This is gonna be a bit of a long one, because I’m tackling two posts in one: the post I meant to write last week, before I unexpectedly got majorly sick the entire week leading up to Christmas; and a post I didn’t intend to write, but which seems like it needs to be written after the wild couple of weeks I’ve had. So buckle in and let Lucy explain all the madness! (The title will make sense, I promise!)
Initially I planned to write last week about traditions, carving out your own vs. knowing when to set them aside and play it by ear, etc. And that’s still a good post to share, even though the holidays are nearly over. I think there are two camps of people when it comes to traditions: those who grew up with a bevy and those who had none.
If you come from the camp of heavy tradition, the holidays can feel extra-stressful with all the pressure to maintain the standards of childhood holidays. (The blurry gloss of nostalgia + social media doesn’t help.)
And if you never really had traditions to begin with, it can feel a little lonely trying to craft your own—again, especially with the glow of picture-perfect holidays we see on Instagram. If you don’t have family to celebrate with, or are a little broke, or are just too overscheduled to keep up, the holidays can start to feel like a real bummer.
When I was in my early twenties I remember feeling a deep, painful sense of disappointment each year on December 26th. Christmas could never measure up to my childhood memories, with a fresh-cut tree, tons of beautifully wrapped presents, and a bevy of homemade cookies. I had a plastic tree and no energy to bake, let alone wrap gifts in coordinated paper. And with a job that had me working overtime right up to Christmas Eve, I didn’t have the time or energy for lots of family visits, binge-watching Christmas movies, or all the other things that seem to be tradition de rigeur in December.
In the past couple of years I’ve finally let go of that seasonal pressure to have perfect traditions and a perfect holiday. I think a lot of this has to do with my partner, who didn’t really celebrate Christmas before we moved in together, and so was game to start from scratch. We have a goth little black tree that’s placed up high away from rambunctious kittens, but it’s covered in the ornaments I’ve had since I was a baby. Together we’re building a Christmas village, picking out a new piece every year…and at the center is a Seahawks gingerbread house. Instead of trying to cram in baking we went wild at Target this year buying peppermint-flavored everything. And I scrapped Christmas cards for all but a few close friends.
It’s a blend of what I grew up with and brand-new traditions created with someone else for my new life. And although it isn’t necessarily Gram-worthy, it made me happy. I’m picking and choosing what’s most meaningful to me, and also what fits best in my schedule. And now that Christmas is over, I don’t feel let down; I feel satisfied and pleased with the season, and ready to move on to the next.
And who knows? Next year we might actually take Christmas pictures, bake cookies for the office, and decorate the yard. But if not, I’m okay with that. My name may be Martha, but I’m done with trying to be Martha Stewart.
That little ramble brings me to part two of this post, and the explanation for the weird title.
My car is named Lucy. She’s a spunky little red Oldsmobile affectionately named for the great Lucille Ball, and like her namesake, she means well but often backfires.
For all my excitement and plans for December, I wound up hitting a rough patch when I got majorly sick right before Christmas. Forget cookies and parties—I cancelled all my plans, barely able to drag myself to work and back. One early morning in the pitch dark, I stumbled into work only to stumble out a half hour later, after a hasty email to my boss letting him know I was taking sick leave for a couple of days.
At least I have the luxury of putting in sick time and driving back home, I thought, slumping into Lucy and pulling out of the parking lot. And three blocks later…she died.
This is Lucy’s newest, weirdest trait. And it’s one even my mechanic can’t explain. For no apparent reason, the battery and oil pressure lights come on, and Lucy shudders to a halt. I would like to say that when this happened I started laughing hysterically at the situation—too sick to work, and now sitting on the shoulder of the road three blocks away, unable to go home, either. But I didn’t. I put on the emergency lights and promptly burst into tears.
Luckily, my partner works a few miles down the road, and he came right over to drive me home and then meet a tow truck. It was a pretty un-major incident, as far as Lucy goes—nowhere near as bad as the time she stranded us in the Oregon desert on our way home from vacation! But I was still bummed. My Christmas plans were kaput, I felt like trash, and now my car was dead (again, and apparently indefinitely, unless we can figure out what’s wrong). I won’t lie and say I didn’t feel pretty sorry for myself while I wrapped up in a blanket and settled in on the sofa to slug down cough syrup and nap in front of the TV.
But while I was sitting there watching mindless rom-coms, something started to crystallize in my brain. Something I’ve slowly learned over the past few years—something I’m still learning, honestly—is that so much of life depends on your perspective. You can’t control the cards you’re dealt, and sucky things are gonna happen, but your reaction to them determines what happens next.
I suppose this came back to my mind because I was watching a movie about a woman who fell completely apart before coming back stronger than ever. And it dawned on me, that’s the formula of so many of our favorite rom-coms, and the reason we like them.
Think about it: girl gets dumped, or fired, or stuck in an insufferable situation. Girl breaks down—maybe she cries, maybe she shaves her head in despair. But then she bosses up. She gets even. She gets the guy, or a better guy; a better job, or maybe a job as the CEO. She takes something awful and triumphs.
The reason we love Lucy, and why we keep watching her modern counterparts—Sandra Bullock, Kristen Wiig—is because they fall before they rise. We relate to the struggle, and we cheer them on when they surge back.
It made me start to think, why don’t we take that approach to our own lives? When something crappy happens, instead of automatically feeling doomed to failure, why don’t we approach it like it’s just another plot device placed there by the scriptwriters to make the next pages even better? It’s a chance to go in a new direction, do something more clever or more original, solve a problem, you name it.
It’s not that I think life is like a neatly packaged movie; I know that things don’t necessarily resolve easily or quickly. I don’t expect a knight on a white horse anytime soon. Sometimes really awful things happen, and all you can do is ugly cry and feel overwhelmed for a little while.
The point is, when you stop casting yourself as the lead in a tragedy and step out as the heroine of your own comedy-drama, the script changes. You rewrite your role, and all of your lines, from doomed damsel in distress to a leading lady who knows what she’s about and won’t let a setback throw her off the stage.
That’s what Lucy did, one episode after another. Crazy jobs, failed auditions, plain ol’ mishaps in day to day life—none of it got her down. She came back time after time. That’s something I admire, and something I’m trying to do in my life, even when it seems like every last thing that can go wrong is falling into line like dominoes.
We got Lucy home and parked her, for now. I took a few days off work. When a couple of friends dropped in unexpectedly on Christmas Eve, I had my coziest Christmas pajamas on and a plate of store-bought cookies at the ready. I’m certainly not at the peak of enlightenment about rolling with the punches, but I’d like to think I’m getting there. It’s something I wish I could tell my twenty-year-old self, because it would probably save her a lot of sleepless nights and anxiety. You can’t control the chaos, but you can control your reaction to it.
So that, more than anything, is the thought I would end this year with: after all the crazy ups and downs of the past twelve months, through all the rough patches and upsets and things that just didn’t pan out, I’m trying to be a Lucy. I don’t always have a great explanation of what’s going on around me or how I plan to move forward, but I’m going to keep laughing about it.