Our better angels
Packing a kit for your different, future self
A little over a year ago, after Christmas, I bought a Christmas tree. I should say I bought another Christmas tree. We already had two aluminum ones, a 2-footer and a 5-footer. Then there’s the one we’d get every year, a real one that we’d sometimes cut down ourselves. This would’ve been our 4th Christmas tree, a fake white one, brand new in the box.
In addition to the tree I was also seized with an overwhelming compulsion to buy lot after lot of mid-century ornaments made in Japan. I have no idea now what set this off. I’m guessing it was the two little angels I bought at a vintage shop a few years ago, with JAPAN stamped on their bases, and I must’ve wondered huh maybe I could find some more.
NARRATOR: She could find some more.
For a solid month, boxes little and large arrived from all over the country (and world). Some contained just one tiny angel and others, a whole flock. Then I branched out into other Japan-created vintage ornaments: redheads wearing gold lamé and giant snowflakes, small tinsel wreaths with smaller tinsel poinsettias attached, bottle brush trees, and old beaded ornaments. At the end of this spree I made the grave mistake of adding up all the money I had spent on this new tree, the old ornaments, and even more (new) lights and (old) tinsel and garland. I’ll never do that again and by “that” I mean, math.
Eleven months later, what had seemed frankly bizarre at the time, turned out to be the best Christmas present I could’ve given myself this year. I hadn’t known when I went on that binge that I’d have a new place, my own place, to decorate by the time Christmas rolled around again. I realized I had everything I needed — already packed up and clearly labeled — to set up a new tree in my new apartment, and then some. I didn’t need to take anything from our house (although there would’ve been plenty to borrow from). I didn’t have to divvy up our family ornaments. That day will come, of course, but thankfully it’s not this year. Thank god it’s not this. friggin’. year.
Realizing I had everything I needed all along is a gift during a transition when it’s so much easier to think about loss instead of what I’ve been seeking — real freedom, a fresh start, an opportunity to live a truer life, surrounded by people I intentionally choose to spend time with instead of compromising and compromising and more than once saying something like, “fine, we’ll invite them, whatever.”
It’s funny, I had actually started a draft of this newsletter back in January, specifically to write about this compulsive purchase. That’s when I took most of these photos, too. But for the life of me I don’t know what the point of that newsletter was supposed to be. All of my writing thoughts from January through the end of March are just … gone. Like, gone-gone. It’s unfathomable to me that I was writing and submitting humor not that long ago, even tracking my submissions. My spreadsheet entries stop at April 2nd. My last humor submission was to The New Yorker. In a rare and welcome miracle, it was accepted on April 14th, a day that was one of the hardest days of this year but also one of my strongest, when I started to claw my way back out of the darkness and muck.
That’s the last bit of humor I wrote this year. It’s like that entire part of my brain crawled out of my head and curled up under the couch to die. I wonder if I’ll ever write humor again or if I even remember how. Who knows. I don’t worry about it much, to be honest. I will or I won’t, what else can you say about anything in life?
Anyway, back to the point.
I have no idea what I had planned to write about the angels back then. I do know that “Our lesser angels” was the title. I didn’t have any other notes jotted down. But I can absolutely guarantee it would’ve been a different newsletter than what I have here. It would’ve been a different story entirely.
I’ve written often over the past nine months about the stories we tell ourselves. I’ve believed completely opposing stories about myself only weeks and even days apart. I know back in January I had a different rationale for
hoarding buying all of these angels and beads and tiny little cardboard houses. Even with something this seemingly small, this insignificant, the shift in framing can feel disorienting and upsetting, which one was real? Is there such a thing as truth when it comes to the stories we believe, especially about ourselves and our lives? And what is truth anyway? Then suddenly, guess what, you’re in freshman-year-in-the-dorm-stoner-talk-land right quick.
This year has been a big, big year of questioning everything I thought I knew and understood about my life, good and bad. As painful as some of that has been — and I try hard to not feel sadness nor regret over the time I’ve lost believing these stories — I’m ultimately grateful for the process. I’m grateful it happened at all. How many people go through life never challenging themselves nor being challenged to see themselves differently? To see their lives differently? To wonder why the fuck did I just buy, like, 43 angels? Anyway, it’s a gift to get another chance at questioning and understanding your life. And not the type of “revisiting” “your” “life” like when you get three ghosts swinging by on Christmas Eve. No thanks.
Of course I can’t know yet if any of my current stories are correct. But more than their “correctness”, I hope I’m ultimately leaving room to grow more, care less, take risks, and put my cards all the way out on that table every chance I get.
All this LeArNiNg AnD gRoWiNg aside, make no mistake, I spent plentyyyy of time this year cold chillin’ with my lesser angels, too. I wished doom, lightning bolts, and knife emojis on a few people (including myself). I felt petty and small, and wanted others to feel petty and small too. When you boil it all down, the smallest, darkest, meanest feelings are rooted in fear. Fear that you’re not good enough, not loved enough, not wanted enough. But much like “feelings aren’t facts” I’ve learned “fear ain’t facts neitha.”
As I near the end of a year like no other — a year that was equal parts incredibly bad and incredibly great — I feel like I’ve tapped more often into my better angels, angels I’m not sure I even had access to a year ago. In fact, I know I didn’t. I am learning to be patient (I’m not good at it), forgiving and flexible, responsible only for myself and my actions. The phrase “do you want to be right or do you want to be happy” comes up often. I want to be happy, or at least, happy enough.
Maybe you find yourself in a similar spot. A different kind of holiday season. A big life shift (or several). Maybe you are alone or newly partnered. Maybe your kids are off to their own lives or maybe they’re spending the holidays with your ex. Maybe you’re feeling like you’re in the middle of a country song — dead dog, dead truck, no job, no hope. You don’t have to hold fast to your old life. It’s not coming back no matter what you do. And you don’t need to hold fast to the traditions you had. You don’t have to be the person who makes the meal exactly the way the meal was always made. You know they have planes that go places? You could get on one.
And maybe, just maybe, on the other side of this holiday, this year, this whatever-transition-you’re-dealing-with, you’ll find a little kit you had made for yourself. A kit that you made in the past, not knowing how much you’d need it in the future. And inside are all of your better angels. They were there all along, waiting for you to catch up.
A CHRISTMAS PARTY PLAYLIST! Maybe I shared this last year? Maybe I’ll share it every year, mind your business! We’re no longer hosting our annual Christmas party for quite obvious reasons, but the tradition lives on (we’re handing it off to our kids this year). And the playlist? Well, a playlist is forever, my friends.
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You can find my books here. You can find my writing here. You can find my copywriting and creative direction work here. You can find me on Instagram. If you want to find me in real life, your chances are better than most in 2023! I’ll be traveling more so feel free to propose a reading, a panel, a book club, etc. So far, FEB: LA / MARCH: NYC / APRIL: Provincetown. Just comment below or respond to this email!