17 December 2007

'Tis the season

Ah, Twelfth Night. One could possibly argue that the season is officially over. The drummers drumming have been given, the magi have arrived. Enough! But I will persist: 'tis the season.

I had a great holiday with my family. I "hosted" the family this year due to potential professional commitments. We rented a home for a week in Hood River, Oregon. It was quite lovely, and the house was much better suited for six crows than my Portland apartment. For many of us, it was our first White Christmas. The snow on the lawn, however magical, was not nearly as enjoyable as the company inside the house. It was also not nearly as entertaining.

One of my earliest vacation memories involves my Dad throwing a particularly colorful hissy fit before throwing a cassette tape out the car window when I asked if we could please flip the tape over and listen to the other side. I'm sure there were other underlying reasons for tossing the tape, but when it comes right down to it, I am too young to remember much more than watching the iridescent brown film flying down the road out the rear window of my parent's Buick. Since then, Crow family vacations aren't quite complete without Dad getting mad at the car, getting mad inside the car, or doing something he might later regret with the car. This trip was no exception.

On the first night, Mike drove the car down the driveway. Or, he drove half of the car down the driveway and the other half onto a ledge in the neighbor's yard. Granted, he was driving a rental and the driveway was very narrow. It was quite rainy, and Mike couldn't get the traction he needed, even with the help of a very eager and very generous passerby. At one point, the car's rear tire was about three feet off the ground. I seem to remember asking, "Umm, Miguel, are you sure that's a good idea?" as Dad balanced precariously on the hood, his feet bobbing around the tire while the stranger dude was at the wheel with the pedal to the metal. At another point, our eager assistant almost impaled his girlfriend with a wet board shooting out from the front wheel drive tire. Luckily, Mama Crow was on hand to call a AAA tow truck and to raise the stakes to the point where my dad and his new buddy would give up on trying to machismo their way out of this predicament. I made omlettes and turned on the weather channel, one of Mike's favorite pacifiers, and I think this helped, too, though not nearly as much as the tow truck.

The highlight of the gathering was my nephew. This the first of many Christmases we'll spend with him. KenKen and I were fast friends when we met a few months ago. My sister's cats always liked me right away, too, which leads me to believe that we two sisters stink alike. I don't think he changed much looks-wise over the past two-and-a-half months, but he's now capable of crawling, bouncing, hoisting himself up and standing with assistance. He's quite a jolly baby, and very intent on everything that is happening around him. It was fun to watch him wonder at Grandpa as he makes impressive nose blowing noises, or peering out the window in Mama Crow's arms. As Auntie Kim, I spent a good deal of time with KenKen riding around on my shoulders. Ken loved this, and would bounce around, grabbing two fists full of my hair to steer me about a la Remy in Ratatouille (a film we enjoyed one evening). Once Mike put his grandson on his shoulders. Kenneth tried to grasp onto some hair, but there was nothing up there to grab.

My brother-in-law, Brian, has garnered quite a reputation among my familiars for being one of my prime sources for simultaneous amusement and frustration. This trip did little to discredit his status as a minor celebrity among the Crow clan. Brian is trying to learn his fourth language. He's already fluent in Japanese and English, and he's a native speaker of Mandarin. None of these languages are particularly easy, so good on him, right? But instead of following Mama Crow's suggestion that he take a few "improve your accent" style ESL classes, Brian is trying to learn Spanish.

Now, this is the fellow with whom I often tease out the phrase "vomiting vultures" because his tongue twists it around to sound more like "womiting wohtuyls". I realize that this is culturally insensitive and a little bit cruel, but it also makes me laugh until I question my capacity for bladder control. Spanish is turning out to be similarly disastrous. After all, a large portion of Spanish depends on successfully pronouncing syllables. There's a lot of V and R sounds in Spanish, which aren't part of the Mandarin phonetics. Brian would try testing out his new language skills with me, since Spanish is my foreign tongue of choice.

"Quay soweltay!"

"What the heck are you saying to me?"

"What luck! How lucky!"

"Do you mean 'Que suerte' Brian?"


The trilled double r's were particularly bothersome to me. He would follow me around showing off his trilling skills, or lack thereof. I think of the dexterous tongue roll needed for the double r's as being very focused in the front of the mouth. With Brian, it's guttural and throaty. It sounds a little like he is trying to cough up a hairball from giving his burro a tongue bath. "Sounds German?" asked Mama Crow, perplexed. "I AM NOT SPEAKING DEUTCH!" says Brian. Oh boy. Wunderbar!

Brian also caused me to be vaguely annoyed making me chauffeur his ass all the way to Beaverton for a "networking opportunity" when I really wanted to give my family a personal tour of my adopted home town. This was the one thing I really wanted to do while everyone was here, and it was prevented thanks to a fussy baby (forgivable) and Brian's excursion (not so forgivable). The frustration of this was relived when he dragged me and Jennifer to the the Tofurky world headquarters. This event has a not so interesting story about wandering back and forth and pissing off Jennifer and annoying a pregnant vegan with his "networking skills." One would think he would have gotten a clue after the fourth round of freebies she gave us. If anyone needs some tofu lunch meat, give me a call.

Anyway, in the wake of my wonderful holiday, I am reminded that 'tis the season, indeed. 'Tis the season for depression. I have a tendency for getting sad, S.A.D. and really fucking depressed. My first experience with depression dates back to my last year of high school. It left me with a self-awareness beyond my years and an aversion to Jimi Hendrix. I've had several recurrences, but none so memorable, or so drastic as the first. Since then, running on a sort of low-grade depression is sort of my norm. Like everyone, I have my ups and downs and my minor existential crisis or two in which I declare that I have no marketable job skills.

I will say that this bout of depression knocked me on my ass faster than most, and with fewer overt warning signs. I went from feeling pretty good in the week I spent with my family to spending several days with the mental capacity to do little more than stare at that paint on the wall. This transition happened in a matter of two or three days. I got a nasty virus, and as usual, this couldn't have happened at a worse time. By slowing down to shake the bug, I think the stress of my the past few months caught up with me. My days were marked by exhibitions of self-sabotage and blathering incoherently on the floor of my apartment. While today is better than yesterday, I still feel a very long way from normal. I am distracted, hazy and hopeless. I want to do nothing more than withdraw completely and take an indeterminately long break from reality.

Part of the upswing of having a history of depression comes with the knowledge that one rarely gets what one wants, and this is sometimes a good thing. With this cognizance, I can take better care of myself. It doesn't matter how badly I want to slip out of the context of the real world, I need to get help, and that needs to take priority.

15 December 2007

A Gift in a Moment

I went for a walk through downtown Portland this evening and it finally dawned on me: 'Tis the season!

I'm not quite sure why today marked my sudden awareness of the encroaching holiday. One might have supposed that Christmastide would have settled in as I stood in line at Trader Joe's listening to Macca's proclamation that everybody everywhere was "simply having a wonderful Christmastime!" I'm sure this song has played each time I've visited TJs in the past month and a half, much to the chagrin of the store crew members. Apparently my years of saturating my brain with The Beatles has rendered me immune to the implications of this ditty.

My Christmas oblivion is partially steeped in the fact that I've been stuck in some sort of theatrical chrysalis of research and rehearsal for the past month. Those who are fluent in the language of theatre might consider this my personal "living the dream" moment. My other friends and associates probably assume that I've had my head up my ass for the past four weeks. The truth probably lies somewhere between the two.

I'd adopt this as my official excuse for a delayed reaction to the holidays, but truth be told, Christmas has taken me by surprise for several years now. I think my new holiday tradition involves a pattern of avoidance and subsequently, a nostalgia for a particular holiday tradition at the Casa de Crow (also known as my parent's house).

Mama Crow is admirably gentle, generous and all other sorts of soft, comfortable words that begin with the letter 'g'. My mother has run a gift tree for what must be thirteen or fourteen years. She calls this project Christmas Gift Tree. Whereas I might shout out loud "LOOK AT ME AND MY PHILANTHROPY," Mama Crow stands quietly by with a clipboard full of loose-leaf binder paper taking names of gift givers. If someone takes notice of her efforts, her humble response seems to suggest that gift tag ornaments on the tree appeared there as if by magic.

While I was growing up, I was often recruited to help with the preparation for Christmas Gift Tree. Thanksgivings were spent with cramped hands from cutting out bells, stars and heart ornaments from construction paper. These ornaments were strung and labeled with an intricate alphanumeric coding system best deciphered by Mama Crow herself. Each ornament was checked out and returned with a gift. Even as a young upstart, I remember being pleasantly surprised by the high rate of return, and by the generosity of the gift givers.

The entire Crow family Christmas decoration, tree trimming, etc. is postponed until the last gift had been delivered. Our family gifts are stashed away, or not yet purchased. Indeed, this is Crowcrastination in the best sense of word.

My favorite part of the Christmas gift tree is a single moment. It's the moment that sums up what Christmas is about in absentia of both sales totals and religious rituals. It's the moment where the switch is thrown and I'm suddenly ready to accept that the holidays are upon us. Unfortunately, I've missed the opportunity to experience this sensation for the past several years because I don't live near my family. But even when I'm not around to experience it, I accept the reality of the holidays only after I recall the memory this moment.

After the gifts are returned, there is one day in December where you can walk into my parents' house to find not one corner of free space. On this day, I will walk into my childhood home to see literally hundreds of beautifully wrapped presents to go to children I will never meet. Each gift is a little representation of the dose of joy it will bring both the giver and the recipient. Collectively the packages, for a split second, bring me an overwhelming sense of happiness. I am so proud that my family can contribute to this project. Mostly, I am proud of Mama Crow and thankful for her gift of a memory that represents everything that is right with the world.

There's my Mama, who deserves a more quality photograph.