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Wiley Wandering

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December 25, 2007

New Year’s Resolutions and Wishes: Yours and Our World’s

Whenever the winter holidays approach New Years my mind wanders towards what should be my New Years resolution(s). Not that I will actually keep any/all of them from one year to the next, but it is always nice to have a goal. Yes, I am a goal oriented brother! In the past I have had varying resolutions with diverse results (you had to know some dimension of diversity would show up in this blog, duh!). Once the resolution was to lose weight (one year I actually lost 27 lbs in ten weeks). Another time I committed to stop using profanity (that lasted until I realized I had grossly overdrawn my checking account). Always I strive to be a better person, parent, partner, lover, etc. I also remember the time I promised myself I would never use the N word again, never refer to a grown woman as a girl, never allow anyone to think I was in agreement with their prejudgment of someone else, never attempt to act like I wasn’t racist, sexist, homophobic, classist, ableist, and privileged in an attempt to pretend I was perfect or closer to perfection than someone else. My attempts to never do this or that were futile, but beneficial. I now recognize even more that the saying “Never say Never” is both profound and powerful. My attempts to achieve the impossible enlightened me to exactly what my capabilities actually might be.

My New Year resolution this year is to grow in multifaceted ways. An essential aspect of that resolution is to talk with many people, and even more, to listen. Imbedded within every conversation with people are stories steeped in subtext that often tell you even more about the person talking than what she/he may even be interested in revealing. So as to not get too lost in my self serving flights of fancy, bouts of brilliance when I think I may have discovered a tantalizing tidbit, I confirm it by engaging it. Yes, I ask questions of my conversant to further substantiate my interpretation of what they said. By doing this I like to think I am showing her/him a heightened level of respect by taking measures to further ensure that we are on the same page, that we are “really” communicating.

As I wander through these holidays, I wonder what others New Year resolutions might be. As well, I wonder what others wish could occur in this world of ours that would create more loving spaces. What do you wish could occur that might make our planet less hateful, less harmful? What is your resolution to contribute your part to making that wish come true? If the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, what is the first step(s) you plan on taking in 2008?

December 14, 2007

This Christmas: Is the Best Gift a So-called Christian-like Conversation?

I remember, as if it were yesterday, being genuinely excited about Christmas. I specifically remember one Christmas when I was about six years old. My mother bought me a yellow Yogi Bear record and I thought I had the best gift ever. Why that gift stays in my mind, overriding all other gifts I ever received at Christmas times before I don’t know, but it does. Am I the only one who remembers a certain gift they received?

What is even more interesting about that one Christmas was that I don’t really recall my father’s presence. I had no context of what was really happening in the world around me. Yes, it was all about me! My mother was still in her twenties, my siblings were nine, five, and three. I am sure we were on some type of state-federal assistance, though my mother was working and her sister was watching my non-school age siblings. I’m pretty sure Pops was incarcerated but I only know that in retrospect since Mom isn't interested in revisiting specific aspects of all that drama. I don't blame her!

Holidays are really difficult for me now. I love to see my children excited about receiving gifts. I love to have the opportunity to teach them about giving. But I don’t enjoy knowing that the sentiment behind Christmas is far too often lost in its commercialization. Of course I don’t tell my children this. It would be too Scrooge like. But there is no doubt that they will reach an age where we will talk about it. How many of you are prepared to have that conversation with your children?

I also struggle with the concept of Christmas decorations. Since I am not excited about the conflicting messages of the holiday, my not contributing to the decorating of our home is a clue for my children that something is up with Dad and Christmas. Maybe I am subconsciously planting a seed in my children so that our Christmas conversation happens sooner than later. Of course my conversation about Christmas becomes more complicated because of the black holiday celebration Kwanzaa. My children will no doubt ask me why is it necessary for black people to have a different holiday (as Jewish children are apt to do with their parents, I imagine). That conversation won’t be easy.

My children have asked me about Santa Claus and his decisions. Someone help me answer my little girl’s question: Why does Santa give better gifts to rich kids than poor kids?” Does the Santa Claus story--wherein Santa checks his list to see who is naughty and nice--somehow contribute to a devaluing of the poor, who may be less apt to receive multiple-high end gifts due to the finanicial struggles of their family? The kids know the story and may subconsciously see one another through a Santa Claus influenced, reward-based, constructed lens that at a young age they are incapable of deconstructing (as if all adults have this ability). In other words, is it possible that our society exacerbates the distance between wealth and poverty with holidays that hint at behavioral rewards (gifts) based on merit when in actuality Santa's going to hook you up based on what she/he can afford.

Does the Christmas - Santa Claus story further promote patriarchy? How so? Is the Santa Claus story problematic across socio-economic lines when you consider communities like Plattsburgh and Peru? We live in a community where at any given moment you can be in line at a store sandwiched between a wealthy family and an impoverished one. Since our children go to the same schools, what is the reality after holidays? How many of us/you talk to our/your children about being appreciative of what they receive, but also aware that everyone isn’t having the same type of Christmas that they are? How many of us are overcompensating with our children by giving them a Christmas that we subconsciously wish we had in our youth? How many of you consciously witness how deeply immersed our society is in the marketing of certain holidays to the point of the actual meaning of the day itself being lost in translation? Have we somehow lost sight of the Christ that is supposed to be essential in Christmas?

What do we do about this Christmas holiday? Do we keep the Christmas marketing machine in place with all its flaws, or one by one, family by family, friend to friends/associates do we cautiously, logically, systematically debunk the Christmas hype? What are your thoughts?