On the First Night of NaNo – Doggerel Poetry and Holiday Tradition

My family has never really formed any ironclad holiday traditions. I mean, my grandma had a particular way that the tree was always decorated, and very definite ideas about when decorations go up (the day after Thanksgiving) and when they come down (January 6th), but since she passed away we have sort of played every holiday “by ear.”

I tried, with the boys. I used to put a chocolate orange in their stockings every year. And then one year Thing Two informed me that he didn’t really like chocolate oranges that much.

Chocolate Orange

We tried other things, too. I bought a Christmas pickle. But not until after they were all just a bit old to be excited about it.

Pickle

So mostly we just went with whatever we were in the mood for every year at Christmas. Some years we had big ham dinners, some we had pizza. Some years we all got up early, and some years we slept in. Go with the flow, that’s our motto.

Since the last of the boys left home a few years ago, they have generally chosen to spend Christmas with friends or with their girlfriend/fiancee/wife’s family. So the hubs and I have been left to our own devices. We rarely decorate or put up stockings anymore, we buy each other a thing and then we enjoy the time off work and each other’s company.

In 2011, some very close friends of ours from church and ministry invited us to share in their Christmas Eve tradition, “Night Before Christmas Night.” This is something that the family came up with as a way of formally calling a halt to all of the mad shop/cook/prep/wrap/clean/bake madness by establishing a definite beginning to Christmas Family Time. They call it a poetry contest, but then are quick to amend that there is no actual competition and poetry is not required. Anyone is invited to share any talent, skill, or performance art that they wish to bring to the crowd. There is always at least one musical submission, often a photography viewing, and one memorable year included a martial arts demonstration.

The pater familias creates an example poem every year, almost always in the rhyme scheme of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” or the poem commonly known as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

Every year I write a submission or two, often in that rhyme pattern, sometimes in others. One year I did one that was based on Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham.”

This year I had no particular great ideas, so the night before Night Before Christmas Night I was staring at my laptop, with its blank white screen and blinking mocking cursor, and thinking, “hey, this is just like starting NaNoWriMo every year.”

And then this happened:

On the First Night of NaNo

On the first night of NaNo
my bleary eyes blink
At a pristine white page
yet unsoiled by ink

To plot or to pants, outlines, index cards
Should I write about blacksmiths or write about bards
To hand-write or type or to dictate the mess
Every decision I now second-guess

Should my villains be dragons
Or corporate raiders
Maybe some were-bears
or pirate slave traders

Is my hero heroic, is his mentor wise
Have I mixed up or misused those old archetypes
Minor characters wrangle and plot points are random
One sounds like it came straight from the Tolkien fandom

I lay down and try now to sleep in my bed
While character backstories dance in my head
And then what to my coffee-dazed mind should appear
But a thematic subplot with bunny tracks clear

Once per annum I set aside tidying house
Society, sleep, and attention to spouse
To deal with ideas and intrabrain friction
Take the mess from my head and consign it to fiction

My family’s convinced that my head’s not on tight
But I am a writer and writers must write
So the first night of NaNo next year, I will sit
with a blank page before me, bereft of my wit
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