Surviving Christmas: Lessons from Clark W. Griswold Jr.

Hosting Christmas is often a cinnamon-baked decathlon of stress and anxiety.

There’s a million things to do.

After work you grind through traffic to Target. You park miles away. You hustle across a frozen parking lot. You stop to catch your breath at the closest shopping cart corral. You promise to stop eating so many cookies.

You funnel through the electric doors with the rest of the huffers and puffers.

You elbow your way through the aisles   fighting, searching for a set of holiday hot plates which of course–they don’t have.

When you get home you microwave some chicken and spend the night cramming Christmas cards into envelopes that were apparently meant for smaller Christmas cards.

Your weekends are spent bustling about the house hanging new picture frames, vacuuming between couch cushions, cleaning out closets and replacing those burned out hallway light bulbs you meant to change in November.

You think about alcohol but you have eaten breakfast yet.

You’re short-tempered.

You bark at your dog, your kids, your spouse.

You complain about the weather, the traffic, the cost of cheese and that your cousin from Tulsa hasn’t responded to your Christmas dinner Evite.

And as you stand at your kitchen sink in your bathrobe, eating another Christmas tree-shaped sugar cookie you can’t remember the last time you didn’t have a headache.

But alas my merry-less friend, there is hope this holiday season.

In this dizzying stretch of Pollyannas, secret Santas and ugly sweaters Hollywood (of all recent places) has provided us a savoir. A savoir who hails from the sprawling suburbs of Chicago. A savoir who, in 1989, was rumored to be a finalist for the Food Additive Designer of the Year.

Clark W. Griswold Jr., the lovable patriarch in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is determined to provide his family a “fun old-fashioned family Christmas.”

But as holidays often go — whatever can go wrong, does go wrong for Clark — pushing him to the brink of insanity and striking a chord with anyone who has ever hosted the holidays.

However at the end of the movie, after a SWAT team destroys his house, the big-hearted Clark stands shining like the 25,000 white Christmas lights that adorn his house. Clark is a 10,000 watt beacon of hope who may have inadvertently taught us how to enjoy the stressful holiday season.

Temper your expectations

Like Clark, we all want the perfect Christmas. So we inflate our dreams. We convince ourselves that if we can buy the right gifts, get the right tree, bake the perfect fruit cake Christmas will be perfect this year. But even in Hollywood the perfect Christmas doesn’t exist. So when we set our expectations dangerously high, we only increase our stress and anxiety and prohibit our ability to enjoy Christmas.

Limit yourself

Clark’s desire to have the “best looking house on the block” represents someone trying to do too much. During the holidays we over-schedule, over-extend ourselves which consequently drains our spirit. We have to remember that it’s okay to say “no” and do less —  so we have more energy to do the things that really matter.

Don’t overspend

Clark puts a down payment on a swimming pool and plans to use his Christmas bonus to pay off the rest of the pool. However, instead of a financial bonus his boss, Frank Shirley, enrolls Clark in the Jelly of the Month Club and jeopardizes Clark’s ability to payoff the pool. Lesson — stick to a reasonable budget this Christmas and invest in relationships and glad tidings instead of material possessions.

 Remember that this is a special time

At one point Clark is home alone and stuck in the attic. To pass the time he finds a projector and plays reels of home movies from Christmases of his youth. As adults it’s so easy to forget how much happiness the holidays once brought us and how quickly our children grow up. It’s so easy to get caught in the holiday mayhem that we forget how important the magic of Christmas is to our children.

Adapt

In the opening scene Clark leads his family through the woods that is packed with knee-high snow to pick out the perfect Christmas tree. However, once they find the tree Clark realizes he forgot a saw. In the next scene the family is driving in their station wagon with their new Christmas tree strapped to the roof — roots and all. There’s a good chance you’re going to forget something, overlook something this holiday season. Roll with it. Don’t let not having a saw stop you from enjoying the holidays.

Accept your family

Cousin Eddie: “You surprised to see us Clark?”

Clark: “Oh Eddie…if I woke up tomorrow morning with my head sewn to the carpet I wouldn’t be more surprised than I am right now.”

It’s natural to look across the dinner table and wonder how you could ever share genes with these people. But the holidays are bigger and more important than you and your grips and quarrels. You can’t choose your family but you can choose your attitudes and reactions. You can choose to accept, embrace and if the situation calls for it forgive.

No matter where you’re celebrating Christmas I wish you a joyous and stress-free Christmas.

And hopefully you can steal some time to stretch out on the couch, finish off the last of that cookie platter and enjoy National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

Be well,

Jay

 PS–Checkout my cousin Dan’s homage to Clark and Cousin Eddie!

I don’t think my daughter believes in Santa Claus anymore

Christmas morning is a great moment in parenting history.

The excitement. The smiles. Your children jumping and dancing and rejoicing because Santa Claus is real and he was really listening to their wishes and he was really watching as them clean their room, share their toys and muscle down broccoli all year long.

There’s wrapping paper strewn across the living room and the children are playing with their new toys. The fireplace is glowing and Frank Sinatra reminds you to have a merry little Christmas. Cinnamon buns rise in the over and hot chocolate rings your mug and you ease back into your favorite chair and smile as the moment unwraps itself before you.

Christmas morning, 2016

Then those children grow up.

They go to school and learn about things like distance and time. They learn about other countries and cultures. They study maps and spin globes. They realize there’s a lot of other kids in the world. They begin to privately  question the realness of a jolly old man and his high-flying reindeer.

And then one day some kid, usually one with an older sibling, confirms that the low voices coming from the living on Christmas Eve were in fact their parents spitting curse words while turning Allen wretches late into the night.

Haley is 9.

She reads Girls World magazine. She likes shopping at Justice, being lazy, has a pair of Unicorn slippers and finds her younger brothers to be mostly annoying, always disgusting.

Sometimes when she sings Ed Sheeran songs or explains the pH levels of solids I don’t recognize her. Sometimes when I hear her sing or talk and I’m sucker punched by time.

For the last few weeks her questions about Santa Claus have grown in both intensity and specifics. How does Santa fit all the toys in one bag? Since Santa only comes at night, how does he have time to visit all the kids in the world? And recently…Why does our new Elf on the Shelf have a tag hanging from her? Did you and mommy buy her at the store?

This is our Elf on the Shelf— Jesse. And yes, someone forgot to remove the tags.

Cindy and I know Haley’s belief is wavering. We may not want to accept the truth — but we know this is going to be her last Christmas of believing in Santa Claus.

She’s growing up. She’s starting to understanding matters of life. And that’s when the real parental work begins — teaching your children to believe when it seems there’s nothing to believe in.

What became of your belief in Santa Claus, is what became of your relationship with things like love and friendship. Once the initial magic of those things vanished — reality surfaced. And it was terrifying. You were experiencing the world in a rawer, more corporal way then ever before. You knew from this point on, your beliefs would be poked and prodded and on some days, ripped to shreds. And the act of believing, which was once so natural when you were a child, was now subjected to hard, daily practice.

When you learn the truth about Santa Claus, you learn a lot about life. When magic gives way to reality you feel disappointed, cheated and maybe little sad. But you’re young. You’ll recover. You just happened to learn a fundamental lesson of self-preservation— that in your moment of disbelief you still need to find a reason to believe.

Be well,

Jay

Humbled and Honored

My story, The Day I Learned I Could No Longer Jump (or learning to fly) was recently published in the National Ataxia Foundation’s quarterly journal “Generations”. 

I want to thank Stephanie Lucas, the Communications Manager of “Generations” for publishing my story.

I also want to thank all of those who read the story and offered their kind sentiments. I hope my story helps you tell your own.

Thank you,

Jay
 

Another Successful College Essay Writing Camp!

 

During the week of July 17th, I facilitated the Write on Fight on College Essay Camp for a great group of rising 12th grade students.

Throughout the week we learned:

  • Why writers should brainstorm like Vin Diesel… Fast &Furious
  • Why, as writers, should always create more content then we actually need
  • How to destroy writer’s block
  • Why writers should always consider the reader’s feelings
  • How to write a scene of conflict
  • How to be a self-aware writer
  • How to captivate your reader with effective verbs
  • How to properly and effectively break the rules of grammar
  • How to become a ruthless editor of your own work
  • How to effectively organize our writing
  • How to write like a storyteller

The next camp is August 7-11. Limited spaces are available.

If you live in or around the central New Jersey area and would like help crafting an effective college essay as well as learning important writing and editing strategies before another school year begins…contact me at writeonfighton@gmail.com

“Don’t be scared to publish work”: An Interview with Jon Westenberg of Creatomic

Jon Westenberg is a marketing executive, creative director, entrepreneur  and writer from Sydney, Australia . Jon has over 100k readers on medium.com and has been featured in Time, The San Francisco Chronicle, Entrepreneur and over 40 other publications.

He is passionate about marketing, technology, creativity, helping people and occasionally geeks out over a good cup of coffee.

I highly recommend reading anything Jon writes. He is poignant, honest and is surgical with the obscenities.

What I like most about Jon is that he simply wants to help people. He wants to help creatives, writers and entrepreneurs recognize the creative power and magic that lies in them.

Who is Jon Westenberg?

I’m a writer, an entrepreneur and a guy who has a lot of big dreams about helping people. When I’m asked what I do for a living, I tend to answer with – whatever I’m passionate about at any given moment!

Your mother was a high school teacher. What was the most important lesson you learned from her?

My Mum was a high school teacher, but she was also my teacher, because she home-schooled myself and each of my 6 brothers! The most important lesson I learned from her wasn’t academic however…it was a life lesson. She taught me that starting your own business and living life on your own times is a great thing to do.

Describe your high school self in one word? Why?

Creative. Because that’s what I spent all of my time in high school doing – just creating whatever I could get my hands on!

Along with being an entrepreneur, you’re also a writer.  Have you always been a writer? When did writing become so important to you? What writing advice do you think novice writers should hear?

I have always been a writer. When I was a kid, I had a pretty bad speech issue that meant most folks couldn’t understand me. It was very distressing for me, and I used to write all the time as my only real outlet and my only way of feeling like I could communicate. My advice to young writers is this…don’t be scared to publish work that isn’t the greatest piece of writing in the history of humankind. Just get your work out there. It’s truly the only way to improve.

Do you have a book in your library that you wish you had written?

I honestly don’t. Because if there’s a book I have enjoyed, I’d rather somebody else have written it so that I can selfishly enjoy it without the stress of writing it…

I often tell my students that at the core of every work of literature is an argument, and the work is the writer’s attempt to prove their argument. And it’s this argument that makes the work interesting. I think that concept also applies to people as well. So Mr. Westenberg, what’s your argument?

My argument is that just because one way of living is widely accepted as being “Right” does not make it so for everyone.

~~

I want to thank Jon for his time and insight. I follow him on medium.com and at creatomic.org and recommend you do the same.

You can also connect with him on Snapchat– jonwestenberg

Here are 5 of my favorites:

How I Made $3000 on Snapchat in 24 Hours 

Using Snapchat isn’t easy, but it’s rewarding. There’s a lot of fun stuff that can be done right now, if you put your audience first, you’re prepared to talk and you don’t mind getting yourself out there.

Storytelling is the Number One Skill You Want to Improve

I think we need to spend more time — and more resources — on learning and telling better stories. In our personal lives, careers, businesses and social circles. Storytelling is a skill that many people don’t have anymore, but it’s all because we don’t study and teach and learn it.

Let’s Focus on the Unbelievable Importance of Libraries 

Right now, I want to say thank you to the libraries and the librarians who have played a massive part in the lives of millions, and who we forget more and more as we spend our time online, rather than offline.

Run Baby, Run

Sometimes, the brave thing to do is to turn around. To walk out. To run. To get away from a situation that isn’t good for you. To make a break for it and feel free.

I Want Myself to Fail- It’s Easier

I constantly struggle against the urge to fuck up. I constantly struggle against the worst version of myself, knowing that no matter how hard I try to do anything, there’s always a part of me rooting for failure.