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Now that the holidays are upon us (and I realize that I’m months late in my assessment according to you people who began Christmas shopping in August, who put up a tree three weeks ago, who decorated your bushes with wee ghosties for Halloween, who subscribe to all things Martha Stewart), you may feel overwhelmed by the constant parade of friends, relatives, pseudo-relatives (cousin Vernon’s second wife’s nephew from her first marriage, Aunt Josie’s college roommate, Uncle Albert’s rat terrier) descending into your normally quiet universe. It can be unsettling to suddenly spend a lot of time with a rash of people you see only once a year or, perhaps, once every other year if you are married/partnered and alternate your holidays between two families in a way that is reasonable and sensible and leaves everyone feeling the same amount of dissatisfied and resentful.
With all of the hustle and bustle and guilt trips and heavy avoidance of certain topics, it can feel like you have no time at all to write. There are privacy issues, of course. How can anyone write so much as a sentence with Aunt Junie bursting in and shouting, “Don’t mind me, I’m just going to change my bra!” and then getting distracted mid-task, leaning over your shoulder and screeching, “Oooooh, what are you working on? Can I read it? Is it a happy story? I only like happy stories!” Your instinct will be to punch Aunt Junie in the nose, but I implore you to restrain yourself. Aunt Junie may well prove to be useful for your writing. How is that possible? Stick with me.
Then, of course, there are the well-meaning people who think that they are encouraging you when, in fact, they are driving you to the brink of madness. Your father, for example, who says to you (for the hundredth time?), “I think you should just write one of those Larry Potter books. I hear those books made a bunch of money and how hard could it be to write a book for kids?” While you’re muttering under your breath (for the hundredth time!), “It’s Harry and it’s very hard and it’s just not what I write and by the way J.K. Rowling lived in her car for years while writing those novels,” try to remember that this type of willful ignorance doesn’t present itself to you every day. It’s a gift.
And what of Cousin Gerald who drinks whisky from coffee mugs and then insists that he’s had nothing but coffee to drink all night and therefore is perfectly suited to drive the kiddos around to look at the pretty lights? Well, first, for heaven’s sake, hide his keys! But then, watch him carefully. Feel free to be amused. Take a few notes on the cocktail napkins.
These people are not your family. How could they be? You are nothing like them. No, these people are characters for your future stories, poems, novels. If you’re a memoirist this is old news to you, but your relatives may have already started to avoid you or be on their best behavior so as not to end up as a tragic anecdote in your next book. Huzzah! For the rest of you, just sit back, take a few notes and revel in the fact that you are not sitting on the floor in your pajamas being force fed marshmallow fluff while your mother criticizes your haircut. No, you are writing. The characters in your next piece are going to be spectacularly colorful and sharply drawn. I can’t wait to read it.