But the holiday retrospective is a challenge. For each one that makes the cut, hundreds of others wind up in the trash, which is sad, really. Sentimental hogwash aside, think of the future scholarship potential and what researchers might learn about our society through this important literary genre hundreds of years from now.
Sitting at your computer, with an empty pint of Haagen Dazs Peppermint Bark ice cream next to your keyboard, waiting for the season’s warmest wishes to shoot out your fingertips, there is so much doubt to be undone by: Will people love you or laugh at you? Haven’t Facebook and Twitter depleted all the navel-gazing possibilities? Most of the family is doing well, but how do you write about that loveable but confounding prodigal son?
If 2015 has been uneventful you might be tempted to pad your newsletter with some Ben Carson-esque embellishments, although I would caution against that unless you’re absolutely sure you will never run for political office or that you can keep your newsletter from falling into the wrong hands.
If sticking to the truth, and nothing but the truth, renders the thing a snooze-fest then try writing in someone else’s voice. Your life can go from utter banality to epic narrative simply by passing the pen to one of your pets. Or maybe you tried The Paleo Diet this year? Why not conjure that inner caveman you’ve been feeding and let him have a go at it:
“Man and woman go Paleo in 2015. Man lose many stones. Woman lose no stones... she gain 3 big stones, actually, but man not counting. Woman jealous of man say ‘Skinny man make woman feel fat.’ Man say, ‘Woman look sexy to me.’ Woman cry say ‘man making fun of woman.’ Woman and man have big fight. Boy draw fight on wall in feast room. Woman cry more, say cave always ‘a total mess!’”
You get the idea, right? Watch some Cookie Monster videos on YouTube and you’ll catch the rhythm. The bonus is you don’t have to sweat the grammar geeks in your family because sounding like a Neanderthal is kind of the point. Neither will you be accused of cultural misappropriation, racism or imperialism because cavemen haven’t been added to the vast database of political incorrectness—at least not yet, anyway.
I’m working on a “Dear Earthlings” newsletter from the perspective of the shore party of aliens from outer space who’ve been observing my family this year but have decided—mostly because Grandma Harriet and I argue about stupid stuff like ironing boards, portion sizes and how much butter to spread on toast—that we’re a bad fit, culturally-speaking, and not good candidates for abduction after all.
If you decide to go with sincere prose—or even if you try one of the aforementioned humorous kick-starters—you’ll have to stare at the wall for a while. Think of yourself as a prisoner to your screen: if you want to commit the crime you have to do the time.
During this oppressive, non-productive phase beware The Hemingway Trap and resist the urge to raid your liquor cabinet. Contrary to the dangerous myth about booze and books and drunkenness and creativity Chapters Indigo is selling this Christmas—having etched the erroneous quote “Write drunk, edit sober” on a set of low-ball whiskey glasses—Hemingway never actually said that. (But who cares, right? It’s Christmas, which means it’s time to suspend all critical thinking where merchandising is concerned.)
Apropos of The Hemmingway Trap, you too may want to quote some literary giant or other in your letter itself—which is fine, provided you’ve spelled said legend’s name correctly. Charlie Sheen had a lot on his mind with his recent confessional and, apparently, didn’t have time for fact-checking but it’s “Ernest” Hemmingway—sans ‘a’—however logical it seems to make his name eponymous with “earnest.”
And speaking of Charlie’s letter—a.k.a. “How to add fuel to the fire of your own class-action lawsuit”—if you want to use a year-end wrap-up to get something off your chest, try to contain your inner drama queen. Sheen wrote, “Locked in a vacuum of fear, I chose to allow their threats and skullduggery to vastly deplete future assets from my children, while my ‘secret’ sat entombed in their hives of folly” where “Prostitutes were extorting me at my kids’ expense” would have been enough.
Of course, if you’re the parent of a prodigal son or daughter you’re entitled to be vague and opaque. Imagine Martin Sheen’s newsletter dilemma: “Emilio has written several scripts which are under development and we might make another inspiring, movie-with-a-message together. Charlie is.... Charlie is...”
On second thought... you probably shouldn’t rule out a little help from Jack Daniels.