“What has been planted is the I want! I want! of advertising, which thrives on envy and dissatisfaction. Advertising tells us that happiness can be bought if we will only put our minds to it.” (William Blake, “I Want! I Want!” from For Children: The Gates of Paradise, 1793. 6 cm x 5 cm)

 

The holidays have their bright spots: the homemade bourbon balls, the annual viewing of Charlie Brown and the Grinch, the twinkling lights, spending quality time with family and friends, the Messiah performances and sing-a-longs.

But for most of us, the holidays also mean stress. The extra errands, the shopping, the cooking and baking, the decorating, etc. are hard enough, but it’s our attempt to satisfy the expectations of others that causes most of our anxiety over the holidays. There is pressure to find the right gifts, to have “the perfect” Christmas Day, and to make family, colleagues, and friends happy. Whether this means we make the same-old Jell-O salad or sausage stuffing for Christmas dinner, participate in the Yankee Swap at the office, spend more money than we should on gifts, or lapse into our usual daughter/mother/brother/son/father/sister/friend/favorite aunt/uncle roles, attempting to please others is stressful, particularly when our own values are not aligned with those around us.

If you’re like me, you begin to feel a bit crazy when you don’t have quiet time to think, process, and work on your own creative projects. As artists, we need to “make” and “create” and the holidays disrupt this usual routine. The onslaught of ads urging us to buy, buy, buy! and the frenzy of Christmas consumerism can easily make us feel out of sync with the rest of the culture. It takes intention and awareness to remain true to our own values at this time of year.

 

Writer Christian McEwen (Photo by Jo Eldredge Morrissey)

 

I’ve been struggling to maintain a healthy balance myself this holiday, but a chapter from Christian McEwen’s book World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down recently stopped me in my tracks and forced me to step back and think about priorities.

Gwarlingo readers had an overwhelmingly positive response to my last feature on Christian McEwen, and I know some of you have purchased her book already. If you haven’t, do yourself a favor and give World Enough & Time to yourself this holiday season. Christian has much to say about living slowly and deliberately, and this is the perfect book to keep you centered through the holidays and into the New Year. (It’s a thoughtful gift for stressed-out friends and family too.)

Though McEwen currently lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, she grew up in the Borders of Scotland “in a big old-fashioned house” with “beautiful shabby rooms and scented gardens” and “a perpetual drone