Every year on December 1, the classic Merle Haggard song “If We Make It Through December,” becomes my theme for the next 31 days.
Released to the world back in 1973, Merle’s words still resonate in 2019 as I play the song on repeat in my car driving back and forth to my job.
I play it on those days when it’s both dark in the morning and dark in the early evening. When I’ve been inside all day, completely missing the sun. When the rain comes down. When my feet ache and my head hurts and I wonder why, for another year, I’m anxious, depressed and overwrought during what is meant to be the happy time of year.
Every year I look forward to December and the holiday season, hoping to capture some small bit of that childhood joy and anticipation and magic. I watch movies like White Christmas and Holiday Inn that are filled with optimism and dancing and songs about snow.
But every year I feel crushed by an avalanche of end of year business activities. It’s the nature of the profession I have chosen that December is just always going to be busy, stressful, and intense.
Now I don’t mean to hate December
It’s meant to be the happy time of year
Thanksgiving seems to come easy with a few days off of work and a bit of turkey and gravy. The moment the last morsel of pumpkin pie is consumed, the ho-ho-ho expectations ramp up into high gear. Already I see my calendar filling up with events which are all wonderful taken individually, but are a lot to manage all together.
I always wonder how certain friends are able to hold down a full time job while also decorating their home top to bottom, entertaining with ease, baking up a bunch of seasonal treats, getting their shopping done, presents wrapped to perfection under the tree, and look good (and calm) doing it, too.
There has been more than one year where it was a trick for me just to drag the artificial tree out of the garage, much less set it up, get the lights working and hang some ornaments.
Every year I dream of the perfect December where I move through the holiday season with the ease of Martha Stewart after one of Snoop Dogg’s special brownies. Color, sparkle, magic, joy. Calm.
Every year I fall well short of that mark and blame myself for not being more organized, not being a better hostess, not being just, you know, a better person.
I think my holiday present to myself this year is to ease up on all the negative self-talk. To give myself the grace to do the work that is demanded by a full time job and to do the best I can with the holiday preparations.
Perhaps good enough really is good enough.
This all sounds well and good, the words are easy to type, but it’s harder to go out there and really live that decision. Hard to unwind the old recordings in my head that tell me if I don’t pull it off perfectly, I’m a loser.
But this year I’m going to try a little harder.
If we make it through December we’ll be fine
And I will. I’ll be fine. This annual hell and highwater (literally, the rain is pounding down as I type) will recede, the perfect storm of work and holidays will draw to a close and we’ll all find our way back to level ground.
Maybe this year I’ll enjoy the holidays a little bit more for what they are, not what I should have done.
You know, December ain’t so bad.
In the words of ol’ Merle “I don’t mean to hate December.”
I was born with a troubling affliction. It’s been difficult to manage my whole life, and is embarrassing to discuss. Today I feel is the time to go public with my ailment.
I am affected by a disorder known colloquially as walnut bladder. Yes, it’s true. I so much as look at a glass of water and I have to pee.
In such times that my walnut bladder-itis impacts the life of my husband, he refers to me as a frog. “You know, you pick up a frog and it piddles in your hand?”
As a child I presented quite a challenge to my folks who liked to take road trips. You see, I had the kind of dad who refused to stop once we were on the road. “Gotta make good time,” he’d say.
The average child has to pee frequently but I was even more prone than normal. It was a problem.
We used to spend summers in a small town in Eastern New Mexico. The drive from our home in Albuquerque took about three hours, plus or minus. Even as an adult, three hours is just too long for me without a pit stop.
This vexed my mother terribly as she had to manage both my bladder and my straight-through-without-stopping father. Once she threatened to use a clothespin to clamp off my leaky plumbing.
Well that got my attention.
From that day forward I planned well ahead for any family road trip. My plan was to cease intake of liquids at least a day in advance of the trip and steadfastly refuse to drink any liquid until we arrived and a toilet was in sight.
In hindsight, not having much liquid while living in the high desert probably wasn’t the best idea, but it worked, thus avoiding any clothespin type of situations.
In my adult life I manage my ailment by working a path between my desk at work and the restroom. At home I get up a minimum of once a night to pee.
There was a recent situation where I again recognized the utter torture of a completely full bladder and no good plan to empty it out.
It was a typical afternoon at work and I was, as usual, drinking lots of good fresh water. Stay hydrated, right? That means ol’ Walnutta has to be actively managed.
Before a work meeting I will use the restroom right before heading into the conference room to help ensure I can get through the hour stretch.
On this day, I was so busy with work and in other meetings that I bumped right up to the top of the hour when my next meeting was due to start. I did an internal gut check and then a clock check and thought, “Yeah, I’m ok.”
Silly, silly me.
At about twenty minutes into the hour and a half long meeting, a job interview with a prospective candidate no less, I had that first twinge of “oh…hmm, I’m going to need to pee here pretty soon.”
As the seconds on the clock ticked by with molasses speed, and the candidate droned on and on and on, things started to get bad.
I began to go through the stages of grief:
First, denial: “Pfft! I’m fine. No big deal. I can make it.”
Then bargaining: “Ok, well, if I can make it just ten more minutes, maybe I can excuse myself and take care of this. Please please bladder don’t let me pee my pants.”
Anger: “Dangblamit why did I drink so much water today! And why is my bladder so tiny? And why can’t I just distract myself and make this feeling go away!?!”
Depression: “Dude, you are such a loser. Look at everyone else at the table, they can hold their liquids. What is wrong with you?”
Acceptance: “It’s going to be ok. I’m going to make it. I’m not going to pee my pants. And if I do, it will be fine, right?”
Over the course of an hour and a half I moved up and down and back and forth through all of those stages while squirming mightily in my chair.
Look, my attention span isn’t that long to begin with, add in a full to bursting bladder and I don’t hear what anybody has to say on any topic.
It was horrible. At one point I thought I might even cry, I had to pee so badly.
And finally! Finally at the hour and forty five minute mark that damn candidate stopped talking and I was free to go use the restroom all the way over on the other side of the building.
Then it becomes that age old question of walking or running in the rain.
Do I walk to the bathroom thus taking longer and upping my odds for peeing my pants?
Or do I run thus jangling my bladder and making it more likely I’ll pee my pants?
I chose the middle road: a sort of tight-legged shuffle which worked and I made it safely to the bathroom stall.
Once in the safe zone my whole world looked a little brighter. A little happier. A little more at peace.
I know everyone has gone through the ballad of the full bladder at one point or another. When you have a walnut bladder it happens a little more often than I’d like.
For any reader who might have questions about my affliction: it’s been this way since I was a kid, I have discussed it with more than one doctor, and it just happens to be a feature (not a bug) of the big Karen machine.
Did you ever have the kind of day where you are going ninety miles an hour at your work desk, cranking out the emails, spreadsheets and taking phone calls left and right, all while balancing the Greyhound bus stop that is the chair in front of your desk….
And despite all the chaos and kerfuffle, just in the nick of time, you manage to whip out one page with a beautifully wrought, easy-to-read table that contains the cheat sheet you’ll need to answer every question that will be machine gun fired at you at your 3:00 meeting.
So you send that sumnabitch to the printer and grab your notebook, hike up your pants, run to the copier, and grab that thing off the machine so you can make it to your meeting at something less than five minutes late.
Then you squeal your tires around the corner into the copy room and you are heartened to hear that the machine isn’t working. It’s done. It’s printed your copy.
Only it hasn’t.
The screen reads “out of paper, load tray three.”
Inside your head, you say, “I can deal with this.”
It’s one of those big industrial machines and to fill the paper tray takes not one, not two, but three reams of ecologically friendly 50% post-consumer lily white paper.
Being a good office citizen, you could throw half a ream in there and call it good, but you don’t. You fill it up to the top, slam the drawer and the machine fires up.
Sweet sound of the Gods!
And the machine begins spitting out page after page after page…..
And you realize the guy in front of you must be printing like a hundred copies of his forty page slide deck and it’s HIS FAULT that the machine was parched for paper when you arrived.
Nothing you can do now but watch that machine like a bird dog after a duck, all the while not-my-copy, not-my-copy, not-my-copy shoots out of the machine, perfectly stapled and collated and tidy as you please.
“Ok,” you say to yourself. “I can deal with this.”
Then the machine stops again. The engine winds down.
“Thank god!” you think.
But wait, your copy isn’t there.
“WHAT THE [EXPLETIVE DELETED]!!!” You may or may not shout.
The LCD screen on that machine says “Replace Toner” and provides helpful animated arrows to guide you through the process.
“Ok,” you think to yourself, “I can deal with this. It can’t be that hard.”
So you find a box with a new toner tube and you follow the bouncing arrow on the screen and the old toner comes out and the new toner slides in and now you may or may not have black toner dust peppering your arms.
But you slam closed the toner door and the machine begins to make a noise.
“Warming up,” it tells you.
And you wait for what must be an [expletive deleted] eternity while the machine “cleans the wires” and “recalibrates” itself at the pace of an anemic snail.
Then Holy Mother of Xerox, the machine starts spitting out copies anew and more and more of not-my-copy of someone’s presentation comes out.
Then, most miraculous! The single sheet that you desperately needed finally exits the machine!
So to be helpful you pull the other copies off the machine to lay them aside in a nice, neat stack.
And because you are nosy by nature, you look to see exactly what is the document that held up your progress and made you irretrievably late for a very important meeting, and you come to realize that it is…..
Handouts for someone’s upcoming Cub Scout meeting.
You ever have a day like that?
No way, right? Because that story just has to be made up.
What follows is me working out some “stuff” up there in the ol’ brain pan. A bit indulgent to do this publicly, but maybe putting it out there helps someone else. Or makes me accountable for my own crap. Either way.
So here it is… I have been taking part in a Flickr group that challenges its members to do a new macro photo every week based on a theme the moderators choose.
I started participating on December 4th with this photo:
I felt clever. Sassy. Like my photo was more creative and of better quality than the others in the group. Go me! I was rewarded with well over one hundred faves in the first day. Hey, fun!
So I kept going. Each week working hard and having fun doing these weekly photo challenges. Creating a new image every week. Some weeks I worked really hard (or agonized) over executing my idea.
Other weeks it came easy to me, I snapped a photo that was exactly what I wanted and went on about my day.
But always having fun and not taking it too seriously.
Until two weeks ago. Two weeks ago I stopped having fun and got deadly (overly) serious about my weekly photo entry.
Let me back up. This Flickr group is huge, over 13,000 members. Each Monday between 800 to 1,200 photos are posted for the theme. This means in order to function, the group must be tightly moderated. And it is. Tightly.
I both like and respect that there are heavily enforced rules for the group. But I also HATE it because I’m an *artist* and The Muse can’t be contained by your silly rules. I should be able to break them because MY work is the best.
Yeah, okay. I own it. I got weird. I hate it when I get weird.
The week’s theme was monochromatic, and I turned this one in:
I really like this photo. I worked hard on it and felt really good about it. I feel like I did something worthwhile. Artistic.
Less than ten minutes after adding it to the group, a moderator pulled it, telling me “This is not monochromatic, I can see both brown and green.”
I seethed. I stewed. I started looking at other photos in the group and found SEVERAL that also had tiny bits of another color that made it through the moderator’s net.
I bellowed about how unfair it was. I started making a list of all the other photos that were let through. I prepared to launch my vitriol on anyone who would listen and demand answers for my mistreatment. How could they hate my photo so much!?!?! (I know, I know)
Then I went to talk to The Good Man, and as I detailed all the ways I had been wronged, I heard myself. I listened to my words and realized…aw damn…I’d stopped having fun. I was this worked up over a photo on Flickr in a group where the only prize is some eyes seeing the photo and some faves.
Yeah. I hit the wall pretty hard. This came just a day after struggling with a story for a writing contest that just would not gel for me. I hadn’t given myself enough time to work on it and the story would not come together no matter how hard I tried. I tried to shotgun it and I failed hard. I did still turn in the story but I know it’s not good.
You see, I wasn’t mad at that stupid unfair moderator. I was mad at me.
And that’s no way to create. That is the antithesis of creativity. This dampens The Muse.
So I went all the way there and now I’m reeling myself back in. I swear. I sat my Muse and my brain down and we had a talk. Feelings were felt and admonitions were issued. Promises to be better. To loosen up. To remember why I do any of my creative work…to have fun. To let the creativity out. To create something.
And I’m better. I am. The following week I swore I wasn’t going to participate in the Flickr group again, but that was EXACTLY why I needed to get back in the game. So I made a photo based on the theme “in a bottle.”
Here’s my Valentine to myself. Green like the Hulk who gets very, very mad. Sweet like the victory of turning out a piece of art and something I really like. It also met the rules and made it past the moderators.
So without going into specifics (because it’s the internet and who knows what people do with facts anymore) the job I do every day is, essentially, a customer service gig. We don’t support the general public, but support the operations of my employer. We serve all of my coworkers as customers. Confusing enough?
Anyhow, since we have a focus on customer service and have standard corporate performance measurements to maintain, on a regular basis we send surveys to our customers to ask how we did so they can grade us and provide feedback.
Fairly standard stuff. If the surveys for my team come in good, then fabulous. It’s logged and reported and so forth. If a survey comes in bad, then a member of the team that collates responses will discreetly make a copy and slide it onto my desk. This usually happens when I am off in a meeting or something so they don’t have to make eye contact. It’s all very clandestine.
Bad surveys happen. It’s normal. I usually review them, see what the beef is about and move on.
Except for yesterday. Yesterday gave me pause. I returned to my office to find the dreaded folded sheet of paper on my desk. “Ugh” was my first thought as I unfolded and read the survey.
It was a good time. Suffice to say, my team was blamed for everything wrong in this person’s life, including (and I’m not kidding) the reason the person is leaving our institution to go work somewhere else. All our fault.
The words “byzantine” and “Kafkaesque” were used. And after looking up what those words meant, I was really offended.
Just kidding, I wasn’t offended. To be honest if bureaucratic, surreal and nightmarish processes aren’t your bag, then working anywhere that receives federal funding is not going to be a fun time.
This unhappy person did wrap up by saying they thought my employee that they worked with lovely, but the processes were ugly.
To be honest, I appreciate this customer for giving me the first good laugh I’ve ever had over a bad survey response.
And the search for just the right image for this post was also a nice distraction from my byzantine day.
I think I nailed it:
**An actual Franz Kafka quote that just supremely fit this post