MAGICAL THINKING

santaMy friend Wendy’s advice column, Dear Wendy, is not only a relationship advice column, it’s a tight-knit on-line (and frequently in person) community, a cottage industry, and a literary cult experience. Wendy receives dozens of letters a week, chooses the ones that strike the deepest chord with her, and responds to two or three a day.

Both advice columns and relationship sites are places I don’t habitually visit. But when I got to know Wendy, quite a few years ago now, I went to check out what she was writing. Immediately, there were two things that really caught my attention. Almost whatever I thought Wendy would advise, she advised the opposite. And it wasn’t because we differed in our views. It was that Wendy is very skilled and very practiced at seeing what’s written between the lines, and catching the letter-writer in their omissions, biases and purposeful inattention to salient details in their relationships. Sort of like a good therapist who supports your wants and needs, but forces you to re-think some of those staid ideas. The other thing I enjoyed and squirmed about right away when reading Dear Wendy is that she’s totally opinionated. I know, people are writing to her for advice. But still, I am reticent to give people unasked for advice- again, they’re asking Wendy- and I have trepidation about giving friends relationship advice, so it struck me as refreshing and audacious that Wendy could give out such strong, opinionated….opinions. Again, I know- advice column! But still, it’s very fun to voyeuristically listen in when someone is seeking relationship advice and someone is so artfully and skillfully doling it out.

Dear Wendy is very well written. Wendy has perfected the perfect mix of caring, humor and constructive criticism. It goes a long way too that she shares her personal life in meaningful, rewarding anecdotes and she does not hide any warts. She shares her own insecurities and uncertainty, and she’s lived and experienced life and has acquired a lot of wisdom.

Another thing you can’t miss on Dear Wendy is the comments. It takes about five minutes to ascertain the extent to which her readers are devoted. Wendy smartly posts at regular times of the day, I think three times every day, and her regulars, of whom there are many, check in for each post and talk to each other about EVERYTHING. Her readers have made friendships through Dear Wendy. They even regularly meet up in NY, Chicago, St Louis, California, anywhere, often with Wendy coming out for the drinks or picnic as well.

About a month ago I began to imagine writing a personal essay about celebrating and talking about the holidays with my four year-old son. I wanted to write about how hard and confusing this has been, and to be able to laugh at my stumbling. Very quickly, I thought of and hoped it was something Wendy would accept for her site, as she frequently publishes guest writers. I try to keep this blog writing–related, and my Santa conundrum is decidedly not.

Here today, on Dear Wendy, please find another side of my life in progress. And good luck with your holiday myth-making this year!

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8 comments

  1. Thank you so much for such a kind and thoughtful ringing endorsement for my site and writing, Rachel. The admiration is definitely mutual, and I am honored and thrilled to feature one of your essays on DW. I hope to share more in the future!!

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  2. Hi Rachel – thanks for pointing the way to Wendy’s blog. WordPress feels a bit like a village square, where you bump into friends and they tell you about a fantastic Italian ice-cream shop that they’ve just discovered down a little side street nearby. 🙂

    I’ve been thinking about your holiday conundrum. It’s odd how we worry about the myth of Father Christmas, when we never worry about the day our children will discover that Sleeping Beauty or the Moomintrolls were invented. The idea of Father Christmas is a lovely one – and it resonates. The idea of a flying sleigh pulled by reindeer, traversing the globe at night is as good as anything out of the 1001 Nights.

    I think, as Father Christmas is a shared character who inhabits our communal world, it’s useful for children to have a working knowledge of him. Do people in the US leave out a mince pie and a glass of whisky for Father Christmas on Christmas Eve? Or something for the reindeer to nibble?

    Now, to keep things highbrow and writerly – Tolkien. Have you seen his Father Christmas letters? http://goo.gl/ePPsMM Enrico might really enjoy them. There’s an audio version too, as I remember. The Raymond Briggs Father Christmas books are great fun too and wonderfully drawn. Here’s the film https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jKw_Qip4z6c (his Father Christmas is quite curmudgeonly)

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    1. Elaine, you’re the best! I cant wait to check out your links! I mostly hear about leaving out a glass oc milk and chocolate chip cookies. Now, for whiskey, mincemeat pies and maybe some oats for the reindeer i would have taken up Santa sooner!

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      1. It must be quite the gastronomic odyssey for Father Christmas! I wonder what they leave out in other countries. Here the tradition is that on Christmas morning the whisky’s been drunk and there are only pastry crumbs left from the mince pie. 🙂

        People that I know who’ve grown up in families with mixed faith traditions tend to treat the various celebrations like a bounteous buffet of spiritual possibilities. They’ll often continue the traditions that spoke to them as children when they have children of their own. As long as nobody’s forced to observe traditions that they dislike, then it’s all food for the imagination. There’s something very powerful about the distilling down of a human experience or cultural memory into a ceremony – especially one involving lighting candles. Children interpret the story as they will, don’t they?

        From living in Spain, we often give our gifts on January 6th, Dia de los Reyes, rather than Christmas Day. It makes Christmas Day more like Thanksgiving – which I’ve always thought is a lovely celebration because it’s about sharing time and food with family. (Or at least, that’s how it struck me)

        By the way – I saw a very sweet Ukrainian story about The Christmas Spider – it’s their traditional explanation of why we use tinsel to decorate trees. In the version here there’s an angel. I’ve read others where St Nicholas/Santa Claus is the one who transforms the spider webs into tinsel http://www.christysclipart.com/spider_orna.html

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      2. Thanks again! It seems a lit of my friends with 4 year-olds are fielding the same kind of questions! I kind of like my friends idea of sating that santa exists in all our imaginations and we like to all pretend together. Take care!

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  3. Hi Rachel,
    I read your piece on Wendy’s site and I love what Sing Better English wrote. I agree with her comment “people often continue the traditions that spoke to them as children.” I taught 1st grade for many years and each holiday season I would read many beautiful picture books to the class that told about different holidays and traditions. It was the class’s favorite time for a first grade discussion about what they did at their house to celebrate. Not everyone shared and that was fine. I can still remember how interesting it was for the children to hear about the families that celebrated both Christmas and Hanukkah. It was heart warming to see the proud faces of the kids sharing about their own family traditions. A book is a great jumping off place for teaching little ones. 🙂

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