Dec 9 2013

Paul Williams

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Hanging In There, Happiness

NOEL NEUROSIS

NOEL NEUROSIS

Having written musicals and television specials celebrating Christmas you probably assume that I welcome the season with mistletoe and holly flavored “Ho Ho Ho’s!”

After all, I’m the guy that wrote the songs for “Emmet Otter’s Jug band Christmas” and “The Muppet Christmas Carol. “A Muppet Christmas, Letters to Santa” was my idea. I co-wrote the story, teleplay and wrote the songs. In the early eighties I played Santa’s chief elf Ed in “The Night They Saved Christmas.” Not my first elf role by the way. Pointy ears and shoes with curled up toes look good on me. Christmas has to be my favorite time of the year, right?

Wrong.

A brief disclaimer. I love what Christmas stands for. I truly believe it is “a season for the heart. A special time of caring. The ways of love made clear.” And by the time Christmas Day is upon us you’ll find I’ve finally settled into a quiet place of comfort and joy. Once the hoopla of preparing for the feast is behind us I’m suddenly ready for a little low volume “fa la la la la – la la la la-ing.

But the run up to the celebration that begins earlier and earlier every year tosses me into something of a blue funk. Some call it the Christmas blues. Not an appropriate term for what I experience. Because I’m not really down. I suffer from a low-grade anxiety and the feeling that what I do, give, offer, will somehow not quite cut the mustard. Uh, plum pudding. I worry that I’m not doing enough. Or that I’m doing too much. You’re probably wondering what the hell happened to Gratitude and Trust?

I get there. But, it’s a task and an emotional journey I take almost every year.

Santa has his bag of toys. I’ve got my baggage. Many of us do. Somewhere back in my childhood I believe the bar was set too high for what Christmas was supposed to look and feel like. It’s mostly Hollywood’s’ fault. The idyllic perfection of a cinematic white Christmas with the Norman Rockwell family is almost impossible for anyone to live up to. Hallmark cards and December seasonal commercials throw still more fuel on the festive fire.

The images are overwhelming. Soldiers running to their wives in slow motion through the snow; Grey haired, loving moms with wet hands and an apron; those damned Budweiser Clydesdales with a basket full of cuddly Dalmatian puppies. Even Scrooge would shed a tinsel tear. I do. And then get back to the business at hand. Worrying.

I think there’s loneliness or a longing at the heart of what we feel. In my case it may be something I missed more than something I miss. In other words I’m not looking back on a glorious childhood memory. I’m looking back at decades of Christmases that never quite delivered the complete full tilt “It’s a Wonderful Life” emotional high. I’ve tried to recreate that zenith of pure surprise and joy for others. For my family and friends. Although I never felt like a complete failure, I also never felt like I’d really delivered.

“I wish I could be Santa Claus
For just one day
I’d fill a bag with kindness and I’d give it all away”
I’d make the world a better place
I’d do that if I could
I love the way it feels inside when I do something good.”

Hmm. Work as therapy. Yes, my inner life shows up regularly in my songs. It’s right there in the lyrics I wrote for Gonzo to sing in “Letters To Santa”. So part of the way I’ve been able to deal with my personal collection of emotional bumps, bruises and Noel neurosis is by using them in the creative process. Resources for my psyche’s rhyming rescue I suppose. Never a conscious thought at the time but I see it now.

How do you handle your hidden fears? Your seasonal sadness. Do you know when, where or why you began to feel the tension that grows with the coming of the holidays?

If fear of not measuring up is at the heart of your Christmas blues I have some very simple advice. I should have taken it myself years ago. Stop comparing. To compare is to despair. Whether your celebrating Christmas or Hanukah let the spirit of the event be the raft you cling to when the tidings of discomfort and “Oy vey” rise within you. Remember why we gather together in the first place.

We celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. The Prince of Peace. We celebrate the rededication of the Temple, the Festival of Lights and the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days when there was barely enough for one.

We don’t celebrate long lines and shopping lists and we don’t need to worry about what we’re giving as long as it’s offered with love.

Who you are isn’t really about how much you do. If you give from the heart it’s enough. If you’re living your life in love and service to the best of your ability, you can throw away the calculator and measuring stick. The results may vary but the intention to do good is pure gold. It’s a gift to the world and yes, it’s enough. It’s Love and one size fits all. It’s your best chance of sharing in a season decorated in the joyful colors of gratitude and trust,

Paul Williams

Paul Williams is a singer, songwriter, actor, recovery advocate and has been a fixture on the American cultural scene since the seventies. His book Gratitude and Trust; Recovery is Not Just For Addicts will be released in 2014.

  • Kerri Mellick

    I make a practice of observing Advent: A time to prepare my heart and mind slowly. I savor reading and contemplating the ancient mysteries about to unfold.

    There’s a certain irony in our culture in that we’re never truly in the moment. We’re always urged to look ahead and jump to the next holiday before they’re really here. Last week I overheard a comment about an office Christmas party to be held on the 21st of December: “But won’t that be too late to have a Christmas party?”

    Yes, good advice as always in your post: Stop comparing. Let your celebration be yours and let others have theirs. Don’t get trapped in the past. Nostalgia is fine in passing but we can’t recreate what is gone. We aren’t eight years old forever.

    Give from the heart and most importantly share your love…”one size fits all”…perfect! But what of pointy-elf shoes? Are those one-size fits all? Never had a pair myself…just wondering!

    • Paul Williams

      You’re way past pointy shoes. You’re into Clarence getting his wings territory. Sounds like your discipline is great insurance against holiday harumphs! You’re focused on the true meaning of the ancient rituals and their modern day values. You receive the ‘Joseph Campbell Power of Myth medal!’ .. Jolly Everything.

  • Robin Madsen

    It is odd how this season can fill me with dread, for no apparent reason. Perhaps it is fear of not measuring up. I was settling into my usual seasonal gloom and announced I wasn’t doing decorations this year – “too busy”- when a very dear friend brought me a small, almost Charlie Brown-ish tree, saying he thought I “needed something”. That brought a tear to my eye. Yes, what I need is to drag myself out of my self- serving sadness and get back into the true spirit of things. I’ll get there, as I know you will, Paul. Thank you for this reminder.

    • Paul Williams

      Welcome to the Tinsel Trudge. I would have had the same response to the little Charlie Brown tree … Tracey calls it the “Weepy Williams’ syndrome. Sounds like you’re truly processing the feelings. A gift to yourself Robin. Nice.

  • Dawn

    I have a bah hum bug shirt. I wear it to all holiday parties. I do so much love the reason for the season. It’s the pressure of trying to please so many is way overwhelming. I want so much to give everyone the perfect gift, but sadly the money is just not there. The earlier the Christmas hype starts the earlier the worrying begins. So I avoid wreaths, garland and trees. Yes, I am very grateful for so many things and do try to focus on my faith and family to get through this time of year. Who knows I might even listen to some Christmas on Christmas eve.

    • Paul Williams

      It’s the same every year although I must admit for me it’s diminishing in intensity. I think “a gift has been given in your name to the .. insert charity of choice” gets to be a better and better idea as time goes by. My friend Bill Bixby never gave Christmas presents in December. If he saw something he knew you’d like he’d grab it and send it gift wrapped. Year round offerings as an expression of his caring. Loved that!

  • Sharon Markwell

    Christmas has always been a special time for me when I’ve been singing in choirs, which included the Winnipeg Philharmonic with the Winnipeg Symphony orchestra, especially Handel’s Messiah, each Christmas. (yes Paul, Sharon sings too!) Every Christmas, over a total of almost 35 years that I’ve been in choirs, was spent lighting up huge churches and other venues, even travelling, with Christmas carols and concerts, many of which most of my family attended. I all but forget about the “Christmas rush” and commercialism when performing myself. In fact, I tend to avoid long lineups like the plague. I remember my Mom, when she was still alive, asking, “when are you going to do your Christmas shopping, Sharon?” Not knowing that I had some little things hidden in my bedroom closet that I would only bring out on Christmas Eve to surprise my nieces and nephews when they were little and watch the looks on their faces.

    However I would often say, “Mom, aren’t you missing what the true meaning of Christmas is?” I was brought up in a very strict Christian household, taken to church each Sabbath. So how could she ever forget the birth of The One who brings life and love to the world? Mind you, I’ve often been guilty of thinking “will I get more make-up for Christmas so I don’t have to buy it myself?!” But I often found myself reminding her of this when she thought I either had not shopped at all or had not bought enough. Singing in choirs has brought back, if anything, the true meaning and joy of the season for me that is lasting and bring pleasure to hundreds of others as well. I’ll never forget the Christmas when I sang “O Holy Night” at my home church when I was 18–I was too shy to do any solos before then, but being in the choruses helped me get over that. Well, let’s just say that after I did it, my cousins almost stopped teasing me permanently–almost! But between you and Tracey, the blogs on this site help me to take a good, long look in the mirror and help me to make better decisions, think more positively and live better in my own gratitude & trust. And I want to say Paul, that this is probably your most beautiful blog ever, almost bringing me to tears, and that I hope I never lose the joy and the thoughts of what the holiday season is meant to bring–which I do lose sometimes, especially when my paycheck is stretched a little thin. Thanks to this site though, even a thinner paycheck doesn’t bother me as much anymore!

    I hope everyone can stop thinking about Cabbage Patch kids and Tickle Me Elmos and just lose themselves in the music, lights and sights of the season–and the Son who came to this world so we can live eternally. Merry Christmas to you and yours Paul!

    • Paul Williams

      Thanks for the lovely response Sharon. No matter what your religious affiliation is I believe the intense power of our faith is available to all of us year round. Love knowing that G & T helps affirm that for you too. Merry Christmas, Paul

  • Larry

    Brilliant.

    • Paul Williams

      Thank you.

  • Michael Gullickson

    I’m going to be a grandpa! After nearly 70 years of life my son tells me this June I’ll be a grandfather. The greatest joy was hearing the happiness in his voice, the excitement in his anticpation of the future. Already I’m thinking of college funds, annual trips to Denver, and the first time I hear “Hi Grandpa”. So this is a joyous christmas…”just like the ones I used to know.”
    Growing up we always had great christmases. Though our family qualified for “government assistance” there was always a ring of gifts around the tree, always a big dinner with relatives we saw once a year. There was much laughter and the old console stereo playing constant christmas music, all the classics.
    My father always would invite a “lonely soul” to spend christmas with us,because no one should be alone. It’s a tradition I’ve tried to keep up, though more frequently now, people refuse.
    Thank you for all of your contributions to Christmas.
    Merry Christmas to all.

    • Paul Williams

      Michael,
      Clearly your folks proved that generosity doesn’t require an inflated bank account. The values you learned at home live on in your daily choices. Well done. Merry Christmas.

  • Anne Smith

    Thank you for putting into words what I have felt for years. My mom wasn’t a huge fan of Christmas and when my son was younger, I would try to make it as memorable for him as possible. Now I look back and realize he would have liked anything I did. Now, this Christmas, I must face the reality that my beloved husband I will be apart. However, I feel I have no right to complain as we will be together shortly before and after. I want to see my family, and he must work. Though, this doesn’t lesson my pain. But, after reading this, I now see that I must just be thankful for the time we do get to share. He’s a wonderful man and Christmas is really just a day on the calendar. WE can make any day special. So I will have a few decorations up, enjoy seeing my parents, my son, and other relatives, and make the time I have with my husband as special as possible. Plus, we have many more Christmases ahead of us… so being apart for this one won’t be the end of the world.

    • Paul Williams

      I love the very accurate observation that “WE can make any day special!” Yes, we can. Gratitude in action with some straight ahead positive thought. Terrific!

      • Anne Smith

        Thank you Paul. My husband and I are really working together to make things better. Now I understand why some couples make it, and some don’t. They forget that it takes two to really make it work.

        • Paul Williams

          You’re willing to do the work. Discipline isn’t a word we associate with romance much but it’s key to relationship growth I think. Congratulations. You found a ‘keeper’ .. and so did he.

  • Margaret Garone

    Thank you for this reminder! It’s not a season to become gloomy or melancholic. It’s a season of love and light! Among the best gifts I’ve received at this time of year were ones that weren’t wrapped, like forgiveness in a relationship, a new understanding, something kind said or a small, meaningful token of friendship. All the very best to you,Tracey and your loved ones throughout the season.

    • Paul Williams

      Thanks Margaret. If Santa checked your list twice he’d see proof of an evolved and awakened spirit. Bravo. Paul

  • Steppie Royes

    First off, I’d like to say that I’ve always been a big fan of “Ed the Elf”.
    I produced an almost life-size image of Ed made from poster boards, markers,
    paint and love. I worked on him for weeks. I left him behind when I moved and am
    now wishing I didn’t. Maybe I’ll work on another one for next Christmas. He was
    a great decoration! Anyway, I’ve been unusually stressed around the holidays this
    year. It’s more about NOT getting to be with family rather than trying to out-do
    someone in the gift department. I buy wine and chocolate for everyone on my
    list. The shopping this year only involved 2 stores and 2 hours. The hardest
    part was dealing with my own will-power. But my stress started shortly after
    receiving my birthday package from my family at the end of November. My mom sent
    me a robe and the scent of her and the house made me get all sentimental.
    I
    haven’t seen any of them for about 3 years now and with the season of “getting
    together” coming up, I’ve become a little bah-humbug-ish. We’ve gotten out of
    the habit of visiting Irwin’s family after the 2 years of dealing with broken
    legs, so this year we’re going to try to get with them, as long as no other
    health concerns come up. I learned from someone awhile back that “Wherever you
    find love, it feels like Christmas.” This is what has pulled me through the tough times not only around the holiday season but all year long.. All of your Christmas songs and speicals have been great reminders of what this time of year
    is really about. The funny thing about all of this is that you’re probably the only singer/songwriter who doesn’t have a Christmas album out..and you’re the one who should! Great blog, Paul. Merry Christmas to you and yours!

    • Paul Williams

      Thanks Steppie. I hope you and Irwin have a wonderful holiday. Hmmm. A Christmas Album? That’s something worth thinking about. Of course they’re usually recorded in the middle of summer. True story. “Let it snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow … this years most performed ASCAP holiday song was written by Sammy Cahn and Jules Styne in 1945 on the hottest day of that year in mid July.
      Holiday trivia .. Merry Christmas

  • Paul Williams

    Dear Guest. With messages like that we wish you’d come and stay. Welcome to G & T .. Have a marvelous holiday.

  • Linda Barker

    “I think there’s loneliness or a longing at the heart of what we feel. In my case it may be something I missed more than something I miss.” = “I’m homesick when I’m home, but I don’t know where it is I’d like to be.” I don’t have the best memory, but that lyric always resonated with me and I’ve never forgotten it…..

    • Paul Williams

      Linda,

      Well, that’s a lyric that opens a floodgate of memories for me. I wrote it in Malibu on in front of a good friends house. Bill Bixby and I were walking on the beach, not really talking when I shared the first couple of lines of that song with him … as they came to me. He was a really wonderful man, a sweet soul. I don’t remember if I finished it later that night or the next day but I’ll never forget sharing the opening lines with Bill.

      I love that you connected the emotional dots and shared your thoughts with me. Happy Holidays. I hope. :)

  • JuliaDenton

    Thanks for a wonderful message – “to compare is to despair.” I write this as my husband is hoping to return home from Walter Reed hospital tomorrow after entering during the wee hours of the Monday before Thanksgiving, to endure a 15-hour double resection for stage IV cancer the following day.

    This holiday season has been unlike any other we’ve lived through, but just as last year (when we got his devastating diagnosis shortly before the holiday season and didn’t even know if he’d be here at all this year) we have had a uniquely beautiful time of gratitude amid all the suffering.

    I wish I could tell you how much so many of your songs have meant to us. I love, love, love “It feels like Christmas” and in fact, quoted two lines from it on my blog today. That’s how I found you online. Your message here is another way of saying “when you do your best for love, it feels like Christmas.” Blessings to you in your beautiful work.

    • Paul Williams

      Julia,
      It is the season of the heart … and I feel that in your wonderful message. I send best wishes and healing prayers for your husband at this challenging time. I look forward to reading your blog and Tracey and I are grateful to have you join us here. Blessings and thoughts of the highest good possible to you and yours. Paul