Surviving the Season

November 22, 2022 § 22 Comments

Hide a book in the bathroom in advance.

by Allison K Williams

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, my loved ones gave to me

Twelve bosses texting

Eleven toddlers shrieking

Ten addiction triggers

Nine tacky sweaters

Eight guests arriving

Seven spouses slacking

Six in-laws nagging

Five traaaafic jaaaaams!

Four unwanted presents

Three loud screens

Two barfing pets

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 three thousand miles away in a country where December is celebrated as, and I quote “Winter Shopping Festival.” Our neighborhood lights were for Diwali, and they’re already down.

I’ve managed to be outside the United States for the past twelve Christmases, usually in a non-English-speaking and/or non-Christian country, and this one I’ll be in Bali. 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 (“I can’t ask them all to do overtime this month”) while mounting a 50-child production of A Christmas Carol. Tiny Tim has managed to lose three crutches in three weeks.

You may have similar items on your holiday list. Touchy in-laws. Neighbors you’d decided not to gift who show up with gifts. Debating how much to tip the super who was out of town the week the boiler failed. Family from the other end of the political/moral spectrum. Tight budgets. Bad art friends.

But your holiday experience is up to you. Often, things that felt like obligations were only customs. We don’t “have to” do anything—we may prefer doing something unpleasant over the consequences of not doing it, but that’s still a choice.

So give yourself the gift of time. Say no to more things than usual. Make a list of the things you expect/are expected to do this season, choose your favorites, and purposefully dismiss the rest of the list. 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–go ahead and block that time out for something you want to do, so you can say, “sorry, I’m not available.”

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

What a shame our schedule filled up so much—have a great time!

Our budget has just vanished in a flash this year.

Wow, I can see that situation really bothers you–I hope it all gets sorted out.

Let people be responsible for their own feelings. There’s a special holiday magic in “That sounds terrible. 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. Make it not your job even to assign who takes it on. It’s OK to say, “That’s not something I can take on, but you’re welcome 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 Rosario 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 Maria’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, bail to your guest-free refuge while muttering “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. We could use a housesitter to water the plants in Dubai.

___

Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor. This holiday season, she’ll be by the pool, writing lesson plans for Project Memoir, an 8-week high-intensity writing program. Check it out.

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§ 22 Responses to Surviving the Season

  • This had me laughing out loud. I think I will have to try the “whip out the pen” strategy. And the reclaiming of passive voice. I needed this. Thank you!

  • Sally Hannon says:

    Where do I submit my house plant waterer application?
    Loved this article – excellent advice, as always!

  • Love your sense of humor and. Wry practical advice. Enjoy Your travels.

  • Kate says:

    Taking care of yourself and your needs should still include the necessity of extending kindness and consideration to other people. If someone dismissed me after expressing my feelings by abruptly rushing to get the oven, it would tell me a lot about them. Compassion is an essential element of our interactions that often gets lost in the construct of self care.

  • Brilliant. And thank you for the advice. I think you have something here that most of us need to hear.

    One daughter in law likes to sit and talk, which is lovely until it (inevitably) turns to criticism of my son, violating one of my old teacher-rules: never criticize a child to their parent. The other daughter in law always promised to alternate holidays between her (divorced) parents and in-laws (us) but somehow that never happened. We have adopted Twelfth Night in order to see the grandchildren for a holiday. This year we are hosting a Black Friday lunch because Thanksgiving… I am a good cook and avid baker, but vegetarian. Some of my family are vegan. Others do not eat gluten or sugar or grains or soy. They will eat ham and bacon. Go figure. Family.

    • About how I react to criticism of my son? “If someone dismissed me after expressing my feelings by abruptly rushing to get the oven, it would tell me a lot about them.” I do not scream at her as I might like, I find an excuse to walk away. I can only hope she gets the message.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      Your self-restraint is admirable—it’s so hard not to engage.

      • I love the woman, I do, and I would not offend her. However, walking away is not generally my style. I am inherently a confronter. But this is all the family I have. Parents both dead, aunts and uncles gone, no cousins. I have my husband who forgives me anything, and two sons and their families who might not.

  • kperrymn says:

    As always, Allison, many useful and witty tips here! Let’s all give ourselves a break as best we can. Have a wonderful Winter Shopping Festival, everyone!

  • This had me laughing, Allison! Oven on and books a-hidden. Happy (really) Holidays!

  • Sally Showalter says:

    Aaahhh, holiday innuendos. I have happily not celebrated any but enjoyed other stories and renditions. Thanks for your gleeful report! And how exciting to be in so many places in the world!

  • Sally Jane Smith, Travel Author says:

    Loved this, Allison!

  • So great; especially loved the adaption of the Twelve Days of Christmas especially.

  • nagneberg48 says:

    My motto is “Be gentle with myself.” You always have the best suggestions, Allison.

  • charwilkins75 says:

    This should be your Annual Holiday post. Just haul it out each year so I can laugh. I loved your suggestion to leave the oven on till Dec 26th. But doesn’t everyone do this? It’s a holiday tradition in my house. My favorite was how to handle Aunt Rosario-it’s a win-win: I get a story and she shuts up. Ho-ho-ho!

  • Cary Tennis says:

    Hey Allison, when you’re in Italy again drop me a line and I’ll be happy to come by for another little guest appearance! What led me to your holiday blog post was I’m planning to make a submission to Brevity (my last and only publication in it, according to submissable, was in 2014! What a thrill that was!) … and so read your blog post about the upcoming holidays and not to piggyback/product place/cross-promote necessarily but in response to many readers’ holiday quandaries and dread I put together a book of Holiday Angst advice columns called THAT “SPECIAL” TIME OF YEAR which be found for the quite reasonable price of $3.99 as an Amazon Kindle edition here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004BDOVJ8/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i7?asin=B004BDOVJ8&revisionId=&format=2&depth=1 Ciao, see you in Tuscany next time you’re here (I was down with Covid for a bit but am hale and hearty once again!)–Cary T.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      Thanks Cary, and congratulations on your book! I should be back in October and so glad you made it through!

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