Monday, December 19, 2005

More thoughts on Simplicity

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Missouri Art Therapist, Carol Lark, sent me this picture as a holiday gift. Isn't it beautiful? (Thank you Carol) It's called "Point of View" and it's what she does when she goes to her place in North Carolina! Sigh. She says, "This was taken at dawn one perfect, still morning in October on Long Creek, just around the corner from our house on stilts......"

After getting this from Carol, and also after reading Keri Smith's blog about her traditional Newfie gift giving which brought tears to my eyes (you should read it and see if you don't get tears as well), I thought I'd give this examination of traditions a try. (see yesterday's blog) After all, why not do the things that bring tears to your eyes? Why not do the things that mean the most to you. Why not do All That Matters.

I'm not much of a scale person, so here are the traditions that have been a part of my life at one time or another at this season, and my general feeling about the memories of them.

Giving gifts - Actually, it's always been the thinking up of gifts and the creating of gifts that I've always loved. I love the creativity and endorphin rush involved in generosity more than anything.

Receiving gifts - Of course this is really fun, but I think the fun of the previous tradition lasts longer and is more complex. (Except the above surprise gift of Point of View, of course)

Wrapping gifts - Again, if I can be creative with this I do enjoy it.

Sending cards - The past few years I've made little books for Christmas cards, and I REALLY enjoyed that.

Putting up and decorating a tree - I have enjoyed this very much, in the past, before cats came into my life and started deconstructing
the trees. Now I don't do trees.

Decorating your home inside - Love this as long as the decorations are out of the cats' reach!

Baking - As a kid and a few times since, one of my favorite things to do was bake and decorate ginger bread men. Wonderful!!!

Making and hosting the holiday meal - If it's a non traditional, vegetarian friendly meal, I love this. I've also been to many pot-luck Christmas dinners that were really the best. Doing it yourself is good, but doing it with others is Great! One of my favorites was a Christmas dinner with other Peace Corps Volunteers in Korea. The effort we all made to give each other a good Christmas away from family and familiar friends was stunning. After dinner we went caroling. This was perfectly acceptable in Korea, since singing in groups after a big meal is taken for granted.

Visiting family - This can be tough if you and family don't see eye to eye on the issues of simplicity, consumption, Politics, War, etc.

Visiting friends - Very enjoyable esp. if your friends are tolerant about your feelings towards simplicity, consumption, Politcs, War, etc.

Attending religious services - I love the carols and I love the celebration of the birth of the man who taught us to turn the other cheek, to love one another, and that the meek shall inherit the earth.

Listening to holiday music - I love traditional carols sung by English Choirs in Cathedrals, or St. Martin of the Fields. I used to attend the Winter Solstice Concert with Paul Winter et. al. at St. John the Divine in NYC and have always loved that.

Plumb pudding and reading A Christmas Carol - These are my absolute top favorite things. (I know, traditional plumb pudding has suet, but there are ways around that.)

Watching holiday programs on TV - I'd rather go to the dentist and get a root canal.

How would my holiday be if I did only the three to five things that I cared most about? Well, wouldn't that be blast?! You would end up with more time to do just what you want! Wow!!! (Karen Jones is so smart!!!)

Now suppose I choose to change or end a particular tradition, say the craziness around gift-giving with siblings; who gets what, who doesn't get enough, who wants what, why'd you get me this for goodness sake, I've only been your sister for your whole life, etc. etc. So if I wanted to end that particular stressor, what would I say?

“Because I cherish our sisterhood very much, I wanted you to know that I’m foregoing gift-buying for the holidays from now on. I will now be focusing on the simplicity and peace of the season. I would very much like to give gifts that are personal and hand made, as I've done in the past. I will be returning to things simple and meaningful. Maybe even something as simple as the fixings for a batch of cookies. They are fun to make and fun to eat!”

Wonder if my sisters read this blog?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Longing for simplicity...

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Longing for simplicity, I've been searching the internet for simple wisdom, simple holiday ideas, and simple art. Here's what I have so far.

Dr. Karen Reivich (who writes newsletters for Reflective Happiness) has some suggestions for those of us feeling a bit overwhelmed by the pace of the season and the pressures of the media.

How can we make this season more enjoyable? First of all, she says, don’t try to do everything. It’s great to catch up with friends and family, but if your holidays are packed hour to hour, then there will be little time left for you. So start with a list of the activities and events that bring you the greatest joy and meaning during the holidays. Make sure you balance your “to do” list with some of the things on your “joy and meaning list.”

Make sure to spend time with the people you care about – building and reveling in those connections. For most of us, it’s the time spent with the folks we love that makes the holidays most meaningful.

Finally, pick one or two activities that you enjoy on your own, so that you have something fun to do when you can’t be with the people you care about. Spend time reading a book that you’ve been wanting to read, make some art, or stroll through a museum. Remind yourself that the holiday season is short. So if this is not your favorite time of year, just remember it doesn’t last very long. It might not be the best two weeks of your life, but it is just two weeks.

From Karen Jones of Benevolent Planet and her new idea packed Humane Holidays eGuide we have the following ways to evaluate traditions, to see if we are actually doing what matters most to us:

All That Matters
On a scale of 1 to 5, rank each of these holiday traditions according to how much you enjoy it
(circle the appropriate number).
1=Not at all 2=Not very much 3=Could take or leave it 4=Enjoy it 5=Love it
Giving gifts 1 2 3 4 5
Receiving gifts 1 2 3 4 5
Wrapping gifts 1 2 3 4 5
Sending cards 1 2 3 4 5
Putting up and decorating a tree 1 2 3 4 5
Decorating your home inside 1 2 3 4 5
Decorating your home outside 1 2 3 4 5
Baking 1 2 3 4 5
Making and hosting the holiday meal 1 2 3 4 5
Visiting family 1 2 3 4 5
Visiting friends 1 2 3 4 5
Hosting a party 1 2 3 4 5
Attending parties 1 2 3 4 5
Attending religious services 1 2 3 4 5
Listening to holiday music 1 2 3 4 5
Going caroling 1 2 3 4 5
Watching holiday programs on TV 1 2 3 4 5
Other: _____________________________ 1 2 3 4 5
___________________________________ 1 2 3 4 5
___________________________________ 1 2 3 4 5
___________________________________ 1 2 3 4 5
___________________________________ 1 2 3 4 5
Now circle the three to five that you ranked highest. How would your holiday be if you did only these three to five things?
Now, with a red or other colored marker, circle the things for which you hate the process but love the results. (For example, you hate the work of decorating but love how it looks when you’re done.)
> If the results are truly worth the effort, consider whether you can hire or arrange an
exchange with someone. (For instance, you’ll bake cookies for a friend if she’ll hang your
> If the pleasure you get from the results doesn’t really balance the effort it takes for you to achieve, consider eliminating or scaling back that tradition.
For each tradition you practice — especially those you ranked with less than a 4 — answer the
“Questioning Tradition” survey which follows.

Questioning Tradition: _____(you fill in the tradition you want to question)_____
Do you know how this activity became a tradition for Christmas or Hanukkah?
" Yes " No; I’ll look it up now
Do your personal beliefs support these origins? (For example, do you believe that three Wise Men brought gifts to honor the birth of Jesus, the son of God?)
" Yes " No
If Yes, does your practice of this tradition reflect that of the holidays’ origin?
" Yes, it’s pretty much as it was intended
" No, the quality and/or quantity involved bear no resemblance to the tradition’s original
If No, why do you practice this tradition at holiday time? (Check all that apply)
" It’s expected
" I enjoy it
" I never even thought about it
" The kids would feel deprived if I didn’t do it
" I don’t know how to scale back or stop
" Others would think less of me if I scaled back or stopped
" Other: ______________________________________
Do you want to continue practicing this tradition?
" Yes, exactly as I have been
" Yes, but in less quantity
" Yes, but with more quality or meaning
" No; I’d prefer to forego it
How might you alter your practice of this tradition to reflect your true wishes? Try completing this sentence: In a perfect world, I would honor this tradition by….
How might you share your wishes with those who have come to expect the usual practice from you?
If you choose to change or end a particular tradition, here is some sample wording you may wish to use in an email or card to family, friends or colleagues:
“Because I cherish our bond/friendship, I wanted you to know that I’m foregoing [tradition] for the holidays and instead focusing on the simplicity and peace of the season. I would love to share your company/connect with you by phone one day during the coming weeks. Until then, I wish you a warm and wonderful holiday season.”
Can you come up with appropriate wording for other situations? Write down some sample

Now make a list of activities you might like to do instead of the traditions you’ve been
practicing more out of habit than desire. Examples might include taking an evening winter
walk, watching a holiday movie marathon, hosting a holiday dessert party. Decide if you
want to replace some of your “old” traditions with some of these new ones.

Then if you decide you want to spend some quality time on your own, during this season here are some ideas from the Reflective Happiness website.

Take some time during this busy season for appreciation of beauty and excellence
1 Note at least one expression of natural beauty around you every day (sunrise, clouds, sunset, sunshine, snowfall, rainbow, trees, moving leaves, birds, flowers, fruits and vegetable…etc).
2 Make your surroundings as beautiful as you can.
3 Listen to a piece of music or a watch a film and look for what it is that touches you.
4 Visit a museum and pick a piece of art and again, look for what it is that touches you.
5 Explore expressions of beauty in different cultures.
6 Explore beauty on the face of a child, and on the face of an elder.
7 Note how goodness of other people affects your life, do this exercise weekly.

Feed your curiosity and interest in the world
1 Expand your knowledge in an area of interest through books, journals, magazines, radio or internet, for half an hour, three times a week.
2 Attend a function/lecture/colloquium of a culture that differs from yours.
3 Find person in the area of your interest and learn how he/she increased his/her expertise in that area.
4 Eat food of a different culture, find out about its cultural context and the traditions and stories around this food. Become aware of your thoughts and feelings about this experience.
5 Make a connection with a person of a different culture and spend time with him or her to learn about his or her culture and traditions.

"Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend." — Theophrastus
"So spend it well." Lani

Friday, December 16, 2005

Honoring the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.

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I believe that Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" is one of my favorite pieces of literature, and what ever faith we may practice in this life, I believe that there's truth in this story, perhaps more now than ever, during these dark times. It's a very generous, warm story. Here's Fred's monologue to his Uncle Scrooge:

"There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say," returned the nephew.  "Christmas among the rest.  But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round -- apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that -- as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.  And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"

From Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL. (If you click on this link, you will find a complete version. A gift for you.)

Here are some more gifts. Keri Smith has a pdf file of a Christmas Tree to cut out and decorate. Very clever. Look for it in her blog, Dec. 2. Click on the Portable Tree image. Print out, cut out and glue or tape together.

And one more gift that if as full of gifts and ideas as Scrooge's open heart after the ghosts visitations. If you are way tired of advertising and consumerism during this season, or if you live on a starving artist's budget, or you just want to find new ways to give gifts and celebrate the season, then this is for you. Go immediately to and have fun.

And finally here's my Altered Victorian Christmas Card, having totally submerged myself in the world of Dickens for weeks. Best wishes from Prospect, Nova Scotia. Merry Christmas, and God Bless Us, Everyone!

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Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Prospect Players and A Christmas Carol

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Jim Lindsey as Scrooge

What fun! Lights, sound, staging, blocking, makeup, direction, acting, props, flats, set design, scripts, SFX, production...

All this, fishcakes, beans, and apple crisp.

What more could a person want!

Are we having fun yet?

Friday, December 02, 2005

An Open Letter for Edith Kramer

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Dear Edith,

Sometimes it's good to know what your students learned, so I would like to express a deep sense of gratitude and inner satisfaction for the many things you have taught me.

One of the more important thing I learned was the idea of story-telling in the art room, and how appreciative the people we work with are, when we can furnish their minds with inspiring, challenging, sometimes scary and ultimately reassuring stories like Selma Lagerlöf's THE WONDERFUL ADVENTURES OF NILS.

I loved hearing about how you told the story of the little boy, Nils, and his struggles to become human in your art studio at the Wiltwyck Boys' School. I can also understand how the boys identified so strongly with the character Nils and all that he was learning from the old, gray, lead goose, Akka, that they begged you to tell them more stories about Akka. She was probably helping them to become human, too. How satisfying it must have been for them to paint with you and hear these stories.

In looking through the slides of your work, your home in Austria, and photos from your family, I realize another thing I have come to value is history, and the idea of being a part of a lineage; that we could learn the things you learned from Friedl Dicker, and that others could learn these things from us.

One of the best things I learned from Friedl through you, was that you don't have to wait until your analysis is complete to do good things in the world. Friedl told you that she thought that something was wrong when she felt most alive while she was imprisoned, that this must be masochism and should be analyzed. In actuality, her ability to remain fully alive under extreme adversity served her and the children she worked with in Terezin. I find this comforting because I doubt that a perfect analysis is anything I will be able to achieve in this lifetime, and if Friedl could do good things under such impossible conditions, then surely I could do some good, too, with conditions that aren't too bad.

Another aspect of appreciating history and of being a part of a lineage is the sense of community this engenders. I learned to appreciate that so much when visiting you in Austria. The sense of history and community is so very alive there. You aren't just Edith Kramer there, you are "their Kramer", in a way held by them, as if they create a transitional space for you and each other with this feeling of history and community. This feeling is more deeply satisfying than any extrinsic reward I could think of.

And finally I believe that you sparked in me the desire to search for things that provide inner satisfaction (more art, more puppets, more beauty and puppies) and to search for the part of the super ego that is kindly and care-taking, the inner-Akka, or even, perhaps, the inner-Kramer. The search for these things has been the best adventure of all. It must surely compare with Nils' adventures with Akka, and I have learned everything about being human from this adventure.

So for all of these things and for so much more, I would like to say thank you, Edith!

Your loving student,
Lani Gerity

PS - Here's a quote from the end of The Further Adventures of Nils, when Nils has become human and tries to say good bye to his friends and companions, the geese:

"He sat down on the sands and buried his face in his hands. What was the use of his gazing after them any more?

Presently he heard the rustle of wings. Old mother Akka had found it hard to fly away from Thumbietot, and turned back, and now that the boy sat quite still she ventured to fly nearer to him. Suddenly something must have told her who he was, for she lit close beside him.

Nils gave a cry of joy and took old Akka in his arms. The other wild geese crowded round him and stroked him with their bills. They cackled and chattered and wished him all kinds of good luck, and he, too, talked to them and thanked them for the wonderful journey which he had been privileged to make in their company." -Selma Lagerlöf

PDF version here