Yes Sophia, There Is A Santa Clause!

One December afternoon I was writing an article about my life as a woman over 40 without child. To summarize: society is geared toward families and children, especially in smaller cities that still hold traditional and some antiquated ideas about gender in high regard. I do flourish in my life as a single woman, without so much as a baby cactus in my home, yet some people might not fully believe that. I have a wonderful family, boyfriend, circle of friends and extended reach through my business, Laugh to Live! I connect in a special way with people when I lead laughter yoga that is quite fulfilling.  But I digress.  As I was writing that article, I received a call from my friend Jean who was upset about something that transpired recently with her granddaughter, Sophia.  Sophia’s heart was broken when her CCD teacher told the class that Santa Claus does not exist.

As Jean relayed the story and spoke of the tears that followed from Sophia and a few other children in the class who still believed in Santa, a light bulb, or should I say a string of Christmas lights, turned on in my head.  This had to be the subject for my next blog.

I don’t recall when I stopped believing in Santa. Fortunately no traumatic memory of someone tearing down my belief in the jolly old Saint Nick comes to mind. I’m not a parent (as I stated above) so I don’t know what the norm is or what the handbooks or Dr. Phil says you’re “supposed to do” when it comes to talking to your child about Santa Claus but I do know a thing or two about the spirit of Santa that still enlivens me at 43 years old. Let’s call it the Santa Clause – an agreement we have with one another that we’ll embody every magical trait of kindness, generosity and warmth that has been talked about in storybooks for centuries.

Every year my eyes and heart are filled with joy when I sit silently at night staring at my lit up Christmas tree.  And while it should be more than one time of year, I also know the warm feeling I get when I witness people being nicer, kinder and more generous to one another at this time of year. And let’s not forget the presents. I look forward to the feeling I get when I give a present to someone that I carefully picked based on their likes and interests. My reward is the smile that covers their face. And when I unwrap a present I receive, I have a similar feeling to what I had as a child turning the handle on my Winnie The Pooh Jack in the Box. I’m a bit anxious. I’m definitely filled with anticipation and an excited curiosity. Just today I was fortunate enough to experience that when I received a package from my friend Marie in France. (I was sure the large white envelope was a present for Christmas and sure enough … it was. I was thrilled to see a fuchsia leather-bound journal to hold my creative writing in 2015.)

As someone who was raised Catholic, attended Catholic school from Kindergarten through 12th grade and who attended church every Sunday until a few years ago, I know that Christmas is about the birth of Christ and not just a character named Santa.  We celebrate baby Jesus’ birthday. There’s no cake or pin the tail on the jackass because it’s a much more reverent celebration, but it is a party nonetheless.  It’s a festive time to share love and fellowship.  And guess what? That’s what Santa represents too.

I’m not sure if that CCD teacher got confused and changed the letters around in his head, but Santa does not mean Satan.  He should not be viewed as a threat or distraction to the true meaning of the holiday. Quite frankly, I think the church could use the help reinforcing their message of Christianity. (Although I believe that Pope Francis has been making a difference, moving the Church in the right direction. He is a man of the people.)  Santa can help spread cheer and the concept of goodwill toward our fellow man. I don’t think we can hear or see examples of that enough. And, we can pretend all we want but let’s face it, many Catholics only attend Mass at holidays so children are probably much better acquainted with Santa than their parish’s priest.

I don’t want to get too heavy. I’d like to keep this light, like the season. My point is this. Why destroy a child’s (or adult’s for that matter) belief in Santa?  Isn’t religion, like Catholicism, based on faith after all? We don’t see Jesus or God physically sitting at our dinner tables reaching for a second helping of mashed potatoes and gravy but we feel their presence in the sunshine on our faces, the trees that blow in the wind and in choices we make – how we live our lives.

Santa is here too. We feel his presence when we see the glimmer of lights reflect with a shimmer off new fallen snow. We are filled with a desire to warm up our cold night by holding someone’s hand or giving a hug.  When a child squeals with delight opening a present, we feel his presence. And when a family is decked out in new pajamas and slippers sitting around their living room being a family, expressing their love for one another and drinking hot cocoa, Santa is there too.

And when I look at my many postcards received throughout the year from my friend Marie in France and then her thoughtful Christmas gift each year, I think back to the October day more than 10 years ago when I met her on a train outside of Paris. That may not have been the Polar Express but I believe that the same spirit that embodies Santa was in the air and on the tracks that day. Because I have been blessed with a global friendship that has been one of the best gifts of my life.

Yes Sophia, there is a Santa Clause.

 

 

The Rabbit Died & Other Funny Stories

It was a packed house on Wednesday, July 9 at the Scranton Cultural Center for an appearance by comedian/actress/author Amy Sedaris as part of the Lackawanna County Library System’s speaker series. The first thing that struck me about Amy when she walked out on stage was how tiny she is. We’re not talking Thumbelina small like Kristin Chenoweth but Amy is small. Her legs were tone but very thin. Her red handbag and pumps designed by friend Sarah Jessica Parker were also eye-catching. She had a comical bounce to her entrance, with her head sort of bobbing back and forth.

For as wacky as the characters are that Amy portrays, she took this interview seriously. She seemed grounded and genuine. Mary Garm, the director of the library system, conducted the interview. Mary delivers what one might expect from a librarian. She doesn’t look like she’ s ever done E at a rave or has tried to get away with checking out 17 items in the “15 items or less” aisle at the supermarket. She looks more like someone who would be happy to sit next to Wilford Brimley on a porch swing enjoying an ice-cold glass of lemonade talking about how hot the summer has been. She and Amy made the perfect pair. My friend Stephanie made the comparison, at points throughout the interview, that Amy and Mary interacting was similar to the SNL sketch “Delicious Dish” (most talked about for Alec Baldwin’s appearance promoting Pete’s Schweddy balls, which were Christmas cookies, of course).  Mary dryly responded to Amy’s answers with “hmm, interesting” akin to Anna Gasteyer’s character Margaret Jo McCullen saying “good times.”

Amy Was Funny And Serious

Amy answered all questions seriously in her regular voice. There were no characters who came out on stage. But Amy was warm, engaging and entertaining as she told her stories. She apparently likes to keep her private life very private but she did reveal her love for cooking and entertaining people in her New York City apartment and she revealed something that I thought was meant to be a joke at first, but wasn’t. Amy is a rabbit whisperer. She goes to people’s homes to help them rabbit proof and ensure the best environment for the fluffy creature.  Amy told the sad story of her 11-year-old rabbit Dusty dying but with a hint of humor. She recalled how the rabbit cried horribly for hours and that she was tempted to move things along by smothering him because she was sure that he was in pain but the vet assured her that he was not in pain. Amy also got laughs when she told the audience how bossy her rabbit was.

You Know Amy; You’ve Seen Her in the Tide Commercials

Amy Sedaris is not a household name but people surely know her if you tell them, “She’s that blonde on the Tide commercials who acts bubbly and kind of cooky.” After listening to Mary mention all of Amy’s various projects, it seems that Amy does a bit of everything. She has written and performed plays with her famous humorist writer brother, David Sedaris. She has done sketch and other comedy on TV. She has small roles in movies. She does voice-over work on TV and in films. She has the whole rabbit thing going on. She has authored books: “I Like You, Hospitality Under the Influence,” which includes recipes and tips on entertaining and how to be a good party guest, “Wigfield,” which she co-authored with Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello and of course her latest book she is promoting, “Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People,” a funny book about how to create some off-beat craft projects.   She has created a line of quilt fabrics that are going to pop up on other household items like popcorn bowls. And she is of course the face and voice for funny Tide, Bounce and Downy commercials. I’m sure I’ve missed a few things but you get the point. She is prolific and her talents are varied.  With her upcoming break from projects she said she’d love to waitress again but she envisioned problems like other waitresses resenting her … specifically the ones who are doing it to earn a living. And the fact that people might recognize her could be problematic, she said. But she said she loves working with people and finds it so interesting to interact and observe others.

Forget All the World’s A Stage; It’s A Peek Backstage

Comedians need to people watch like we need breathe.  Anyone who writes humorous material must immerse themselves into the world with eyes and ears wide open so you don’t miss anything. (That is not a quote from Amy by the way. I’m saying it. It sounds good though right?)  As someone who has been writing for over 20 years and who has been writing stand-up comedy for about 10 of those years, humorous articles, my funny dating book, “He’s Not Prince Charming When…,” I know how much I owe to the fun observance of people and interpersonal experiences with people. Life is full of material for the next great comedy, sitcom, play, etc.  As Amy shared, her Greek grandmother was the inspiration for one of Amy’s first popular characters. Amy said “She was just so much fun to make fun of.”

What Makes Amy Laugh

When Mary asked Amy what she thinks is funny, she listed things like: people falling (at which point my friends Steph and Michelle looked at me because we witnessed some poor woman fall in the lobby that evening; while she wasn’t injured, none of us laughed because it wasn’t “that kind of fall”), wigs flying off. Eventually she said that she finds “everything” to be funny. She said she’ll laugh at a patch of mushrooms growing together.

As far as people she finds funny, that list includes her mother, Jonathan Winters, her brother David, her friend Stephen Colbert and others that I forget.

What about the Whole “Women Aren’t Funny” Thing?

Before I went to the event I wondered if I had a question that I wanted Amy to answer. I figured that the basics would be covered and beyond that I didn’t have too much I was dying to know. But I did want to hear Amy’s perspective on the whole “women aren’t funny” thing.  Even though I speak in front of audiences for my business, Laugh to Live, some times to groups of a few hundred people in size, I was nervous about raising my hand or shouting out a question. I never feel completely comfortable doing that.  Thankfully, mics were set up on both sides of the stage where Amy was seated so you just had to get in line and address her at the mic. So I did. I asked her what she thought of this whole notion or some-time buzz that women aren’t funny.

Her answer managed to surprise, disappoint and encourage me. It was as if I had asked her about a little-known restaurant down the street. Her response was like “Hmm? What is that?” It had not seemed to make any great impact on Amy’s career. She said that she enjoyed great female ensembles like the one on “Orange is the New Black” and that she worked with a lot of female actors and comedians, especially doing improv at Second City, and it was never an issue. She even asked back “Is that still a thing?” Her response disappointed me in a way because I kind of expected and wanted her to give some fire and brimstone speech about how hard her path had been but how she and other brave and strong funny women need to keep doing it to quiet all of the naysayers. But I was also inspired and encouraged that she was so unaffected by it and possibly even insulated from it. She has made a life and career making people laugh – and doing a host of humorous, creative projects – that is fulfilling to her without any gender angst. When I told her that not too long ago Adam Carolla created a bit of a stir by making comments about female comedy writers being less funny than men, she responded with “Who?” and then after a wry smile, “Oh, and we know how funny he is.” (I’ll make a note here to say that I have nothing against Carolla, not that if I did it would keep him awake at night or keep him from continuing to earn the fantastic living that he does, who am I? but I mentioned his comments because his were among the most recent that I could recall about women not being funny.) While I was at first disappointed by Amy’s nonchalant attitude about it, I am glad to hear that throughout her career she has not felt hindered or discriminated against for being a woman in the funny business and that the whole “women aren’t as funny as men” thing is not on her radar.  Amy strikes me as an explosive ball of creativity who is far too busy putting herself out there through her numerous projects and making people laugh to notice, or even care who is playing judge and jury to what or who should be considered funny!

Deck the Halls, Trim the Tree… with Smiles & Memories

Last night I trimmed my parents’ Christmas tree with my mom. I’ve been helping her trim the tree since I was a kid. And since I’ve moved out, I still help trim it. It’s usually like a ritual. We have a drink, turn on Christmas music and begin. (Last night we had no music on, the TV was one, but a glass of wine was still included.) My parents have an artificial tree so it goes up before I put my real one up. I get to trim two trees. I don’t mind at all. In fact, I enjoy it.

We’ve never been matchy matchy people so there are no theme trees in our history of holidays. We don’t do trees with all of the same color ornaments and bows or all Hallmark precious moments ornaments, or a Victorian style tree or … you get the picture.  Our trees are more like us. Like life. They are a wonderful collection of different, beautiful and interesting ornaments. Our ornaments are conversation starters. We decorate with a variety of styles, round and long, Santas to alligators (yes, there are two reptiles hanging there) – ones that we purchased on our own because we thought they were pretty and a lot of ornaments that were gifts, along with very old colored glass ornaments that are more than 50 years old. And each year the ornaments make my mom nostalgic. For many years, it was my “thing” to bring home an ornament from wherever I visited. She smiles and says “You got me this one, and that one.” or “Remember the year you brought this one home from Florida after we took you to the airport the morning after that bad snow storm. You were determined to get out …and you did.” One of her favorite ornaments is one I brought back from France.

Each year I love hanging the gold Santa ornament engraved with “Nana” because it makes me smile thinking of my Grandma Esther Dolan who I had the pleasure to live with until she died when I was 21.  She is the woman whose hand I held at night when we shared a bedroom and I was scared at age 5, the woman who yelled and cursed when I sat on the dishwasher door at age 7 – an encounter that I recorded on my tape recorder and played back later to my parents saying “Grandma yelled at me.” She is the woman who was strong and tough. She worked hard. She said some inappropriate things. She made us laugh. She laughed with us. She loved us with the same depth she did everything.  The ornament that bears her name “Nana,” has been going on the tree for well over 30 years but it has come to mean so much to me over the past 20 since her death. It makes me smile, remember her strength and the laughs we shared.

During this season that tends to make a busy life even busier, may you take the time to let yourself get nostalgic. Look at old pictures. Wrap yourself in a scarf knitted by someone special. Break open a recipe from your mom or grandmother’s collection and let the memories rise as the sauce simmers.  Enjoy the moment or moments. No need to rush. Tomorrow will come soon enough.