Apifera Farm - where art, story, animals & woman merge. Home to artist Katherine Dunn

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ritual of change

Tomorrow is St. Lucia Day, a wonderful celebration in Sweden to honor the light before the dark of winter masks the earth. I've been doing a lot of thinking about ritual, and how many things in the holiday are lacking in ritual, or are masked as ritual.

Genuine rituals are important. Many years ago, I decided I would not get whipped up about the holiday, and if someone didn't partake in my life much, sending them greetings once a year just because they were distantly related, or closely related, was somewhat dishonest. My parents always went overboard with gift giving, but as we aged, I found the gifts became more and more about what they wanted me to be, versus what I was. I always loved sending cards, and still send some but I decided long ago that partaking and sharing love with friends all year was more important, for me. I was not raised a Christian, but I do believe Jesus was wonderful teacher, so a day to celebrate his birth, I think is all very good. But the pressure - usually unspoken - to partake in family gatherings with people you really wouldn't choose as friends [nor they me] - it's become a drain of my energy. I did years as the dutiful daughter, and well, I guess I gave myself permission to be rogue daughter-in-law now.

What it boils down to is that I only have so many more days in my life to create. No, I'm not ill, that I'm aware of. But I could go tomorrow, or in 40 years. Either way, it's a flash. I don't want to be in situations where I feel I'm given no choice but to partake, because I 'should'.

I realized this month I've taken a couple jobs without really thinking about it. I'm so used to being the dutiful daughter, or artist, or seller, that I took jobs that use my creative energy, but I'd rather be using my energy in other projects.

So I decided I want a new ritual for Christmas Eve. This Eve, rather than driving through fog and rain to stand for a few hours and do cocktail talk, I am staying at the farm. I'm going to commune and give blessings to my pastures, especially Muddy Hill, one of my favorite vantage points at the farm. I've written before how that spot lets me think, or cry, or feel hope, and feel like me. That hill lets me see the farm in one giant perspective.

I watched the funeral of Elizabeth Edwards, a beautiful simple service filled with humor, and ritual, I thought about my family's rituals or lack of them. The memorial service itself, of sitting with the deceased body and sharing stories and shedding tears, was not something we did for my father, and I think it was a mistake for the living. He came from a line of agnostic or atheists and it wasn't that I think he wanted anything grand. But there were many people that were sad, upset even, that they didn't get to 'pay their respects'. It was my mother's call, of course, to not have a service, and it was so like her. Instead, we drove his ashes to a cemetery of white tombstones, for war vets. He was placed on a stand while some very sweet, and very old, retired soldiers played the haunting "Taps" song. It lasted about 2 minutes, and we didn't even see the ashes go in the grave. There are very strict rules at vet cemeteries- the graves must be left sparse and uncluttered of stuffed animals, pictures, and tokens. As my mother, brother and his wife got back into the car, I returned to the marble stand where my father's ashes were sitting in a box. I had brought along a feather from Apifera's hens, and I quickly snuck it into the box of ashes.

Rituals let a person partake and share, often in community. But one person's, or family's, ritual might just cause exhaustion  to another.


Sharon Stanley said...

this was such a thought provoking post for me katherine. for me, i think it's an age thing. as i've grown older, i have given myself permission to, like you, make changes in the rituals of my life. when my boys were little, i was very determined that we have "family traditions" because they were so important to me as a child and i loved them. my boys however have had other ideas and it has taken me years to see that if gifts and lots of decorations don't really do it for them, it's okay. it sounds simple, but it's not. i am stubborn and change has come slowly. ritual works for me...there is a security, comfort and peace in it. the ritual of church and faith for me must in some ways be my muddy hill. i can't imagine life without it and it keeps me very much centered. it's the place i can always "go" in my mind to regroup. i think you hit the nail on the head when you say, at this point in my life, the energy drainers have to go...it's just so true....and that goes for people too...life is just too short to spend time with nay-sayers or energy drainers.....at parties or whatever the occasion...ah but sometimes it's just hard to walk that fine line between desire and duty....i guess that's good though...i'm for the muddy hill though.

Katherine Dunn/Apifera Farm said...

"but sometimes it's just hard to walk that fine line between desire and duty"...this is the real trick, the effort- to stand in your music but not hurt the important people in your life. Give and take. Compromises. But also, laying off the expectations.

Mare said...

I used to hang on to Christmas and how it was always done so tightly...i never wanted it to change. But as i've gotten older(and hopefully wiser) i listen to my children who have children and lives of their own. Some of the rituals we have shared thru the years are very much a part of them too and they choose to keep it the same. And some things are going to change because their lives have changed and it just doesn't fit any more. It makes me feel so happy to know that things i did with them as children they still want to do now, and to do them with me. As for me, i am learning to just let it happen and let go of the old and embrace the new. And i have personally given myself permission to say "no thanks" to many things i was once expected to do too. Life IS too short and nothing is guaranteed..Keep creating and being true to yourself my friend...There is nobody else on this Earth quite like you...

indie grrrl said...

I fnd myself holding on to old thoughts for the sheer fact that it makes me feel safer. Crazy, because i'm freezing myself in my own footsteps. Change, acceptance, love can all be had by letting go. I thank you so very much for this post. I dont feel alone and I really do want to live out the rest of my life surrounded by the goodness I choose. Your farm is beautiful and an inspiration of mine. One day I hope to have a smaller version of my own. Happy Holidays in whatever it is you do!!!!

mcregan said...

Hi Katherine--I really enjoyed reading your post and so much agree with you. I recently went to the doctor with a sinus infection and a complaint about stress induced chest pains. Now after many appointments over the last 11 days, I have been told twice that I need a heart transplant. I am still in shock and am seeing a specialist this week. I am very upset and worried about my son. Who knew 2 weeks ago that I would be dealing with anything like this. I enjoy your thoughts and will continue to read your blog--thank you.

Delisa said...

Dear Katherine:
Your post sure hit home with me today. Although my situation is somewhat different. I am a Christian and have been all of my life, it is something that means so much to me that it forms the very identity of who I am, how I look at myself and every decision I make. But I do not celebrate Christmas. This was a decision I made for various reasons, many to do with the origins of the holiday and customs surrounding it. Yet, I understand why people do celebrate and I respect with all my heart everyone's right to decide for themselves. I hoped that family would understand my motive and appreciate the time and love I show them all through out the year. I do not have a large family, but most do understand why I feel the way I do, they show me honor and we enjoy other gatherings together. My husband and I made up a holiday just for our family each year called "Family Day" and we do whatever we want to, sometimes we give gifts, cook , we have a great time. The date changes depending on the circumstances. I enjoy making and giving gifts and cards all year. But I have a couple of family members who have all but cut me off, they tell their children that I don't care about them and that I don't love Jesus, and boy is that like a knife in the heart. The reality is though that these family members are never especially kind to me, they don't call or show interest in my life, they don't visit when I'm in the hospital, they won't travel to visit my home, even when it's not about Christmas it has to be their way or the highway. So I understand what you say about energy drainers. It takes courage to take the step you have, and not everyone will understand. But I believe as long as your motive is coming from a loving place, a good place, that people will understand eventually. The important thing I think, is that you are able to be your honest self. I love your writing Katherine and you always make me think and give me something to ponder. Have a good day! Delisa

Katherine Dunn/Apifera Farm said...

All these thoughtful posts here, thank you all for sharing. I guess it struck a nerve. You all have such meaningful things to say, I've read every word - and MC , I am so very sorry about your heart issue- my goodness, that puts it all in perspective. But that is what I mean too in this post. I'm sure you are scared- one moment at a time.

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Thank you for reading! The farm and my art/writing keep me hopping, so might not respond immediately. Thank you for understanding. ~Katherine & Apifera ~