Surly Girlie

Writing to figure things out and just because she likes it

What to Do When Your I-tunes Christmas Playlist Makes You Cry…Or, Why Nostalgia is Like a Mix Tape of Your Soul

Me with Santa & Cheap Sunglasses...

Mid-life reminds me of junior high. For starters, your body betrays you. In junior high it was pubic hair. In mid-life, it’s the muffin top. Next, you outgrow old fashions and habits. (In junior high, you must wear a training bra; in midlife you can forget the juniors department altogether, sister). And, in midlife (as in junior high) you find yourself constantly perplexed by this new layer of complexity added, well, to everything.

However, one of midlife’s quirks surprised even me, this holiday season. Me: the great over-analyzer. Me: the annoyingly reflective type who actually enjoys self-evals at work. And I hate to inform you, but this newfound revelation?  It’s a bit of a downer.

So, there’s your Debbie Downer spoiler alert.

This new sensation is a heartbreaking feeling (not dissimilar to liking the wrong boy in 8th grade).

This is an ache (not dissimilar to liking the wrong boy in 8th grade).

This is (drumroll) mid-life NOSTALGIA.


This holiday season, bits and pieces of my childhood come floating back to me through the radio as if it is my very own personalized mix-tape for the soul, my own Pandora-esque station guaranteed to well, overwhelm.

Frosty’s “thumpety thump thump” takes me back to my clunky ten-year-old fingers on my Grammy’s green piano and my proud grandparents watching me plunk away. (Yes, my grandmother painted her piano, red and then green).

“Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” reminds me of how we would trick my little brother and sister in the car by flashing on the interior lights and saying, “There’s Rudolph! Did you see him?”  Their little eyes as big as saucers with the wonderment of it all.

Loggins and Messina’s “Celebrate Me Home” brings my mother right to my frontal lobe smelling like gingerbread and vanilla candles and wearing a plaid jumper with a snowman turtle neck.

The relish tray I make every Thanksgiving takes me back to the annual family Christmas open house where my lovely Grammy would have a plethora of libations and appetizers, and always–always at the very end of things, around 2 am– there would be some very “happy” adult drinking a watered down highball while snacking on mini-gherkins, philosophizing no doubt on the ways of the world.

“Oh Christmas Tree” is me and my grandma skipping around their duplex singing at the top of our lungs, “Oh Christmas Tree,” my bare feet scraping across the old-fashioned furnace grate in between the kitchen and the living room– the warmest spot in the house.

There was my Grampy teasing me that Santa wasn’t very nice, which really upset me even though I secretly feared Santa maybe wasn’t very nice, as I feared God, Jesus, and the Holy Catholic Church might not be so nice, and had a sneaky suspicion that if I got on the wrong side of Santa, it would be very similar to getting on the wrong side of God– a very big, very bearded Old Testament style God.

There were the college Christmas eves (still at my Grammy’s, always at my Grammy’s)  at which holiday celebrations involved pitchers of Long Island Ice Teas or shots of Schnapps with Bloody Marys for breakfast. (Yes, I’m not only Catholic…I’m Irish!) Some small child sitting on my grandmother’s exercise bike while sucking on candy canes, me still trying to play the piano so that the family could sing “Silent Night.” Interestingly enough, this ritual always evolved into my brother playing “Hotel California” on the guitar while my cousin Kathi sang along– the rest of us following their lead. Then we would segue into John Cougar’s “Small Town” (because it ain’t a Hoosier Christmas without some Johnny Cougar) and that would be about it for the musical portion of our evening.

So, this holiday season, to and from work with the 24/7  holiday music radio channel on, I am finding myself swept into the past and thrust into the future.

I am weepy at the thought of what is behind me that is no more


simultaneously feeling weepy with gratitude for the love of the present


simultaneously feeling bereft with the knowledge that time keeps on slipping slipping slipping into the future, and I bet I won’t fly like an eagle to the sea.

And so in this Prufrock frame of mind, with my trousers rolled and a peach in hand, I walk the edge of the sea and try to embrace the precipice. And I open my arms and sing.

One of my favorite movies is a little-known gem called “Once Around” starring Holly Hunter and Richard Dreyfuss. In a nutshell, Hunter plays the old maid big sister who finally finds love in an older goofball (Dreyfuss) who sweeps her off her feet only to suffer a heart attack shortly thereafter. As his heart weakens and she fears his early death, they celebrate Christmas at her parents’ home (Gena Rowlands and Danny Aiello) and proceed to get falling down drunk. Hunter’s character breaks down about Dreyfuss’s character’s health and he delivers this amazing monologue about how he is going to kick death in the nuts. If death has nuts, that is.

and so, that is the only strategy I think we can take friends.

Kick death in the nuts.


Enjoy a relish tray and a highball.

Tell stories.

Write corny blogs.

Send Christmas cards ESPECIALLY because of this SUCKY ECONOMY.

Crank up The Eagles and Johnny Cougar.

Make an I-tunes playlist with every heart-wrenching holiday song your little heart can stand.

But above all:

Let your heart be light.

(My favorite Christmas song incidentally, sheerly for the lyrics…)

Let your heart be light, my friends.

Let your heart be light.

My arm looks fat, but I'll post this anyway because I'm letting my heart be light.


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4 thoughts on “What to Do When Your I-tunes Christmas Playlist Makes You Cry…Or, Why Nostalgia is Like a Mix Tape of Your Soul

  1. #1. your arm does not look fat.
    #2. I’ve missed your stories so very much.
    #3. Love the imagery…my favorite is the old fashioned heating grate and how it was the warmest spot in the house.
    #4. DO send me a holiday card…I love real mail, especially holiday cards
    #5. Keep writing, please 🙂

  2. Marcia Davis on said:

    Thank you my beautiful, talented #1 daughter

  3. I can relate to so much of this. There was this little wind up Angel that my Grandma Andy had that played Silent Night but it played it to fast and we would pretend to do interpretive dance to it in my Grandma’s living room. We would always make the Santa and reindeer decorations do perverted stuff so that my Grandma would find them the next morning. Good times! Full of cheese logs and those hard striped, bow like candies.

    I like nostalgia.

    Keep blogging Shan. I love it.

  4. I love nostalgia… For me it is a sign that I am getting restless and it is time to start a new adventure.

    I find the best cure for this usually starts with the letter “B”… Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Bangkok…. Bourbon, being the “bad boy” in 8th grade, I was pretty good in that role.

    I enjoy your writings and to me you are the gingham sundress and warm register, Surly… not so much.

    Love ya,

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