From the Book Elf

book stack-  Lily

Despite the cheery paper, what I really want to talk about today is how sometimes the holidays can be really hard.  They were devised, of course, to help us through the worst part of the year — a time when there’s not much light, the weather is not conducive to moving around, and it’s really hard to get a decent tomato. Stone fruit is long gone, and so are the endless days of summer.

Although the holidays were meant to make December easier to bear by giving you an excuse to drink brandy-laden drinks, in many ways they (both the holidays and the brandy drinks) make them even harder. The enforced cheeriness of office parties and unthinking co-workers and friends often enhances the pain of those who are encountering the real difficulties of life — death, poverty, loneliness — in December. And for all of us, the cultural whipping up of desire for material things can make you feel physically ill.

There are some strategies to help you negotiate this. One is to be sensitive to the possibility that the people around you are having a hard time, and to do what you can to make that easier. Or to just be neutral, and not make things harder by assuming that everyone is in a happy, elfin, north pole place.  And whether you are in difficulty or not, an important thing to do is to choose carefully — you are not, after all, a victim of the mall, and no one is forcing you to shop or to go to parties. You might not be able to say no to some things — books among them — but you can say no to a lot of other stuff.

Whichever it is for you this year — whether it is a difficult time, or a north pole time — if you are to make this month bearable, or even good, you must try to be alone with yourself some — in a good way, not in a dour, isolated way. Doing that is the spiritual and psychological equivalent of standing up straight, with your weight evenly distributed on your feet. When you stand that way, no matter how hard the gales blow, you won’t fall.

In my case, that time alone involved wrapping a bookstack for myself. For many years, I waited for other people to do what I most wanted and when, inevitably, they did not, allowed myself to feel unloved, or at least, misunderstood. And then I woke up and realized that this trap was a terribly foolish and damaging one. It is far better to give yourself your own bookstack (and here you can replace bookstack with any other thing you wait around for, including permission to do things you want to do like write, or travel, or lie around and read, or learn how to play the piano, or change jobs).

And so, to sum up, today’s two points:  Remember the holidays can be sad and difficult and do what you can to make that better.  Don’t wait for other people to tell you it’s okay to do the things you want.

No one in the world would have known I wanted these exact books, because I didn’t know until I started looking around for what I want to read in the new year.

Bookstack -- Lily unwrapped

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20 thoughts on “From the Book Elf

  1. Ah, BlogLily, you’ve said it all! “…don’t assume everyone is an elfin, north pole place.” In fact, I think many people have mixed feelings about the whole holiday extravaganza. With all of the expectations, emotionally and materially, it is hard to feel our lives measure up in all areas.

    Here’s to your holiday wishes coming true! Happy reading!

  2. Hi BlogLily! I’ve copied your idea of book stacks for my beloveds this year, and went ahead and did my own too. I am going to wrap them and enjoy opening and reading them on Christmas Day.

    Luckily for us, given the manic week that leads up to Christmas with Daisy’s and my birthdays, Christmas is always a little under-emphasized. Turns out we like it that way …

  3. I love your book choices. I’m dying to get that Alice Waters book. Maybe I will get it for myself!

    And you are so right — you can’t wait for people to give you permission to do what you want to do. I’m still learning that one.

  4. My OWN bookstack! Now why didn’t I think of that? I’ve been doing it for the children for the last few years, but never thought of making one for myself. Good advice, by the way. Here in the southern hemisphere one tends to drink too much champagne to dull the ‘cheer’ but I’d rather be having eggnog by a roaring fire!

  5. I have .lit files, do they count?

    I’ve been reading a bunch of older titles that way.

    As far as holiday cheer goes, we just aren’t feeling it this year.

    With not as much money this year, instead of book stacks, we might be doing Library recommendations. 🙂

    You’re getting your very own Christmas elf for a few days without Mr. Grinch, so that should be nice!

  6. Hi Dorothy, I’m so glad to hear you liked the Szymborksa. I skimmed it, thought it looked great, decided I need to read some poetry soon, and there you have it.

    Hello Lisa, and welcome. I agree completely about the uselessness of whining — it’s far better to please yourself and stop waiting for others to, essentially, read your mind. So far, that’s never happened, and it’s unlikely to begin any time soon.

    Dear Sue, .lit files! Absolutely. What a great idea. I’m into the budget book stack in a big way. Giving away books you’ve loved is the ideal re-gifting in my mind. Much Love, L

    Well. Ms. Lazy-C, I can’t wait to see what you give yourself. Do let me know if you post about it.

    Yogamum, Although I read something in the new York Times book review that seemed to think it was good rather than transcendent, that’s really good enough for me. I like Alice Waters.

    Charlotte — the birthdays of loved ones are such a fun thing, and in many ways much easier than the birthday of the Christ child. My mom’s birthday is the 24th, and she always felt much of the hoop-la was on her behalf!

    That’s great to hear lilalia. I hope you share what you choose!

    Thanks LK and the same to you. xoxo, BL

  7. Bookstacks are a fantastic idea, as is planning alone time for onesself during the holiday season. I’ve made sure to have some time to myself to wrap presents, listen to Christmas music, read, take walks with the dog. It is important and healthy and certainly makes you think about the time of year and plans for next year.

    A couple of years ago I found some items at the bookstore that I just could not resist, despite it being the season to be giving to others. So I bought them and immediately wrapped them up and put them in my office at work. Then after my holiday vacation I came back to find my presents waiting there for me to open. It was so very much fun!

  8. I agree with LK–you’ve said it all. I’ve had both the woebegone Christmases and the NOrthPole Christmases, and I try to remember the one when I’m having the other. (This year I’m pretty NorthPole.)
    And I love your motto of giving to yourself what your truly want–I too had a tendency to feel unloved if I didn’t get the things I thought others should have figured out I wanted, but now I give them to myself if they don’t show up under the tree (in moderation, of course).

  9. Hi Lisa — Oh, that sounds like a lot of fun. The thing I am reading is going to take a long time, so it’ll be fun to take a break and write about it.

    Dear Lucette, You are such a sound woman! And yes, I have had both kinds of holidays too, and it is a good thing to remember that they come and go. xoxo, L

    Carl, I can’t tell you what an amazingly good idea that is, to sort of seed your office with something nice so that when you return from the holidays it seems like a welcoming place. I might just do that myself.

  10. I hope this doesn’t appear twice because the first time I entered the comment, my computer crashed and I don’t know if it got entered. So for this possible duplicate I’ll add as prefix, MERRY CHRISTMAS and I hope love stacks up just how you like it and the house of cards becomes a house of books before falling.
    Writing letters for Christmas can be hard if it’s only a simple envelope:
    Of Ink
    For you in my pen
    my river meanders
    into loops who spell me
    spell you
    flow so fondly

    I will float you
    if you’ll swim
    into my envelope
    open my
    drawing of you to me

    Drink me
    read me
    come splash me in the delta:
    an ocean of love awaits us
    — Douglas Gilbert
    Sometimes family parties can be close and distant at the same time;
    Table Scraps
    It was demanded
    that I convene the loose family
    bring on the relatives who
    intrude with rudeness
    at festivals tabled

    I mulled over the left-overs
    vetted fruit cake
    for juicy gossip
    for left-over guests
    unsaid harangues
    meringues’ puffery

    When questioned on politics
    I parroted gibberish
    vaulted the table to
    the fruit punch bowl
    where mingled the bored

    Ruminating the day replete with
    Aunty antacids, undigested chaos
    and family gas lights,
    these dirty platters
    were ameliorated by
    your sly shy smile
    by your offer with a sigh
    to mingle with me
    relieving the bloat, but
    family spills evaporated in kind kisses
    and I burp the day away
    — Douglas Gilbert
    But, you never know how things will turn out, so I like pretending I know it has snowed every day this winter though most days it’s just falling feathers from exploding birds. In summer it’ll be easy to see it’s all bird flakes, merely feathers of doom that make fine pillows.

  11. I’m borrowing your bookstack idea. Had lots of fun today buying items for my bookstacks. They won’t be wrapped as pretty as yours though, as wrapping is a skill that eludes me.

  12. Sadly, I decided to go North for Christmas(Only young men go West). I got half way to the North Pole, but I encountered an Eskimo wearing sneakers. I gave him my boots so I had to turn back, but I’m defrosting the fish he gave me at home in a microwave and I put some chestnuts on an open book, alone with muddled thoughts. A ding. Something is ready…

  13. I had a day when wordpress ate all of my comments as spam, but thank you for this post, dear BL (again). I have all kinds of reasons for detesting Christmas and trying to hold myself aloof from it in distancing and isolating ways. But I did indulge in a book stack before the festivities began, and it was wonderful and strokable and it’s promise is helping me towards the New Year. With much love to you and your family, hoping you’ve had a wonderful Christmas and have a peaceful and productive 2008 in your sights.

  14. Pingback: Writing Blog » Blog Archive » Books Given and Received

  15. Oh not at all, Quillhill — the Book Elf lives in each of us, as long as we believe. Or something like that. And how nice to see you back blogging, by the way. xo, BL

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