It’s sort of an awful time of year to read blogs.
Holiday perfection pressure only emphasizes the performative nature of what we bloggers do—curate and arrange the pretty parts of our lives and share them with you in an aesthetically pleasing format. Here are all of the things you should be baking! Here are all of the things you should do to avoid gaining weight this season! Here are all of the holiday traditions you should be cultivating with your kids! Here are all of the things you should buy for the people in your life to demonstrate your love for them! Here are all of the books you should have read this year, the photos you should have organized and turned into scrapbooks, the goals you should have met, and on and on and on. Keep Christmas in your heart but be sure to look good while doing it.
I’ve had several conversations with good friends in the last week or so about attempting to remain balanced and focused this time of year. In addition to the general cultural pressure to “do” the holidays a certain way, this time of year often brings work-related stress (hi, I should totally be grading right now) and family-related stress (and by “stress,” I mean “drama”), but for those of us who want the holidays to mean something, it can be tricky to figure out just what that is or looks like. Even—or especially—for those who celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, as the fulfillment of a promise, it can be hard to hold sight of the center. For an excellent meditation on this, I highly recommend this thoughtful New York Times commentary from Arthur C. Brooks. We have a “healthy hunger for nonattachment,” Brooks writes, smartly diagnosing the malaise that many of us feel this time of year.
Shiv picked a book off of his shelf tonight—a pop-up book about animal habitats that was originally mine—and I noticed for the first time my name and “Christmas 1989” written on the front page, in my dad’s handwriting. It nearly took my breath. The “most wonderful time of year” is also the time when many of us miss what we miss the most.
Advent leaves room for these sets of conflicted feelings, which is one of the things I appreciate about it the most (to be fair, I also really love the decorations and the singing. I really, really love the singing.) Hymns sung during this season speak of weary eyes and longing hearts, and there’s no shortage of those these days. To echo what I wrote last week about resisting the easy, lazy, convenient, but inevitably inaccurate answer, I want to say that just because I’m not writing about being angry doesn’t mean I’m not angry anymore. I am learning, I think, that anger is a lot like grief; you have to give up on the idea that it’s going to go away, that you are ever going to solve it. Instead, you learn to make room for it in your life, to let it change you, which is what I am trying to do.
I am also trying to be mindful about what I actually want to do when it comes to Christmas and festivities and food and celebrations and presents, versus what I feel like I ought to do. Shiv helped me make some treats this weekend, which we have and will continue to gift to various special people in his/our life. We have friends coming over in a few days to help us decorate our tree, and I’m planning to repeat a very boozy and successful eggnog experiment from last year. I ordered a ham for Christmas, and I’m thinking about doing a leek bread pudding alongside, but Shiv doesn’t have any special Christmas pajamas or even Christmas outfits (gasp!), and there’s no wreath on our front door, and we haven’t put the stockings out yet, but you know what? Baby Jesus gonna get born without any help from me.
I made a big batch of this kumquat marmalade a few weeks ago when our neighbors offered to let us harvest their backyard tree; I’m including jars of it in the gift bags we’re giving Shiv’s teachers.
Also going in those gift bags are these not-much-to-look-at but crazy-delicious walnut shortbread cookies from Mario Batali. My friend Peggy’s husband, Doug, brings these to events all the time and they always disappear quickly.
These burnt-sugar espresso shortbreads that Tim posted at Lottie & Doof are totally worth the trouble. I also want to try the beautiful rosewater shortbread cookies that Heidi posted on 101 Cookbooks. Are you sensing a theme? I really love shortbread.
Last but not least, to set the record straight, I did make turkey pot pie last week; I just didn’t write about it. I used this recipe, tweaking it a little bit (white wine instead of sherry, fresh onions & carrots instead of frozen), and it was delicious. I love anything with a biscuit crust, and this recipe would work just as well with chicken.
Wishing y’all some merry mixed in with everything else. xoxo—Nishta
I don’t know what to say. I was planning to blog about turkey pot pie this week, but my God, who the fuck cares about turkey pot pie when we are living inside of, as my friend Mark put it, some kind of midnight? How can I write about re-purposing Thanksgiving leftovers when I am so unspeakably angry that I don’t know how to think about anything else besides Eric Garner, gasping for breath on that New York sidewalk? About how I live inside of and am implicit within a system that makes it possible for the man who killed him to walk free, without having to face trial? About how mind-boggling it is that so many people I know don’t seem to give a shit? About how profoundly grateful I am that my son cannot yet read the news? About how Jill turned to me last night in bed and said “I would say we should move, but I don’t know where to.” And I said, “No, we have to stay. We have to stay and fight.”
For many years, I was accused of being a Pollyanna: optimistic to a fault. I grew up inside a lot of privilege, protected for many years from most of life’s truly awful things. Those things existed for me in a mainly theoretical way, in the way of a kid who read a lot, and empathized a lot, and cried a lot, but who didn’t have much more than feelings at stake. I cared and despaired and I went about my life.
Much as I liked to think I wasn’t naïve, I certainly was. And I’m probably not alone in saying that it was grad school that disabused me of my self-conception as a worldly and sophisticated person. I went straight from undergrad to an MFA program and quickly became aware—was made aware, by some brutally honest workshop critiques—of my tendency to wrap things up into nice, neat little bows: pat endings & pretty morals, easy answers and “everything’s going to be okay.”
I was also, no surprise, someone who avoided conflict like the plague; I liked being liked, even (especially) on the page. Unconsciously, I suppose, I didn’t want to upset anyone—I didn’t want to tell unpleasant tales. Or if I did, I wanted them to have hopeful endings.
Except now, looking back, I think that I have been guilty of confusing hope with wishful thinking, a distinction beautifully meditated on in this post by Debra Dean Murphy. I am learning, in these heavy days, that my desire to focus on the positive comes with a price. When I tidy up endings, I do violence by sawing off and discarding the pieces that do not fit. When we prefer to post the heart-warming photo of the tearful young, black protestor embracing the white police officer, we draw our attention away from the deeper issues and fool ourselves into thinking they can be solved with a bunch of hugs and fuzzy feelings.
“We must acknowledge—with eyes and minds wide open—the world as it is if we want to change it,” Charles Blow wrote in his column this morning. “Reality doesn’t bend under the weight of wishes. Truth doesn’t grow dim because we squint.”
I feel like a woman with new sight, and that sight comes with a heavy burden, a burden I know many others have carried long before me, and long before that. I do not yet know what to do with this sight except for to keep looking, and listening, and asking questions, and resisting the easy answers. For once, I am not seeking succor or balm. I believe these wounds need to fester, need to be made visible and brought into the light for a while yet, before they can heal.
all images in this post courtesy Amanda Raney