Writing the Holidays: The Bittersweet Season

Like this lush ice cave in Oregon, the holidays are a time we gather with our families, or memories of family, celebrating each other in the present, even as we are caught in history.

Nov. 14, http://www.photobotos.com, photo by Kevin McNeal

Poet Jack Gilbert describes the feeling of “failing and flying” that comes with the bittersweetness of self-reflection, the inevitability of winning and losing simultaneously as we love, with all our human hearts, and cannot achieve perfection.

Failing and Flying
by Jack Gilbert

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

Copyright © 2005 Jack Gilbert. From Refusing Heaven, 2005, Alfred A. Knopf.  From poetry.com, in my poem-a-day email subscription.

Or, as humorist Andy Rooney says:

“One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day.  Don’t clean it up too quickly.”  ~Andy Rooney

Whether we write memoir or poetry, plays or creative non-fiction, the holidays are a particularly rich, messy time, and a rich, messy topic for writing!

So write on — and be kind to yourself. Bittersweet can be delicious, if you balance the two together.


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