Surviving The Holidays Without Hurting Anyone

November 26, 2017 Long Read, Sunday Sermon
Surviving Holidays

Just as a puppy can be more of a challenge than a gift, so too can the holidays. —John Clayton

I strongly dislike Black Friday and holiday sales in general. I find the greed sickening and the false notion that one is helping the economy is grossly ignorant. The economy does better when one spends a fairly even amount each month rather than discount-fueled spikes [source and source]. I have long held a general disdain for those foolish enough to spend frigid hours in line waiting for some discounted television instead of being at home, sleeping, which is what any sane person does after a huge Thanksgiving meal.

The older I get the more I can identify with Dr. Suess’s Grinch:

Then he growled, with his Grinch fingers nervously drumming,
"I MUST find some way to stop Christmas from coming!"
For Tomorrow, he knew, all the Who girls and boys,
Would wake bright and early. They'd rush for their toys!
And then! Oh, the noise! Oh, the Noise!
Noise! Noise! Noise!
That's one thing he hated! The NOISE!

Where I differ with ol’ Grinch is that it’s not just the one day that’s the problem, but the whole month between Thanksgiving and December 25 that is so incredibly full of NOISE. With holiday ads and the same holiday carols that haven’t changed since my late parents were children and every child one sees is screaming, “I want … I want …” there have been years when I would like to have dug a hole and crawled into it. Wake me after New Years.

What some people consider a “joyous season” is nothing but absolute chaos for many others. We don’t like it one bit. We prefer peaceful, quiet conversations; casual, uncrowded trips to the store; and the gentle sounds of Jane Machine streaming, or we would if Jane Machine had more than two songs available.

Winter holidays are built around belief systems, which is all wonderful and cheery for those who hold to those belief systems. For those of us who consider themselves more practical, perhaps even logical, and definitely more scientifically-minded people, getting excited about a group of myths and fairy tales stopped making sense about the time we realized there is no Santa Claus. When one isn’t into the greed of, “What I want for Christmas,” one feels rather left out of the loop. Even the concept of charitable acts of giving become depression points when one doesn’t have anything left to give.

“Going Walter” is a term Dudeist use to refer to those moments when we lose our cool. The Big Lebowski character of Walter Sobchack, played perfectly by John Goodman, is that by-the-rules guy we all tend to be on those days when we look around and see how much everyone and everything has gone off the rails. Walter is the antithesis of The Dude. His emotions are constantly right out front, obvious and unapologetic. He doesn’t sit back and wait. Walter cocks his pistol and gets shit done.

December, for many of us, brings out our inner Walter. From our perspective, the world is more chaotic now than it has been the previous eleven months and as much as we’d like for it all to stop we know it’s only going to get worse. The music is only going to get louder and more annoying. More people are going to scream, “Merry Christmas,” because, you know, there’s apparently a “war” on that holiday. And then there’s that annoying habit people have of wearing felt antlers or light-up noses and ugly-ass sweaters that make eye gouging a serious temptation.

Take a deep breath. I know, getting worked up over the trepidation of the month happens without warning. We don’t have to spend the next 30 or so days trying to avoid “going Walter” on everyone around us. There are things we can and probably should do to help us abide more peacefully with all the really stupid and ignorant people around us. They’re not going away, after all. No one is going to suddenly be less annoying. We are not going to change anyone and there’s no logical argument for trying. Rather, we have to change our own activities and our focus to help us find the inner peace that allows us to abide.

Get A Massage—Or Four

One of the things that happen in December is that all our combined frustrations work together to leave us feeling tense and irritable. Tense and irritable never leads to anything good. At the very least, our blood pressure rises which increases our risk of stroke and/or heart attack. Therefore, doing something that alleviates all that tension works for the ultimate good.

While meditation and yoga might seem like natural go-to remedies, they are likely to only address your tension if you’ve already been practicing them for a while. Meditation, especially, as helpful as it is, takes some practice before it starts delivering positive results and even then some people never quite get to that stage. Massage works even if you’ve never had one before. The potential is significant as a well-trained and licensed professional knows exactly where to manipulate your body to help get rid of all the physical nastiness resulting from our emotional turmoil.

What is especially popular this year is something known as “Visceral Manipulation,” or deep organ massage [source]. There are only about 24,000 trained and licensed practitioners in the United States and, as one might expect, the majority of those are in major cities on either coast. If there’s not one near you, a normal deep-tissue massage works almost as well. The difference is that visceral manipulation focuses on particular organs in the torso that are known to respond negatively to tension and stress. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association says the practice can even help heal post-surgery abdominal adhesions.

The only danger I see here is that whenever I have any kind of massage I’m usually worthless for anything productive the rest of the day. I’ve even fallen asleep on the massage table before. Being fully relaxed isn’t the best condition if one has to do things like drive, either. Consider taking a taxi home or calling a friend.

Spend Some Time At The Library

Libraries are always a pretty good place to escape the noise of the world any time of year. After all, they do have that whole “be quiet” thing going for them. They tend to carry an added benefit during the holidays in that there generally aren’t as many people roaming about. General attendance tends to be down for the month with the exception of special events that can be avoided by consulting posted schedules. That means one can sit and read or listen to music (with headphones on) without having to tolerate a constant barrage of holiday wishes or seasonal carols.

What is especially beneficial for libraries is that the modern institutions have become so much more than a repository of books. Libraries are learning centers with programs and resources available year-round that strengthen and enlighten one intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally. Libraries know that they serve a diverse audience and do their best to provide something of interest for every group within that audience. Not only are we escaping the noise of the holidays, we have an opportunity to learn something at the same time.

Perhaps most important, though, is the opportunities libraries provide to help other people. Different libraries have different systems so I can’t give much detail on what is available on a general basis. Do know, however, that there is almost always an opportunity to read to those who can’t, to assist those who don’t know their way around computers, and give back to your community in very tangible ways. They probably won’t give you a t-shirt and not everyone you help is going to show any form of gratitude, but putting some genuine good into the universe at a time when most people are faking it yields a higher level of a reward than we might ever know.

Take Up A New Hobby

Most people wait until after the first of the New Year to start anything new. This is your chance to get the jump on all of them by going ahead and starting a new hobby now while everyone else is running around like chickens. This isn’t exactly the worst time of year to be assembling supplies, either, as one might just find some discounts, especially online shipping discounts, apply no matter what one is purchasing.
Where one is most likely to stumble in this venture, unsurprisingly, is choosing a hobby that one is likely to actually continue. Just because something sounds like it is enjoyable doesn’t mean one actually enjoys it once we’ve started the activity. A little bit of planning and objective-as-possible self-examination is necessary if we’re not going to also quit our new hobby before everyone else.

One good resource to help one decide on a new hobby is Hobby Lark which offers an article on 150+ Hobby Ideas Broken Down By Interest And Personality. They’ve done a very good job of breaking the more popular hobbies into categories such as “Cheap Hobbies” and “Hobbies That Help Others.” They’ve also separated some by season, though the holiday-disenfranchised probably want to stay away from their winter selection. If one doesn’t find something on that list, they have a quiz that might help, also.

The Internet is a pretty decent resource when one is considering hobbies. Take advantage of that and have some fun!

Surviving Holidays

Write Your Own Book

Yes, I’m well aware that November is the whole writing-your-novel-in-a-month thing. That’s a good program if one has absolutely nothing else going on in their life during the month of November. Personally, I’m far too busy writing here and elsewhere to complete an entire novel in a month, or a year, or five years for that matter. Let’s just say I have problems focusing on long-form writing.

Writing is an excellent way of blocking out everything else that is going one outside of one’s own personal existence, however. Just ask The Young Woman (TYW) how am I when I’m working on an article. I can totally zone out and ignore everything else in the room. Even the dogs know that if they want my attention while I’m writing they have to get up in my face to do so. Writing gives us a chance to reflect, be creative, and explore topics and ideas that have been lingering in our heads the entire year.

Of course, if one is going to write a book then one needs to know how to publish that book when they’re done, right? Maybe. Publishing in today’s environment isn’t at all like it was even five years ago. The Old Man chose to self-publish his book, Rethinking ‘Merica but while there are advantages to that approach, there are significant disadvantages as well. We recommend taking a look at this video from Breed Magazine to help ignite some ideas. One has plenty of choices. Choose the one that is most likely to work for you.

The world can never have too many books. Please, add your story to the stacks.

Visit Independently-Owned Coffee/Tea Shops

We live in a world where there’s a Starbucks or a Caribou Coffee on nearly every corner. Those are the places that are bloated with seasonal activity as people are scurrying about making nuisances of themselves with their ugly-as-hell holiday sweaters and 47 different renditions of “The Little Drummer Boy” on their playlist. Those of us who take issue with the holiday seasons consider places like these to be the perfect culmination of everything we absolutely loathe about the holidays.

Now is the time to explore the alternative: independently-owned coffee and tea shops. Yes, Virginia, they do still exist. Some of them even do their own bean roasting. They’re scattered around all over the world and even smaller towns are likely to have one or two places. Not only does the small-batch roasted coffee tend to taste better, they also tend to be quieter places without all the hubbub and activity that one finds at the chain stores.

Tea shops are probably the gems here, though, in that they still haven’t achieved the level of popularity that coffee shops have. Even an independent coffee shop can get really busy during peak times of the morning. Tea shops, however, tend to consider anything more than five people in the shop at the same time as a rush. If one is looking to really escape, these can be wonderful places to go.

Be aware, however, that even independent shops often go in for the holiday decorations. Sure, they’re probably not going to be as obnoxious as the chain stores but if one is trying to completely avoid the red and green and tinsel and glitter then a little careful research might be necessary.

Rent A Cabin At A State Park

Sure, this option isn’t cheap but it is very effective. The year both my parents died we rented a cabin at a state park in Georgia because we were all emotionally drained and unable to deal with all the normal holiday festivities without my parents being involved. Getting away from civilization in a well-appointed cabin in the middle of the woods was the perfect answer to a holiday season that had us missing some very special people.

Renting a cabin does require some planning, however. First, one wants to make sure that the cabin either has cooking facilities or that the park has dining facilities that are open for the holidays. Ours had both. We were able to prepare breakfast and lunch for ourselves and then went to the park’s restaurant for dinner. We did have to make reservations for Christmas dinner, but even that was incredibly low key compared to anyplace we might have gone in Atlanta.

One also has to be prepared for the fact that Internet access is likely to be slim to none, depending on where one goes. We took a couple of laptops capable of playing CDs and DVDs back in 2003 but those options are not necessarily available on newer models. In fact, Windows 10 doesn’t even support playing DVDs anymore.

Consider this a good time to catch up on all those books everyone’s been telling you to read all year. I just updated my Goodreads list in the margin at the right of this article. There are plenty of “Best of … “ lists being published about now, also. Pick a bunch and enjoy the peace and quiet.

Surviving Holidays

Volunteer Your Time Where It Does The Most Good

We’ve already mentioned volunteering at the library as a potential escape from the holiday insanity, but there are plenty of other places that really could use a helping hand this time of year. Since you’re not busy shopping and participating in the season of greed then chances are you have time to help people who have the most severe needs. Again, one might have to endure an occasional “Merry Christmas” or “God bless you,” but those are insignificant compared to the amount of suffering some people experience during this month.

Generally speaking, there are four places that need the most help through the holiday season: Hospitals, nursing homes, shelters for battered women and children, and blood gathering organizations such as the American Red Cross. However, one needs to be very aware that each of these places, while having severe needs for help, cannot accept just anyone walking in off the street. Security, health, and training are major issues for all these organizations and going through the volunteer acceptance process can take some time.

The help one can give to these organizations, however, exceeds any material gift one could ever give or get. Hospitals, especially, are flooded through the holidays and most of these facilities are already short-handed. Nurses I know are working seven days a week already. While there is a limited number of ways in which volunteers can help, the services they do provide are valuable and highly appreciated. If this sounds like something that you can do, check with your local hospitals and shelters and see what requirements they have for volunteers. If you start now, chances are you can be helping out when their need hits its most critical point late in December.

Organize That Mess Around The House

Look around you. Look at the stacks of magazines you always meant to read but never quite got around to perusing. See that pile of laundry that’s clean but hasn’t been put away. Consider that stack of used popsicle sticks you keep telling the kids you’re going to use. Oh, wait, that last one’s probably just me. Still, for a great many of us, things have a way of piling up and now is as good a time as any to get a handle on the mess. Organizing one’s personal space now is a good way to get a fresh start on the new year while also helping one avoid the nonsense taking place in the outside world.

Where we most often run into problems with cutting the clutter at home, however, is not knowing exactly where to start. I hear the same complaint every time I tell our seven-year-old that she needs to clean her room: “I can’t! There’s too much stuff!” Chances are most of us know exactly how she feels. Realistically, there probably isn’t that much stuff. One doesn’t have to own a lot for it to look like a huge mess when it’s not organized.

Fortunately for all of us, there are plenty of resources like the kind folks over at Organized Home that offer practical advice on where to start and how to keep going once we’ve started. Follow their tips and chances are pretty high that by the time this holiday mess ends so, too, will the mess around your house. How much one does on any given day is, as always, subjective to one’s personal drive and other scheduled and unavoidable events, such as buying the food necessary to sustain these organizational activities. There’s no right or wrong answer as to how much one does. Any improvement is going to help improve the atmosphere around us and might even help improve our mood a bit.

If All Else Fails, Buy Noise-Reducing Earphones

Despite our best efforts, we cannot always avoid all the holiday noise that permeates our society. Even the most innocuous of places, such as the auto parts store, seem to feel the need to participate in trying to elevate the holiday spirit. Escaping the barrage can be practically impossible. We still have to work, we still have to buy groceries, and plenty of other reasons force us to interact with the public.

Noise-reducing earphones can help and some of them have gotten especially good at blocking out unwanted sound. While different models employ different methods, the point of any good noise-reducing earphones is to block out as much external noise as possible. Most of the really good ones are found in health/safety supply areas, especially those related to firearms and aircraft maintenance. At the high end, one can stand dangerously close to a jet engine or the front row of an AC/DC concert without experiencing any hearing damage. At the low end, the annoying little hums and twitters and department store background music all go away.

Some cautions have to be applied here. First, not all earphones are created equally. There are some that are super-cheap and are designed primarily to protect kids whose parents drag them out to the shooting range every weekend. They can help reduce enough noise to allow one to focus but aren’t going to completely eliminate annoyingly loud conversations or the incessant holiday soundtrack on infinite loop at your favorite restaurant. Pay more, get more.

Second, be aware that some of the best noise-canceling earphones are big and bulky, which means it’s going to be obvious you’re not paying attention to all the environmental noise. Sometimes, that obvious ignorance is acceptable, but if you’re trying to escape the noise at work you’ll want to find an in-ear solution that works. There are some out there, but getting a good fitting can be challenging.

Finally, know that different companies define “noise reduction” in different ways. Companies like Bose are referring to the background noises common to recorded music, not the sound of the screaming child seated directly behind you on a flight from Newark to Seattle. Read the product description carefully before making a purchase.

Give The World A Break

At some point, no matter how much we might try to escape the holidays and their associated activities and annoyances, we have to realize that the vast majority of the world is rather excited about whatever holiday they’re celebrating. Winter holidays hold a lot of significance and meaning for people of diverse belief systems. Celebrating these holidays make them happy and, for most, when they wish you Season’s Greetings in whatever manner they choose, what they are simply trying to do is share their happiness with you.

We don’t have to participate in the holidays to make other people happy. We don’t have to buy everyone gifts. A smile, saying, “thank you,” and opening the door for someone whose hands are full help put everyone in a better mood and puts a positive energy into the universe. A little kindness on our part can help make someone else’s actions a little less annoying.

The last time I gave two hoots about the holidays was back in 2005. What I experienced that year, and frequently since, gave me plenty of reason to loathe the season. I don’t need the greed, the selfishness, or the flaunted materialism in my life. What is often billed as “The Most Wonderful Time Of Year” has consistently been the most miserable.

That doesn’t mean we have to be the negative force that brings everyone else down, though. There are things we can do to survive this holiday season without hurting anyone else. We can avoid the temptation to do damage to everyone who crosses our path wearing a stupid reindeer sweater. We have options. Decide which ones work for you and enjoy your holiday season even if the only thing you celebrate is waking up alive each morning.

Abide In Peace,
The Old Man

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Surviving Holidays

Images courtesy charles i. letbetter creative

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