Tag Archives: belief

Christmas stories

The unschooling diaries: weeks forty-seven and forty-eight

The countdown to Christmas has been speeding along this last couple of weeks, accelerated by the party planning for the celebrations of Arthur’s fourth birthday three days later. I genuinely wouldn’t have him any other way, but a different birth month? I think I’d take it.

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That aside, the whole rapidly approaching festive season has brought with it all sorts of interesting discussion topics – for me and Leigh as well as for us and Arthur.

First off there’s the whole Santa thing. I love the magic of the Santa myth, and got totally sucked into it as a kid. I can see that, with his powerful imagination, it wouldn’t take much for Arthur to get completely swept away by it all too. But I don’t want to lie to him, and I don’t want his trust to be shattered when inevitably the truth is revealed.

So I am trying to find a middle ground – to get him to understand that imagination can be just as real as ‘truth’, and that what you choose to believe in the moment can totally shape your experience.

We have indulged in the ritual of writing to Santa, sending the letter off in the post and receiving a ‘reply’ a few weeks later.

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We’ve been to visit Father Christmas too – on the Santa Express on our local steam train line.

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But Arthur is aware that there is not just one Father Christmas, and we have taken to referring to his various incarnations as ‘agents of Santa’ – physical manifestations of the spirit of giving that is an important part of this time of year. I’m hoping that when the time comes it won’t be too much of a shift for Arthur to see us as agents of Santa too, and to accept that the truth behind the games we play is rather more abstract.

To be honest my main concern at the moment is that Arthur is a little bit too obsessed with the giving of gifts – or rather the receiving of them. For the last couple of years the whole festive period was a bit of a blur, with a seemingly never-ending flow of presents for Christmas and then his birthday. Now that Arthur’s a little bit older I’m trying to pre-empt this year’s bounty by engaging him in the process of gifting to others.

We started with cards, which we made together – heading to the woods to collect ferns which we brought back and used to print little Christmas trees, decorating them with glitter and gemstones.

Arthur helped me take these to the post office, along with parcels for family and friends – which hopefully in some way will give him a context for his excitement when yet another delivery arrives at home!

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I’ve tried to get him to think beyond our friends and family too, to the wider context of goodwill at Christmas time. This is something we’ve tied into the Santa myth: I am utterly uncomfortable with the manipulative rhetoric around the idea that Santa or his elves are watching his behaviour, that if he’s ‘naughty’ there won’t be any presents, but I am trying to engage him with the notion that this is generally a time of year for taking stock, realising how lucky we are, and being especially kind to the people around us.

This has of course brought us back to the original Christmas story, one which for me is as much of a metaphor as Santa given that Leigh and I are Humanist rather than Christian in our beliefs, but one which I think it is important for Arthur to know about.

He started asking questions when we were at a christening last weekend, curious to know who Jesus was. So we told him what we could about what Christians believe, and found a couple of books at the library to help bring the story to life a bit more.

We have even had a go at making our own nativity – something I have never done before, but which Arthur has really loved – and well and truly made his own.

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He was interested in the characters, in the angel and the shepherds and the wise men, but as soon as he started to understand that they had all come to see the Baby Jesus he wanted to give his favourite toys a chance to meet this special baby too. Soon the stable was inundated with lego superheroes and Star Wars characters, arriving in their spaceships to see what all the fuss was about.

I was wholly resistant to this at first, dismissing his hijacking of the Christmas story and wanting to make sure he understood the ‘real’ version. But then I realised that perhaps he’d actually found his own truth at the centre of it all – and that, ultimately, is what this is all about.

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Don’t look down

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I feel like I’m walking a tightrope with this edit at the moment. I’ve mastered the juggling, just about, and am pleased with the pace of progress I’m maintaining. But as I get deep into the novel again I’m realising just how tricksy my main character is – and the considerable challenge I’ve set myself to take you, the reader, with me on her journey.

I’m finding myself wondering just how far I can go with Grace before I lose you… Her mental health is fragile from the start, although she’s becoming a little less insular – a little easier to relate to. Her disintegration, though, is crucial to the plot. It is linked to her own substance abuse, and the man who takes advantage of this and her, and his own narcissistic tendencies, and how that makes her question her perception of reality. And that’s just the start of it – but I don’t want to give too much away.

Not only do I want you to care about Grace, I want you to literally come with her on her journey – to question things as she does, and ultimately to question her. To doubt her, but without fearing that she (or I) have purposefully misled you in any way.

I’m focusing on the end goal, the solid ground of another completed edit, but each step I take towards it needs to be made carefully, gingerly – just one foot after the other. And I can’t look down, otherwise I might lose my nerve altogether.

In the earlier stages of working on this novel the worry was that Grace wasn’t likeable enough. I’m not so worried about that now, but I do want to make sure that you believe in her. And it’s that process I’m finding fascinating at the moment: how, as a writer, we carve out a version of reality that appears to be true.

It’s not as simple as just telling the truth. The truth is often dull, or off-putting, or just plain difficult to believe – particularly where depression and anxiety and psychosis are concerned. My job is to create something that is truer than true: that captures an essence of reality that many different readers will relate to whilst at the same time preserving Grace’s uniqueness and humanity.

And in doing this, I’m not just walking a tightrope – I’m dancing on it. Each word, each step, is part of a complex routine that feels clumsy at first but will appear increasingly seamless, even effortless, the more I immerse myself within it.

I’ve never thought of writing a novel in quite these terms before, but it makes a strange kind of sense. The end result needs to be a performance that will play out flawlessly in the reader’s mind. I am no stranger to performing – be it a sequence of moves on a trampoline or bringing a character to life on the stage, you may begin with a clear idea of what you want to achieve but it is only through practise, through gruelling rehearsals, that you begin to get close.

And that is where I’m at right now, twirling the words around on a tightrope in the sky, waiting for the moment when they are finally ready to present to the world. And whatever happens I won’t look down until I get there.

 

Muddled Manuscript