Tuesday 23 December 2014

Christmas is a Feeling....

The Christmas season is upon us. Trees glisten and glow, twinkling a red, green and gold. Menus are being planned and tested as fragrances of vanilla and cinnamon permeate the air. Melodies of trusted carols and new ones are heard on radios and in school auditoriums. It is the one time of year where the collective heartbeat of the world is felt beating all around. Wars are still being fought, sickness is still being battled and heartache still pierces the soul but there is something about this time of year that masks all the bad with a protective coating that lasts for a few weeks.

Christmas is by far my favourite holiday. There is something about the warmth it brings to my heart during a cold winter. Growing up, our Christmases were filled with wrapped boxes, elaborate meals and the cacaphony of a big Italian family. My senses still ignite when I am lured back into my ghosts of Christmases past. I hear the baritone voice of my grandfather breaking out into Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle after dinner. He was a jolly man who sat at the head of the table and even though he was the gentlest of souls he commanded a great presence in an unobtrusive way. He loved his grandchildren unconditionally, to the point where he would sit and chuckle as we helped dress him up as Santa. My grandmother, who ruled her house sternly throughout the year, would let down her guard and enjoy the craziness and sit on Santa’s lap with a smile on her face.
For years, my brother and I were the only children at table and that meant the colourfully wrapped boxes under the tree belonged to us. Ask me what my favourite gifts were, I couldn't tell you but ask me about the feeling in the room, I can tell you in great detail. It was chaotic but filled with a sense of belonging. Christmas Eve was blanket that held us together close and warm. I felt safe watching my boisterous family moving from kitchen to living room. I remember seeing the smiling eyes of my aunt and uncles watching as my brother and I dove in and tore apart the exquisitely wrapped boxes. My grandparents and great grandparents would laugh at our expressions and received such satisfaction that they brought joy to their only two grandchildren at the time. But the joy wasn't from the gifts, it was from the sense of family that enveloped us. The adults always tried to organize the process of opening presents but year after year, failed miserably. Who would want to get in between a child and their Christmas present?
As my brother and I entered our teens, our family had expanded. Aunt and Uncle married and with those unions, Christmas was brought alive again by the sound of little voices and feet running through the house. The house was re-energized and new traditions were made. I loved watching the young ones run through the house the way my brother and I did. Four little people who enjoyed the boxes the gifts came in rather than the actual gift. We played board games and cards after dinner while the smell of chestnuts roasting filled our nostrils. At about the time the chestnuts were done, there would be a knock at the door and standing on the other side would be my grandmother's brother's family, who lived three houses down. Let the festivities begin!
The houses would take turns visiting and this was something I looked forward to every year. We saw each other daily throughout the year but the visit of Christmas Eve was one I waited for excitedly. One year they would show up singing carols and the next we would show up with a drum in hand bellowing a very horrible rendition of Little Drummer Boy. It was magical being surrounded by the people who meant most to me. These were the best Christmases of my youth. The two families were close and the memories made are etched in all our hearts. It is these memories we need to carry with us and hold dear.
With the birth of my children, Christmas evolved again. Two new faces, wide eyed and innocent, graced our lives. Gone were some of the old faces. My great grandparents no longer sat at the dinner table, my paternal grandmother watched from heaven above, my grandfather, my uncle and my aunt lived only within our minds and hearts now. The mood around the table changed. Those young cousins were now 20 somethings and our family a few doors down had moved. Instead of a warm, happy time, people sat angry, sad and disappointed that these bodies no longer sat at our table. My children would watch the elders and try to understand why the sadness. It is something that they couldn’t comprehend. For them, they believe these souls are still with us and want us to regale them with stories of years gone by and be happy.

This year is Christmas is bittersweet. The collective heartbeat pounds loudly but there is an over-lying sense of heartache. We are watching some relatives struggle with their health and facing a future that is nearing an end. My children are older now and understand more with a heavy sadness in their hearts. They know Christmas next year will be different with more souls watching from above. But for this year they want to be grateful for the gifts these family members have given them throughout their lives. They want to live in the moment and make sure when that moment passes it becomes permanently inked on their hearts. For them, the ghosts of the past are memories waiting to be created by the stories we share. The ghosts of tomorrow are already a part of who they are and for this they are forever grateful.
The collective heartbeat at Christmas time brings hope, clarity, wonderment and most importantly love. Despite the sadness that lingers in the air, I still crave to be part of this heartbeat and so do my children. Christmas is more than the delicious food, beautiful decorations and wonderful gifts. It is a feeling that lives within our hearts and memories and no one can take that away.
Happy Holidays and may love and happiness surround you and your families!

Wednesday 17 December 2014

My Own Worst Enemy

Looking at the words on my computer screen, I can feel defeat set in. Hot tears begin to pool in my eyes and the muscles in my spine slowly collapse. An eternal conflict between head and heart ensues and my breathing becomes short and quick. I hear that voice screaming in my head, "don't waste your time!" Yet my heart keeps tugging at me gently urging me to never give up.

Any writer will tell you this is a normal experience that is felt often, if not daily. Not only by the wanna-bes but the famous as well. Writing wasn’t something that I just decided to one day take up; it has been a part of my being since I was a young girl. Was it the romanticism of what I believed a writer was that drew me in or was it the overwhelming desire to create stories where readers could get lost?

There are days where I feel I am being pulled in a thousand directions; building upon one idea, coming up with another, moving to something completely different. So much to write about, so much to share and not enough time to get it all down. Hemingway’s words run through my mind daily, "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." And bleed I do. Profusely. Yet I feel as though I have accomplished nothing. I don't have an agent. I'm not published. I write because it makes me happy.

Another quote I love about writing is from Anaïs Nin. "We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect". Her words excite me. It's a personal journey for me that allows all my senses ignite not once but twice. Yet I often still feel overwhelming self-doubt and want to throw in the towel every other day. Doubt is the enemy and holds fear in its hands. It can stop me mid-sentence and render my mind immobile. I sabotage myself and go to war with my psyche, inevitably believing that I will fail.

But the days in between that ugly cover of doubt are filled with big dreams and a general giddiness that accompanies a feeling of "I think I can, I think I can, I know I can and I will". When I sit in front of that blank sheet of paper, the possibilities are endless and creation is all mine. "A blank piece of paper is God's way of telling us how hard it is to be God". Sidney Sheldon's words ring true. It's not easy being a writer and I truly believe that self-doubt, tears, anger and frustration help elevate us to heights unknown if we don't allow them to infiltrate every moment of our days. Let it percolate for a bit and then toss it aside.

All easier said than done, of course. I end up creating this story around me about why I am not good writer. I don’t have a Master’s Degree in English; I haven’t read all the books from literary geniuses; I am not as good as Mr. or Ms. “X” whose book is on shelf now; Rejection, rejection, rejection; It is so hard to come up with something new, everything has been done. These thoughts lead to my self-doubt and to behaviour that is often associated with someone who has given up. This WAS the story I lived and breathed on my days of doubt but it is not the story I WILL be part of. A good friend and fellow writer, who just happens to have two books published gave me some great advice. “Never compare yourself to other writers, only compare yourself today to the writer you were yesterday.” So my new story is I am better than I was yesterday and my words will be a dialogue with my readers one day.

I am sure that my days of self-doubt will continue to surface like an unwanted rash but I am also positive that my days of believing in myself will last for longer than an instant.

TALK TO ME! How do you push through your self-doubt and inner criticism? What tool do you use that helps conquer the doubt?