conundrum: The conundrum of an educated teenager

For the six weeks or so, I’ve been trying to discuss the Occupy Movement with my 17-year-old daughter (well, 17 in two days). She can be mature, sophisticated and quite the little critical thinker, but whenever I bring up this topic, she goes into la-la-la-I-don’t-want-to-hear-it mode. I tried to bring it up again yesterday and asked if her dad has said anything to her about it. She mentioned a friend of his in Oakland had commented that Occupy Oakland has gone awry and that they don’t know how to camp (my ex and his group are SCA’ers—camping in costume is their hobby). So, I told her that we would make OM the topic of discussion over dinner.

I explained to her about what I’ve been reading and hearing and helped eradicate some misconceptions. She educated me on how she’s seen all of this before in her history class, including how horribly wrong the Haymarket Riot went, with the Knights of Labor being blamed. She also informed me that that this country has had, on occasion, a viable third political party. Given all this, she declared that she’s seen it all before (in history), so she doesn’t need to pay attention to what is happening now. I told her that she was wrong—regardless of the outcome it will impact her future.

So, what’s a mother to do with a 17-year-old who knows the history of similar movements, and in her mind, sees the writing in the wall? I don’t know. I suspect that she’s a bit jaded, or at the very least skeptical, of the movement’s viability. Plus, like most young adults, she can be a bit self-absorbed. Do I force her to visit encampments with me? Do her own research so she can come to her own conclusions? Can I “make” her care? Last night, my daughter was in the room when I watched Marianne Williamson’s OWS talk in Berkeley—and she did comment throughout the hour. Well, I guess that’s a start.