Archive for December, 2009

I’ve been taking a break from writing to allow my brain to refresh. It’s been a nice break, but I’m awfully glad to be back among the clackety-clack of the keyboard.

A friend posted a thought on Facebook a few minutes ago that sent me off on a tangent. Since I’m not quite unlazy enough to come up with a wholly original thought for this space I decided I’d just copy and paste my response over here.

His thought was that “sometimes pain is just weakness leaving the body.”

Oh, if only that were so. I’ve come to find that pain is its own language. Like a baby, its cries mean different things. Sometimes pain is weakness leaving the body. Sometimes it is God using your frailty to reach your mind in a previously untapped place. Sometimes it is the mistranslated cry of the heart. One thing I know for sure, now that pain is my constant child. It is not any one thing. It is a whole unto itself.


For decades I was critical of Mother Teresa. Her missions in India believed that pain was a gift given by God to focus the mind on God’s grace. So they let their patients be in pain in order for the nuns–and the patients too, I suppose–to use that pain. I’ve thought it was a horrible abuse of those poor sick people to let them suffer.

I still think that. Because I think pain is something you should never inflict upon another person. I believe taking away someone’s pain is one of the great mercies a human being can do for another. Of course, the removal of pain is never temporary. In the Revelation of St. John, there are four promises given about the world beyond this one. There will be no death, no sorrow, no crying and no more pain. That tells me that, like sorrow and death, pain is one of the last enemies to be conquered. So we can never hope to be fully rid of it, but we can forestall it for a time, help another grasp a moment of peace.

But I do agree with the part of Mother Teresa’s philosophy that says pain is a route to meditation, to focus on God. It truly is. Because there comes a point when your body screams so loudly it forces your mind and spirit to another place. If you are lucky that place is one of brightness and grace.

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My parents don’t believe in lying. My mother is almost fanatical about always telling the truth, no matter what. That’s why they decided to never tell me there was a Santa Claus. In Mom’s view at the time, Santa was fake, and telling kids about Santa was the same as lying to them.

Paulina Salvador was a little girl who lived around the corner and four houses up the block. I’ve driven by her house many times as an adult; in grownup eyes it’s very close, maybe a three-minute walk. But in 1974 four year old girl eyes, it was on the other side of the world. I guess if The World is your backyard, then yes. It truly was.

So I seldom played with Paulina. Going there wasn’t as simple as walking across the street and ringing the doorbell. It took more of an effort. Our mothers arranged a time over the phone. Now I suppose you’d call it a Play Date. But in the 70s it was just called “letting the kids play together”. In the 70s not everything sounded like a marketing campaign for itself.

The last time our mothers arranged for us to play together I went over to her house and hung out in her basement. We were playing something to do with kitchens. House, probably. That was a reason I never liked to play with other kids and preferred to stay home and either read or play by myself. Other kids played dull games. So we were in the middle of cooking fake dinner in a fake kitchen when Paulina said something about Santa bringing her a baby for Christmas.

Now, if you know me at all you know I’m not one to just let something go I don’t agree with. Not even when I was four. So I of course had to tell her that she was sorely mistaken. There was no such thing as Santa and all the presents came from Mommies and Daddies.

Paulina started yelling. I probably yelled back. Then she started crying. And her mother came to see what was the matter. I thought “At last! A person with some sense!” (I viewed adults as complete beings of reason and substance, whereas I thought of all children as ignorant and useless. This was probably because the only children I knew at the time were my two-year-old brother and infant sister. Both of whom did very little of consequence.) I explained to Paulina’s mother, with a tone of wonder in my voice, I’m sure, that Paulina was sorely mistaken in her belief that Santa was bringing a baby for Christmas.

Paulina’s mother was horror-struck. You could tell by the look on her face. She told me that I had to go home, and so I left. I suppose, looking back on it, she was probably wanting to get me out of the house before I started explaining where the BABY was coming from. Because I knew that, too. After all, I’d already welcomed two infant siblings and knew full well that they grew in Mommy’s tummy.

After I’d been home for awhile my mom sat down with me and explained the nuances of Santa. That it was better if I didn’t tell other kids there was no Santa because that was something for their parents to do. I think, though, that my mom was a bit proud of me. Or afraid.

After that my brothers and sister grew up with a more lassaiz-faire approach to Santa. Parents often learn a lot of lessons on their oldest children.

(I was thinking of this when Slarti said something today about my need for exactness being a by-product of my illness. This is probably one of the better examples of how I’ve always been this way, well before I was sick. )

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I finally did it. I finally was able to put my finger on exactly what’s bugging me about this particular Holiday season.

In case I haven’t been perfectly clear on this, I’m a stickler for calling things by their right names. While I give nicknames to family members and parts of my house (ever since the Simpsons our garage has been “the car hole”) it’s always done tongue in cheek, after we’ve all accepted the right name for a thing.

And that’s what’s bugging me this year. As I mentioned earlier, the husband and I watched an HGTV one-hour special about Decorating Disney World for The Holidays. There was a segment about giant trees. A segment about giant gingerbread houses and carousels and even a gingerbread town.

There was nothing about any giant menorah or giant kinara or giant hourglass.

My point is that they were clearly talking about Christmas. Clearly. Not about every holiday that happens in December.

Now I see two things wrong with this off the bat.

The first thing is that “Holidays” has become a euphemism in many people’s vocabulary. It seems to mean “well, we’re talking mostly about Christmas and New Years, but we’ll say ‘holiday’ so no one is offended.” It’s imprecise and has a sort of faux-openness about it. Because Disney World is not the only place where they say Holidays but mean Christmas.

And that’s the second thing wrong with it. That faux sense of inclusion that happens. As though by simply changing the name from Christmas to Holidays we won’t offend Jewish people or Islamic people or Atheists or Pagans. There is no other way in which many of the users of the word Holidays tries to accomodate those who actually observe the non-Christmas holidays. Well, I suppose the Pagans have it easier than most. They can just re-coopt (?) the trees and the yule logs and the lights and the–well, pretty much everything that we use for Christmas except a creche. But Jewish people maybe get some chocolate coins and a menorah if they’re lucky. I don’t know enough about Kwanzaa or Islamic observances to know what they don’t have–but the fact that I don’t know about it proves my point. It isn’t pervasive enough to be observed by the Celebrators of Christmas. But we still call it The Holidays. Like everyone really is included.

And they’re not.

It’s as imprecise as calling a vulva a vagina or referring to the entire abdomen as “the stomach”.

So I wish we would just get over this fake niceness and admit that we aren’t as hail-fellow-well-met as we’d like to think. Perhaps we should try to be nicer. In the spirit of the holidays.

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Kat Atonia

I guess now we know how to shut me up.

Just make me say an impossible amount of things in an aggressively short timeline. Then my brain will turn to goo and my normally-verbose self will just.stop.talking.

I bet my parents wish they’d known this cure many many years ago.

My spouse has got to be doubly glad. He remarked at one point a couple of weeks ago that he didn’t like it when I was to deep in my “writerly” ways because then I got–his words “extremely exacting verbally.” All because I told him that the thing he sleeps under is a comforter and not a quilt. Honestly. If it isn’t quilted it can’t be called a quilt. Well, and then I was correcting tv writers all the time. And it’s not like watching TV with me is a peach anyway because I’m always cracking up during the Ford Super Duty commercials every time they say Duty. And I’m always solving the mystery on crime shows. But during NaNoWriMo it was worse.

Probably the funniest moment was during an episode of FlashForward where one character explains to another that his daughter lost a leg in the Iraq War but disappeared because she was being hunted by evil mercs. The character chose to tell his not-drinking buddy (they’re both in AA) that said daughter was “on the run”.

It was funny. I laughed a lot.

But perhaps the worst moment came last night. It’s horribly awful of me to have laughed but my brain is gone and so are my manners. And my mind went to dwell in some gutter place. In fact, it’s so bad I can’t even bring myself to tell people here what happened. Let’s just say it involved David Bromstad decorating cookies at Disney World and we’ll leave it at that.

Speaking of David Bromstad...How on earth did he get a television gig? I mean, I guess the Wikipedia entry said he won a contest. (I had to look him up because my spouse and I kept asking each other why HGTV gave that guy a show.) But he can’t have had much competition. In one hour of television–again, the Decorating Disney World For The Holidays–he said “that’s in-SANE!” at least thirty times. That’s when I stopped couting. I think giving him a show was the in-SANE thing. Oh well. Not that it matters.

Anyway, I just wrote 400 words talking about how I can’t write. So I’m going to go to bed.

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