I have a HUGE birthday looming large. One of those this-can’t-be-true numbers. An age you associate with your mother, or maybe even your grandmother. I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around it.
I’m trying to focus on the positives like (1) I’m still alive and semi-kicking, and (2) after this many years on the planet, I’ve finally wised up. And I mean street-smarts. Not the accrual of a lifetime of erudite wisdom, but enough slaps-up-the-side-of-the-head so I finally get it.
Since life doesn’t give you a second chance to Play It Again Sam, I’m at a loss what to do with XX years (can't say it) of life experience. Yes, I can apply what I’ve learned to future challenges and to interactions with people I would rather bitch-slap than treat cordially. I could pass my thoughts on to the younger generation, but chances are good I’ll be met with eyes rolling or the “that was then and this is now” look. Guess what kiddos? The human condition isn’t that unique and the same mistakes are repeated generation after generation, so save yourself some grief and listen up. Here we go:
BACK IN THE THICK OF IT
After weeks and weeks of shoving thoughts of novel revisions aside to prioritize everything and everyone else, I’m finally back in the thick of it—back into serious writing mode. When I dive into the lives of my characters, I’m Alice Through the Looking Glass and the real world slips away behind me. My field of focus goes no farther than the computer screen in front of me and the imagery created by the typed words.
I’m back to drinking cooled coffee and pulling leg warmers on over my jeans because the floor under my desk is the coldest spot in the house. I’ve learned not to take a quick break to put the kettle on for tea unless I am willing to stand in the kitchen and wait for the water to boil. Walking back to my computer, if “only for a minute”, is a recipe for a ruined kettle, which would be the least of it. Something tells me that if I burned the house down, my supportive husband might rethink being so generous about my writing obsession.
I’m at the stage of revision where I’m re-examining how and when characters divulge information to ensure a steady buildup to the big life-changing reveals, and to avoid secrets being disclosed too soon. I’m deepening some of the character’s emotional responses and internal dialogues. Dialogue is being tightened and the manuscript checked and rechecked for consistency in style, capitalization, etc. I’m trying to be methodical about the process so that I move forward in a straight line rather than my usual spiral. I created files: “cut – use elsewhere somewhere”, “deletions and additions”, and “outline” – a synopsis of each chapter, tracking said changes. There’s more, but I can feel your eyes glazing over from here. Bet you’ve guessed that I’m one of those peculiar writing-major types that actually enjoys the editing and revising process.
So instead of rambling on about a process that puts most people into a comatose state, I’m going to insert an excerpt from the novel, just a few paragraphs from Chapter Six.
Background: Paige has only been at DDS for three months. She’s the youngest instructor and is still at the bottom of the learning curve. Paige is also struggling with a mixture of grief and anger after the death of her mother just eighteen months ago. At 24 she’s alone: no mother, no siblings, and no father—a shadowy figure her mother would never talk bout. Paige has come across a worn, frayed folder in a box of her mother’s junk files that has turned her world upside down.
Christmas is packed up. It’s taken three full days to get the house back to normal after the holidays, and it’s been exhausting. As my mother used to say, after the Lord Mayor’s show comes the donkey cart. To put it in contemporary terms—creating Christmas is festive; cleaning up after Christmas, not so much. So, why do I continue to put myself through this? A few friends, who keep holiday madness to a minimum, recently posed the same question.
I can’t use our kids as an excuse. They’re not kids anymore. My son, step-son, and step-daughter are creeping closer to middle age and, being the unconventional souls that they are, they could do without the traditional trappings of Christmas. There are no grandchildren to create Christmas for—no little faces to light up at the sight of the decorated tree, no little hands eager for Christmas cookies, no excited exclamations at the sight of filled Christmas stockings and wrapped gifts. Christmas has changed, but my husband and I haven’t. I should put up a sign: Beware - confirmed Christmas junkies live here.
Even though I moan about how much work it all is, once the house is wearing its happy, Christmas face, I feel a quiet contentment settle in. I begin to crave eggnog and the scent of mince pie baking. And then there’s the tree—I can’t see myself giving up the annual ritual of putting up and trimming a tree. Each ornament carries a special memory, from the miniature ballet shoes my grandmother gave me, to the delicate china tea cup purchased in London. My husband is no better. He plays Christmas music in November, and his collection of outdoor snowmen keeps growing, even though front-yard assembly is becoming a physical challenge.
As I’m shoving boxes onto a high shelf, I wonder if everyone’s right and it’s time to give most of this up? It’s a lot of work, and if no one but us cares about the house being all Christmassy, is there a point? On my last trip down the ladder, with my joints scolding me, I had a light bulb moment. Why do I think I shouldn't bother if I’m decorating only for us?
This line of thought goes way beyond Christmas. This is about being steeped in the ideology that one has to always put others first, and doing something just for your own enjoyment is self-indulgent. But honestly, who's insisting that I/we create a traditional Christmas for them? No one. Which means the doing-for-others philosophy is a smokescreen I’ve been hiding behind. If I were a millennial instead of a baby boomer, I don’t think I’d be having this conversation with myself. I feel like I am peeking out from under a blanket of years of conditioning. All of a sudden, the blanket is more cloying than comforting.
So, I'm tossing aside the mantle of martyrdom and, from now on, I will own my love of Christmas schmaltz with no explanations or justifications given. Our holidays will be exactly as over-the-top or low-key as our elfish, Christmas hearts’ desire. That doesn’t mean you might not hear some very non-Christmassy expletives drifting out our front door as the reality of putting everything up meets the limitations of aging bodies, but once I spike the eggnog, it will all smooth out. Trust me on this one.