Monday, December 13, 2010

Even “bah-humbug” sounds dirty if you say it right

I hate Christmas.

I shouldn’t say that (mostly because it’s not true, but also because I’m afraid you’ll burn down my house).

What I hate is all the “stuff’ surrounding the holiday. I don’t like receiving gifts, since I have everything I need and would rather people give to charity.

I don’t like buying gifts, either – the shopping, the stress over what to buy, the wrapping, the shipping. I’m exhausted by the need to crank out creative holiday cards or get my Christmas tree up on time. Each year when December approaches, I want to hide under my bed and pick off elves with a shotgun.

Here’s the irony, though – I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to Christmas. None of my loved ones are putting me in a headlock and demanding gifts. The police have not come to arrest me for failing to have a wreath on the door.

These are all expectations I’ve set for myself, and it’s a vicious cycle I repeat as a writer.

In my early years, I’d set goals I couldn’t possibly control – I will get a book deal this year. I will get an agent. I will write a manuscript so hysterically wonderful that a dashing male editor will arrive at my house wearing nothing but boxer briefs and holding a tray of cookies and a book contract.

Even now that I have the book deal and the agent (though sadly, not the cookies) I still make myself crazy with expectations. I will write funny blog posts every day. I will make my debut novel successful. I will write a follow-up book so hilarious my editor will rupture a kidney laughing.

I will drop dead from exhaustion if I don’t learn to knock it the hell off.

I’m trying, I really am. I'm opting not to do the holiday card this year, and I’m refusing to beat myself up over the fact that there’s no brightly festooned dead tree in my house or that I haven’t watched any Christmas specials on TV. Pythagoras and I stopped exchanging gifts years ago, so that helps.

I know I need to get better at it on all fronts. That means setting writing goals I can control and cutting myself some slack if I fail to meet them.

Do you share my habit of making yourself nuts with unrealistic expectations? Please share.

I will be sitting under the mistletoe sipping a glass of eggnog and waiting to have my stocking stuffed.


Anne Gallagher said...

I gave up on Christmas years ago. I'm the quintessential Grinch.

Sarah W said...

Once the kids are older, our Christmas hoopla will die down again. Although the rest of the household's unholy love of eggnog (I prefer my booze uncurdled) will no doubt persist.

I'm trying to make realistic, balanced goals when it comes to writing stuff not actually under deadline---deadlines involve other people's unrealistic goals.

One of my current goals is to write (as in, put words down on paper) every day for a certain amount of cumulative time. That works better for me, somehow, than producing specific word or page counts.

My hopes can be as unrealistic as they want. I hope to finish and edit my WIP in time for Bouchercon this September. Where my pages (and personal intelligence and humor) will dazzle every agent I encounter.

It's a balance.

Unknown said...

Ha! I haven't even purchased the first present (for humans, that is. My furry kids already have cheweez and squeaky toys and treats galore) or hung the first anything. Bah-humbug.

I'd rather be writing...or blogging...or reading!

Happy Holidays! :P

Linda G. said...

Why is it I only see posts like this from women? You never see a man all stressed out about getting everything done for the holidays.

That settles it. Next time, I'm coming back as a man.

Unknown said...

This is the first time in YEARS that I'm skipping the holiday card. I thought I'd feel guilty, but it's actually liberating. Making the kids sit in front of the camera until smiles were coordinated and eyes weren't shut from the flash made us all miserable. I'm trying to cut the misery out this year. :)

Matthew MacNish said...

I will agree that the consumerism and the materialistic nature of modern Christmas are a little sickening, but being a dad I don't have much choice in the matter.

Andrea Coulter said...

I WILL finish this manuscript in two months! Lol ... and then I realize I need to take it slower or all I'll wind up with is trash.

I loathe Christmas shopping. But the cookies I love!

lora96 said...

Don't throw dirty socks at me, but I love Christmas. DH and I had a blast putting up the tree and we like to sit by it at night with the other lights off and cuddle. I said DON'T throw socks.

I also adore shopping for gifts that will thrill the recipients (I'm kinda competitive with myself here) and I even do my grandma's and my stepdad's shopping, too.

I do despise the whose-house-are-we-going-to-when debacle every year which DOES make me want to hunker down beneath my twinkle lights with a bottle of jack and a slingshot.

The moral of the story is, do what makes you happy. If what makes you happy is taking Pythagoras to see Little Fockers on the 25th or cracking a bottle of wine and listening to Skynard...that's how you SHOULD celebrate.

And I won't even show up at your house singing carols. But that's mainly b/c I live in Illinois.

Jessica Lemmon said...

Um, YES. Hi, my name is Jessica and I am a Type A control freak. But I'm getting better. This is the second blog I've read today (third if you count mine!) about holiday vs. hassle. It is a lot of expectation to have a happy holiday. It's like having fun on vacation. Sometimes you do and sometimes, you just wish you were home. I illustrated and handmade cards this year for the first time - and I'm already wondering if this may have been a stupid move on my part... Good on you for having a holiday that YOU want to have. As they say in my family: Ho Ho Horseshit. ;)

Danica Avet said...

I'm my harshest taskmaster. I used to set unrealistic goals for everything and when I never hit those goals, I'd sink. I try not to do it so much anymore. I've become a firm believer in being realistic with everything. I know I can't get everyone something. I know I won't retire at 50. I know I won't be an overnight success with my writing. But, I also know I can aim for small goals and enjoy the smaller triumphs.

Penelope said...

I have a bad habit of trying to cram too much into too few hours. This constantly leaves me feeling rushed and disappointed in myself.

Conversely, I *do* get my best work done when under pressure. Still, modifying my expectations for what I can accomplish in a specific block of time would be helpful.

Dr. Cheryl Carvajal said...

I am not a gifter... hate shopping, and don't like unwrapping unnecessary presents (or making other people unwrap them). My kids have rarely had a ton of presents to unwrap at Christmas, and if they have, it hasn't been my doing.

I do love Christmas, but only because it brings out the altruism in me. Suddenly I'm donating stuff and giving money to charity and doing all I can to help out those who need it. And that's what makes me happy.

I'm moving right now, too, so we don't even have a tree up. We'll likely exchange a few things (or just give the kids a few things) in January, once we're moved. That will likely suit me just fine.

BTW, so glad you've chosen not to kill yourself over Christmas cards! Woot!

Patrick Alan said...

I have a different vision of editors than you. At least which ones I want to show up at my door.

Kiersten said...

I love Christmas but I hate the prep work. This year I'm very bah humbug and just did 2 choruses and a verse on how I'm not setting up the fake tree this year b/c then I have to fight w/the pathetic branches and the lights and I've got enough things to fight with right now, damn it!


But the music, the food, the love, the meaning, those things, I adore. Just don't ask me to do it.

Anonymous said...

Actually, when it comes to the holidays, I am a blessed underachiever. I used to get crazy about it, and then my brother married Martha Stuart. My sister-in-law is just amazing. She throws beautiful parties and wraps gifts so beautifully they look like department store creations. I lurk. Her parties rock, so why compete? She loves doing it. Lemon zesters make her euphoric and she actually cares about things like "presentation." I figure I am giving her the gift of staying out of her way :D.

Great blog as always. I love stopping by here.

Kristen Lamb

Jessi said...

I feel the same way you do about Christmas. Now I have the added guilt of having a child and still not wanting to go through all the hoopla. But Christmas should be about spending time with loved ones, and that's what I tell myself when I'm playing with my daughter and not baking cookies or hanging wreaths.

And yes, skyscraper-high expectations happen with my writing too. But we wouldn't be good writers without that ability to reach for seemingly crazy goals. I think that's part of the package.

Debs Riccio said...
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Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I've been setting writing goals for myself since I started writing a novel last year. The only goal I've actually achieved is finishing the novel. Finished it a few times now. No matter how many times I re-write this thing, it's never quite good enough to send to lit agents. I think I'm on the 4th re-write now. No matter how many times I try to quit this novel, I can't just move onto the next project. I've invested way too much time on it!

Maja said...
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Jamie D. said...

I posted about this today too...though I fear mine is a bit more whiny than yours. Same basic idea though.

Sadly I can't get out of some things, like cards (even skipping the yearly newsletter sends people scrambling to make sure we're okay), or gifts. The cards thing is my "cost" for not staying in good touch with extended fam. throughout the year.

Confession? We re-gift or donate 95% of the gifts we get, because we really don't need/want anything, but no one will listen to us. Makes it easier that our families don't talk to each other (sis is getting something this year that MIL gave me last year). Dec. is my least favorite month - I can never wait until it's over, and January's finally here.

I do pile a ton of stuff on myself writing-wise, but I cut myself a lot of slack too. If I don't meet my goals, eh...try again next week, no big deal. Except with the online serials. I definitely feel a big obligation to readers with those, and I don't see that changing anytime soon.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I don't like Christmas shopping either, especially because the tourists descend upon Chicago during this season and then it's all chaos. I'd be fine with not receiving any presents if it meant I didn't have to buy any.
I often form unrealistic expectations too, but I do try to think of stuff that I've accomplished to make myself feel better. And you've accomplished a lot as a writer, so I'd say you've surpassed your expectations.

Abby Minard said...

Yes, I practically give myself an ucler when christmas comes around. My husband is in retail (a salaried manager at that, so no overtime) and works 65 hours a week. So it gets pretty stressful being a single mom every night and weekend. Plus I have to do all the planning, shopping, cooking, baking etc. So yeah, I kinda dread christmas but look forward to Jan or Feb when hubs and I take a much needed vacation.

Christina Auret said...

Read one way, my blog is a chronicle of all the ways in which I have failed to reach writing goals. I chose to read it as a testament to the fact that I keep on trying and the fact that public humiliation does not bother me (it helps that I only have 10 followers and that they are all friends/family/people who are trying to write a novel - the exception is sallehfauzi who is a mystery to me.)

What I was trying to say in my long winded way was that I do the unrealistic expectations thing a lot. You seem to achieve most of the goals you set. That is pretty amazing. Being able to say that you will not set certain goals because other things are a priority is even more amazing. I have never managed to grasp the time management concept in any implementable way. My admiration for those who have is endless.

Laina said...

I love the food. I like getting stuff (I'm 18, I'm allowed :P ), I like the winter festival our town does, I like the decorations and specials and I love being around kids at Christmas especially because they get SO excited.

The stress part I could do without. (Stress nightmares. Not pleasant)

Kadi Easley said...

I love Christmas. I love buying or making gifts for my family and friends. I love decorating the house, I love baking way too many cookies, I love the music and even some of the sappy Christmas movies. I just refuse to let it stress me out. I do what I have time for and pass on the things I don't, like Christmas Cards.
This year instead of dozens of fancy holiday cookies, we'll just have chocolate chip. Delicious, and easy. I'm just working too many hours to do the fancy one's this year. I don't have all the decorations up that I wanted to, but I don't have time, so I'll enjoy the one's I have. I was laid off for six months so instead for purchasing the perfects gifts, I made quilts. I had plenty of time and no money. I understand how the holiday season can become overwhelming, but for me spending time with my family and watching them open their gifts is too special and too much fun to ruin so we'll sit around Christmas morning to fewer gifts and a delicious breakfast and it will still be perfect.


Anne, do you just skip right to New Year's Eve then?

Sarah, good point about the kid thing. It's probably easier to be moved by the holiday spirit with some of their contagious enthusiasm for the holiday.

Mary, thank you for the reminder that I need to hang the pets' stockings.

Linda G, you know, this is an excellent point. A girlfriend was recently lamenting the fact that she has to buy gifts for her entire family, her husband's entire family, and their kid. He just has to buy one gift (which he often grabs at the dollar store the day before Christmas). Kinda not fair.

Kristi, I'm still feeling a little guilty about the holiday card, but I'll get over it.

Matthew, yeah, kids aren't big on waking up to find Santa only left them a note saying he made a donation to Amnesty International in their honor.

Lynn, if you have extra cookies, send them my way.

lora96, I'm actually glad to hear you love Christmas. I'm hoping some of your holiday spirit will rub off on me.

Jessica, I'm totally stealing that "Ho ho horseshit" line!

Danica, I always said I was going to retire at 35. Thank you for reminding me I'm now 1 year past my failure.

Penelope, if I pressure you will you come clean my house?

Shakespeare, your version of Christmas sounds like exactly my speed!

Patrick, keep the dream alive, no matter which form it takes!

Kiersten, I want someone to give me music, food, love and meaning!

Kristen, damn, how do I get MY brother to marry Martha Stewart? What a great idea.

Jessi, I think your daughter will be much happier with a day spent playing games than with some piece of plastic.

Suz, step away from the manuscript. Now :)

Maja, my cousin married a woman exactly like you. It's actually kind of fun to watch an adult discover Christmas for the first time.

Jamie, excellent idea with the re-gifting and donating. I always feel guilty, but I need to get over that.

Neurotic Workaholic, I've definitely achieved a lot of my goals, but there are always other mountains to climb, you know?

Abby, I feel your pain. Pythagoras coaches ski racing in the winter, so he pretty much has zero days off between Thanksgiving and March.

Christina, well, I may have achieved most of the goals, but not always in the unrealistic time-frames I've set for myself :)

Laina, at 18, you've got a few more Christmases in you before you get exhausted. Enjoy!

KD Easley, handmade gifts like your quilts are THE BEST!

Thanks for reading, guys!

Mark Simpson said...

Sorry I missed this one yesterday, hating Christmas is one of my favorite pastimes. There are many good reasons:

1)Its the absolute worst week to travel and I can feel the Catholic guilt shooting all the way from Pittsburgh. I don't remember my parents traveling cross-country to crash on Grandma's couch when I was a kid. Why am I expected to?

2)As Tawna noted, I already have everything I need, and what I don't you can't afford either. Unless a person is prepared to buy me another classic Gibson guitar, better to save your money.

3) Always comes at the worst financial time of year. Unless you work in retail, odds are things are slow right now... just in time to waste a bunch of money on travel and gifts.

How I've come to terms with it.. I try to buy things people would never think to get for themselves. My mother loves the Steelers Jersey I got her a couple years back as she shouts at the television from atop the coffee table... a guilty pleasure from an otherwise reserved business woman. And my urbanite brother-in-law shrugged at the Leatherman tool my dad bought him last year. I now hear that he uses it every day.

Concert tickets are also a great gift, especially if the person getting them didn't even know someone they really like were coming to town.

And buy them on e-bay or elsewhere online, shipping them direct to the recipient. This way you can avoid the wrapping and shipping nonsense.

As much as I've learned to hate Christmas,(I'm even agnostic) I've also come to terms with the fact it is unavoidable, and try to make the best of it.