Surface calm

December 16, 2011

Nothing to see here. All is well. See, I’m planning a holiday letter. All is well.

Look away.

I put out fires at work. Soothe egos, attempt to soothe egos that are, frankly, beyond my soothing. I modulate my voice. I project calm. I make sure the printers are full of paper, the staplers are full of staples. I sit in on meetings with upper administration figures and try to maintain a sense of sanity in the face of what seem to me to be defensive and disruptive petty disputes. I sit in on meetings with upper administration figures and feel relieved when those previous disputes are banished from the forefront of the discussion. I help panicked students find their last-minute research sources and help them calm down in the face of finals week.

I keep my box of tissues in my office. I sneak in and out during the office party so no one knows how bad my cold is. I speak extra clearly to mask the snuffles and snot and sickness beneath my surface.

I plan a spot in my day to wrap presents, box them up and send them to Dot’s wee cousins. Of course I can do it all during my lunch hour. I have to.

I work on two articles at one time, work to meet the end of the year deadlines, to help secure my tenure. I talk about my research intelligently, calmly. I know my stuff.

And underneath all of this, I am rough, choppy, a swirling mess of conflicting tides.

I complain – Why do I have to do all the damned Christmas shopping? Why can’t I have a present that’s just for me instead of something for me that’s really for Dot? Why don’t I have my own fucking space in my own fucking house? Why can’t I breathe through my nose, and why doesn’t someone make me some chicken soup and send me to bed with a pile of novels and some 7-up and orange juice?

I panic – I’ll never get all of this done over my lunch break. Where’s the damned Scotch tape? Why didn’t I write more this summer? There’s so much to write and fact-check and mix together and I know what I want to say but how do I make other people see that it’s important and meaningful? What if they don’t think I’m smart? What if I’m not actually smart? God, this writing is all crap. I suck. How the hell are we going to get all of this done in time to make an eight-hour drive to my parent’s house? An eight-hour drive over the Rocky Mountains, no less.

I worry and grieve – I edit the paragraph about Teddy in my holiday letter down to one line. Don’t want to depress anyone. Well, don’t want to depress anyone more than I absolutely have to. I worry that N won’t like the mention of Teddy even if it’s only one line, but I can’t leave him out of our family, out of Christmas, out in the cold. If I weren’t so worried about other’s feelings, he’d get a whole paragraph, too.  And I may be very unfair to N here. He hasn’t seen the letter yet. He may like it. He may say, this is good, what you said about him. This is perfect.

I need a good romance novel. I need a stiff drink. I need my 18-year-old self’s metabolism back, and a hot bath, and at least three gallons of black coffee.

In spite of all this, I know the holidays will be okay. I’ll get done what needs to get done because that’s what I have to do, and next week I’ll be in my childhood home, letting my mother cook me dinner, and Dad will put a good glug of Bailey’s Irish Creme in my coffee, and I’ll feel my vertebrae slowly un-stiffen. Till then, though, I hide behind this mask of calm and wish for more time to get things done while paradoxically praying for less time to have to deal with this muddle.



  1. It’s hard to do, but I do find the more I do what is right to me and communicate what I really want or feel, the better it seems to hit other people. The more at peace and less awkward.

    Got luck with the vitamin C.

  2. I woke up this morning with a scratchy throat… noooooooo!!! It just figures, doesn’t it?? Only a few more hours at the office to go and one more sleep for me, & then I will likewise be at my parents’ house. I share the relief I sense in your post on this point…!

    This was the first year in 13 that Katie is not in our Christmas letter. I just couldn’t figure out a way to work her in without making it blatant. In years past I’d do it via a reference to our volunteer work with the support group.

    But the card itself has a little angel on it. ; )

    hope you have a great holiday. Sounds like we both could use it!

  3. The year after Emma died, I didn’t send a single Christmas card. I have, these subsequent years, but bland and generic with no letter. I just don’t know what I’d say – I do put a tiny “e” over the i in my name, instead of a dot. Tiny, insignificant and unbeknown to anyone but me …but she’s there in that tiny “e”. It’s the only thing I know how to do.

    Feel better soon.

  4. As always this time of year, I am overwhelmed with the things I want to do and railing against the things I have to do (it’s not really my fault two of my authors got off schedule and are in crunch time this week. I picked things that wouldn’t be crazy come mid- to late December). I’m better this year, though, at letting go. I have three things still on my list and I know which two can be dropped or minimized. And I just got a babysitter for Monday, so meeting my deadline seems possible and my weekend came back to me.

    I don’t do a holiday letter, and I’m stymied by a card. I want to include Henry, even if not everyone will understand. (When Kathleen was one, I had a picture of her holding a stuffed cardinal.) I’ve been too tired and busy to try to get a decent picture of the girls that says “Christmas” and whispers “Henry,” so I might just be letting it go this year.

    Safe travels—hope that dinner and Bailey’s time comes soon.

  5. I keep writing her name in cards, but I don’t think anyone notices. Or if they do, they just think I’m weird. And that I need to move on. I don’t know why I bother really. But what else can I do? There is not much we can do for them.
    Feeling the Christmas crazy with you, and wishing and waiting for calm. And a stiff drink or seven.

  6. Oh I haven’t been brave enough to attempt a holiday letter, I suspect I never will be.

    Sending you plenty of virtual stiff drinks to get you through until next week.

  7. The holidays are crazy and, I can relate in so many ways. I think you’re brave for including little Teddy no matter what others will have to say.

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