Let’s talk about Sitka. Let’s talk about the perils of Christmas shopping in a small town, where the stores open after you get to work and close before you’ve left the office. Gift-giving takes a long time up here—and then you have to account for the time it takes to ship things from Alaska. Which I didn’t. Sorry, gift recipients! Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to for the past few weeks. That and watching Love Actually. And Elf. And every Bones Christmas episode (yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have converted Anne. I’m such an enabler). Oh, and Black Swan. One of these things is not like the others, but it actually made sense in context.
December began with dance. There are so many good ways for a month to begin, but dance is one of my favorites. Christmas is also one of my favorites. And dance + Christmas = The Nutcracker! When Anne and I first called the dance studio about the possibility of joining their Modern class, we were told that we could work out some sort of deal if we ushered at the show. We were also told that they were already planning to ask the JVs to usher…so basically, Anne and I are taking a dance class in exchange for something we would have done anyway. Oh Sitka. Not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, now are we?
Sitka’s version of The Nutcrackerwasn’t perfect. It was even less so after four times in the audience. (I’d critique, but since I quit studio ballet before I even hit pointe shoes, I probably have no business complaining that the snow queen fell out of her fouettés. But she did. And it bothered me.) In any case, what the show lacked in skill, it made up for with character. People tap-danced IN XTRATUFS, and there was an entire sequence dedicated to making fun of tourists. Also, Mother Ginger became Father Herring, an old bearded fisherman in a floppy hat. He sat atop the “ocean,” essentially a giant hoop skirt filled with little girls dressed in shiny fish outfits. I recognize the inherent potential for creepiness in—well, all of that. But the old guy just looked like a huggable teddy bear of a man, a proud grandpa watching over his little ones, who flopped and wiggled and tried to remember the choreography. The whole scene was like being wrapped in a giant Snuggie: it’s kind of absurd, but you still wanna cuddle with it.
In the midst of four performances of The Nutcracker and one modern dance class (which, by the way, has been completely awesome so far), somebody thought it would be a good idea to watch Black Swan. I was not that somebody, but I also didn’t fight it. The weekend was already consumed by dance; why not go all out? After watching a movie about dancers who starve themselves and cry and have psychotic breakdowns and imagine murdering other dancers and then actually do kill themselves, the charm and innocence of Sitka’s performance felt especially welcome. So the girls can’t do fouettés. At least they aren’t stabbing people.
I’ve decided that small towns are like high school. In high school, if you’re interested in something and have even a moderate amount of skill, you can probably do it. Then you get to college and realize, oh hey, I’m not actually any good at this. (Just me?) And that’s a good thing. We need to be brought down to earth. We need to see the difference between things we like to do and things we’re meant to do. It’s how we find direction. But I also don’t believe in giving up on something you enjoy just because you’re not the best at it. The kids here aren’t future professionals; a bigger city might’ve shot down their dreams by now, but Sitka lets them have some fun.
Maybe I’m just feeling sweet on small towns because my driver’s license fell out of my pocket yesterday, and the owner of the dance studio came across it on her walk and gave me a call. This silly little hobby I’ve adopted, this thing I’m doing just because I WANT TO, just saved me a whole lot of trouble. I officially forgive Sitka for making my Christmas shopping so difficult.
I’ve never liked it when people get stressed out around the Christmas season—Christmas is HAPPY, YOU FOOLS—but I think I’m starting to understand why it happens. Like our fake fireplace. Picture this: it’s the day after Thanksgiving, possibly one of my favorite days of the year. I’m digging through the closet with gusto, listening to Disney’s Candlelight Processional on my iPod. This closet is chock full of treasures from JVs past—tacky sweaters, 53 sleeping bags (for realsies. Except not), weird costumes, gag gifts that I can’t talk about because this blog is rated G—so I figure it has to have some great Christmas decorations. All I find is a hat that looks like a Christmas tree and five stockings. Stockings need a fireplace, which we don’t have. I’ll make one! I get the paper.
I start crafting, and my mind starts running away from me. I get ambitious. I start to think that I’m capable of decorative miracles at the caliber of Buddy the Elf. My roommates will come home from work to a winter WONDERLAND. Paper chains, snowflakes hanging from the ceiling, lights, maybe that church choir from Home Alone. It’ll be magical.
But it’s not happening quickly enough! As it turns out, I’m only one person. I’m also kind of a perfectionist, and I’ve never done anything quickly in my life, ever. I start to get nervous. This was supposed to be a fun gesture to my roommates, but now it feels overwhelming. Then I realize I don’t actually need to do everything myself, and I’m fine.
In the end, I finished the fireplace, four snowflakes, and the cutout letters, “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays.” (It’s like *NSYNC LIVES ON OUR WALL now.)
It’s not quite what Buddy could do, but I like it. Even when it’s busy, Christmas is awesome. I chopped down our Christmas tree in the woods. IN THE WOODS. ALASKA! I’ve never had a real Christmas tree before. I always had this very specific image of what it would be like to get a real Christmas tree. It would be a sunny Saturday morning. We’d all be wearing flannel and knit hats, and it would be warm enough not to need coats but cold enough for snow to be on the ground. We’d find the perfect tree, all full and green, and we’d chop it down while singing carols, and then it would just miraculously appear in our living room. That’s not real life. In reality, it was a Thursday night, and it was dark out (but let’s be real; it’s winter. It’s always dark out). I was in my sweatpants, chopping potatoes by candlelight, and my only plans for the night were to eat soup and watch a new episode of Bones. But Tyler called, so we loaded into his car and drove to a muskeg and found a tree. It’s not really full so much as it is endearing, which is better. I sawed through the trunk, we carried it to Tyler’s car, and we had ourselves a Christmas tree! Not exactly the perfect morning I’d imagined, but definitely more authentic. More Alaskan—like cutting down a tree is something we do every Thursday night, just for kicks.
So now there’s a real live tree in our living room! I keep forgetting that it needs water. Thank goodness I don’t live alone; I’d never make it. We’ve decorated the tree with homemade ornaments, some of which I made at the Boys and Girls Club Christmas party. I love my job. I spent yesterday afternoon baking cookies, watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and helping kids fashion reindeer ornaments out of clothespins. Bring on the holiday nostalgia.
It’s definitely bizarre not to be home right now—and by “home” I mean the little house in the mountains of North Carolina where my family spends Christmas. I miss the view from our porch, the stars at night, the town so small it makes Sitka look huge. I miss the bad commercials and the Southern accents. Mostly, I miss my family and the silly board games they always make me play, and the smell of french toast from my upstairs bedroom, and gathering around the TV to watch the Packers. (You hear that, family? I know you’re reading this. I DO CARE! Also, I was kidding about the inappropriate gag gifts in the closet.) This is not going to be a normal Christmas for any of us in the JV House. But I still think it’ll be a memorable one. We’ll fuse our own traditions into new ones, and we’ll share stories and trade presents and make something good happen together. I like that.
Perfection is overrated. I actually stole that from my brother. It was his facebook status after the Packers lost. I was pretty upset about the loss (I still don’t love it); I’ve already admitted to being a bit of a perfectionist, and I also really wanted to rub an undefeated season in Brett Favre’s face. I just love my team, and I loved what we were doing together, and how much our players kept striving to improve from one victory to the next. But it fell apart. I was mad, mentally crafting a facebook status about how badly I wanted to punch the 1972 Dolphins in the face, when I saw my brother’s page. “Perfection is overrated.” Every once in a while, he’s wiser than I am. The story has changed, but we can still win the Super Bowl. We may not get the big picture, but we get the beautiful details—the homemade ornaments, the construction-paper fireplace, the driver’s license on the sidewalk, Father Herring’s floppy hat. And, of course, Muppet Christmas Carol, which I’m planning to force all of my roommates to watch. Some traditions are non-negotiable.
Merry Christmas, everyone.