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The Christmas season has come again, and I’m not feeling the cheer you’d expect. This holiday hasn’t felt right to me for many years. It is one of my least favorite holidays. In contrast, my wife loves the decorations, the gifts, and the baking, the whole package. I do my best to play along, but Christmas just doesn’t hold the magic that I remember as a child.

We no longer have any children in the house and no family nearby, even before Covid Christmas was usually just the two of us. And I am fine with that. I prefer to stay home and cozy on Christmas. But there is no magic for me.

I grew up in Northern Minnesota with cold, snowy winters. We could expect to get snowed into our house at least once every year. Our neighbors had snowmobiles and would ferry us to the paved road to meet the school bus. Then once the snowplows finally got to our little dirt road, they would pile the snow up taller than the bus.

My best memories of Christmas are from this time.

Our little house was heated by a wood-burning stove in the basement, and the heat would rise up through a cast iron grate in the floor above the stove and up the staircase to the second floor. Many mornings we would wake to a house cold enough to see our breath. We would then crouch on the grate to warm up while we ate our cereal.

This was the 1980s! Not that long ago.

I grew up poor, much like a hillbilly living in the woods. We had an outhouse, no television, and wolves howling in the night. Most people can’t relate, but what a great way to grow up. I didn’t experience the over-commercialized Christmas that many think is the norm. There were no electronic toys, no designer clothes, nothing more expensive than a hardware store bicycle. And we could always count on getting good warm clothes or boots for Christmas.

We cut our Christmas tree fresh from the woods and dragged it home through the snow. Mom would make homemade bread and a tea ring for Christmas breakfast. I remember a big pot of chili boiling on the stove and the whole house smelling of bread and wood smoke. The smells of home.

There were seven of us; my parents and five boys. We had no television for many of those years, so we entertained ourselves with table games most Saturday nights, and Christmas was no different. We would make a pan of mulled cider and a giant bucket of popcorn and play games for hours, often until 2am. We had no other family around, and no one ever came to visit, making it a very isolated life. Winters were spent locked inside, cozy and warm.

But it is the snow and the cold and the darkness of those Minnesota winter months that I think about most. Often the nights would drop to below zero temperatures. The air would be so cold and dry it almost hurt to breathe. In the night we would hear trees splitting in the cold, like gunshots in the darkness. And if you felt brave enough to wander outside, you would find a sky alive with stars, sparkling as if on fire, the northern lights flickering and hissing above.

It is those things that I miss the most about this season.

In the years since, I have gotten an education, raised children, and moved far away from Minnesota. Yet every year, I get nostalgic about this time. Not for Christmas, not for the gifting, not for any religious significance, but for the frozen desolation and silence of the deep winter. That is what I miss the most, what holds the most emotion for me.

We purchased a house with a fireplace for the sole purpose of curling up in front of a fire on cold winter nights. That is what I look forward to more than any other aspect of this season. However, Christmas day was almost 60F with no snow in sight. Which doesn’t evoke memories of Christmas past in any way, shape, or form. It doesn’t feel right.

I haven’t been back to Minnesota in twenty years. I no longer have family there. However, I will always yearn for the bone-shattering cold of a Minnesota Christmas night.


HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!

I should be writing. I want to write. I have the desire to write. But I’m having a hard time forcing myself to write. And it really is ‘forcing’ myself to write. I find myself avoiding the work, doing everything but write. I get lost on the internet daily when I know there is work to do. Then, after hours of this, I get angry with myself for not working, not accomplishing ANYTHING!

It is SO frustrating. I’m stuck in this circle of avoidance and self-disgust. I’m the worst employee, I swear. It’s sad.

However, I am honest with myself and can analyze my own actions. I’ve done this sort of thing before for ‘other’ issues. It’s time to use some psychoanalysis on this issue.

I’m in the rewrite stage of my novel, and, to be perfectly honest, this is the first project I’ve ever taken this far. I usually get to a ‘Final’ draft that has been polished to the best of my abilities and call it complete. However, this time I am working with an editor. She is a personal friend, and I trust her opinions and experience.

A scene in need of raking.

She marked up my novel and was not kind about it. Kindness is not something you look for in an editor. They are meant to be mean, cut with broad strokes, and eviscerate our beloved words to produce a leaner, meaner, and more readable product.

Overall, I agree with most of her edits and suggestions. Yet, that doesn’t mean it isn’t painful or easy.

I need to rewrite a side character into a main character sidekick; she is essential to the story and needs to be more involved. To facilitate the fix, entire scenes need to not only be changed but COMPLETELY CUT! This is what my subconscious is balking at and why I am avoiding my work. Because I like those words, and I’m attached to those scenes. Hours and hours were spent writing and polishing them until they shone. How can I just DELETE them? But that is what I must do. 

All those beautiful words!!

I have read in a hundred different places that “writing is rewriting.” Yet, I could never fathom how true and incredibly hard it is. The sentence I struggled for days to get just right, to invoke the perfect emotion, the ideal atmosphere, now has to be sacrificed to strengthen the remaining words. Knowing how necessary the task is, doesn’t make it any less painful. Those are my words, my work, and it’s got to burn.

I know myself pretty well, and I tend to avoid the most difficult tasks, sometimes to the point where they get forgotten and are no longer necessary. Success! But… If I want to be a writer – a well-paid writer – I need to get past this particular hang-up and move the f*ck on and do the work.

Realizing the issue is often half the battle. Fixing or working around the issue is the other half. So, I’ve learned some psychological games I can use to ‘trick’ myself into doing something I don’t want to do.

Example: I used to hate eating my vegetables when I was little. I also knew my parents would make me eat them, so I forced myself to eat the vegs first and as fast as possible. That way, they were gone, and I could cover their yucky taste with the good stuff. I’m now in my fifties and love vegetables, but I still eat them first every time!

Question: What is the psychological trick I will use to avoid the pain of cutting all my beautiful words from the book?

Answer: I archived my highly polished turd of a final draft and started working on a new version as a NEW file. I deleted all the scenes that needed to go and most of the material that needed to be changed. Now I am essentially working with a clean slate. I’m no longer editing ‘that’ book; I’m working on a new book with someone else’s input. It may not be as good as the first or may fail to live up to our expectations. It doesn’t matter. The scenes and words I had such passion for but was unwilling to let go of are preserved. I can go reread them anytime I want.

Now I can get back to work with a clear conscience and a more compliant subconscious mind.

Writing is rewriting, and it sucks!!

Raked, bagged, deleted…
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