Monthly Archives: November 2008

Rock the Bells

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Holidays
by Geoff Kleinman

I’ve been not celebrating Christmas almost my whole life. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Not celebrating Christmas is like being six feet tall and not playing basketball. But I do play basketball, or at least I have, but I’ve never been able to really dunk the ball, and that troubles me. What I don’t do is celebrate Christmas.

It’s not like I haven’t tried to celebrate Christmas. I vividly recall being six and scotch-taping a tube sock to my fireplace with a note to Santa Clause saying that, although I was Jewish, I wanted to leave him something ‘just in case’. My parents were stark realists, so when I woke up that Christmas morning, the only thing I found was my note and an empty sock.

Not celebrating Christmas hasn’t always been the issue that it is. I’ve not celebrated Christmas in some pretty extraordinary places. I’ve not celebrated Christmas in Hong Kong where everything was open and ready for business. I’ve not celebrated in London, where the only restaurant open was McDonald’s but we got to test market this ‘new’ product called the Chicken McNugget. That not-celebration was followed by an amazing Boxing Day celebration filled with fun and revelry. It was one of those perfect days I’ll never forget.

My usual not-celebration involves going out for some sort of Asian food and a movie. For many years this not-celebration was a pretty sweet deal. We ate like kings in restaurants that rarely had anyone in them. Once in a while we’d run in to other friends not celebrating Christmas and we’d not celebrate together. Food would always be followed by some big holiday movie and we always got the perfect, middle of the theater seats. Not celebrating Christmas used to be like getting into Disneyland before everyone else; there’s a reason they call it The Magic Kingdom, only the magic goes away when all the fucking people show up. But things have changed, and over the past few years my not-celebration has been completely invaded by people who are actually celebrating.

To be fair, I’ve never really been that high on Hanukkah either. It’s always felt like a Jewish version of Christmas. The eight night thing is somehow a consolation prize for not being on the Christmas train. Growing up, my friends were always envious of the concept of eight nights of presents; I never had the heart to tell them that it’s the same amount of presents they got, just stretched out over the course of eight nights.

It’s not that I get particularly blue around the holidays, I just sort of get annoyed. As I’ve gotten older I’ve tried to delve deeper into the source of my general aversion of the holidays, and the unfortunate revelation I had was, it wasn’t just the winter holidays I had issues with – it was all holidays. This bit of news was rain on my wife’s parade, who unlike me actually loves the holidays.

This all came to an explosive head on Mother’s Day a couple of years ago. In an ill-fated attempt to show my wife that her holiday was important and I was big enough of a man to make it happen, I tried to make a nice pancake breakfast, with a huge hangover. Now this doesn’t sound like a recipe for disaster, but it was. Yelling and screaming at someone who is the focus of a special day when you completely fail at a fairly easy and mundane task is really, really bad. I call this particular day “holiday ground zero”.

That day put me in a complete tail spin. How could my approach to holidays be causing such misery? Then it hit me. I’m Charlie Brown. My issues with holidays aren’t over the actual holidays themselves, it’s the complete lack of ability to deal with the crushing weight of the expectations of others. The stakes on holidays are so high that it magnifies any and every basic imperfection. How can you possibly celebrate in the face of all that?

This holiday existential crisis came around the same time as my wife suggesting that maybe, this year, we actually celebrate ‘some’ Christmas. Heather is Jewish but didn’t grow up that way, so she connects some of the non-religious elements of the holidays with her family. This suggestion sat like a big white elephant in our home for weeks until the weight of it literally knocked me on my ass.

Lying there, I discovered just how complicated I had made all things holiday, and I realized my solution was pretty simple. I was going to just stop worrying about it and find some way to love the holidays. I know there are no guarantees to having a successful holiday but that doesn’t mean I can’t try. I may still be just like Charlie Brown, but in the end, it always seems to work out for him. Perhaps the same will be true for me.



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Rock the Bells

The Peal


The Underblawgger

Down the row, she looks at me with a tremendous smile. Bright points of light slide along the curved bronze gleam by her chest, and the lip casts a glow against the bottom of her chin.

I smile back, as the two ringers between us upturn their own golden cups, and we all focus on the conductor, our eight white-gloved hands, poised.

The organist powers the music through the pipes and the choir sings. We stand behind the singers, spaced apart so that, when the time comes, we’ll have room to swing broadly and produce a full, round tone.

Though hidden in the dark, I can feel the congregation looking up at us. They are expectant at the sight of four, blue-robed ringers, tucked into a corner of the choir loft, patiently holding our sparkling chimes until the news is heard that, in Bethlehem, a savior is born. A savior has been born in Bethlehem, let there be a joyful noise.

The wave rolls toward me and my right arm circles low and outward and the hammer snaps forward and the note sings out, deep and rich. It descends from the choir loft and shakes the candle flames. It enters the congregation and pours into the pews, shimmying through the children’s egg nog bellies.

After my right arm, my left arm swings and fills out the peal which is then re-born by her ringing again at the top, and up and down we go, left, right, high, and low, a shining ladder of sound.

Finally, when it feels like even the stones of the church have joined us in sympathetic vibration, the conductor signals, and we don’t damp, but let them ring and twirl them and shimmer them all over the church, and the overtones gallop forward and backward, prancing on the heads of the children and leaping off the backs of their ears.

The conductor signals again, and we bring them to our chests and feel the tingly buzz as they fall silent and silence is what is needed because the whole world has heard the good news and now, if it were wise, it would be still and ponder.

After, as we’re putting them away, she finds me and kisses me on the cheek and she has to run because she’s got a plane to catch, but I’m a lifesaver and she owes me one big time and she’ll call me as soon as she gets back and we’ll get together for dinner and it’ll be her treat, ok?

Outside, flakes are lightly falling. Everything has that peaceful, muffled sound that happens after a fresh snowfall. The sidewalk is an unspoiled carpet and the windows are rimmed with white. In front of me, a black, triangular building rises toward the sky and the stars peer and disappear behind the purple, flowing clouds.

I had been dreading this thing the whole day, but now that it’s over, I can admit that I had fun. She had been right. I know that you’re an atheist, she had said, but there will be Bach and, even if you don’t believe in God, I know that you believe in music.

Behind me, a giggle. I turn to see a young couple step out onto the church steps. She is unsteady, and holds on to the rail with a pink mitten. He stands next to her, supporting her around the waist.

I recognize the boy from the choir; we had been introduced earlier in the evening.

My friend’s a lawyer, she’d said. He squinted at me.

A Christian lawyer, he asked.

Once she safely makes it down the stairs, he runs to the corner and hails a cab. He opens the door and she walks to him. Snow settles into her brown, curly hair.

I can’t believe that you found a cab this fast on Christmas Eve. She kisses his neck.

It’s a miracle, he says.

She laughs.

The cab idles for a moment, red lights shining, windshield wipers winking. The couple shares the back seat and I know that he is listening to the driver’s question.

Even though I’m not a Christian lawyer – even though I’m not a Christian – I know his answer. I know that he believes what we all believe.

I know that he believes in true things, like good friends, and good music.

And I know that he believes in life things. Real things, which are also true. The rise of a woman’s nipple beneath your palm. Her open mouth by your ear.

Where to?

I’ll give you an address, driver, but you don’t need it. You already know it. Everybody who enters this cab – Christians and heathens alike – knows it, and seeks it. It’s the place of salvation. It’s the calm, solitary place where she and I can be together.


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Rock the Bells

Man Was I Glad to See You Again

By Heather Reddy of Sorry to Be So Heavy

I tried to be Facebook friends with my exhusband. I really did. I felt like I was Over It. In retrospect, I guess it’s not so strange that, when feelings are gone, pettiness remains. I would look at his profile often—the odd thing was that he kept a photo of him that I took as his profile picture, so I always felt silently present when I looked at the details of his new life: jobs, grad school, party photos. It would always stun me: it was me who was looking at him, there, in the photo that represented him. When I took it we were staying in an expensive hotel in Chicago and I had a fancy new camera. We were about to miss a Mogwai show.

Once, I let my eye stray to his Facebook wall and saw this:
of all the people i’ve run into on here in such a short time…you may have made me the happiest. 🙂 I have missed you terribly. You stick out in my mind as possibly the kindest person I ever met. I miss when you used to come over and lay around with me. And such a great conversationalist…but suffice it to say…man was i glad to see you again. loves and kisses xoxox

I felt something resembling panic and didn’t know why. It was written by B. Facebook told me they had become “friends” two days before she wrote it. But I knew her from before. He was sort of dating B. when we got together, in 2000. B. was everything I definitely wasn’t back then: polished, reckless, sexualized, stupid, self-confident, a third wave feminist. She was so much of a third wave feminist that she was a stripper—something I found (publicly) disgusting and (privately) slightly enviable. She made me squirm when we ran into her. His arm was around my shoulder and she flashed a wide, taunting smile at me. “Hello, Heather,” she said, with vague, almost absent-minded disdain. “I’ve heard about you.”

He didn’t tell me until we were living together that he’d been a virgin before me. He never even kissed B.; she was too coked out and he was too shy. That he never kissed her made me feel so much better, less stung by his infidelity. It hurt that he’d withheld the solace of that tiny detail because he wanted to brag about sleeping in her bed.

What made me sure I couldn’t continue to cringe at his facebook status updates was being riveted back to jealousy from the beginning of our relationship so long after its complete end. I haven’t figured out why I had such a reaction to seeing this girl’s post: I am not jealous. It’s just weird. I live in Oregon, he lives in Connecticut, B. lives in Michigan. He and I were together for five years (married for a small fraction of them). She remembers him before he met me. And, still, I took the picture she used to find him. (His name is very common and he’s not living where he used to.) A couple hours after I took that picture of him, our friend showed up with his goth girlfriend and we went out for sushi. The whole thing isn’t much of a story. Or not one I have a hold on, anyway.

I mean, I can hold dissonant images in my head: how when I moved out of our shared apartment, I wept uncontrollably at the process of packing things and made him leave so I could do it alone. How he picked me up, in town for only 12 hours, and we had this calm meal at an Outback Steakhouse next to the airport, deciding—with Big Person Bravado—we needed a divorce and that was okay; lots of people get divorces and it’s okay. I remember how I first noticed his gray-green eyes, eloquence and half-tucked shirt at a philosophy conference. He held his unruly hair away from his face to talk to me that afternoon. Years later, we walked a long way to our car after we talked to the midwife, wondering whether we should have a baby right then or wait until his second year of law school.

Last summer, I got an email. Subject: Fair warning. He was coming to the west coast, he said, to Portland of all places. He couldn’t meet with me or anything, he’d “be with lawyers 24 hours a day.” I told him he could have my city: I was going to Alaska with my husband that week. No chance we’d run into each other.

When he calls, we talk about mob television and the weather. I usually let him talk long enough that his cadences regain familiarity, but grow weary quickly after that. He doesn’t know many people in the city, he said when we spoke recently, and his sister broke up with that guy a couple years ago. I seethed at him a little but felt warm at the same time. He asked about my headaches and had a frantic loneliness in his voice that was, I guess, always there. We are nothing so simple as people who share a Facebook Alumni network, though I guess we do.

When I reached my tolerance with our conversation this past time, a day or two ago, I said I needed to go let the dogs out. I stared at the phone and then my knuckles, wondering if maybe I should care more, before I picked my book up. I removed him as a friend a couple weeks ago. There is no real etiquette for disasters. You just click the remove friend button at the bottom of the screen. Sometimes you just need to end a story if you haven’t figured it out yet.


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