I used to dread the holidays, which I blamed for hijacking me from my writing in order to shop, wrap, ship, correspond, bake, clean, decorate, etc. All bets were off in December when it came to my writing. Projects got put on hold—even my journal entries stopped around the 5th and resumed in January. But once the holidays--daze—began, I was off and running, living what felt like somebody else’s life. It seemed like I had no control. I had to do xyz to “pull off” the season, to do it “right.” And I always felt guilty for not getting my writing done. Every year, around Thanksgiving, I’d wish I could hit a fast forward button, skip the month of December, and resume my life after New Year’s.
Despite wanting to skip a month of my life, I didn’t fully grasp the extent to which I felt constrained by holiday rituals, rules, obligations, habits, and expectations, and that my stress was coming from within me. I didn’t have to do much of what felt nonnegotiable. The fact was I was choosing it. It may have felt like things had to be done a certain way, but that pressure, and the thoughts that created it, came from within. Nothing terrible would happen, for example, if I didn’t write personal messages in each of the 250 cards I was sending. (This was before the advent of the Christmas Letter!) Nor did I have to send cards at all—but that “radical” awareness took years to consider and implement.
What I see now is that I get to do what I want (more or less). The main thing is to allow myself to be guided by my own wisdom. No need to analyze or overthink things.
Some of my most memorable holiday experiences happened spontaneously, like the year my daughter’s preschool teacher, Annie, got into an auto accident. Annie walked away with a few scratches, but her car was totaled. She needed a new one, but had no money. Meanwhile, one of the custodians at the school had been trying to sell her car and had no buyers. I don’t know whose idea it was, but a couple of us parents decided to “work” the carpool line. For a few days I solicited parents dropping their kids off at school.
“Would you like to chip in to buy a car for Annie for Christmas?”
The overwhelming response was “Yes!” and at our school party we presented the custodian with a check and Annie with a set of car keys. They were both moved to tears, and so were the rest of us—parents and children.
One year I challenged my own thought that I couldn’t write in December, and was pleasantly surprised to see that I could and did write. I carved out the time, did less of what I didn’t enjoy and more of what I did. It felt wonderful to realize it was up to me. I had choices.
I’ve also discovered that I enjoy taking a few weeks off at the end of the year, and that’s fine. There’s more to life than work, even for writers.
It’s helpful to know that I don’t have to approach this season like a headless chicken stuck in a shopping mall. There are many ways to celebrate. One year I wrapped gifts at a homeless shelter and was blown away by the generosity of a whole community.
This holiday season, I’m trying to remain fluid. I unpacked holiday boxes and set things up slightly differently than I’ve done in the past. I’m letting go of stuff I don’t like or need, and am trying to live less on autopilot to make room for fresh thinking and new experiences.
It’s been a little over six months since my memoir was published and I’ve been happily outlining my next book. The working title is, Three Principles for Writers: How to Find Freedom and Peace of Mind While You Write, Publish, and Promote Your Book. So many writers seem stressed by the many hats they wear. I’ve stumbled upon an understanding of how we innocently create our experiences and am eager to share its relevance for writers.
So, I’ll probably be writing this December.
But if I don’t, I’ll give myself leeway. I’ll let myself celebrate the end of what has been a banner year (thank you, She Writes Press!), spend time with family and friends, try to take each day moment-by-moment, and trust that I am, indeed, being guided by my own wisdom. I wish the same for you.
Who else will be writing this December? What’s your project? How do you navigate the season?