Category Archives: Family

Surviving the Holidays: A Writer’s Guide

Ah, the holidays:  a time for family, friends, cliché pilgrim hats and bright strings of lights, pine needles stabbing your feet, leftover Turkey that sits in your fridge until you remember to throw it out sometime after New Year’s, carolers and midnight mass, and eating way more than your stomach can actually hold.  Some people love the holidays, some people hate them, and some people drink it all away no matter whether they love them (celebratory drinking) or hate them (relieve the pain drinking), but there’s one thing nobody can deny:

The holidays are a social time.  Very social.

And for many writers, this massive amount of social interaction poses a problem, mainly because we’re not really the ‘very social’ type.  We’re more the ‘hide under the blankets’ type.

Point is that the holidays can be a very draining time, especially for writers and other artsy types who value spending time alone with words.  There just never seems to be enough downtime to replenish the energy you’ve expended.

Note I said ‘expended,’ not wasted.  The family meals, the parties with friends, taking a few (or many) moments to be thankful, cursing when you step on those pine needles from the Christmas in the middle of the night again:  none of those things waste energy, only use it.  Those things are important.

But for writers, artists, and other introverts, the only way to survive the emotional energy suck that is this time of year is to go into it with a game plan, specific ways on how to muddle your way through without tossing yourself off a cliff by New Year’s Eve.  (Of note:  the holiday season is not, despite popular opinion, the time of year when suicide rates are the highest.  That would be springtime.)  And so my friends step away from the mistletoe, put on your gloves and ear warmers, and let me present to you a few tips that I’ve learned for handling this season of joy and resulting exhaustion:

  1. Do not simply skip any and/or all family functions.  Like I said, family is important, so put in some effort to show you care about and value those related to you.  And always keep in mind that the resulting lectures from mom and the guilt trips from grandma will suck up more energy than simply going to that family gathering in the first place.  (Trust me, I know these things.)
  2. Find that one friend you can occasionally go out to dinner with for the express purpose of commiserating.  They’re suffering just like you, and there’s nothing better than a small support group.  This is social so you can count it towards your socializing quota for the year, but if you select the right friend then you won’t be drained afterwards.  You might even find yourself with a bit more energy.
  3. Wine.  Lots of wine.  (If you don’t drink, I support and admire you.  However, I do not have a substitute option to offer.)  My family tends to divide itself into two groups:  the wine drinkers and the beer drinkers.  Both are acceptable.  Key here is moderation, because too much alcohol results in disputes or knockdown, drag out fight that will carry over into the New Year.  While amusing to watch, they’re embarrassing to be involved in and tiresome for everyone present.
  4. Do not start a family dispute.  Again:  tiresome.
  5. If an argument does erupt through no fault of your own, then remained uninvolved.  I highly suggest sitting back and enjoying the fireworks, because hell, why not?  A form of entertainment and if anyone questions it, just point out that you’re using it as a character study.
  6. Observe the people and activities around you.  You’re a writer; observation is always good for your art.  Watch, take notes, and learn more about human interactions and personality traits, the little quirks that people have.  This is particularly easy for me, for while I’ve never been able to decide if I have a large family or just a medium-sized family consisting solely of large personalities, there’s plenty of material to be gleaned either way.
  7. Watch the weather reports.  Dealing with snow and ice during a drive to your host’s place will only add additional stress.  (Also enough snow and ice are a perfectly good excuse to stay home, especially if you live thirty miles or so away like I do.  But with respect to Tip #1, a few snowflakes are not a snowstorm and should not be used as a justification for avoidance.)
  8. Plan ‘You Time’.  The holiday season can get crazy with family celebrations, parties, office functions, visiting friends, preparations, etc.  Making time for yourself—write it in your day planner or set an alarm on your phone—is key.  Use this time to recuperate and regain some of that limited energy so you can make it through the next one.  Do whatever it is you like to do that makes you relaxed and happy:  read, write, sleep, whatever it is.  Delve into your art.  No matter what, make sure you take time for you.  (I highly recommend sleep.)
  9. Write.  Keep writing, no matter what.  Write the words during your ‘you time,’ take a notebook with you to family dinners so you can scribble when you need a break (perfectly acceptable to hide out in the bathroom for this one), write on your lunch break during work, write whenever you have even a minute’s chance.  You write because you love it, so don’t stop.  Let the words help you.
  10. Post-Holiday Boozing.  I say boozing because that’s what I do, but you can replace that with anything your heart desires, like a quiet dinner or a particularly energetic session at the gym (weirdo).  I’ve actually made this a tradition over the last several years.  Depending on how the final holiday falls, I go out either the night after or the weekend after Christmas and have a few drinks with the calmer of my friends, usually no more than one or two.  Yes, this seems counterintuitive:  after all, you’ve just used up your finite energy supply on all those other holiday functions.  Hear me out, though.  This planned night of drinking is something to look forward to, something to get you through those holiday celebrations, a way of celebrating the fact that those celebrations are all over for another year.  I’ve done this every year since I was 22, and my God has it helped me keep my sanity.

There you have it, folks:  my suggestions for writers or any other introverts trying to survive the season.  Feel free to add your own, I’m sure I’ve missed some, and when you get close to the point of ‘fuck this,’ take a nap.  Naps always help.  And maybe eat some pie.  Pie is delicious.

 


Now for a Little Something Depressing

Allow me to bring the room down for a second:

My grandmother passed away on October 19th.  83 years old, she would’ve been 84 on the 22nd, and she was one of the sweetest, most amazing woman I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing—the nicest person I’ve ever met.

No, seriously, the nicest.  The worst thing I ever heard her say about anyone was, and I quote, “Hitler was not a nice man.”

Understatement, Grandma.  Serious understatement.

One of the most important people in my life, she influenced me in the best possible way.  Cardinal sin of the family:  upsetting Grandma.  One simply didn’t do so, and if one did upset her, the guilt springing for her disappointment was a far worse punishment than anything handed down by my mother.  She unwittingly acted as a sort of behavioral barometer:  if we didn’t want Grandma to know about it, then we probably shouldn’t do it in the first place.  As we became adults, this general rule was later paired with another:  if said activity was generally acceptable but not actually Grandma-approved, as a family we simply made sure she didn’t know about it.  (Hello, getting shitfaced/having a sex life/taking the Lord’s name in vain/getting in a fight/wearing revealing clothing/indulging one’s road rage/any number of other enjoyable past times!)  My grandmother was a focal point, a sort of lynchpin, the (sometimes uninformed and rose-colored glasses wearing) matriarch.

Hers was not a sudden passing; hospice care started in early September.  I started mourning then as I watched this vibrant woman slowly fade away, and every visit she was a little bit worse, until eventually every visit I found her to be a lot worse.  No surprise when the call came that she was unresponsive and didn’t have long left.

A couple years ago my family faced the sudden death of my father.  I’ve yet to find any experience more jarring than the county sheriff knocking on the door in the wee hours of the morning, and one of the most painful aspects was not being able to say goodbye.   This time, at least, I was blessed with that chance.

And I’m grateful.  The call came around 5 p.m. on Friday, and I was at the nursing home by 7:30.  I stayed roughly three hours, keeping my grandfather company, discussing matters with my uncle, and in general keeping vigil.  We didn’t leave until my mother (who had driven back from a camping trip) and my sister (who had been working) arrived.  When I left, I had the opportunity to do what I hadn’t been able to do before:

I held her hand.  I told her that it was okay for her to go.  I told her I loved her.

I then cried the entire 35 minute drive home, and she passed away early the next morning.

Whether or not she knew I was there, whether or not she heard me, is debatable.  We have no way of knowing, of course, since it’s not like we can tap her on the shoulder and ask.  (Although how interesting would that be?  Tap, tap—hand her a glass of wine.  So Grandma, did you know I was there?  How’s the other side?  Is God as snarky as I’ve always imagined?)  But let’s be honest here:  when someone is that far gone, keeping watch over her is more for us than for her, more to make us feel better than to truly ease her way.  Who it’s for doesn’t really matter, though, because she’s now at peace and, because I had those final few moments, I’m more at peace, too.

Of course I’m sad.  I’m upset and I’m hurting and I miss my Grandma, but I know she lived long, she lived well, and she knew before this that I love her.  She didn’t need me to tell her at the end.


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