by Fae Rowen
It’s the morning after Thanksgiving and the ugly truth can’t be ignored. It’s “The Holidays” and with that, it’s the end of another year.
Even in my gluttonous post-turkey and pecan (my mom’s from Texas!) pie stupor, I begin to haul out the boxes for wrapping. But these boxes are not for gifting, they're how I wrap myself up during this time of year. This year I am resolved not to climb into one of these writer-deadly boxes.
I'm sharing my commitment to keep myself out of boxes and exploring ways to jump out of any that I might "thoughtlessly" land in.
The Box of Grief for Holidays Past
Many people dread the holidays because of all the people that will no longer sit at the dinner table. Or they dread that festive meal because of the people that will circle the table.
I never understood why people dislike the holidays until, a decade ago, my father unexpectedly died the day after Thanksgiving. Christmas has never been the same. More deaths and losses along the way have made the season even less joy-filled. Like a lot of folks, I miss my loved ones and tend to be mildly (or worse) depressed by the stark knowledge that I'll never again be able to pick out the perfect sweater vest for my dad or laugh with my best friend.
That depression shuts off my desire to write. So I don't--for a month or more. Not only do I not write, I don't think about writing. Deadly to a work in progress. Deadly to a career.
Just recognizing and acknowledging this box is a major step of healing for me. As writers, we are used to observing others and re-creating situations fraught with emotion and trauma. But as humans, we aren't always so great at recognizing and dealing with our own stress.
Getting together with friends I haven't seen for awhile, pulling out decorations packed away for a long time, inviting neighbors for dinner--this year I have already begun preparing to enjoy the month ahead in ways I haven't for years. Let's face it, no Christmas beats the one when you got your first bicycle. But every holiday season brings the opportunity for reflection and joy at the year's accomplishments, the progress (no matter how small) that we've made, and the hope of the following year.
Heck, I'm still standing. That's a cause for celebration, gratitude and joy!
The Box of Busy
With all this new-found social whirl, I'm busy. Not only that, my house and electronics have serious issues that must be addressed immediately. Shopping for a new cell phone, a series of tightly-scheduled home repairs, tree-trimming and more scream for my attention.
Last week I was care-free and had all the time in the world. This week I have no time to brush my teeth! Let alone write.
And there goes the work in progress and the writing career.
I'm not a good list-maker or scheduler of my time. I do show up the requisite five minutes early for an appointment, but my personal time is pretty loosey-goosey. To say that I'll do something at a certain time every day is a set-up for failure. So, how am I going to build in time every day for writing?
At night before I go to sleep I think about the WIP. In the morning I wake with ideas. Now, I get up and jot down the phrases or couple of scene idea words on post-its before I do anything else. They get stuck in the middle of my computer screen.
Even if I haven't had a moment to sit at the computer during the day, before I go to bed, I check e-mail. And there are those morning post-its. They sit like pieces of chocolate on a counter, beckoning me to open the WIP and tinker with it so that the post-its can be removed. Guess what? I do more than tinker. I stay up much later and maybe even finish a chapter!
The Box of Self-Recriminations
Raise your hand if you've never mentally beaten yourself up for something you did or didn't do. Hmmmm. I don't see any hands waving.
When you look back at this year it's probably easy to pull out the whip. If you can't think of anything, here are a couple of mine :
• Instead of the twenty pounds I wanted to lose, I only lost ten. Fifty percent is a fail.
* I missed my personal deadline of finishing my WIP by two months--so far.
Well, duh. Why not use my energy to "fix" these shortfalls rather than moan and groan about my "lacks" and end up sprawled on the couch from bonbon overdose? I have friends that will help me with this strategy and I bet you have, too.
I'm grateful that I finally recognize these boxes and have plans to stay out of them. Do you have boxes that you climb into for the holidays? Do you have tips on how to get out of self-imposed boxes?
Have a wonderful holiday season!
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Great post, Fae, and greater timing! I think you're right...the best way to stay out of the boxes is to recognize that they're in your path. Because then when you fall into one, you can say, "Oh, yeah, I'd forgotten about that." and step out, rather than settling in for the duration.
I think any of us who have lived long enough to lose someone they love (or many someones) can fall into that box during the Holidays. My best advice for those trying to cope is to change your routine.
Thanksgiving has always been 'my' Holiday. I cooked a huge feast and the entire family came over. Since my sister died, I can't cook on that day - I just cry into the gravy. So, for years, we traveled over the Holiday, to meet Alpha Dog's parents somewhere halfway in between our houses for the weekend. Didn't matter where - we'd hang out in a hotel in Nowhere, Arizona, and watch games and play cards in a hotel room. Some of my best memories. Now that his father has passed, we order a pizza and watch the games at home.
Keep changing traditions - it keeps me sane.
And I thank you for tipping over my boxes so I can crawl out when I am ready to fold the lid over me. You're the best, Laura!
For years I've been grateful for being made to go to my great-grandfather's funeral when I was a young child. I've always known that death is part of life. Yes, it can be devastating for a time, but I learned to move past the grief.
Good hints for keeping keeping on. Tweeted.
Thanks, Ella. Happy Holidays.
Happy Holidays to you as we'll, Fae.
Thanks, Fae. My situation is different, probably the opposite of most. My holidays are highly ritualized because my son with autism is easily over stimulated. He doesn't like large groups, even family, around all at once. Same with presents, we dole them out throughout the day instead of the early-morning frenzy of gift-opening that marked my own childhood. When he was young, I longed for the big family experience and craziness of the holidays and wanted him to experience it. Now, I appreciate the simplicity and relative quiet. It's all a matter of expectations. We enjoy our football games (ROLL TIDE) and my writing slows while I read and catch up on other things I enjoy.
No guilt. Well, not too much anyway. 🙂
I feel for everyone mourning lost loved ones. I'm so fortunate to have reached my age and not have lost a close loved one.
Happy Holidays however you celebrate them!
Thank you for sharing how you've grown into your new holiday traditions. It is so true that attachment to our expectations causes our suffering. When we finally are willing to chance a change, we can be pleasantly surprised. Thanks for the reminder.
Yes, Fae. Tis the season to find every single excuse known to Italian women everywhere for me to neglect me and my work. I must bake for the entire family and every family within a two-mile radius of my house. How else can I say thanks for them being a friend or family member?
I must decorate every single inch of my house, the outside and the inside. I must do handmade decorations and I must help every person do all of their decorations. After all ... I was born for Christmas. Then I'll do my traditional Christmas posts and start wrapping.
NO PLEASE ... even before reading this, I had a heart-to-heart with my CP. I will not stop work to decorate the fifteenth tabletop tree. And I will not bake and temp myself to "sample" all my bakes goods. I will instead find nice small tokens that are already made and use up the thousands of stuff I am also selling on Etsy. This year as she put it only 36 hours ago ... "take care of you and I promise the world will not implode." Thanks for sharing your boxes. Maybe we should remind each other that only kittens and cats jump into boxes thinking they can hide 🙂
And as I read your comment, my Siamese cat Shogun jumped in a box I emptied today. Thank you for reminding us--and making me smile. And for showing me the synchronicity of of the universe's timing. You're right--the world will not implode if you begin a new tradition. Sometimes we all need to invest in new luggage! Happy Holidays!
Celebrate your father's life by writing. Celebrate your other loved ones' lives by writing. Gratitude is wealth, so be thankful you had the father you did and energize yourself with that thankfulness.
As a fire fighter I went to New York in October of 2001 to celebrate lives of heros lost in 9/11. 343 fire fighters died in 9/11 and celebrating their lives was the best way for me to handle all that happened.
Good luck with it.
You're absolutely right, Michael. Beginning a daily "grateful practice" saved my life I believe.
And I thank you for keeping your community safe and all that entails. I will pray for your continued safety in your work.
My own personal box is guilt. Guilt, guilt, guilt. Guilt over the time spent with some and not others, guilt over the traditions I'm not adhering to, guilt over not meeting the needs of others. This year I'm trying to remember that I count too, that I'm not number 10 on the list of priorities...it doesn't assuage my guilt but maybe, with practise, it will one day.
Happy holidays to you all. Whatever else it is, it is time to remember love and give it.
The Beatles had it right: All You Need Is Love. And if you don't take care of you and your own needs, you can't be present to those you love. That guilt jacket can get mighty heavy. I hope you get to hang it up for a bit this season.
Oh, boy this hit home esp. this year. Last year at this time I watched my son and his dad construct his little girl's new toy kitchen together on Christmas Eve. We lost our son in July. And this Thanksgiving I have the two grand kids and my daughter in law here in CA. I have been so terribly down as my son loved all the holidays but when those babies jumped out of the car and into my arms, it was all okay.
And I've found these last few months, that writing on the blog and starting a new book are finally starting to bring back one more joy in my life.
As for things I didn't accomplish this year ... well, there's a ton, but I gave myself a hall pass. Life is only so long and beating ourselves up for something that I can still accomplish in the coming year, seems a bit trivial in the scheme of things. 🙂
So Thanks Fae for this reminder of what's important.
Oh, Sharla, you've walked through the fire this year. My prayers are with you.
Fabulous post, Fae! I'm late to the commenting party but rereading the post and all the comments was just what I needed. You've inspired me! 🙂
I confess I've been too busy to read or write these last few days. Fae, your blog is a powerful reminder to me. After climbing out of the black hole of grief from losing my husband, I am writing again. During those two years I couldn't read or write. When the fog finally lifted, I began to write in a way that I had not before. It has brought me back to life. Thank you, and all of the other commentators,
for this post, it reminds me to celebrate what I had, what I have and what I will have in my lifetime.
I am so sorry for your loss. I am happy that you have reached the point where you can celebrate what you had and can live in the present and anticipate your future. My best wishes for a joy-filled life. Writing is a powerful tool to make your way home. Good luck with your work.
I definitely miss those who are gone this time of year. The baby helps. Making sure we keep up our holiday traditions REALLY helps. Every year that I put out my recipes and bake, every time I see my mom's writing on these recipes, it brings her back to me in technicolor. 🙂
And when I unpack the Christmas decorations of my youth, I got to smile at how much I loved those sparkly ornaments. The glitter is scraped off ant the beautiful colors are faded, but I remember standing on a chair and hooking them on branches of past trees. Memories can be good--even now!