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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.

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7 comments

  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.
    xo


  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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