How’s This for a New Year’s Resolution: Share less; shred more

It’s so tempting, so easy. Just click “share” or point your cursor to “forward” and you poison your universe with derogatory satire, derisive cartoons, contemptuous commentary that seemed so funny when they initially appeared on your screen. Gleefully you pollute the screens of those you call friends. And they share with others who in turn share, and we all share ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

Entertainment? Self-expression? Really? Does the world need more snarkiness?

We common, everyday folk have more opportunity to join the global conversation than ever before in human history. In the 1970s I was an editor for the Associated Press, the largest news-gathering agency in the world. Yet I had nowhere near the unchecked power that I hold now as an old lady in a remote town with a computer and high-speed internet. 

What can I, what should I, be sharing with the world? We have infinite opportunities to  share beauty, extend love. That also means each one of us is individually responsible for taming this wild internet beast. It’s a responsibility we dare not cede to politicians or corporate executives.

Indulge me. Next time you’re tempted to click, sit on your hands for a moment. Ask yourself three questions inspired by mystery writer Louise Penny’s fictional character, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. Before speaking, the admirable Gamache asks himself:

  • Is it kind?
  • Is it true?
  • Is it necessary?

The first question would eliminate a lot of sharing right off the bat. The second is trickier in an era when so many get to choose what flavor of “truth” they prefer; you can “prove” anything online. But if the first two don’t stop you, the third one probably will.

But I’m so angry! Well you should be. There’s much to be angry about. Mental health counselors and self-help experts tell us that anger is a natural, normal emotion. What we do with it makes all the difference.

A Seattle orthopedic surgeon prescribes a pain-free, cost-free treatment for addressing anger and negativity. Dr. David Hanscom, author of Back In Control, calls his treatment “expressive writing.” Take paper and pen and let the words flow: all the challenges, the doubts, the frustrations, irritations, the “insurmountable problems.” He suggests about fifteen minutes of writing every day. Not all that much time away from the screen. 

Ah yes, writing is to be done by hand, not on the computer. Clutching that pen or pencil and pushing it across the page fires up a broader spectrum of neurons in your brain. You’re getting more bang for your buck. Plus, the really important part of the treatment is the next step: shredding what you’ve written. Ripping it up and throwing it away is liberating, says the doc. Clicking that scowling emoji on Facebook won’t give you near the relief.

“It is that physical act of squashing, tearing, destroying negativity that makes all the difference,” Hanscom declares. For 2022: share less, shred more.

P.S. Feel free to share this post.

Simply Christmas

Old folks, I decided as a child, don’t know how to celebrate Christmas. I occasionally accompanied my parents visiting elderly church members, most of whom had no Christmas trees or decorations, no apparent interest in presents. Cookies, if offered, came from a tin and tasted weird.

Now after nearly eight decades of Christmases, I get it. At a certain age (varies for each of us), we let go of futile attempts to recreate the Christmas magic that can happen only when we’re children. 

When it comes to remembering childhood Christmases, no writer can outdo Dylan Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” My memories of a child’s Christmas in Minnesota echo Thomas’s opening passage: “One Christmas was so  much like another … that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.” 

Probably both.

In my childhood, certain traditions were sacrosanct. The main course on Christmas Eve, in deference to my Swedish father, was the notorious Scandinavian seafood dish, lutefisk. It was the only meal of the year when we children were allowed to pass up what was placed on the table. As an adult, I finally developed a taste for the pickled-in-lye white fish, but where I live, it’s impossible to find.

My memories of unique Christmases have to do with presents — which for a child is the whole point. There was the year I was given a Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer lapel pin for my coat. His nose lighted up — a handy way to illuminate the hymnbook during our candlelight worship service. 

There was the year I received a much-longed-for doll with REAL hair. I immediately gave her a shampoo and set. As a result, every day was a bad-hair day for the rest of her existence.

There was the year the gift from my mother’s “rich” aunt arrived in a large carton, too heavy for just one person to lift. We kids were intoxicated with anticipation: it was the size of a TV console, and we were the only home in town without a TV. Or so it seemed. Finally, the moment arrived. As the carton was slit open, we spotted a lovely mahogany case, containing? 

An entire set of Encyclopedia Britannica. 

Even my adult Christmas memories have a childlike flavor, such as watching my husband meticulously place his favorite, bubbling lights on the lower branches of our tree where his tiny grandchildren could enjoy them.

Now my favorite Christmas present is the presence of Christmas. We open that gift simply by opening our hearts. Because my late husband was born on Christmas day, the high point of my celebration is laying a blanket of greens on his grave. Any self-respecting kid would roll her eyes, but that’s okay. Kids have important work to do, living the magic that will become precious Christmas memories decades from now.

The Joy of Solitude

A friend asked if I went on a silent retreat during Thanksgiving. True, I spent the week at Holden Village, a spiritual retreat center where I lived from 2011-2014. A former mining town high in the North Cascade Mountains, Holden was once described by a former director as “a retreat for extroverts.”

Holden Village dining hall decked out for the Christmas feast. (File photo from a previous year.)

I, like most people who live alone, have been on pretty much of a silent retreat since spring of 2020. I generally read during my silent, solo meals. Thanksgiving dinner in the Holden dining hall was served to about a hundred folks, all masked unless fork was en route to mouth. Masks did little to muffle the crowd’s chatter and musical laughter, accompanied by the percussion of clanging pots and pans in the kitchen and metronomic beat from the ping pong table in a corner of the large hall. Music less symphonic, more heavy metal rock to my ears. Unnerving, which is exactly why I needed to be there. Solitude had been getting altogether too comfortable. 

Last summer a few friends and I, gathered outdoors, admitted to each other that we were thriving in social isolation. We felt almost guilty, enjoying ourselves when many people are suffering and grieving. All of us in that group live close to nature. I’m sure I’d feel differently if I were stuck in an urban apartment with a view of concrete and asphalt. I know I’d feel differently if I didn’t have the companionship of my dog.

“Don’t fear solitude,” advised writer Paulo Coelho. “If you are never alone, you cannot know yourself. But don’t get too attached to it — it may become an addiction.”

Besides which, snarked another writer, Erica Jong, “Solitude is un-American.” Indeed, we loners are under a lot of pressure not to enjoy solitude on that thoroughly American holiday, Thanksgiving. The pressure will only increase as we move toward Christmas, a day not even Scrooge was allowed to spend alone.

Being alone does not equate with loneliness, and loneliness is not the same as solitude, noted a lovely essay in Psychology Today — in 2003! That was long before “social distancing” became common to our vocabulary.

“Loneliness is marked by a sense of isolation,” the magazine explained. “Solitude, on the other hand, is a state of being alone without being lonely and can lead to self-awareness.” 

If solitude were to have a patron saint, a likely candidate would be Henry David Thoreau who observed, “I have a great deal of company in the house, especially in the morning when nobody calls.”

Even during my un-retreat, in between meals and various gatherings, I’d seek refuge in the solitude of my room, curled up with a good book. Much as I enjoyed meeting up with old friends at Holden and making new ones, I’ve gotta admit: the best part of the week was reuniting with my dog (he’d spent the week at the pet resort) and stepping into my house, embraced once again by my silent retreat. 

Thank you to Maxime Lagacé, whose web site, “Wisdom Quotes,” provided a few of the above quotes. Visit the site to read more pithy observations about wisdom.