Photo credit: Ankus Minda on Unsplash
We all know the feeling, especially at the holidays: everything needs to be done, and it needs to be done NOW.
I know I should be grateful. Lots of billable work, including four items on deadline in the next two weeks, in addition to the three I already wrapped up and shipped out this week. Nothing horrifically difficult, but all requiring time and attention before satisfied clients respond with payments that keep the lights on and the cat food in stock.
And that’s just the day job. For the publishing job, I hauled books and table decorations to four holiday market events in nine days, beginning the day after Thanksgiving, and I have two more this weekend and one next weekend. Those have been a blast as I’ve met readers and gift-givers who bought signed (and sometimes wrapped) copies of State v. Claus. Even more fun is meeting up with friends I haven’t seen in ages, including a former student whom I hadn’t seen in nearly forty(!) years who made the trek to Hartford with her charming husband, just to say hello and buy a couple of signed books.
And what about the writing job, you ask? Well, considering that my last blog post was five weeks ago, I don’t expect anyone will be shocked to hear that actual writing has been on a bit of hiatus. In fact, the only times I’ve actually spent working on the new book have been quiet moments in between customers at book events.
Today’s to-do list is a combination of publishing job stuff (wrap, sign, and send a book purchased directly from Tuxedo Cat Press; fulfill a request for a signed bookplate; reorganize my box of equipment for tomorrow night’s event), day job stuff (including phone calls, emails, research, and writing), and non-work stuff (sending a list of address labels to Mom for her Christmas cards, picking up gift books I ordered at a local shop). So far, my decorating has consisted of setting the battery-operated candles on the windowsills and hanging the wreaths, one over the garage and the other (purchased at an event last week) on the front door. I’d love to do more decorating, but hauling stuff up from the basement will have to wait until at least Sunday afternoon, and then only if I skip the Lessons and Carols service at church, which I really don’t want to miss, but I fear I just can’t fit it in. And the tree? I love having it up, but it’s anybody’s guess when (or if) this will be done.
Of course, I also need to attend to the gifts that need to be wrapped and sent off to lovely friends, as well as the ones that remain to be purchased for in-person gifting. Meanwhile, the holiday cards are resting quietly in their boxes and stacks, no doubt hoping they’ll see the inside of a mailbox before Christmas Eve. The week before Christmas, I’m going with friends to see a touring company production of Come From Away, a musical about incredible kindness which feels just right for the season.
In a way, the current overly-busy season reminds me of eons ago, when I would spend December studying for and taking law school exams. One year, I threw a party, cramming ten friends into my tiny living room to decorate my Christmas tree because I knew I wouldn’t have time to do it otherwise. A few days later, I took my Evidence exam with a heating pad on my aching neck, and the day after that, a law school classmate who was also a practicing chiropractor squeezed me into her office hours (mind you, she was also busy with exams) to remedy the situation. That was also the year my last exam ended at noon on the 23rd, after which I went to the mall (no online shopping in those days) and did all my shopping in one afternoon.
I know I’m not alone in this feeling that the burden of keeping up with everything sometimes feels impossible. I’m certainly not the only person with multiple jobs that keep me running around—and I’m not even juggling children and in-laws with all their expectations. To be honest, the frantic nature of December is one of the reasons I love January, with its long, quiet nights.
I wish I had a magical list of bullet points to offer you for how we can get through the holidays with our minds and spirits intact. The best I can tell you is what’s worked for me, at least on some days: letting go of whatever I can. (If you’re hearing Idina Menzel’s famous song right now, you’re not alone.)
For example, I stopped baking Christmas cookies. For so long, cookies were an integral part of the holiday season. I used to spend the second weekend in December making dozens of cookies to take to the office and give to friends, just as my mother did. In my youth, she baked seemingly nonstop throughout the month. At any given time, at least a dozen tins occupied the dining room table, all filled with delectable cookies. In addition, each year, she made up an enormous cookie tray for my father to take to his office.
What changed? For me, it was going off to law school when, as aforesaid, there was no time for much of anything in December. For Mom, it was a combination of things. First, Dad retired, putting an end to the ritual of the office cookie tray. Then, she began simply to lose interest in the work of baking. Over the years, the number of tins on the dining room table dwindled until the tradition quietly ended. You might think that at least one of her daughters might have picked up the reins, but somehow, none of us did—and everybody is fine with that.
This is the first Christmas since my father’s passing. As far as family celebrations go, the plan is to keep things low-key, which suits us all just fine. I don’t know exactly what traditions we’ll be letting go of, but anything that makes this challenging time simpler is fine by me.
At present, the best I can do is to keep my lists manageable. Today, I’m doing three errands: post office, library (drop off overdue book), and bookshop. (The challenge will be limiting myself to these few stops, since I’m the type who always thinks there’s time to add one more thing since I’m out anyway.) Upon my return, I will devote two hours to an objection that’s due on Monday, thereby wrapping up the work day at a reasonable time.
Mind you, this evening will be consumed by one or more of these thrilling options: (a) choosing which room to clean and organize in advance of getting out the decorations; (b) whether to skip housework in favor of doing client billing; (c) wrapping gifts to be shipped, while the actual packing of same waits for another day; (d) whether to organize the materials needed for tomorrow’s book event; (e) figuring out whose gifts I haven’t yet purchased; and/or (f) whether to go back out on another round of errands that include grocery shopping (not urgent since this week’s food shopping consisted of a large takeout order on Monday from a fabulous Asian restaurant, and I still have enough of the pork fried rice left to take me through tomorrow). Right now, (d) is the front-runner purely on the basis of timing: if I don’t organize the event stuff tonight, I’ll have to do it tomorrow morning. Sometimes, that’s how choices get made.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the expectations and responsibilities, ask yourself if there’s something you can let go of this year. Pick the tasks you treasure most, and look at what’s left. Do there really have to be three pies at dinner, and do they have to be homemade? If so, is there something else you can cross off the list? If not, can you engage someone else to help, whether it’s a friend who picks up your kid when she gets her own or your supermarket’s delivery service bringing your order to your door? One friend did her own version of delegating when she signed up for Amazon Prime long ago so that she could purchase gifts for her far-flung children and grandchildren and ship them directly to the recipients, thereby sparing herself hours of running to stores, wrapping gifts, packaging them up, and standing in line at the post office—not to mention saving substantial monies on shipping costs.
I dearly hope that you’re able to find something to let go of in these waning weeks of 2022, even if it’s just something you’re postponing until the hubbub of December fades into the snow-covered quiet of January. If contemplating this notion means you find yourself humming, “Let it go!” for the rest of the day—take it as a sign.
Happy holidays from all of us!