Removing the Quotes from “Family” and “Holiday”

I recently visited my sister and grandparents in Tampa, an extremely apprehensive feeling clouding my thoughts. Around Thanksgiving and Christmas every year, I have to fight back tears that I get because of an awareness of my family situation. Holidays used to be normal, at least as normal as they could be with a family like mine. But over the years, things changed for the worse, and the holidays are synonymous with isolation, sadness, and a longing for the past.

We used to celebrate Christmas at my grandparents’ on Christmas Eve after what seemed like the longest church service in the history of man. The night before the 24th, I would fool myself into thinking that, the earlier I fell asleep, the earlier the day would come. Of course, I would fixate on this tirelessly for 8 hours until, upon waking, I would realize I got about 30 minutes of sleep. Nonetheless, everyone could plainly see my anticipation and subsequent rapture; I would jump around like any other kid on this happy holiday with wonderful spirits and an eagerness to seize the day.

We would usually spend the next morning, Christmas morning, reading the relevant Bible passages, eating a good breakfast, and opening presents at my parents’ (mom and stepdad’s) house. Then my dad would pick me up Christmas evening and I would walk into my room at his house to find a large quantity of presents that I was always hoping would be more than the previous year (he wrapped everything, even packs of gum and Chapstick, to boost the number of presents, but he still got me a ton of things). I would then visit my cousins’ place one of the next few days, and sometimes we would visit my mom’s aunt and other family and friends.

This was the case for most of my childhood until high school, and although the family was never perfect, they got along enough to do the same thing every year without many problems. Then everything changed: besides people growing up or moving, which happens in all families, the hostilities increased to the point where Christmas as I knew it could no longer exist. I was used to spending Christmas with the same group of people in the same place on both my mom’s and dad’s side. Long story short, no one wanted to be in the same room anymore. I was the only one who talked to everyone, but it was now much harder. I would have to see each entity individually, on both sides of my family. Christmas got smaller and more depressing.

Now holidays are spent very casually, if they are spent at all. It’s like three or four people usually. My mom sometimes cries, and it has become hard for me to feign excitement because I share some of her pain. The few of us have gone out to eat at a casual restaurant a number of times in recent years. My dad is usually alone or with a girlfriend, and we usually just play some cards and eat food. I visit my grandparents and sister in Florida and enjoy seeing them, but it just isn’t the same anymore. We don’t really do much for it except share cards. It’s warm in Tampa so it doesn’t feel like winter. And there isn’t a Christmas tree or many packages anymore.

I guess this wouldn’t be as bad if I didn’t know what family feels like. But I do know that this group of people, in the past, has worked together to share warmth and happiness with each other and provide me with a sense of contentment. No one is perfect, but it is nice when everyone gets along and has a real actual holiday. The growing up part, where the young people grow old and are busier and don’t want many presents besides money or actual useful things, would be manageable if I knew the people around me had a sense of togetherness. I don’t feel like I can provide enough love and solidity by myself to cover for the nonexistent part of the family. Besides personally wanting to enjoy the holidays without having to deal with divided units, I want the people I am with to be individually happy. When I put myself in their shoes, it is impossible for me to believe they can be at ease when people they care about are not in their lives. I don’t know what that feels like, but everyone else in my family does.

I’m not trying to depress you. I’m not asking for sympathy because my holidays suck; I have some great friends who have made me feel like part of their family on numerous occasions. Really, I just feel that something must be missing from my family members’ lives, because I know it is missing from mine. I wish there was more I could do.

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I was walking along Sand Key Beach on a perfect day as my sister followed behind with her camera. The waves occasionally came up farther than I anticipated, and we both laughed when my rolled-up jeans would get soaked.

During this walk, I thought about our childhood. I thought about how much I missed my sister. I thought about the week in Tampa. We had a great chat and bonded for the first time in a while (I keep more to myself nowadays, plus we’re both busy and far away). I got to be around my nephew for an extended period of time. Holding little baby Jacob was a reminder of how important my sister is to me. I am a part of his life. I’m her brother. I’m his uncle. I haven’t seen my grandparents smile that much since I was young, and it makes me smile seeing how much love they give to the baby. My family might not work well, but this is family. A new start. The person I looked up to growing up is now a loving, happy mother. The man she is with makes her happy and is a wonderful father. I don’t get to see her as much as I would like, but I’ve never seen my sister this happy.

I guess I forgot what that feeling of family is like.

Who knows, maybe I will move to Tampa after I finish in Chicago. Maybe that’s what I have been looking for. Maybe spending more time around this part of my family is the solution to the holiday problems.

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There are plenty of things in life we all take for granted, but during this holiday season, please spend time taking in all the warmth and cheerfulness your family gives you. Even if someone gets on your nerves or asks you annoying questions about school, work, and growing up, realize that it is so much better having that person around than not. You probably haven’t seen some people in a long time; put away your phone, forget personal problems, and don’t worry about when you will get to leave. Spend time listening and talking and eating and smiling and hugging and laughing. I know I might sound like some 80-year old giving advice to his great-grandson, but this is all true. It’s so easy to forget how important these things are to you when they are, in some way or another, a regular part of your life. Even though mine haven’t been the greatest recently, I have hope for happier holidays ahead.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

A Non-Fictitious Fiction Connection

I think I’ve found my favorite novel of all time: Steppenwolf. Hermann Hesse’s writing hits me harder than anything ever has before. Another of his famous works, Siddhartha, is in my top five favorites. Though “fiction,” these are extremely representative of the true human experience. His characters are usually very intelligent and exceptionally aware of their surroundings, but confused about their place in the world and struggling at a climactic turning point in their lives.  In different ways, I feel the same strong connection with the writing in Crime and Punishment, Tropic of Cancer, and Thus Spoke Zarathustra, among others. I finally started the behemoth of a novel, Infinite Jest, and it is already subconsciously appealing. In all of these books, I find myself highlighting or underlining nearly every other sentence and bookmarking pages frequently. I can’t get enough.

Besides the label of fiction, these works have one thing in common: they speak to me impeccably. My thoughts, which have been struck with even more confusion and fragmentation lately, are ambiguous and vague. I get bits and pieces of clarity and do my best to create a picture but it is never complete. I have been dealing with some pretty deep issues that are hard for me to think about other than in a roundabout, perplexed way. I have talked to family and friends and doctors and have perused relevant writings in self-help / psychology / philosophy. This definitely helps, but it’s hard for anyone to truly understand the way I view things internally; instead, it is easier to simulate my problems in an alternate world with characters much like me yet who are more developed and better express their inner ideas. Hence I see my thoughts and actions played out more completely in fiction. I understand things much better when they are indirect; indirect is my direct.

Sometimes the human experience cannot be illustrated or captured concretely. Instead of trying to qualify or quantify people scientifically, the books that appeal to me are not straightforward, their characters are nowhere near perfect or predictable, the answers to their profound spiritual questions are not known clearly, and their themes are not always apparent. Who knows if the characters are making the right decisions given the circumstances? Such is the nature of life. My favorite novels are essentially psychological and philosophical studies that artistically suggest deeper life meaning, a meaning words alone cannot describe.

When I (along with many others) read these works of fiction, I am able to associate with different characters and their thoughts. A well-written soliloquy or monologue or just a moving thought makes my eyes light up. When reading a book like the ones I enjoy, I focus on: the way characters deal with abstract ideas (and the way in which the author writes this), the individual deliberation process, flashes of clarity and confusion, the human responses to pain, anguish, or happiness, and the decisions and conclusions rational yet flawed characters come up with. And I don’t relate to just one character. The human personality is comprised of a number of opposing characters, and good works of fiction can sometimes be understood as representations of the different personalities and thoughts at work inside an individual mind.

In addition to relating to certain characters, I am able to see one step past that into the mind of the author. Generally, the author (loosely) expresses his or her ideas and views of the world through the way in which he/she writes and through the narrator’s or different characters’ voices. No one would be able to write something they haven’t thought about before, naturally, so these authors are showing me what they have thought out thoroughly, and it is the same stuff I have dealt with. Although I have never met Hesse, Kafka, Dostoevsky, Hemingway, Camus, or Henry Miller, I nevertheless feel like they are close friends who know exactly what is going on inside of my head and who think the exact same way as me. They can usually offer me more insightful solutions to deal with problems than I can come up with myself.

I never really knew what it was like to connect with an author or character before. I guess you could say I just wasn’t reading the right books. Also, I never knew as much as I do now about myself; it’s hard to connect with someone else when you don’t know yourself. I can now relate to those of you who find passion in connecting with books, and I know how much of a positive it is. I hope all of you can find your literary doppelgänger or connect with an author’s unique ideas and thoughts on handling problems in a fictitious yet very realistic world. Sometimes, fiction novels can be crude but effective textbooks for (Insert Name Here)’s Life 101.

I plan on reading Hesse and D.F. Wallace and Nietzsche (fiction writings) as much as possible over my upcoming break from school. I am addicted to the association I feel with different characters and the connection I have with certain authors – intelligent, logical people with many problems and questions – who are challenging themselves and their readers to closely examine their lives and make something of this bizarre world.