It’s Christmas, but you wouldn’t know it by my house, which has no tree, no wrapped presents, no fauxflake or stocking or stray spray of tinsel. It’s not because I’m a curmudgeon. I just started thinking: What do we need that we don’t have? What do we want that we don’t get nearly as quickly as the thought pops into our heads? While this condition is much the same for us every year, it’s the first time I have been stricken by the absurdity—of frantic shopping, of wrapping surprises on the same pre-scheduled day as most of this country and some of the world, as if we’d deprive our child, now too old (not to mention too Jewish) to believe in Santa, of her reasonable heart’s desires for an entire year, as if we should have waited on Hendrix the Creature, her pet bearded dragon. As if guitar picks should be stocking stuffers rather than tools of her trade.

As I sit here, my daughter is pounding insanely on the drums while her friend makes repetitive keyboard sounds, my husband is watching some dull war documentary, the kitchen countertop is covered with crumbs, my back is sore, and my dogs are where they always are—beneath my feet, a perpetual tripping hazard—one of them, Cleo, snoring so loudly that I can hear her over the drums.

But I am practicing a new craft. I am waving away the fog of depression, turning the ugly floaters into the swirling glitter of a snow globe. My daughter taught herself how to play the drums, and she’s good; she has a friend with her, and they are making music, not noise. My husband is watching the movie on our brand new shiny iMac. My counter is crumby because I’ve just made warm, delicious brownies filled with the free bag of chocolate chips Safeway gave us for spending twenty bucks on the ingredients for brownies and chicken stew. My back is sore because I’ve been standing up playing guitar, something I couldn’t do a few months ago. And my dogs are beautiful; at fourteen, Cleopatra’s cacophony is a comfort because it means she is still alive.

If I have a resolution for the coming year, it’s to practice more of this kind of witchcraft, to discover a way to transmute anxiety and sadness into something bright and gleaming, something the crow dragged in.

I have spent far too much of 2009 listing the things that have gone wrong. It’s not that I didn’t earn the right, but pacing back and forth along this path has put a rut in it. Sometimes I wonder if it’s as awful as it is habitual. Now the rut is a damned trench, which makes the climb out a little tougher. All I really need to do is start filling it with each good thing until that, the filling, becomes my groove.

Habits, old or new, are hard to break; however, I’m wise enough to know that my blessings are many. My family, friends, and social networks have literally kept me alive when I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay that way. We had foster families at the beginning of this year, people who fed us and drove us around and made sure we were safe.

Before I sat down to review the year, I’d already panned 2009, in my mind worse than at least forty other years. But some pretty remarkable things happened this year.

• I knitted and sold enough scarves to help pay for an expensive chair, which was instrumental in my recovery.

• I ran almost two miles six months after back surgery.

• I felt the force of several thousand crows lifting off from a field where I stood.

Bob Schneider sat next to me in my car, and, a week later, I got to hang out for half an hour with the very cool Chuck Prophet.

• I have written at least five really good songs this year and will record them in the studio soon.

• I was in two movies, I Will Smash You and 60 Writers, 60 Places, both of them released recently. In two different glowing reviews, my parts were singled out for positive acknowlegment.

• My daughter, Serena, got straight A pluses (except for the A in religion), improved her saxophone, guitar, and drum playing and her singing. She landed the acoustic intro to one of my favorite songs ever, “ Crazy on You,” by Heart, for the Seattle Sounds show in January, and she’s nailing it.

The Book was published! Let Me Eat Cake was not the best book ever written, and I got down on myself a lot after negative reviews, but you know what? Simon & Schuster liked it enough to pay me for my words and to publish them with a beautiful cover and pictures inside. I don’t know too many people who can say that. So there!

I’m not completely skipping gifts and holiday cheer, but I am finally questioning them in light of our dwindling bank account and increasing debt and dismal prospects for employment. And all we have already and all we discard every day. For instance, this week, I’ve received ten Christmas cards in the mail. Half were store bought; the other half were personalized with family photos. Not a single one of the senders wrote more than a generic, nameless greeting and a signature. I appreciate that you thought of me among the mountain of friends who give your hand a writer’s cramp each year, that you’d truly like me to have a blessed holiday, that you’d share your beautiful family with mine. But tell me something—that I’m a good neighbor, a good friend. Tell me you love me and my family, that we’ll make an effort to get together more this year, that you hope my back heals, that I write another book, that I stay with my husband for the 28th year. Make me laugh or think or cry over your sentiment. Those are the cards I save and reread when I need a quick reminder that I’m worthwhile. Unfortunately, my recycling bin fills up first.

So many of you have touched my soul this year. Telling you each might take me the majority of 2010. Until I do, please enjoy the card I made from photographs of the beautiful snow, an icy windshield, and the birds I love. Print it out if you’d like to keep it. When I see you next, I’ll write on the back of it what I love most about you.


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  1. Tom Bailey December 23, 2009 at 3:27 pm #

    Congrats on getting a book out and running after an operation. (opinion to follow) There is no need to self judge not having christmas things out — with some things in life you have to find something that works for you possibly.

    I always thought if someone else has an issue about me not having a large tree… I do not see a line of people asking to set it up… vaccum the needles, take it out, decorate it, water it… clean up the mess the water makes when it spills and pain the wall where the tree leaves scratches… that is a short list I encountered just dealing with the tree… now I have a small one that I take down and put in the middle of a table…. It is a short metallic one.

    Thanks for sharing and I hope you have a new year filled with all of the postive transformations that you are seeking.

    Kindest regards,
    Tom Bailey

  2. patrick December 23, 2009 at 6:27 pm #

    There is something not right with the idea of growing something merely for the sake of chopping it down, putting lipstick and make-up on it for a few days, only to toss it to the curb.

    There is something not right about the guilt people feel as Christmas approaches, and how the media (and corporate America) treats the holiday as if ba sales will make or break civilization. We are pressed from both sides of the gift exchange continuum. Hand-made, heart-felt gifts are too often treated as ugly step-children.

    There is something not right about people feeling so pressured by advertising to not disappoint their children that they have to go deeper and deeper into debt as a matter of allaying their guilt. I do not begrudge the idea of making a child happy with gift-giving, but you know and I know that the best gifts truly come from the heart (tired as that expression might be) and most often don't have "Made In China" stamped somewhere on them.

    There is something not right about children gauging the love of their parents on what they did or did not receive for Christmas. That we use a phony-baloney adjudicator named Santa Claus to determine their goodness or badness is simply evil.

    There is something not right about the pontificating buffoons who rail against the "de-Christ-ification" of Christmas, despite the fact that its origins are not at all Christian-related.

    There is something not right with the thought that I once liked to shop for people for Christmas and that now I don't want to have anything to do at all with the holiday.

    That said…

    Never stop writing. Don't ever consider stopping writing. While people who are in the position(s) to decide what does and what doesn't get published, what you say and how you say it is a gift to anyone who has the good fortune to read it.

    By the way, the word verification for posting this comment is boncompo… as in "good composition!"

  3. jo(e) December 24, 2009 at 3:52 pm #

    What a beautiful post. Your photos, your words, and the gorgeous scarf I wear when I'm writing enriched 2009 for me. I'm so thankful that you're willing to share yourself.

  4. Richard Gilbert December 24, 2009 at 5:08 pm #

    Super post, Leslie. Love the attitude and gratitude . . .

  5. Doctor Noe December 27, 2009 at 12:21 pm #

    You are an inspiration to me Leslie more than you will ever know. Keep on keepin on. I will see you in this world don't be late.

    Happy New Year.

  6. jodi December 28, 2009 at 1:53 am #

    a beautiful post, leslie. i know you've had some rough times, but there usually is some good mixed in. it's nice to be able to focus on the good things that have happened and stay optimistic for the future. here's to a fabulous 2010. *clink*

  7. Cybergabi December 29, 2009 at 4:57 pm #

    Sometimes counting our blessings already makes a little difference. And there have been quite a few in your year – along with the curses.

    Here's to 2010, and that it may bring even more of the former and less of the latter to you. And me. And anyone else who deserves it.

  8. ODG January 3, 2010 at 12:18 pm #

    Just so you know she still wears the scarf you made – not every day, but every day she does it is a special day… so there.


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