To Purge or Not to Purge

By Cheryl Owen-Wilson

To purge, or not to purge, that is the question.  Whether ‘tis nobler to allow our minds to wallow in misery,  hoarding our past misfortunes, and sorrows.  Or to purge, to purge all from our being, so creativity may blossom and flourish in its wake.

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To Purge—The act of ridding one’s self of unwanted feelings, memories and conditions. In doing so, one hopes to experience a sense of cathartic release.

It’s a New Year, and along with the New Year many make resolutions for change. In order to do so, they look back at the past 365 days and resolve to make the new ones better. Some examples of mine would be—writing that novel, losing those pounds, taking that trip, and on, and on. However, I’ve discovered the old year will follow me into the new one unless I—purge. For me it was never a question, to purge or not to purge. What was my question for years was—how? I stumbled upon my answer over 10 years ago, when I wrote my first, end of year, Christmas Letter. Yes, I’m one of those people. But once again, through the power of the written word, a great mental purge was discovered.

I utilize the craft of fiction, poetry, and memoir in my annual Christmas Letter, and since I write about my husband, our seven children, five grandchildren, and myself you can only imagine the length of said letter. Our children have taken to calling it, Our Mother’s Annual, Award Winning, Best in Fiction, Family News Paper. I call it my, End of Year Purge, because, we’re a very large family, with many personalities, and lives, and my aging brain can’t possibly remember it all, no matter how hard I try.

So while the children’s title is all in jest, as I can attest that every word I write in the letter is the absolute truth, how do I accomplish this without giving away family secrets? I’ve found a collision of fiction, mystery, and memoir accomplishes my goal quite nicely.  It is all in the arrangement of words you see—such as saying—Betty (names have been changed to protect the innocent) spent a year exploring the many avenues available to a young woman in her 20’s. This would be my way of saying, without actually saying it—Betty, spent the year either jumping from job to job, or boyfriend, to boyfriend—you choose, as I’ve used similar phrases for both scenarios. There have also been a multitude of boyfriends, girlfriends and even the occasional husband, who’ve been featured in the letter and shown in photos only to be completely absent the next year, or replaced by another name and face entirely. This is where mystery comes in—are they buried in the back yard or been abducted by aliens? No one ever asks, and we never say. However, even with my creative narrative, the magic of the letter is that year after year it captures a chronological story of our family’s lives. Through the letter, I am able to celebrate the sweet memories and accomplishments of each and every family member, while also purging the nasty bits that occur with humor and cleaver word choices.

The second half of the Christmas letter is a poem. The poem is my way of embracing the positive world events of the past year, while purging the negative, and also remembering those whom we’ve lost. This year’s poem is shared below.

So dear readers I say purge.  Write it all down, and burn it if you must, but purge none-the-less. My purging not only frees my mind of clutter, it also creates a recorded history of both family and world events for my grandchildren to look back upon and read, many moons from now. I would love to hear what rituals you use to purge in order to clear the clutter, and begin anew.

Let Hearts Grow and Bells Ring Out                              

Let bells ring out while snowflakes fly, and let tinsel and glitter fall from the sky.

Let mystical enchantment surround us, one and all, while peace, love and happiness, hold us tightly in its thrall.

Once again our home has been transformed into a storybook, fantasy world, where even tiny, Grinch-like trees can bring magic, when unfurled.

For the Holiday Season, is upon us once again dear friend.  So let us take a moment over a hot chocolate, or perhaps a hot toddy laced with gin.

As we look back at the event filled year of Two-Thousand and Seventeen, where future historians, I am certain, will proclaim, “How could they’ve not seen?”

There’s a reality star twittering rants from within the hallowed halls of our highest house.  Facts have become “fake news”, while with nuclear weapons, he plays cat, and mouse.

But within the red and blue swath of these our United States, there is still much to be applauded; fueled by our many debates.

We marched by the millions, pink hats in hand, and from that momentous occasion, the #metoo movement began.

Thus, all now know, we do have a choice, as we stand speaking loudly in one, strong, united voice.

Then on to a lighter note, for the perfect stocking stuffer, we have a winner, but do we really, truly need, that double, fidget spinner?

I much prefer the momentary craze dedicated to the Unicorn’s vibrant rainbow hue. As it has given us, color-laden Frappuccino’s, bagels, and of course, Unicorn dip poo!

While here in Eugene, for those of us “Ducks” who bleed yellow and green, this years “civil war game” was an orange and black defeated, scene.

And Mother Nature chose this year to give us quite a display.  We watched in throngs—as day became night—what more can I say?

Other than, let us not forget the YouTube sensation, followed faithfully online, when April the Giraffe, gave birth live before millions, for the very first time.

Alas, many new beings entered this realm throughout the past year, but there were also those who left us. So, let’s give them a final, good cheer.

For Mr. Tom Petty, I know he now has wings, and has Learned to Fly, and is Free Fallin’ though a starlit night sky.

And Mr. Monty Hall is making heavenly deals, while listening to Fat’s Domino serenade him with Blueberry Hills.

Then Gentle on My Mind is a Rhinestone Cowboy riding through the clouds, heralded by the applause of adoring, heavenly crowds.

Finally, I throw my hat to the sky in memory of Ms. Mary Tyler Moore, and to Jerry Lewis, I hope funds for MDA continue to ever pour.

I now gaze out my kitchen window at our newly planted, crooked Dr. Seuss Tree, and it reminds me that by allowing your heart to grow, you can begin to see.

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So like the infamous Grinch of old, let all our hearts begin to grow, and grow, then perhaps through this great expansion of human compassion, seeds will sow, and begin mending not only fences, but also the divided borders across this earth. For isn’t that the true reason for this season, of renewal, and rebirth?

Love, conquers all they say, so let’s, let bells ring out, and let’s let love, have its way!

What Are You Leaning Into for the New Year?

View as I write.

View as I write.

By Lisa Alber

Do you set goals for the New Year? I used to — very specific and unobtainable goals. Every next year was going to be the year I transformed into the best Me specimen I could imagine. Organized and non-procrastinating. Energetic and exercise-obsessed. Self-disciplined and prolific. Vegan (or at least vegetarian) and skinny.

What a losing proposition! Talk about a nice way to begin the New Year in self-sabotage mode.

Old habits die hard, however, so here I am thinking about 2016 and what I’d like to accomplish. As I write this post, I’m sitting at my kitchen counter. The Christmas cactus blooms have fallen, but it still looks festive in its red-foiled pot. The dog sits on my lap because she’s a little nervous about the dudes in my backyard who are cutting down a cedar that is rotted from the inside out.

Fawn "The Ears" Alber on my lap.

Fawn “The Ears” Alber on my lap.

Symbolically, seems like a fitting way to end 2015. Not that 2015 was a rotten year — not at all! — just that even the most beautiful of things and times end. We move on whether we want to or not, just like that poor tree is coming down whether I like it or not. Change seems to come around faster the older I get, so I’m wondering what 2016 has in store for me …

Since I most emphatically do not set goals anymore, I’ve decided I’ll think in terms of what I’ll lean into for 2016. Have you heard that phrase before? Lean into? It seems to be the latest therapeutic craze. Go ahead, Google it. I see leaning into discomfort, leaning into pain, leaning into health, even leaning into stupid ideas. (I like that one.)

Some things I know I’ll accomplish in 2016: Writing because I’m under book deadline and responsible budgeting because I bought a house this year so I’m relatively house poor right now.

Waning cedar, waning 2015.

Waning cedar, waning 2015.

External stuff is pretty easy, but what about the internal stuff? That’s where I’ll need to lean into improvements. Semantically, I like saying I’m going to lean into improvements rather than set goals. Doesn’t the phrasing feel more warm and friendly, like it’s inviting you to try something new and fun? Like it’s opening you up to new possibilities?

It does to me. For example, my goal is to lose XX pounds and get in shape. As soon as I say that to myself, a sense of doom overcomes me. But if I say to myself, I’m going to lean into a healthier lifestyle and lose weight in the process. Well then … OK. That sounds pretty darned good to me. That’s what I want in my heart of hearts — a healthier lifestyle.

Setting goals is all about the finish line — you either make the finish line or you don’t. Black or white. Success or failure. On the other hand, leaning in implies a process of improvement rather than a state of perfection. As I learn over and over as a writer, it’s the process that counts. It’s about time I expand that notion into my life.

So, in addition to a healthier lifestyle, I’ve decided that I’m going to also lean into accepting non-perfection. Living in a world of many shades of gray (not to be confused with a certain pesky novel), rather than black and white. My therapist has a lot to say on this topic, hehe.

That’s it for my 2016 goal setting, and that feels good. Wishing you a leaning-into New Year!

What’s your take on setting goals? Do you do it? How does it work out for you?