VALENTINES

I know that the over-hyped, over-commercialized version of Valentine’s Day is gross and weird, with its over-emphasis on romantic or sexual love as the only kind that matters, or the kind that matters the most, or the kind by which we ought to measure our worth or value. And even if we are blessed with a romantic or sexual love that feels healthy and that we wish to celebrate, who says we have to do it on February 14th, when the restaurants are crowded and the servers are grumpy and the pressure for the day to feel special is high?

But y’all know me – I just can’t resist the opportunity for ritual. And, over the years, I’ve found myself turning Valentine’s Day into an opportunity to acknowledge all of the different kinds of loves in my life, to relish unabashedly and without cynicism in the fact that love’s the finest thing around, the thing that ultimately gives life its meaning, and when you think about it that way, what’s so bad bout being all cheesy and gooey for one day out of the year about it? Not that we should only act this way once a year, but that the holiday is a good excuse: a little decadence, a little romance, a little fun. 

Make a playlist of love songs for your best friend! Cook for a neighbor or a colleague or invite someone you’ve been meaning to get together with over for a night of take-out and a movie. Take yourself out for a spa date or take your kid to the drug store and buy up those face, hand, and foot masks, plus plenty of candy (duh). 

You can also <drumroll please> purchase a sticker of the artwork below as a little Valentine’s Day happy! Designed by my friend Laura, it features me riding my (imaginary, but hopefully someday!) recumbent bike, probably blasting Lizzo or Dua Lipa as I tool around the neighborhood, living my best life. If you have a beautiful weirdo in your life, or you ARE the beautiful weirdo in your life, grab a couple of these and share the weirdo love.

But wait! There’s more! (Sorry, couldn’t help myself) If you know me, you also know that I LOVE LOVE LOVE to send mail. One of the practices I took up a handful of years ago, in order to send more mail and also read more poetry, was to write out poems I loved and mail them to friends. So, for this Valentine’s Day, if you’d like, you can add-on a handwritten, thoughtfully selected poem to your sticker order. Get one for yourself, gift one to someone else for a sweet surprise.

As I shared in my last post, I am exploring ways to live my life with joy and ease, do the writing that I feel called to do, and prioritize my mental and physical well-being. Your support, even just buying a sticker or two, is a cobblestone along the pathway to allowing me to do this. I’ve got something new cooking, but in the meantime, I only have an inventory of 100 stickers, so order soon! 

GRIEF

Y’all, the holidays are so weird. They’re just, like, a recipe for an absurdist disaster, all of the expectations we pile up at the end of the calendar year. Add in travel (bow howdy the airport security line is not necessarily the place to fall in love with humanity!), financial stress, the fact that we’re in a tridemic, winter weather (I am wearing two layers of everything in my house right now, including pants), and I am personally ready to call it a day, take a weed gummy, and eat my feelings. 

I haven’t even thrown in the slow-relationship-death-cohabitation phenomenon that is my own current holiday situation. I know some of you have already done this, so I’m telling you what you already know, but, phew, this shit is HARD. Hard in a way I could not truly appreciate until now, having been in this committed partnership since I was nineteen years old. The grief is many layered: grief over what’s lost, grief over what has changed, grief about the person you thought you knew or loved or could count on, grief about the family you had built, the agreed-upon narrative whose origins you now puzzle over. There is grief over what transpired, what you did and did not do about it in response, how long it took you to realize that your relationship’s narrative no longer matched up with its reality and, perhaps worst of all, grief that the person you once felt so totally seen by no longer seems to see you as you are.

Grief is not new to me, having lost my dad very suddenly and at an early age, but this experience feels akin to landing on a different planet in the same solar system. Grief is a vast wilderness, I suppose, and everyone’s landscape is populated uniquely. That’s part of why grieving can be so damn lonely; you can talk about it, describe it, point at it, express your dread, your despair, but ultimately, grief is a solitary endeavor. We each walk through and with our grief alone. 

At the same time, we are never the only ones engaged in the act of grieving, even as our individual grief is particular to us. We can always offer to accompany others as they journey through grief, sit and bear witness to the strange and painful communion that grieving demands. As any of us who have been granted such tenderness in such a primally raw time of life know, nothing makes a difference quite like presence given without expectation when you are so very badly in need of help. To have someone hold my hand as I make my way through a brand-new, daunting landscape is the greatest gift I have known. 

What I’m saying is; in all of the hustle and bustle, remember to check on your people. Let the ones who are missing someone, or whose lives have been otherwise disrupted by unexpected or difficult change know that you are thinking of them. You don’t have to know exactly what to say—none of us do!—I simply try to remind myself that I’d prefer to say something over nothing and try to reach out in a way that does not oblige a response, sometimes even going so far as to spell that out (“Please don’t feel obligated to reply to me! If you heart this text, I’ll know it’s okay to send more.”)

Anyone who knows me knows that I love baby animal and baby human photos; folks will often text them to me or send them via Insta. In the past few difficult months, this seemingly simple gesture has often gotten me through the day, reminding me that I am not alone: I am thought of, I am loved, I am cared for, and there are precious and good things in this world that are my birthright as much as anyone else’s.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Amen.

ADVENT

There are too many emails in my inbox. Too many in yours, too, I wager. I use one of those rollup subscription tools to manage them all, but still – the emails. They overflow. It is December 1 and Inbox Inundation is in Full Swing.

I have a complicated relationship with this time of year; I’m sure I’m not the only one. We call it “The Holidays,” but of course, that’s a euphemism – everybody knows we mean Christmas. And, frankly, it can be difficult not to resent that. I say this both as a Hindu, whose major holiday comes earlier in the calendar year and is generally overlooked by the American public, and as someone who adores the spiritual meaning and heft of the Christmas story. What our consumer culture has managed to turn this season into is, whether you are invested from a religious angle or not, mostly garbage.

Listen, I am the farthest thing from a Scrooge; I love twinkling lights and I can get knee-deep in wonder real fast. It’s the obligation I’m not down with, the shouty capitalism that implies we MUST BUY THESE THINGS RIGHT AT THIS MOMENT in order to sustain our relationships and show people we love them, MUST SEND INSTAGRAM-WORTHY CARDS to demonstrate our family’s happiness and well-being, MUST SACRIFICE THE ENTIRE MONTH OF DECEMBER to doing things and spending time with people that we will ultimately resent. 

Perhaps you have cracked the code for yourself and negotiated that beautiful balance of eschewing convention and choosing the traditions, rituals, and celebrations that feel truly meaningful to you – if so, please immediately reveal your secrets. Personally, I find myself renegotiating my relationship with Christmas each year, doing my best to determine what feels authentically engaging versus on an autopilot setting. I want so much to invest in that which sustains, from where I give my money to where I spend my time. 

I don’t know that I’m ever going to get this balance “right,” or that there is a “right” – but with so much in flux in my family’s life right now, I have the opportunity to revisit and reimagine what I want this time of year to look like, and what I’m no longer interested in doing or trying to be. Turns out, there is a little bit of freedom in announcing to the world that your marriage is ending! Listen, I’m not recommending it, but for sure this destroys once and for all any internal impulse you once had to keep up with the Joneses or give a shit about what other people think. That stuff I can’t control. That stuff, no amount of algorithm-targeted merchandise is going to mitigate. I’ve got to do that work myself.

So I am going to try very hard this December to filter out the distractions and focus on that which sustains. Joy and good cheer? Sustaining. Gathering with friends for a fine meal? Sustaining. Extending forgiveness to myself and others? Sustaining. And so on and so forth.

As a liturgical season, Advent invites us to empty ourselves out, rather than fill ourselves up (ironic, eh? way to go, capitalism) – to make room in our hearts for a miracle to occur. The trick is, we have to forget that we know the miracle is already promised. At the darkest hour in the stillness of our truest selves is when the magic happens. This I wish for all of you, and for me as well.

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