Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Festivus for the Rest of Us

Well, it’s that time of the year, folks, when we all gather round the pole for the airing of the grievances and traditional father/son wrestling match. Yes, I’m talking about Festivus. For those of you who don’t know, Festivus is a holiday invented by Frank Costanza. For those of you who don’t know who Frank Costanza is, he is the father of George Costanza on the TV show Seinfeld. For those of you who have never heard of Seinfeld, you have no business here. Anyway, Festivus is a holiday celebrated in lieu on Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza in which, as previously mentioned, you go around the table telling your loved ones what bothered you about them that year. Then George must wrestle his father. And instead of a tree, there’s a pole.
I like the idea of Festivus. You complain and watch some sports. It sort of reminds me of the old days, going to my grandma and grandpa’s house for Christmas.
You see, I’ve had a history of non-traditional holidays. I grew up loving Christmas movies like Miracle on 34th Street, A Muppet’s Christmas Carol, Prancer, and Babes in Toyland. I would beg my mom to take me to watch The Nutcracker ballet (she sweetly obliged). I would dream of full pine trees, decorated with lights, tinsel, and multicolored ornaments, laying out the anticipation for Christmas morning. For the first seven years of my life, this fantasy played out pretty well. There were bumps in the road of course, like how, at five, I asked my mom if Santa was real in front of a Jehovah’s Witness. She told me the truth and I did my best to ignore it. Presents were still signed “from Santa” or “Love, Mrs. Claus” (she brought me Pert Plus shampoo one year) and I would do my best to believe it, but there was still that ugly whisper in my ear, saying, “Santa is a lie.” Sometimes, my knowledge made me spiteful and I would occasionally say things to my stepbrother like, “Isn’t it weird how Santa and your mom have the exact same handwriting?” My attempt at cruelty failed, as he believed in Santa until he was about thirteen.
Soon, however, a bigger monkey wrench was thrown into things. My dad and his girlfriend decided that they were too eclectic for my perfect Christmas. It started small, a few weird toys for ornaments, but then grew into something that I couldn’t control. One year, as I awaited going to find and cut down the perfect Christmas tree, snowsuit and all, my dad returned home with a box containing a small artificial white Christmas tree. “And then we’ll wrap it in these chili pepper lights!” he proclaimed, proudly as my snow boots went flaccid in my mittened hand. Next year, it only got worse. “Let’s spray-paint it black!” he said, as everybody but me wagged their heads in agreement. So, our fake white tree underwent a color transformation. And the next year? “Dismembered Barbie parts as ornaments!” It seemed almost metaphoric, watching my favorite childhood toys being ripped apart, like my favorite holiday. “Hey! Instead of a star on top of the tree, how about this stuffed crow that I found?!” After that year, my dad and his girlfriend split and Christmas was left by the wayside. Flying out to visit my grandparents who live in Vancouver, most of my subsequent Christmases have been spent in airports and on airplanes.
As a child of divorce, you’d assume that I’d have a back up Christmas if one happened to get sinister. Not the case. My mom, realizing that no one in the house called themselves Christians, decided that our holiday energies would be better directed at something that wasn’t Jesus’ birthday. Thus, the annual Solstice celebration was born. Telling someone that I celebrate Solstice, I can generally predict his or her response. “Very… progressive?” Let me take a moment to clear up some misconceptions. There are no fertility figurines in my mom’s house, my stepfather does not have a beard, ponytail, or any sarongs in his closet, and the menstrual blood ritual moon dance is totally optional. Really, all it is is a night where we have all of our good friends over for some good humor and good food. Later, we have a little gift exchange within my immediate family.
Don’t misunderstand me. Solstice is awesome. I mean, Jesus seems like a cool cat and all, but I’ve never had much reason to celebrate his birth. My church experience has been pretty limited. I’ve tagged along to a friend’s Sunday schools a couple of times, I went to a Jewish summer camp, attended a mass (I fainted onto a pew), and even once entertained joining a Unitarian youth group (I think I quit because it was scheduled at the same time as Angel or Will & Grace or something). Basically, what I’m getting at is that my spiritual backbone has always been weak and I have consistently chosen to kneel at the altar of pop culture rather than at a cross or Star of David. Maybe it’s hypocritical for me to celebrate Christmas or howl “Silent Night.” Bumper-stickers and yard signs reading “Put the Christ back in Christmas” taunt me at every intersection, making me ask myself whether it is just the consumerism and presents that attract me to the holidays. Scanning through my most memorable Christmas memories, it would certainly seem that way. I’m six and my mom hung a sheet over the living room door, so I can’t see the crisply wrapped gifts before she wakes up. I’m 12 and want a Razor scooter, but get a suitcase instead. I’m 7, 8, 9, 10, etc., and my brother saves all of his presents until the end, so we have to watch him unwrap each of his presents excruciatingly slow with none of our own Christmas presents to distract us with anticipation anymore. Yes, I won’t be afraid to say it. Getting presents is awesome. In my defense, I generally love any gift that’s thrown my way, whether it’s a drawing from my cousins, their childish lines maybe forming me, along with their dog and a giraffe or two, standing by a Christmas tree, my hair a mass of brown and sharp scribbled lines, or the wool slippers that I’m wearing right now. For example, my wish list this year ranges from an old photo of my grandmother, some long underwear, ladies gloves, and a Flight of the Concords DVD. And I don’t just love getting gifts; I love giving the perfect gift as well. Generally, I can’t even wait for the official gift-giving day to come and make the receiver open it early.
Just the other day, my roommate said, looking at me with distain, “I hate Christmas. It’s such a consumer holiday and I’m not a consumer.” Keep in mind, as she says this, she is wriggling into her Urban Outfitters skinny jeans. So, let’s start a movement folks, where we can honestly say that gift giving and receiving is nice. I’ll also say that people are a lot nicer to each other around this time of year. For example, as I passed a panhandler today, rather than look the other way, I said, “No spare change, but HAPPY HOLIDAYS!” Maybe he didn’t feel better, but I sure did!
I’ve strayed a little off course. I guess, looking, closer, it’s the tradition aspect of Christmas that I miss and envy. My family has never been one to hold onto, maintain, or invent traditions, and, apart from the Solstice dinners, I can’t think of a single family tradition that has become anything more than a romantic notion. Each branch (har har) of the family’s Christmas trees have shifted from real to artificial, if not disappearing entirely, Christmas mornings have shifted into whenever we all have time to meet (a rarity), and we’re no longer too young to be oblivious to the petty grievances that crouch between relatives. We might even be old enough to have developed a few grievances ourselves. How very Festivus of us. I can’t just blame my parents. I’m to blame, too. Last year, I chose backpacking through Europe in lieu of wassail and carols. Two years before that, I was living in Italy with a host family for Christmas. Now, thinking back on that holiday, I can honestly say that I was inundated with holiday tradition. The Gioculano family went all out with a two-day feast. On Christmas Eve, no one can eat meat, so we ate fish. Presents are opened at midnight. Lunch is held with the entire family on Christmas day. Even the crudely painted baby Jesus is placed in the nativity scene with some intentionality. As the guest, I was given the honor of laying him in his hay stuffed crib. Nervous, I whispered to my host mom, “This doesn’t seem right. I’m not a Christian.” Putting a comforting and weathered hand on my back, she replied, “That’s okay, we believe he loves you anyway.” Hearing her words are probably the closest that I’ve ever come to God.
If I ever happen to accidentally have a couple of babies, I want to give them childhoods rich with tradition. I don’t mean that I plan to raise them as Christian fundamentalists (or moderates), but tradition and religion aren’t always connected. I just want them to look back on their childhoods and say, “Sure, Mom was drunk most of the time, but our annual toboggan runs sure were a hoot! And how about those autumn apple pickings, eh?”
Being that my parents make up two thirds of my readership (and that’s if I include myself as a reader), I must clarify that I wouldn’t exchange any tradition in the world for the childhood that they have given me. In fact, rather than giving me the same event to look forward to every year, they have constantly introduced me to new things, anti-traditions so to speak. Because of them, I was considered a worldly traveler by twelve, can list the casts of movies that I’ve never seen before, have a phenomenal personal style (maybe that black Christmas tree gifted me a special chicness, no?), and have constantly been surrounded by the most humorous intelligent people that this world has to offer. For all of this, I can come to grips with the lack of sugarplums, Easter egg dyeing, and apple bobbing. Still, they could have at least found a way to make annual Christmas cookies, have some matrilineal quilt that’s handed down mother to daughter, habitually sacrifice goats, have a secret recipe or two, work at Colonial Williamsburg, etc. Do I sound ungrateful? Give me a break. This is Festivus after all.
You suck for not reading my blog more. Now, let’s wrestle.
The Pop Quiz Kid

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

You make me wanna la la

Recently, Seventeen Magazine has launched the Body Peace Treaty. For those of you who are not a fifteen-year-old girl or an internet pedophile, you probably don’t visit http://www.seventeen.com with frequency. I am among you non-pedophiles and stumbled upon this treaty through a far more adult source. Yes, I’m talking about the Internet Movie Database’s daily celebrity news (how often can they spell Ben Affleck wrong?). On further research, here is what I discovered: Seventeen’s Body Peace Treaty is a pledge for young girls where they sign their names and agree to stop harassing their own bodies. The vow goes:
1. Remember that the sun will still rise tomorrow even if I had one too many slices of pizza or an extra scoop of ice cream tonight.
2. Never blame my body for the bad day I'm having.
3. Stop joining in when my friends compare and trash their own bodies.
4. Never allow a dirty look from someone else to influence how I feel about my appearance.
5. Quit judging a person solely by how his or her body looks — even if it seems harmless — because I'd never want anyone to do that to me.
6. Notice all the amazing things my body is doing for me every moment I walk, talk, think, breathe...
7. Quiet that negative little voice in my head when it starts to say mean things about my body that I'd never tolerate anyone else saying about me.
8. Remind myself that what you see isn't always what you get on TV and in ads — it takes a lot of airbrushing, dieting, money, and work to look like that.
9. Remember that even the girl who I'd swap bodies with in a minute has something about her looks that she hates.
10. Respect my body by feeding it well, working up a sweat when it needs it, and knowing when to give it a break.
11. Realize that the mirror can reflect only what's on the surface of me, not who I am inside.
12. Know that I'm already beautiful just the way I am.

Way to go Seventeen! Who could give you a hard time for encouraging teenage girls to feel good about themselves? Oh wait, I can.
1. The sun will not rise tomorrow if you die of a heart attack, induced by one too many extra slices of pizza or scoops of ice cream. Even if you don’t die, you might wish you were dead because you suffer from extreme diabetes and have to roll around in a custom made plus size wheelchair as you are now too fat to walk.
2. Perhaps you fell down and broke your leg and are in excruciating pain all day. Then it is perfectly legitimate to blame your body for a bad day.
3. We’ve all had friends who insult themselves just to have everyone around them compliment them. I find that the best response to a friend’s “I’m so fat!” is to oink like a pig and pelt them with whatever food I’m am eating. The more it splatters, the better. Another example of a time where you should maybe trash your own body is when you need to call attention to a problem that you are having, but are too embarrassed to recognize. You might say, “These track marks make my arms look so ugly” or “My stomach has gotten so swollen since I went all the way with that college guy who works at Chi Chi’s.”
4. I can’t even count the number of friends that I have heard say, “If I look bad in something, I wanna know.” Actually, I can. I have heard 4.6 people say that. Back on point, when someone gives me a dirty look, I either assume that they are jealous of me and my trés chic three-week-no-wash pants and battered loafers or I go up and thank them for making me aware that bubble hems are passé.
5. Generally a good rule of thumb. Make an exception if the person has swastikas tattooed on their skin, looks like a child molester, is Elijah Wood, or is unbearably ugly.
6. Unless you suffer from cerebral palsy. In that case, your body is holding you back a little bit.
7. Some people have emotionally abusive relationships where people say much meaner things to them all of the time! I guess they have a much bigger right to berate themselves and with good reason, too, because they’re just a bunch of stupid idiots that can never do anything right and are ruining my life.
8. This would be great if this weren’t Seventeen telling you this. This is the magazine that brings the frozen face of The Hill’s Lauren Conrad and the bleached out and bared teeth of Avril Levine into the grocery store line every month. This is like John Wayne telling you not to ride a horse or Dick Cheney telling you not to shoot your friend in the face.
9. Boohoo, Sienna Miller. Suck it up.
10. I can’t think of anything funny to say about this one, so I’ll let it go.
11. Obviously, you have never read Harry Potter and heard about the Mirror of Erised. Mirrors can tell you quite a bit more than they used to. That being said, it pays to have a nice surface.
12. Unless you’re an asshole. Then you should probably try and change a few things.

I have one more bone to pick with this treaty. At the end, Seventeen has a list of all of the celebrities that have signed the pledge. You know, real A-listers like human cartoon Brittany Snow, whos-her-face Emmy Rossum, Billy Ray Cyrus’ daughter, and Katherine McPhee (she was anorexic, so she has learned all about loving her body in recovery). But the cherry on top of the petition signing cake? Ashlee Simpson. Now poor Ashlee has faced a lot of ridicule in her time. There was the lip-synching debacle and the videotaped drunken McDonald’s thing. She dated human porcupine Ryan Cabrera and had to grow up with Ol’ Leering Joe Simpson as a father. Through all of this, I watched from a far as she collapsed in on herself. I even sat through the entire first season of The Ashlee Simpson Show, listening her strain to hit the notes of “Pieces of Me” and desperately try to demonstrate what a punk she was (“Look! I have brown hair and a cut up t-shirt! Look!”). I’ll take it a step farther and say that, the first time I saw her, I thought, “that’s a very pretty girl.” My one nice thought about young Ashlee was destroyed when she, in the past two years, emerged looking like the long lost Olsen triplet. Having altered her nose, which, in my opinion, was her best feature, and adhering long and limp dread-like blonde extensions, Ashlee Simpson went from being a unique looking no-talent example of nepotism to another generic blonde no-talent example of nepotism.
Now, what does a person like this, a person so obviously caught up in conforming to the roles given to her by her manager and lover/father, doing endorsing a petition to make teenage girls accept and learn to love their appearances? Maybe Seventeen should make a Body-Peace-if-you-don’t-have-the-money-for-plastic-surgery-that-will-make-you-like-everyone-else-Treaty. Then Ashlee could sign away without a word from me.

Then. Ashlee looking slightly too tan and made up, but none the less pretty.

And now. This might actually be a picture of a contestant on ANTM. There's no way of knowing without a blood test.

That’s all the snark that I can muster up for the day.
P.S.- Here’s an odd coincidence. This is the second letter that I have written in response to a Seventeen article. The first was written when I was a sophomore or a junior in high school and was published in an issue with Ashlee’s sister Jessica on the cover. Something just draws me to that family,