Wednesday, December 23, 2009


The holiday season is officially upon us and Christmas is only one short day away. I always find myself feeling very conflicted during the holidays, torn in so many different directions as to what the best or right way to celebrate is.

Being an American in the year 2009 means celebrating the holidays by camping out in front of Target at 4am the day after Thanksgiving, only after having fingered through newspaper ads to find that they've got the best sale prices; by dropping an obscene amount of money in over-packed shopping malls while weaving through crowds of bargain hunting moms toting around screaming children; by spending countless hours hanging Christmas lights from rain gutters and scrutinizing Christmas trees in the Home Depot parking lot. Being raised Christian means erecting an inflatable nativity scene on the front lawn to ensure your neighbors know you're in on the "real" reason for the season, attending midnight mass on Christmas Eve and pretending it hasn't been exactly one year since you stood in a church, and by refusing to abbreviate with "Xmas" because you think it's a crying shame people are taking the Christ out of Christmas.

Last Sunday I decided to surprise my mom by showing up at church. My dad plays in the worship band so during half of the service my mom sits alone, and while I'm sure she doesn't mind, she always seems to appreciate when I'm there. I'm by no means a church goer, not because I'm not spiritual, but because… well that's a whole other blog. The point is, sitting through a Christmas service at a Baptist church was an awkward reminder of why exactly I'm not a church goer. The service started out with some familiar Christmas songs, which I always enjoy. It just feels good to spend a wintry Sunday morning there in the second pew singing "Oh Holy Night" next to my mother. It wasn't until the sermon started that I wished I wasn't in the second pew, because it meant everyone at the 11-o-clock service would know that the Warne's non-church-going daughter slipped out half way through the message and, oh dear, how rude that would be. I understood why the pastor was agitated about his kids being on "Holiday Break" instead of "Christmas Break," why he disliked being greeted with "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas," and why the multimedia of a manger scene touched him so deeply. I knew because I too used to feel that way. The only thing about that sermon that I couldn't just shrug off as "Christian culture" was when the pastor insinuated that the non-religious were trying to steal "their" holiday and take all of the "true" meaning out of it.

Most children would say that Christmas is about being good all year so Santa Clause will squeeze down your chimney and leave goodies under your tree. Most Christians would say that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, the fulfilling of God's promise to send His Son, our Savior, to Earth, and recognizing that God is with us. Most Americans would say Christmas is about shopping, baking, drinking, and enjoying the company of friends and family. So what is the true reason for the season and the purpose for such celebration? Perhaps they're all wrong.

December 25th was first celebrated as Brumalia by the ancient Greeks, a holiday dedicated to multiple solar deities. Brumalia was also observed by the Romans as a month-long celebration of Bacchus, a character in Greek mythology believed to incite ritual madness, drunkenness, and ecstasy. The early Christians, in an attempt to gain converts, allowed the holiday to be celebrated but turned the last day, December 25th, into Christmas, a day to celebrate the fulfilling of the prophecy of Christ. Over time other traditions were adopted and the holiday called Christmas became a globally celebrated season of trees, wreaths, lights, gifts, and of course, Santa Clause. Christmas trees are an adaptation of the pagan Roman practice of bringing evergreens indoors to celebrate winter solstice. Santa Clause originates from the reputation of Saint Nicholas, a 4th century Turkish bishop, who was a generous man with an affinity for children, and was often said to have performed miracles.

So are we to celebrate winter solstice? Most no longer believe in Greek mythology. Are we to celebrate the birth of Christ? It is widely accepted that Jesus was not actually born on December 25th. Not even early Christians recognized the day as his birthday, since at that time the observance of anyone's birth date was considered a frivolous and self-absorbed pagan practice. The only conclusion I can draw from all of this is that Christmas is whatever it means to you. It is the celebration of whatever warms your heart and fills you with festive cheer. I choose to celebrate American and Christian Christmas traditions not because I believe them to be true, but because they are my culture. My Christmas is taking the opportunity to buy gifts that show my loved ones they are a special part of my life, by enjoying delicious meals surrounded by friends and family, and by observing traditions that define the time and place in which I live.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Adventure of Failure

I have started and restarted this blog a dozen different ways attempting to draw from some analogy that would mask the more venerable and personal aspects of its origin. Screw the analogies. This blog entry is about the raw ugly hard part of life that I don't usually send off into cyberspace for fear that it will taint others' ability to view me in a strictly professional light. However, I honestly believe that the most precious thing we have to offer one another are our stories, because in doing so we can inspire, motivate or even provide accountability to those around us. So allow me to begin by saying 2009 was not my year.

If you had asked me at 21 what the next ten years of my life would look like I'd have told you that I was going to finish my degree, get a job as a photojournalist, travel the world, fall madly in love, and that the rest of my life would be a long string of momentous occasions. Because why the hell shouldn't it be? Here's the truth. Two men have loved me enough to marry me, and those same two men have cheated on me and left me. For five years I immersed myself in all things journalism only to spend two years working in a corporate cubicle before watching my career swirl down the drain before it had really even begun. There are days, today even, when I allow the doubt, the defeat and the resentment to creep in and take hold of my mind and my heart. There have been countless times in my life when the only thing that kept me pushing was knowing that there were people who cared what happened to me even when I didn't. Perhaps that's the trick to a good life; always surrounding yourself with people who are supportive and love you through the tough stuff.

So back to 2009... After a year and a half in my cubicle I had gotten stir crazy and was itching to go back to school. My company had an opening in Tempe, AZ and would help me pay for my MBA at Arizona State. I told myself that if I got that opening it was a sign - I was meant to go. So when I got it, I did. Perhaps I should have seen the red flags popping up when HR messed up my transfer paperwork, or when my car fell off a U-Haul trailer just shy of Palm Springs on the drive over. I tried to stay optimistic and just passed it off as clumsy luck. As my three months in AZ slowly crept by, I found myself dealing with endless HR problems, drama with my ex back in CA, and even went into kidney failure thanks to the triple-digit dry desert heat. I threw in the towel. I shoved as much of my belongings as would fit into my Ford Focus and abandoned the rest. I headed back to NorCal, but this time through Vegas because, hell, who wouldn't have needed a weekend in Vegas at that point. Upon arriving home I didn't even apply for unemployment because I couldn't imagine it taking longer than a couple weeks to start working again. Four months later I found myself caving in and accepting a job pushing papers in a small office for barely over minimum wage. I worked hard and learned quickly and my financial situation slowly began to get better, but only as my personal life once again fell to pieces.

I could easily end this entry there and wait patiently for your, "I'm so sorry!" and "Keep your chin up!" replies, but that's not the point of this entry at all. The point is that 2009 might have topped my list of disastrously disappointing years, but it has been jam packed with adventure.

I went to a rave in Mexico City and got drunk at a soccer bar with the locals. I attended my second Southwestern Photojournalism Conference in Dallas. I had an action packed road trip to Arizona. While I was there, I got to deepen my friendship with one of my dearest girlfriends and hung out with cousins who I grew up only visiting every couple years. I watched the sunset from the top of "A" Mountain and played volleyball in Lake Powell. I road tripped to Vegas... twice. I spent a weekend helping my college best friend pick out a couch for her new apartment three blocks from Venice Beach. I went to a fashion show with an old friend who didn't mind sharing a bottle of cheap wine in soup cups. And perhaps most incredible of all, I watched my nephews start preschool and was able to be around when they began using all sorts of smart words.

2009 can't have been a bad year, it was just a year full of the unexpected. The author of "Eat, Pray, Love" wrote about how agonizing her transition was from who she was before the one-year adventure that became that book and the woman that book allowed her to be. By being stripped of everything she had, including her financial security and her relationship, she found a new and better woman inside herself and began to thrive. I challenge you, I challenge myself - Let 2009 not be a year of brokenness but a year of refiner's fire that segways into a 2010 overflowing with blessings and success.