Paying Dues

In addition to holiday stress, Jayme the Scribbler is feeling some anxiety over her fledgling writing career. When I do get serious about making a living at this profession, I’ll no doubt experience many of the emotions Jayme describes. Not lo0king forward to those emotions, but the reality is that they are part of the price that needs to be paid.

A Celebration of Families

I again feel the urge to balance my holiday cynicism with sentiments that are a little more uplifting. Because when all things are considered, this time of year still does bring joy to me.

Christmas has proven to be remarkably flexible over the centuries. A pagan holiday co-opted by early Christians as a celebration of Jesus’ birth (sorry folks, he was more likely born in the spring, when Judean shepherds traditionally let their flocks out at night), enthusiastically celebrated by wassaliers to a degree that led to its banishment by numerous churche reformers over the centuries, merged with Nordic folklore, embraced by merchants — Christmas keeps evolving, which not only explains its endurance but also demonstrates how the holiday can convey such widely diverse messages to so many people.

For me, Christmas has always been about family. Memories of early mornings in my parents’ home, tearing through gift-wrapped presents with my cousins, mid-afternoon meals that extended into the evening — and more recent moments, decorating the tree with ornaments my wife and I gathered over years of visits to faraway lands, seeing the happiness in my own children. Christmas has the potential to bring families together in a way that’s near impossible at other times of the year, and it’s that power which The Girl on the Piccadilly Line so wonderfully describes today. Being English, her holiday traditions seem to this Yank, to borrow one of the metaphors she uses to describe her parents’ different traditions, “a bit like driving a courtesy car that’s the same model as your own: same, same but different.” She references several English customs, products, and foods that were completely foreign to me, yet in the vivid descriptions of her family I could see my own, both past and present (especially in the spirited Monopoly games). To employ a metaphor of my own, reading her post was like eating a favorite meal flavored with different spices — definitely not the same old thing, yet still comfortably familiar.

Each Christmas is a huge effort for her family, and they spend weeks preparing for the holiday, but the rewards are obvious in each word of her post. Perhaps that should be the lesson of the day — Christmas is what you make of it, and for all of the time and energy you give to it, the holiday will return so much more.

Here We Are, As In Olden Days

The Reporter and The Girl is having herself a busy little Christmas, but seems to be muddling through somehow. Adding to her holiday stress this year is an international trip that’s requiring her to obtain documentation from an uncaring government bureaucracy. Travelling has become a compulsory burden of the holidays, and while I won’t be leaving the country, I am waking at a cruelly early hour this Thursday and won’t arrive at my destination for another twenty hours. I will enjoy my time in that wonderful land of abundant sun and warm sand, but I can’t help feeling anxious about the journey.

Fortunately, I’ve been following much of the good advice The Girl offers for navigating this season. Most of the niggling tasks have already been completed, my first several days are refreshingly free from any plans or committments, and while I hope to take advantage of an ideal time to write extensively, I refuse to set any goals or deadlines regarding quality or quantity (no word counts, my friends). Yes it’s going to be work, but this effort is going to be enjoyable. Because that’s what the holidays are supposed to be about, right? Joy to the world, and all that.

Almost at the end of the work day. Most everyone’s gone on vacation already; I feel like Robert Neville. Two more days of showing up at the office, then the adventure begins.

Revising to Build Relationships

Via Krista Stanley, I came across some interesting tips on ending scenes in a novel and creating links between those scenes. Feel like I’ve given insufficient attention to these concepts so far in Gray Metal Faces, as I’ve had a fairly narrow focus on each chapter during the drafting process. Will make these relationships a point of emphasis during the revision of The Land Without Mosquitos.

The Best De-Fence

After sharing a view that included the front of my shed yesterday, thought I’d show you the back today.

Skunks, raccoons, and other varmints love to nest under structures without basements, so as soon as the shed was built I installed a chicken wire fence as protection. Used a staple gun to attach it to the base, then extended it out a couple feet and secured it to the ground with landscape staples. Haven’t had any unwelcome visitors in all the years since. Over the summer I saw a break in the fence, so this fall I did some mending. Had some snow the past few days, so this morning I went out to the back and checked for tracks. Didn’t see any (the spots on the left were caused by dripping from the roof), so it appears I’m safe for another season.

The best defense is usually a good offense, but sometimes all you need is de-fence.

Winter Quiet

All I’m doing today is showing the view onto my back yard this morning. Because sometimes you just have to share a peaceful moment without trying to say something brilliant.img_1616

Resting, but Planning

I empathize with Austin L. Wiggins‘ struggle to pursue his writing ambitions, even though this break I’m on (fifteen days and counting) from new fiction projects is entirely self-imposed. The devotion is always there, but not so the energy, and sometimes you just gotta give it a rest.

I’m hoping to stretch out this period of rest another week and a half. I actually feel sufficiently recovered from NaNoWriMo to get back in the groove, but there’s a long flight ahead for my family next week, and my pre-trip anxiety is not conducive to creativity. Give me a few days to get over the jet lag and appreciate the abundant sunshine and warm sand — I really am a fortunate man — by the day after Christmas, I should have an idea for my next project, as well as the enthusiasm to give it my full attention. Might even be able to finish it before heading back to my home in the Frozen North.

To Everything, Turn

Feel a need to balance the holiday cynicism I’ve exhibited the last couple of days. Passionate Creative Christian today encourages us to find (quite literally, by walking) a place of serenity when life stops us from reaching our goals. Walking has always been a therapeutic exercise for me, and while I’m not particularly fond of quite cold water (especially this time of year, hoo-chee momma that’s COLD), I have often found that my legs can take me places my mind can’t conceive.

The author also shares a passage from Ecclesiastes, my favorite book in either testament of the Bible (a fact not at all surprising, seeing as I am a cynic). 

And the Weather Outside is Frightening, as well

Is there anything normal about this time of year? Work at many offices grinds to a halt (the company I work for employs hundreds of contractors, and most will be furloughed the last two weeks of this month), stores are absurdly crowded, resting on weekends and evenings isn’t a consideration, talentless pop singers release painful renditions of tired songs, we eat and drink too much — then we cover merchandise we can’t afford in overpriced tissue paper that’s swiftly torn apart to reveal a gift to a person who doesn’t need what’s inside. Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la, la, la.

Filled with stress and anxiety, this season can be a difficult time for people who suffer from depression. I’m doing pretty well so far this year, but lilypup is clearly struggling. As always, her blog is a disarmingly honest journal of her bipolar disorder; my own condition is not nearly as severe, but I’ve encountered many of the reactions she so vividly describes, from the manic sense of freedom and relief (“I’m up at 6:30 writing away. I had a great adventure last night! We went to an auction!”) to the dark moments of despair and weakness (“Really rough time last night. Got to crying and couldn’t stop. Don’t like to cry in front of my kids but I did.”). lily’s writing could easily descend into pity or self-importance, but she manages to avoid those traps by sticking to a very simple desire — to be happy, healthful, and, for lack of a better term, normal:

I wonder what it would be like to feel steady basically every day. Go off to work, come home, get some dinner together, and have a little social life.

Some might consider this desire trite and mundane, but as someone who can empathize with people who suffer from bipolar disorder, I think her sentiment is beautiful.