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by Hedgebrook Guest

When surrounded by plaid carpet and dark wood paneling, when mountains of snow pile up against sliding doors, or when you’re cornered by your eccentric aunt who is sharing with you how she creates jewelry from the fur of her beloved cats, the inspiration to write at the winter holidays is everywhere. Sometimes snarky, sometimes heartfelt, the best stories are about family. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation comes to mind, though Love Actually, A Christmas Story and its many iterations suffice too.

Family doesn’t just visit, they descend. Roaring fires, roaring arguments, disgruntled uncles, alcoholic fathers, young kids and their talent shows, self-righteous collegians. The stories are everywhere. In the burning Hanukkah candlelight. In the angel, drunkenly off-kilter at the top of a Christmas tree. In the over-salted stuffing. In the said and in the unsaid. Show me a film about the holidays that doesn’t involve a glistening turkey that may or may not be ruined inside. What an amazing and/or depressing metaphor.

As we all know the holidays are a time of excitement and happiness. They are also a time of profound loneliness and sadness. Reflection of the year past. Promise and anxiety of the year ahead. Regardless of the mood, there is always a frisson of change and of life unfolding before our eyes.

I steal away to take notes. What can I use? What should I leave out? What’s my story? My angle? I’m generally a fiction writer, so I have quite a bit of liberty with the scenario I can create. It’s just too good.

I am lucky. Come the holidays, we journey to the Wisconsin tundra. A multitude of capable and loving family members with fantastically mid-western accents and an amazing collective knowledge of sausage, help watch and entertain my toddler daughter. I am able to find moments with my computer and imagination. Stimulation brings about inspiration. I have always found this. If I stay home day after day, change diapers, fix mac & cheese, and watch the garbage trucks go by, I don’t find myself driven to write. It is in the changes that my writing world is piqued.

What other time of year do you have so many stories in one room? Perhaps this will be the year to approach the quiet uncle, the former-minister cousin, or the in-the-midst-of-a-trial-separation aunt. Maybe you’ve heard the gist; the telephone game version sent via text or brief phone calls or in the harried seconds before the scandalized person arrived. You’ve talked about it with your mom, your brother, or the neighbor. But this year, try to get the story first-hand.

Let the fire stoke your writing. Let the cold draw you closer to the people in your life. Sneak away to the bathroom with a pen and notebook. Write down the gems that will become family lore. When you get back to your “real life,” put these together. Tell their stories or create your own. Either way, they will all have the backbone of truth in them. And if a reader connects to that truth, then you’ve accomplished the goal and hope of storytelling.


About the Author:

Jennifer FlissJennifer Fliss is a New York raised, Wisconsin schooled, Seattle based writer. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in diverse publications including, The Citron Review, Brain Child Magazine, Prime Number, and The Establishment. More can be found on her website, www.jenniferflisscreative.com





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