The Most Wond-elf-ful Time of the Year

When Christmastime rolls around, I get nostalgic. It’s not that my family doesn’t get together (oh boy, do we get together!) or that I miss the gifts I got as a child. I am quite happy with a stocking full of chocolate and various and sundry items, thanks very much.

What I miss is being an elf.

No, seriously.

I have been an elf (or more accurately “Santa’s Helper”) for the best—no the real Santa Claus and his excellent photographer. I didn’t have to wear the costumes, thank goodness—just a red and/or green top and jeans. And sometimes, a Santa hat.

You see, my uncle is Santa. Real beard and everything. He may be the reason I was never scared of Santa—I actually don’t know. But I’ve been to him as long as I can remember for my Santa pictures. (Sadly, I’ve missed the last couple years. I’m planning on changing that this year if I can.) Around 7th grade, I became an elf for service hours initially.

There’s really not much to it. I’d run rolls of film (yup, rolls of film. We were old school for a good long while) to the drug store, hand out slips with the number corresponding to the roll of film, hand out candy canes, and get small children and animals to look at the camera. That was more or less the official description of my duties, anyway.

The actual work was all that, sure, but there was more. I was the Starbucks runner, being the most mobile of the group (and usually the most senior). Not sure I ever got the amount of cream in the photographer’s coffee right, but y’know…

I also had to find wherever the extra candy canes were hidden, as well as the cd player. I bought a little stuffed animal every year to help distract kids. (A few years, I had to buy two, as little kids aren’t always so great about remembering to give them back after being distracted by them.) I’ve held coats and children, and have had my fair share of near-accidents, including one of a pair of three-month-old twins projectile vomiting inside our little hut. I’ve had to figure out how to display letters so that they didn’t get blown away with the door opening and closing. I took pictures with whatever device I was offered, usually not terribly well. My first year, I actually had to get security to go after a family who walked off with all the salvation army gifts from under the tree. (Yes, I said they were “for the less fortunate”, and this family probably belonged in that category… but there was a sign right there saying where the gifts were going!) I carted barrels of donated food between wherever Santa was and the security office.

On the slow days (usually the first weekend), I’d sit on the floor, close to the heater when there was one, talking with Santa and the photographer. I’d steal Santa’s chair when he got up to walk around, usually resulting in a goofy picture or two. I also got to take a couple pictures of the photographer and Santa. Professional equipment is heavy!

More than that, though, there was just this air of festivity, of joy and love. It was (for the most part) the holiday spirit personified. It’s not that I don’t get that now, but there was always something different about being in the middle of it. It’s amazing to see kids in their late teens and early twenties walk in without their parents to take a photo to surprise them with. It’s fun to see families who dress up. It’s wonderful to see familiar faces, whether they’re friends from school or long-time visitors of Santa. (Remember the twins I mentioned earlier? I saw them for the next six years.)

The one thing sure to ruin that, though?

Without fail, nearly every day I was there, someone would scold their child (usually one between a year and four years) for crying. You are putting your child in the lap of a very odd-looking stranger. It does not matter that you’ve described Santa Claus ad nauseum and read Christmas books every night for the last month—your child might freak out. It’s one thing if it’s a pouty face for the camera, but a screaming, wriggling toddler does not make for a good picture, especially when you add your own yelling into the mix. Instead, see if your child will sit in your lap, or in Santa’s chair, and have Santa sneak in while an elf distracts them.

Trust me; it works.

The whole point was to have fun, to spend time with loved ones, and to indulge in wishes.

My wish would be to live it again.

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My Graphogenesis

graphogenesis (græf ə ʤe ni sɪs) : 1) The beginning of writing, literally; 2) A word I’m pretty sure I just made up. Microsoft Word doesn’t like it, anyway, but it doesn’t like half the things I write. [Following added later] Actually, Google doesn’t seem to have any dictionary results for it. I suspect it’s a word applied in archaeology and linguistics. So apparently I didn’t make it up, though I probably fudge the pronunciation. When I say it, I hear “graf-uh-je-nee-sis” in my head, so I’m sticking by it.

Since I can remember (and apparently before that), I’ve had a fascination with words, especially the written word. Legend has it that I would sit at our family’s top-of-the-line 8088 with that amazing black and yellow display and, at the tender age of three, lovingly tap out the words I knew how to spell. It wasn’t many, I’ll grant you, but when your three year old does this, it’s apparently a little strange.

Less strange was my ability to tell stories. What toddler/preschooler doesn’t babble to themselves half the time? But this, too, I took to a new level. I would sit in my room with my tape recorder/player and my stuffed animals, and listen to storybook after storybook on tape, reading along since I had most of the accompanying books. Then, when I got bored, I’d look at books whose stories I couldn’t quite decipher, and make up whatever I wanted to fit the pictures. After getting bored with that, I’d act out all the crazy fun things going through my head with my stuffed animals, usually winding up napping under a pile of them after a while. (Yup, 5-time gold medalist—I was a champion napper.)

A couple years later, I’d finally progressed to really being able to scribble mostly-decipherable graphite marks on that awesome lined paper that you get in kindergarten and first grade. It was time to start my opus. Oh yes, even at six (and probably before that), I had the ego of an artist, specifically of a writer. My stories were going to enthrall and inspire, and they were going to do it well, dammit! (Or rather, darn it. I did not know such naughty words at such an age, despite my black hole tendencies when it comes to picking up words.)

I started by writing stories about these two characters that stuck in my head. There was a pair of kids; a boy and a girl, and they usually wound up getting in fights and patching things up. (My writing was the epitome of emotional drama. For better or for worse, it’s something that has rather stuck.) As I’m writing this, actually, I realize that those two characters have the first initials of myself and my boyfriend, right down to whose first initial is whose. Apparently, I had somewhat latent ESP, too.

As I recall, my six-trait writing assessments turned out average, at least in terms of content (otherwise known as ideas) and organization. My voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions unsurprisingly fared slightly better. As I grew and gained general life experience, the other two tended to catch up. I know, I know; how much life experience can you possibly gain by the time you’re twelve? I choose to think that every little step is important in becoming who you are. And I kept on reading. My fascination with the printed word is, after all, a two-way street, and every time I read a new book, I learned. I tried to figure out how to develop my style and improve so that people would actually want to read what I wrote. I was met with success at times. Others… well, my recycling bin was happy, at least.

Long about seventh grade, I discovered two things. The first was fanfiction. Yes, yes, I know it has the reputation of being all smut and no substance, but I’d argue that smut can have substance, and I can prove beyond any doubt that smut is not all there is to fanfiction; not by a long shot. And there was no way in hell that I was going to write smut in seventh grade. I knew what sex was: an icky, icky thing that nobody should write about, let alone want to read unless they wanted babies. The second thing I discovered was manga, and yes, I will apply the same arguments against all manga being smut and/or fluff as I did to fanfiction. Put two and two together to figure out what came of these discoveries.

It’s hard to develop your own characters, after all. They don’t always do what you want, and even when they do, it’s not always what you thought it was going to be. It was much easier to practice with someone else’s characters. I still had that whole angsty drama thing going on, though, and plot, now that I was working on longer stories? “It needed work” is putting it somewhat kindly. But the artist inside me was convinced that I was still writing these deep, dark, cathartic, universal truths, and they were mine and mine alone, and life was painful… Yadda, yadda. Not quite goth, not quite depressed. Just an introverted, occasionally bullied, hormonal teen girl with a rich fantasy life and a good creative outlet. Honestly, though, I did (and still do) write fiction better when I’m upset unless I’m writing humor or romantic fluff (and even then, the latter is not always a sure thing). Soon enough, I’d accumulated several 5-subject notebooks full of stories, more than half of which should never see the light of day.

That’s pretty much how my writing continued through high school, even though I did start realizing that I had an inflated ego when it came to prose. When you ask for critiques on fanfiction.net, and the good writers take you seriously, you tend to get knocked down a peg or two. Still, I won’t say I’m the pinnacle of humility. I still get tetchy when I get criticized, though much less so when I deem the criticism warranted and actually take it into account. It certainly helped when I went through an emotionally rocky relationship in high school, though. Even when someone said, “Hey, you really need to work on _____”, I took that and poured my heart and soul into my next story. It is probably in large part due to being able to lose myself in words that those years weren’t as miserable as they could have been. (Note to my high school friends: you are great and my angst was not your fault. I refer you to the paragraph above about being hormonal and teenaged.)

It wasn’t until I went through the transition from high school to college, underwent a general transformation including losing a lot of weight for health reasons, and gained several more wonderful friends (and started an actual healthy relationship with the boyfriend) that I realized that even in happiness, I still had words pouring out of me, and that I should write them down. So, I did. Some, I posted as Facebook notes. Others, I just kept in a file in my documents folder on my laptop. A few months ago, a relative who I had just met (my extended family is, in a word, expansive) told me I should keep it up. And then my boyfriend suggested a blog, and well, here we are.

It’s probably a typical story, but it’s important to me because it’s my story, my graphogenesis. Motivation is not something to be underestimated, and over the years, no matter what I’ve gone through, no matter what’s changed or stayed the same (including my writing style), the drive to write (and read!) has been a constant, a source of comfort, and something I hope I never lose.