In Norway, this time of year is called the M?rketid, the dark time, and the Norwegians, who are used to it, light candles at four pm and have dinner early and snuggle into their warm houses. Or, if it?s snowed, they put on their skis and head to the lighted trails that exist all over the country and ski and ski and ski. They cheerfully get up in the dark at dawn and go to work. Their creativity in dealing with more than 12 hours of darkness is impressive.
When we lived in Oslo, I started a new teaching job at a public high school just after New Year?s. I was three months pregnant with L and terribly morning sick, and two days a week I had class at eight. So I rose at six in the pitch black and attempted not to vomit as I navigated the shower, some clothes, a cup of tea, and the Trikk, the streetcar that took me to Majorstuen, where I would hop on the subway for two stops. By the time I arrived at Berg Vidergaendeskole there was a gray light, but the sun didn?t really rise until the end of first period.
We humans can romanticize all kinds of things.
We?re in our own dark time in California, which is never sure how to be winter, but tries, and I?m still setting the alarm for six as many mornings as I can muster. It is a strange sort of push and pull, for I really do loathe getting up early, but ever since I learned that the poet Lucie Brock-Broido calls the morning being ?wet from the other side? I?ve been unable to shake the notion that this time, this liminal time between night and day, is when the creativity is awakening and the words best flow?or sputter, or crawl. (And, because life is so busy, sometimes it?s the only time of the day, anyway.) Sure enough, I?ve been getting at least a poem a morning, though which are any good, it?s hard to say.
But creativity is a funny thing. Earlier this fall, I took a poetry class and vowed to just write, to generate work, to make, for as long as it took. And I did, all fall. It was glorious. But now, mere weeks later, I feel a familiar antsyness as I start to worry, to push, to want to force that raw, unfinished work into something meaningful?a book, a record, a testimony to the world that I am not lazy, that I am not, uh, bad, that I EXIST. In September, when I read up in Portland with the poet Stephanie Adams-Santos (who taught me about Lucie Brock-Broido), she said that when she writes she tries to scratch some metaphorical itch, to find something inside herself that needs fulfilling and, well, fulfill it. (She actually said this much more clearly and beautifully than that!) In answer to the same question, I said that I turned to my readers to tell me if something was any good. And then I thought about what she said and wondered, what if I did that, too?
So, I guess here I?ve answered my own personal logic puzzle: because I have taken a little break from reading from Little Prayers,?because I don?t have something else to publish NOW, because I always feel the glow from a published essay for about a month before it fades, I have been inhabiting this space, on and off here in the December dark, where I don?t feel like I?m any good. Hence the rush to publish something, to finish something, to frantically get out into the world a thing that isn?t even ready yet, just so I can prove something to?to whom? I don?t even know.
How stupid I am, sometimes.
I?m still learning to be a writer: to chase the joy and to find that balance between playful, creative inquiry and brass tacks. And I feel enormously comforted here at the end of this blog post, because somehow writing all of this down, I feel like I have permission to be in the playful inquiry stage a while longer. Brass tacks, be off with you. Glad we had that little chat.
So! In the meantime, while you (and I) are waiting for my second book of poetry (!), if you need a great little gift, you can buy my first, Little Prayers, and I?ll sign it for you. There are more good gift ideas for writers here and here.
And here?s to the beauty and the difficulty of this season. If you want to share what you love or loathe about December, I?d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Warmly and with my best wishes for happy holidays and a fruitful new year,
You know how the song goes:?Deck the Halls with Books, Books, and More Books.?That’s right, folks: in case you missed the obvious signs?muzak carols, Black Friday sales, Cyber Monday ads, the Northeast dumped with snow, and Christmas decorations flooding out the doors of Walgreen’s, not to mention the giant trees lit up?in every town square?it’s that time again.
Despite being an agnostic-verging-on-atheist who decries commercialism and doesn’t let her kid eat a ton of sugar, I have a particular weakness for Christmas. I love the short days, especially when, come six pm, my cup is filled with a festive glass of red wine or a stiff eggnog. I find myself following all the Christmas traditions we had as kids: the Christmas calendar, which “elves” fill with goodies every night for my son during Advent; listening to Amahl and the Night Visitors while we decorate the Christmas ficus; the extravagant brunch we eat on Christmas day, whether we’re celebrating with my family or not; and giving gifts to my loved ones. This time of year is rife with possibility for great gift-giving: in addition to Christmas, there’s the eery and magical Solstice, on December 21; Kwanzaa, starting on the 26th; and of course Hannukah, starting on?December 16?which means that as of this writing, you still have between 14?and 24 days to purchase (or make!) gifts for the favorite writer or reader on your list.
And so, without further ado, I present?my 2014 Literary Gift Guide.
Grab yourself an eggnog and start reading.
The Secret Garden panties, courtesy of Lauren Carroll and superpowerstudio.
1. Literary Undies? Why the heck not??Lauren Carroll at superpowerstudio has cooked up these beautiful, comfortable, upcycled (this is key: they’re NOT recycled underpants!) underwear for women. Here’s the literary gem: The Secret Garden. And they’re packaged nicely, too.?
You can find these and more (Lemon Ice! High Tea! The Life Aquatic!) on etsy.
3. Is reading sexy??Yes, it is.?As usual, books make great gifts. My favorite reads of the past year include Run by Ann Patchett, The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Hamid Mohsin, and Just Kids by Patti Smith. On my to-read list is Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge and Meghan Daum’s book of essays called The Unspeakable (in case you missed my “Personal Essays that will Gut You” post, you can find a link to one of those essays here.) Here are some other great resources for finding out what books were the talk of the town in 2014: A talk with New York Times editor Pamela Paul on KQED’s show “Forum,” with Michael Krasny, and The Best Books of the Year, from The Guardian (two parts!). And here’s a plug for your local bookseller: buy your books from them, not Amazon. That is all.
The dark watchers, creatures not unlike the elves who fill my son’s Advent calendar.
4. Here’s another?beautiful book:?In Search of?The Dark Watchers, with paintings by my incredibly talented father-in-law, Benjamin Brode, and text by his good friend Thom Steinbeck (yup, you guessed it: John Steinbeck’s son). You can pick yourself up a copy here.?Softcover is $40; the exquisite hard cover is $125.
5. Of course, if your giftee isn’t into books (for shame!), there are always magazines and literary journals. Consider supporting?the journal Rock & Sling (current issue features poems by me and my pal Mike Dockins!).
6.?A desk. No, I’m serious. Your favorite writer probably writes at her kitchen table (busted), or on the go. How amazing a gift would a desk be? This blog post by The Writing Nut describes perfectly the best criteria for selecting a writer’s desk.
7. Or maybe you’re thinking smaller.?This website has a whole host of funny mugs (my favorite? “I’m figuratively dying for a cuppa”), as well as other whimsical bits and pieces for your?resident grammar nerd.
8. If you’re feeling crafty, this Pinterest page has some fun ideas for you, like Steampunk Altered Books and origami book marks. Yes!