“Santa Claus never died for anybody.”
Something terrible happened to me this week. Well, something wonderful which led to something terrible. I hit the 4,000 word mark on Monday (yay!) so I went to reward myself with a new exercise book (yay!) but the bookshop I go to didn’t have what I was looking for (oh noes!) so I had to venture into the darkness of the mall (the horror!).
No, the power wasn’t out – that was last year’s Christmas rush. It was brightly lit and full of people – a few too many for my tastes. (I do like people, I just don’t like them all at once…) It’s not even Advent yet and the commercial push for Christmas – or rather Xmas – is already well underway. Tinsel trees, fake snow (we seldom have snow here, and when we do, it’s usually August) and a thousand and one tacky forms of a fat man in red.
I don’t think St Nicholas would be best pleased to find himself associated with such. After all, he wasn’t known for being an obese champion of conspicuous consumption.
He was known for helping people who were no longer able to help themselves – like the three young women facing a choice between prostitution and starvation. In an early ring-the-doorbell-and-run-away caper, he dropped a bag of gold down their chimney and legged it.
Much less dodgy than Santa Claus, who is not only more nosy than the NSA, but likes sneaking into people’s houses while they’re asleep.
No-one in the mall seemed to be enjoying themselves (besides my brief transport of delight at finally finding what I was looking for) and I started to wonder why we do this to ourselves.
This year, instead of running ourselves ragged spending our hard-earned on stuff neither we nor the recipients particularly want, why not be Saint Nick for someone else?
Freeset specialize in giving women a choice other than prostitution or starvation – and if you really love giving gifts, they make a great range of bags and t-shirts.
The International Justice Mission works for those who are denied freedom and/or justice – victims of child prostitution, forced labour and many other forms of injustice.
What better way to commemorate the birth of a baby into poverty and oppression, who defeated the oppressors not by violence, but by Doing Things Differently – and turning the world upside down?
What’s in it for me, you ask?
You get to avoid the mall.
When did you start to believe in yourself as a writer?
I always knew I was good with words (ok, I can still remember asking my mother if sentences ended with a capital as well as started with them, but that was decades ago now).
There were the occasional pieces in school publications, but that’s hardly conclusive evidence. You don’t necessarily have to be good to be published in a school mag, you just have to be better than the competition.
I think the first time I can remember seriously thinking of myself as a writer was a bit over twelve years ago now – it was supposed to be one of those school things where you tag along with a grown-up for a bit of work experience.
Trouble was, we lived in the back of beyond where almost everyone was a hunter-gatherer (and distinctly averse to taking along annoying little white kids who might do something stupid like hurt themselves or scare the food away). The exceptions were my parents, and I was sufficiently formed as a person by then to know that their line of work was Not For Me.
So we had to Make Do and Make It Up.
My mother asked me what I would like to do, and I said I liked “writing, but-” and she said, well then, you can write an article. I will be your manager, you will have fixed hours (bit of a foreign concept in my life at that point) and you will write an article which you will then submit, etc etc. (Or words to that effect.)
I sat. I wrote.
I submitted the piece to my mother for her editorial approval, and the piece was eventually published in the in-house magazine of the organisation my parents worked with. Compliments ensued (I’m fairly sure they were intended as compliments, anyway), a cutting was made, and that was that.
But the writing bug had bit.
In one fell swoop my mother had moved writing in my mind from being something enjoyable but regrettably limited (rather like time spent lying about daydreaming) to being something that happened in the real world. Being a writer went from pie in the sky to an actual possibility. Yes, there were the hours, and the editor, and the annoying people calling you cute, but there was the writing!
It was like telling a kid they could get a job as a professional ice-cream taster. Money for jam. (Well, jam, anyway. Negligible money.)
Mind you, my mother doesn’t hold with telling children pretty little lies – Santa Claus, for example. My parents never tried to tell me he was real, and this was a good thing, because living in a country with ‘security problems’ does not shape a child into the sort of person who takes ‘strange man is watching you and will creep into your bedroom while you’re asleep’ at all well.
So she wasn’t going to tell me that writing jobs were easy to come by, and I did flirt with other ideas over the years – medicine, law, landscape architecture…
But I kept thinking of myself as a writer. I kept writing, here and there. I even earned a bit of money by my writing (slightly awkward when I was sent a cheque and had no bank account to deposit it into).
Throughout my life, my mother has been the one who has taught me to question my assumptions that I can’t do something, that a particular course of action is not open to me.
Often it is, but at a price I am not prepared to pay.
But sometimes it is a price I am prepared to pay, and the world opens out before me in a way I didn’t believe it could.
So if I never said it before: thank you.