Allow me to address the holiday dilemma while square in the midst of the most difficult one for almost any artist–Christmas. Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Solstice, or nothing at all, Christmas will invade your life like the Roman empire invaded Europe. Or Europeans invaded the Americas. Whatever, you get the picture. No matter your beliefs or practices, Christmas (as long as it has been celebrated) has overwhelmed every creative that ever lived. Go ahead. Try to ignore it. Well-meaning friends and family simply won’t allow it. They want YOU there for the holidays, not the book you intend to publish in the coming year. Your presence, if not your presents, is required.
My personal policy is to simply give into it. I enjoy colored lights, wrapped packages, buying gifts, lively parties with friends, seeing my folks, the smell of evergreen, and writing and receiving cards. I try to make as much of it about writing as I possibly can. I assign myself a seasonal poem or story to write and put it out there at an open mic, in a blog post, or send it off to some magazine or journal, usually too late for them to get it published in time. No matter. I wrote it.
I give gifts to my writer and artist friends that hopefully will inspire them in their craft–things to write with or on. Magical rattles that bring the muse running. Calendars to help them keep up with their crazy, non-traditional lives. Gift cards to independent bookstores or coffee shops where they can take an artist date and a break from the insanity of doing too much in so little time. Magazine subscriptions that encourage creativity or offer writing prompts are good. I write an annual letter with my partner, Leigh, and send it in personal cards to friends and relations everywhere. (This is actually a great tool for reminding yourself just how much you DID do in the last year.)
Then I let all these things count. I AM creating. I AM writing. Perhaps everything I write during those two weeks can’t be used in the memoir or short story I hope to publish in 2012. That letter to the friend I haven’t seen in 20 years may not have anything to do with the screenplay I’ve been busting my ass on for the past 10 months. But I can’t fight all this holiday spirit, and I don’t want to depress myself by arguing with my reflection, “Oh, you should be doing this or you should be doing that.” It’s tiring and wasteful of whatever energy I happen to have left.
Maybe you can run away to Paris or the Keys or Hawaii for Christmas. I’ve always thought I might ignore the holiday if I were somewhere far away and could just write, write, write. But since I’ve never done it, I don’t know if it’s true or not. Besides, if I were to try a trip like that, I’d go to South Africa where it’s summer and thoroughly confuse myself. Personally, I find it easier to give in and enjoy. I received a comment recently that said, “But what about making memories?” Well, here’s your chance. But make sure you stay sober enough to remember the occasion or else you really are wasting your time.
It’s true that there are times to simply be present in the moment. I envision my writer self, though, with a little tiny observer, an elfin reporter, sitting there on my shoulder like the proverbial angel/devil decider, and taking in all that is occurring even as I am as “with” the people I love as I possibly can be. I don’t know if I learned to do this while policing, or if it is simply in the creative’s repertoire and only needs practice to work. When I was a cop, I did a lot of counseling and talking and de-escalating trying to keep people, especially upset family members, out of jail. Especially at Christmas. At the same time, however, the little recorder was up there noticing everything–the grimace or unseen gesture made behind the wife’s back. The uncle who suddenly disappeared into the back room. This enabled me to act safely and to write a great report should an arrest prove necessary.
I realize this post is slightly all over the place. But remember, I’m in the midst of the holiday dilemma myself and have lowered my standards. My advice is for you to do the same. Do what suits you; what feels most comfortable. Enjoy yourself–that’s at the top of the list. Don’t feel guilty if you don’t finish the book by Christmas Eve. The new year is only a week or so away. You’ve got all of 2012 to complete that final draft. Count the writing you do manage. Throw in a haiku or poem to stay in shape. Attend a poetry reading or a play. Read a book about your craft. Open your heart to the love and the confusion and even the contention that a holiday like this always brings with it. Jot down some notes, and let your little angel/devil reporter do the rest.
See, I got this post written. Now I’ll wish you, faithful readers and writers, some happy holidays of your own. May peace, poetry, art, and laughter fill your lives in the coming year. Maintain your sense of humor–you’re going to need it in this election year. And remember, you can stand up nearly anyone and be forgiven, but never ignore your Muse. She, too, requires the gift of your presence.