Christmas is a part-time job
When life squeezes out any time left for writing
Dear Writer Therapy,
I’ve been perpetually thinking about balance.
The holidays push me beyond the space where I can add writing into the mix with the job and my three kids, but even though I know this, I feel guilty, grumpy, and a little panicky when I take too much time away from my writing.
Dear Writing Humbug,
The holidays have passed, but the question of balance and writing never does.
But first, to address the holidays. Back in the pre-Elon days, there was a wonderful twitter thread from Mohammad Hussain, who like me, did not grow up with a tradition of celebrating Christmas. In it, he observes: Christmas is a part-time job you have from mid-November to the end of December.
If you come from a family where celebrating Christmas is the norm, and a community where everyone around you celebrates Christmas, you might not fully appreciate how much time and mental load it takes, because it seems normal and everyone else is doing it. Even recognizing that it pushes you beyond the space where you can add writing, it’s a huge load, especially when you layer on all the encultured messages about Christmas traditions, Christmas magic, Christmas memories.
I am currently a part of a Christmas-celebrating family, but previous to this, let me explain what I did as a single adult on Christmas: sat around in my pyjamas, eating cookies and watching TV. It was glorious.
I say this because I would like for you to know, that Christmas and everything you do for the holidays, is in fact optional.
Now, I do understand…. I have young kids who are heavily inundated with Christmas magic messaging, and I am well-familiar with cultural and familial guilt, especially around cultural traditions. But the time and effort you put into Christmas is a choice. You can choose less.
You might not want to choose less. That’s fine. The food, the gifts, the decorations, the togetherness, all of that can be a source of joy.
You might feel obligated not to choose less. That’s uh, less fine, but also fine. We still have to live in the world with all the people in it, and with that sometimes comes expectations.
But let’s talk about these expectations. The world we live in, Writing Humbug, is not built for art. And the building of this world rests on a set of expectations: what kind of a parent we need to be; what kind of an employee we need to be; what role within our family of origin we need to take on; what kind of friend and community member we are.
Notice how none of this includes: how do we take time for ourselves to be fulfilled and happy? You see, fulfilled and happy is something that takes away from all these other expectations, and so, taking the time for yourself to do the things that matter to no one else but you…. well, that breaks the whole system. The system instead tells you that meeting these expectations should be all you need to be fulfilled and happy, and so what’s your problem? Why should you take time for anything else? And so built into these expectations are the guilt, the fear, the panic, that we are doing something we do not deserve to do. Who are we to write, when there is laundry to be done, meetings to prepare for, homework to supervise, a healthy well-balanced meal to be made from fair trade ingredients, emails to respond to?
And yet, when we don’t write…. our world is also not okay. Because we are ignoring ourselves, and our own needs, and crushing all of that down into a tiny box that can be thrown away whenever something else comes up.
Is the guilt and fear and panic you feel from not writing a fear that if you don’t make room for it now, you will lose that space for writing forever? What does this say about how little room there is for writing in your life?
I understand. Many of these obligations and expectations are unavoidable. We do not yet live in a world where we can simply not have paid work and still feed and clothe and shelter ourselves and our families. There is only so much that one can neglect the children, and the children may protest this. (Unless they are teenagers, in which case they won’t notice until they need a ride somewhere.)
But rather than treat writing as something that gets added in when you are able to make space for it, what if writing took top priority, and everything else fit in around it, somehow?
Maybe that’s only twenty minutes of writing. Maybe it’s more. But what if, instead of adding writing to the mix when the holidays hit, you started with writing and added only whatever holidays you can fit in? Or only whatever parenting? Or extra work? Or laundry?
What if you treated writing like the essential main course that it is for you, instead of dessert? It’s okay if your main course is delicious.
What if writing was the essential fuel to keep you going, instead of something you decide to skip because you’re already full and the world has made a virtue out of denying yourself joy?
What if the floor went unmopped another day, or two more emails got put off, or dinner was frozen pizza yet again? What if the Christmas cards didn’t get sent out and everyone got cash instead of a thoughtfully chosen gift? What if you skipped that family party? What if Christmas dinner was take-out Chinese?
What would your relationship with writing feel like if you knew you would always put writing first? What pressure would that relieve for you? What would change if you weren’t panicked about finding space for writing but instead, finding space to vacuum? What would it feel like if at the end of the day, when you are tired and ready for bed, you did not think, “another day where I failed to make time for writing, I am so drained” but instead “another day where I skipped out on decluttering the coat closet, oh well.”
The world will never give you permission to do this, but that doesn’t matter. You have permission to do this. You have permission to do this imperfectly as you are finding your feet in this or as Life throws other things your way. You have permission to have an ebb and flow to how much time you are able to give writing, given the other obligations in your life. You have permission to say no to other obligations in your life.
Try it out for a while, and see what it’s like to say, well, the house is a mess and dinner was takeout again and I’m not sure why they keep me employed anymore, but at least I wrote today.
See what that changes for you. See what that changes for your kids, as they begin to enter this world that also does not want them to make time for their own happiness and fulfillment. Show them how it is possible to choose differently.
But mostly, show yourself.
Thanks for reading Writer Therapy! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.