A little bit of Christmas Magic

One year, back in the 1970s when my sons were little, my parents got a huge washing machine appliance box, decorated it and brought it to our house on Christmas morning. They acted as if it was really, really heavy. They struggled to get it out of the car, and when the boys offered to help, they pointed to the caution stickers all over the package and said thank you, but it would be best if they stood back.

Finally, Mom and Dad made it up the driveway and the front steps, really hamming it up by breathing hard as they ‘rested.’ WHAT was in the box? Nothing had been said, so it was just as big a mystery to me as it was to my children.

They maneuvered the box out of the way and we proceeded to have our Christmas Dinner. All the while, the boys eyed the beautifully wrapped box with the big bow in the corner of the living room.

After dinner, Scott and Chris asked if they could open the mystery box first, but they were told it should be opened last. The minutes ticked by and of course their anticipation grew. Santa was pretty good to them that year, and they enjoyed watching the rest of the family open gifts that they had made. There was a pair of wooden lap trays my father helped them cut, stain and varnish that I have to this day. My eldest son wrote out a favorite recipe in calligraphy for my mother, and the younger one painted a picture for my dad.

“Okay, boys, you can open the box now.” Being mindful of the stickers pasted all over, they carefully peeled the paper which had an overabundance of tape on it. (My mother always did that. It drove me mad, but she loved suspense.) Finally, the two of them peered inside and smiled.

I was praying that they didn’t find a little puppy or kitten inside. The way they were acting made me suspicious. So my husband and I looked in and found a pretty sign my artistic father had suspended with thin wire to float within the box.

“Merry Christmas!” the sign read. “Contents are filled with love.”

I think that was the best gift ever!

But here’s the magical part: This morning, our Unchained Writers group was asked what the strangest gift we ever got for Christmas was, and I mentioned the story of this box. Instead of working on my manuscript during our writing time, something ‘led’ me to open one of a number of file drawers that I have not even touched for decades. Within THAT drawer was a collection of papers that included the two signs from that Christmas!

What are the odds? I wondered.

I sometimes believe people will think that I make this kind of stuff up. But it is true. What I am feeling at this moment is very hard to express, but it is the very best kind of gift I can imagine: to feel as though the people we have known are still with us in spirit, guiding us if we just listen.

A very Merry Christmas
to all my Readers!!

My own 800 words

I’m about to start the second of my 30-day writing challenges: A personal blog.

There is a wonderful television series that takes place in New Zealand called, 800 Words. The principal character is a journalist under contract to produce a weekly article for an Aussie newspaper. George can string together the most poignant Life Lessons by examining his own behaviors and experiences. He does this in – you guessed it – eight hundred words.

What I have learned over the past month is that when I purposefully sit down to write I can produce between 600-1000 words in an hour. Experts say that the best length for a blog is about 1700 words, so a decent post would take me a good two hours. However, considering that the average speed of an adult reader is 200-250 words per minute, and most people’s attention drifts if they try to digest something longer than a four-minute read, I think I’ll stick with George’s limit.

My second 30-day writing challenge will be to publish 800 words, once a week, on a life lesson that I have recently learned, or one that has bubbled up through my subconscious. I wonder whether George (or the show’s producers) starts with a theme in mind, or if he/they just let it develop over the course of a few days. He always finishes the last bit of his story at the eleventh hour.

In my case, I get sudden bolt-out-of the blue ideas that many times go unnoticed because I am up to my neck in another project. Yet what I have also found is that a lot of my writing seems to occur when I am not even thinking about anything much at all. The hum of the vacuum or the sound of water as I do the washing up after dinner seems to be the time that these ideas come fast and furious. I’ve tried using a recorder or keeping note pads and pens handy throughout the house, but nothing seems to work as well as ‘Morning Pages.’

Now that I am in the company of a lot of serious writers from the Unchained Writers Group, I see that Morning Pages, walks in Nature, journaling, sketching, meditation or prayer is very important to them as a way of calming the inner demon that would wreak havoc on us all. Personally, I don’t know how I would have gotten through the past fifty years without therapy, drugs or some form of distraction without seeing my thoughts on paper or on a computer screen.

I could always tell when I had neglected my Morning Pages, as Julia Cameron named them in her excellent book, The Artist’s Way. I would feel disorganized, confused, overwhelmed, or what my mother would call being ‘at sixes and sevens.’ After decades of filling dozens of notebooks and creating thousands of electronic documents, I realize that journaling is one of my most comforting and illuminating pastimes.

Comforting, because I use several techniques to express myself, and when the session is over, I might produce anything from a paragraph to dozens of pages. Sometimes I bullet my thoughts; other times I fictionalize a story with someone other than myself as the main character. I’ve recently started to include photos, sketches, or flow charts. I love the fact that there are no rules; you can’t do it wrong. And although I may have to ask my sister to burn my books like Virgil or Jane Austen, when I’m gone there will most likely be no one who would take the time to slog through all my to-do lists and pages of complaints.

But here’s the interesting part: those books sat untouched for decades in a box at the back of my closet. I would sometimes remember a difficult or exciting event in my life, and I’d go looking for a particular volume. I found comfort knowing that whenever I’d read a passage, I could recollect everything in minute detail. But I never took them all out to read – until this past month during my first 30-day challenge.

What I saw as I leafed through those journal pages made the hairs on my arm stand on end. Peppered through my entries were ‘wish lists’ of things I wanted to do, see and have. Many of them were so far flung I probably never thought they would happen. But every night, I would write down what I needed – whether it be someone to paint my house, or a couple of hundred to fix my car, or an answer to a problem. Every night I envisioned myself getting what I asked for. And I often did. It was almost uncanny.

My mother often quoted from the Bible. The one from Matthew 7:7 was perhaps the most important one: “Ask and it shall be given.”