Reclaiming Your Time

December 12, 2017 § 21 Comments

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my loved ones gave to me:

I swear there was an outlet back here last year.

Twelve children quarreling
Eleven guests arriving
Ten addiction triggers
Nine Secret Santas
Eight dinners cooling
Seven picky eaters
Six spouses slacking
Five traaaaaa-ffic jaaaaaaams!
Four messy rooms
Three loud screens
Two touchy in-laws
And an obligation Christmas party.

I am somewhat notoriously not a holiday person. I love my family, I’m grateful there aren’t that many of them, and I live in a country where December is a festive shopping season. I’ve managed to be outside the United States for the past ten Christmases, and this one I’ll be in Taiwan.

Not everyone is that lucky. My writer buddy shows up distraught–she’s flying back to Ohio, and the in-laws who aren’t speaking to anyone else are refusing to attend the family gathering and insisting my buddy’s family come see them in Nebraska. “How come we’re your lowest priority?!”

My acquaintance is in the middle of a divorce-based argument affecting how many and what kind of presents the children can have. “You’re not spending my money on that!”

An artistic director I admire is fighting her board of directors over employee schedules while mounting a 50-child production of A Christmas Carol. Tiny Tim has managed to lose three pairs of crutches in three weeks. “They’re just going to have to do overtime.”

I suspect, Gentle Reader, you have similar items on your holiday list. In-laws. Neighbors you’d decided not to gift who show up with gifts. Debating how much to tip the super who was gone the week the boiler failed. Family from the other end of the political/moral spectrum. Tight budgets. Writer-friends who didn’t get Cat Person.

But your holiday experience is up to you. You don’t “have to” do anything. You may not like the consequences of not doing it, but it’s still a choice.

So give yourself the gift of time. Say no to more things than usual. Make a list right now of the things you expect/are expected to do this season, and choose your favorites. Ask your family what traditions they actually value and what’s rote. Don’t wait to be asked to the cookie party that takes five hours of prep and results in a carload of baked goods–go ahead and block that time out for something you want to do.

All that passive voice you’ve carefully rooted out of your writing? Employ it now.

What a shame our schedule filled up so much–let’s do something in January.

Our budget is gone–it just devastates me we won’t be able to make it.

Goodness, it sounds like that situation really bothers you–I hope it gets sorted out.

Let people be responsible for their own feelings. There’s a special holiday magic in “I agree, it’s just awful how things turned out. Oh gosh, the oven! I love you, goodbye!”

If you are an inveterate truth-teller, go preheat your oven to 350° and keep it going until December 26th. That way it’s ready when a phone call needs interrupting. (Brevity does not advise leaving your oven unattended. Please use all home appliances in accordance with manufacturer’s directions.)

Are you a fixer? Decide in advance where to spend your energy instead of having “problem-solver” thrust upon you. Pick one event or relationship you care about having in good working order–the dinner, the mother-in-law, the kids’ presents–and let everything else be someone else’s problem. It’s not even your job to assign who takes it on. It’s OK to say, “That’s not something I love doing. If you’d like to plan it, let me know when and where to show up and I’ll see you then.”

Refuse to engage with drama. Carry your notebook. When snippy Aunt Betty has something nasty to say, whip out your pen and ask her to repeat that, please, it’s perfect for a character in your book. Ask her to slow down when needed. Wait, do you want a hyphen in “streetwalker” or is it all one word? Is there a better adjective for Cousin Sally’s dress? What about “sleazy”–how do you feel about “sleazy”? I think that would tighten up the sentence. Avidly transcribe until she shuts up.

Finally, plan your escape. Even if you’re “on vacation,” it’s OK to go to the coffee shop for an hour and visit with your work. At home, leave a good book stashed under the bathroom sink, in the garage or basement or on the back porch. When a fight breaks out at the table, mutter “Oh dear, something must have disagreed with me.” That’ll give you about 25 minutes before anyone comes looking.

And if all else fails? Hit me up. I know a great noodle shop in Taipei.


Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the author of Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro from Blank Page to Book. Want writing news, events, and upcoming webinars? Join the A-List!

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§ 21 Responses to Reclaiming Your Time

  • ccbarr says:

    I once read a Martha Beck coloum where she told people to get together with a few friends&make up a bingo board with all the familiar fights and situations. After the holiday see who crossed off the most. Sounded like a fun way to handle stress.

  • equipsblog says:

    Love the humorous approach to holiday ‘problems.’

  • Oh dear. So many choices, so many battles and such emotional confrontations!

    My husband and I seem to have the opposite problem. My employer does not have a holiday party. Neither do any of our friends or family members. I used to be invited to a great Christmas party until all that family’s children had graduated and I am no longer on the list.

    This year, for Christmas Eve, my husband and I have one another. For Christmas day, we are invited to a family Open House at noon. Christmas for us has often been fraught.

    My childhood Christmases were never extravagant, but they were almost always beautiful and spent with extended family. My husband was raised poor and his holidays were sparse and compared badly with classmates. I worked hard to raise his expectations for the holidays. My success may have backfired.

    There was the Christmas after we tore the roof off our house in August and were promised the work would be done in 3 weeks—the tiny tree went up and came down within 24 hours because we had two preschoolers, six hounds, and a litter of puppies in 450 square feet for Christmas. There was the Christmas the dog ate a sock and all our gift money went to vet bills. There was the Christmas she did it again.

    That’s why I shop early. Otherwise there might not be money to buy gifts. This year our last dog died and we only have each other. It doesn’t seem right.

    Lately we have threatened (only to one another) to drive away, find a hotel to stay, and raise expectations in another way.

    But, our tree is up and covered in lights and real so it smells like a tree. We wrapped all the gifts and mailed eight packages last week. We will have our long walk on the beach on Christmas even if it rains and enjoy the Muppets Christmas Album. We will drive to the Open House and see our family. It will all be over soon enough. No matter how our childhood holidays went, they are long gone now. (And I am always baking and there is always a book kept handy—great advice.)

  • I had to come back because I forgot to click “excellent” and you made me laugh. You also allowed me to write—thank you for both!

  • K. says:

    This is just what I needed. Thank you!

  • Joanne says:

    Best anti-holiday-stress article EVER! Sharing!

  • leagpage says:

    This is the best, truly, screed for self-care I have ever read. Not just for the holidays. My shorthand version: “Say no graciously so that you can say yes joyously.”

  • Anna says:

    Great post, best advice. I am charmed by the vintage photograph of the woman crawling around the Christmas tree while keeping her stocking seams straight (that’s what makes it vintage). Seriously, I am (1) reading during this season and (2) taking notes conspicuously on everyone’s behavior–a brilliant suggestion!

    • Allison K Williams says:

      I love removing myself from emotional involvement and observing like I’m at a special zoo where all the animals wear ugly sweaters 🙂

  • Leslie says:

    Thank you, Allison – this piece had me cracking-up for start to finish, and your suggestions are golden❣️

  • […] via Reclaiming Your Time — BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog […]

  • I certainly enjoyed this. We do have choices we can make, and time for ourselves is a wonderful gift any time of the year. Happy holidays.

  • […] super glam–I’m headed for Taiwan in a few days for hiking and hot springs, to skip Christmas and ring in the New Year. Sometimes it’s a little more prosaic, spending time with a dear […]

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