I’m in San Francisco for the holidays again and, like most years, I’m enjoying not having to apply a gallon of lotion before leaving the house, getting lost while staring at the pretty houses and spending time with my aunt, who is basically a superfit Buddha in swanky clothing, and my Swedish stepmom, whose mouth overflows with kind words.

Instead of simply enjoying it though, I’ve been flogging myself for not dressing better, drinking less, exercising more and being in a state of constant blissful peace. They aren’t doing this to me; I’m doing this to me. And I’ve been doing it since I was 10. It’s compulsive and boring. Like a puppet show you’re putting on for yourself.

And despite the fact I make this realization every stinkin’ year, it still sounds ridiculously novel.

Something about being with family makes some of our brains click into these weird little autopilot settings where you’re forever stuck acting like a sullen teen or a goody-goody or whatever flavor of person you and your family have silently agreed upon. It doesn’t matter what demons you’ve bested or medals you’ve won in the past year; that all flies out the window on the plane ride over and you’re back to playing your role. I swear it didn’t matter what short film I’d just proudly finished, or marvelous trip I’d just taken, five seconds around my father and I was 15 and pissed again. I might as well have packed my Keds with Metallica lyrics written on them.

I once spent a Christmas in Norway, with my boyfriend and his family, and none of this self-flagellation occurred. Like every Christmas, I enjoyed not having to apply a gallon of lotion before leaving the house and I got desperately lost staring at pretty houses. But I didn’t put myself on trial for not being this or that. I was Just Me, and Just Me was having a goddamned great time. And I like to think that because I hadn’t pulled my Microscope of Judgement out to check and make sure all of my flaws were still there, I didn’t use it on anyone else either.

I genuinely believe one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen was Torgrim’s mother, her silver hair and cigarette smoke waving in the wind as she told me stories in lilting English with chocolate tucked into the corners of her lips and wine staining her teeth. She was hammered, and happy, and could not have been more glamourous.

But had I remained in Oslo as planned, this Christmas I might be beating myself up for not having more chocolate on my face, for not having purple enough teeth, for not having hair the same color as smoke in the wind.

So what do we do with ourselves, those of us who fall into the tiger trap of wishing we were something more, or better, or different? How do we eschew the familial roles we’ve assigned ourselves or accepted and feel and act like the wholest, best versions of our present selves? Is it as simple as recognizing we’re digging the hole again and gathering the branches to cover it?

Could we not just look at ourselves with kindness and delight in the chocolate on our own mouths?

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