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Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

Hap-happiest time?

Christmas

Some of my friends are wondering why they aren't feeling the holiday bliss. I never ponder that. I know exactly why I'm not in a state of enduring, sustained happiness. And only part of it's because I'm one of Garrison Keillor's "dark Norwegians," people who see the somber lining in every silver cloud.

The days are shorter, giving us less light. It's colder and icy out there, making us long to stay where it's warm and safe. That's all sort of biological.

Then there's the workload. To whatever we were doing before, add decorating, baking, cooking, entertaining, participating in or even just attending events, buying presents, and paying those once or twice a year bills that show up when you least need them.

Except for the last, those are pleasant things, at least individually. But the stress research says even good changes in our routines can make us sick. And when you add in many such changes, well, expect a mood-nose-dive.

This year, there's an additional burden of general ambient craziness (GAC). That's the technical term I just invented for all the tension and anxiety raised by our perceptions of what's going on in the world as filtered through the media we choose.

I just spent a moderately high GAC factor hour listening to intelligent, hardworking, decent people tell a talk show host and her guest "well, if I don't have that, no one else should either."

So let me be clear: I'm not arguing that because not everyone finds the holidays to be pure occasions of chronic happiness, those of you who do should stop being happy. God bless you, every two or three of you.

But for most of us, it's really sort of goofy to think we should be in any sort of sustained hyper-joyfulness for days on end, let alone months. There's nothing wrong with you if you aren't feeling the holiday spirit all the time. Most people who maintain a constant state of euphoria, apparently stimulated by the endless consumption of various consumer products, live in advertisements, not life.

For the rest of us, joy comes and goes. Even the greatest events--the birth of a child, falling in love, accomplishing a difficult goal, evading death, winning the lottery--don't lead to weeks of uninterrupted ecstasy. Reality intrudes. The baby has colic. The lover has ideas of his or her own that conflict with yours. The accomplishment means you have to move away from people and places you've always loved. The recovery comes with pain and limitations. Relatives, strangers, taxes, and bad judgment deplete both the coffers of chance winnings and your pleasure in your luck.

If you're feeling bah-humbuggy, just step out of the holiday for a bit. It'll still be there when you feel like returning to it. While you're at it, if you're feeling angry and indignant toward ordinary people who are in much the same boat you are, step outside that for awhile, too.

In the quiet and stillness you step into, you may see a speck of the light of hope. You may feel love and wonder. That kind of happiness is holy.

Make mine vicarious

If you're looking for a polar bear plunge that doesn't involve getting cold or wet this New Year's weekend, stop in at the Rosebud to see Feed the Fish. It's a low budget up nort' movie filmed in Door County. Sweet and funny in a broad, undemanding kind of way, it makes those of us who've spent time in the tip of the Door feel right at home.

Most of us will recognize and enjoy the characters. Tony Shaloub plays the cranky and possibly crazy sheriff, Barry Corbin (Maurice for all of us Northern Exposure fans) his cranky but heart-of-gold father. The younger actors, involved in a conventional love triangle, are sort of adorable. And Joe, the blocked young writer, has a really nice butt. I'm just sayin'. . .

If you're looking for existential angst or dramatic special effects, this isn't your baby. Journal reviewer Chris Foran didn't like it.   He's from the Let's Transcend Laverne and Shirley school of critics who want Wisconsin portrayed as more like Manhattan and less like Fargo. Which is fine if you think there's something wrong with the quirks of country folks and something endlessly fascinating about the quirks of urbanites.

Me, I like a movie where no one gets maimed (well, not for long anyway) or raped. Where people behave in the silly and noble ways real people sometimes behave. And one that follows the old conventions of a story: something happens, and people change. And in the old romantic comedy tradition, some people are a little happier for it.

Uff da!

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