Nicole Sharp


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New Year Traditions…

Happy New Year!

When it comes to New Year’s celebrations there are as many traditions as there are people. My family eats Steak and Lobster with champagne, the idea being that you eat the way you’d like to eat for the rest of the year. So we ate well, in the hopes the coffers would stay full enough for such extravagance.

There are other traditions (superstitions?) I am thinking of adding to my own personal repertoire. Sweep your house of dirt and mess before midnight to symbolize ridding yourself of the past year’s trash. I know those raised in the south eat black eyed peas in the New Year. The more you eat, the richer you’ll be in the coming year.

In South America, folks pack a suitcase and carry it around the block at midnight to symbolize travel in the New Year. It might be worth carting a bag through the snowy Idaho streets if it brings more travel into my life!

A few more interesting traditions: Wear red underwear, you’ll find love. Burn your Christmas tree outside to cleanse the past and make way for the future. Fireworks might be pretty and the big boom fun, but the original use of fire and loud noises outside at midnight was to chase away any evil attempting come into your life.

The writer and historian in me loves these traditional ideas, but I’ve got my own tradition that has taken precedence the past few years.

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Merry and Bright…

One year, a few days after Thanksgiving, when my sister was starting to read, my dad brought home a copy of A Christmas Carol by Dickens. For the days leading up to Christmas, after dinner and bath time, my family would sit down and read the book aloud. My sister had to read a paragraph, my brother one page, me two pages. I remember feeling like life was ending with the way my younger sister read.  That paragraph took forever. And even my two pages felt like they dragged on for an eternity. We all wanted to finish our reading because then, it would be my dad’s turn to read. My dad is an English teacher and drama teacher. He did all the voices. He brought Scrooge and his humbug ways to life in our home.

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Damn poets…

Oh the poets did it again.

Got me in the guts.

Ripped out my heart to show it to me, still beating, still hoping, still dreaming.

I dressed in black, dressed up, dressed to go out on a school night.

Went out to remind myself of life beyond the capital Mom that falls into bed at 10 every night, still making lists of what needs to get done, should be done, could be done.

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Thanks Giving…

I’m in the middle of climbing laundry mountain, playing at chopping and prepping food like I’m a contestant on Top Chef, and trying to figure out the Martha Stewart logistics to having 18 people in my house for the Thanksgiving holiday. Oh yeah, and I’m looking for my gratitude. Cuz that’s what this holiday is all about, gratitude. But for some reason I stopped being grateful between cleaning the mildew spots off the ceiling in the bathroom and being elbowed too many times in the diary aisle of the grocery store.

Having everyone to my house for the holiday was my idea. I’m the Clark Griswold in my family. You know the scene, from Christmas Vacation. When Ellen and Clark are in bed and she tells him she’s worried, “you build thing up in your mind…you set standards no family event can ever live up to.”

I do that. For parties, weddings, anniversaries, holidays, graduations, vacations….just like Clark. It such a joke in my family, that when I hosted my own family for five glorious days a few years ago over Christmas; one by one (my dad, mom, brother and sister) they all called to ask if I was going to be okay. And I swear, they all quoted that same line…you have expectations no family can live up to.

But I love traditions. Love the crap out of them!

Then I read a beautiful essay a few weeks before everyone was to arrive that Christmas. And it slowed me down, gave me pause and allowed my normal expectant self to take two steps to the right and just breathe.

Here’s why I love the traditions so much.

Growing up with little money is one of the things I think I liked most about my life. My parents who struggled paycheck to paycheck would wildly disagree with me, of course. Being a parent and an adult now, I myself hate the hand-to-mouth existence. Still, what those years did was force my family to create traditions on nothing more than a moment. There are so many traditions I carry forward from my childhood. Thanksgiving morning dad and I woke up early, (everyone else liked to sleep in. Not me, I might miss something.) Dad fried up sausage patties and baked biscuits. It was what his family ate growing up on Thanksgiving morning. And the meal is mobile, you can take breakfast to the living room with you to watch the parade. Dad and I watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade together and he’d slip into a reminiscent trance, telling me stories about his dad taking him and his brothers to the parade, which gave way to memories of growing up in New York. Dad loves Thanksgiving. A holiday built on eating all day long without the stress of present giving, that was right up his alley.

We always played soccer on thanksgiving and then football. We started going to a small mountain town Thanksgiving weekend to pick fresh mistletoe. Christmas Eve was always spent at my maternal Grandparents house. Christmas morning was always at our house. On birthday’s, crate paper was hung outside our bedroom door and a red plate with scrolling lettering declaring “You are special today” met us with a donut for breakfast. Valentine’s Day we woke to Valentine donuts and on our napkin in our sack lunch, mom drew a heart and the message “I love you” along with a pack of sweethearts. Dinner was always heart shaped pizza, heart shaped cake and 25cent bottle of strawberry Shasta cola.

Then, I moved away from home. My brother, sister and I all moved away from home because of the wings our parents gave us. But it’s difficult, these wings. They flew up far and we were fine until the holidays came creeping around.

I’ve been philosophizing over these feeling for several years now, but it wasn’t until I read that essay that I pinpointed what was making my heart ache so much. You see, it was this one tiny word: Always.

Our lives had been deeply steeped in the tradition of ‘always holidays’. Go back and read about our family traditions that cost next to nothing but had big impact and you’ll find that was Always the way it was.

So now, I celebrate holidays with a new family. One I married into and things are, of course, different. There’s no always. Which had made me fight these differences for many years now. In the fight I’ve tried to come up with my own always traditions, but it’s an uphill battle that often leaves me feeling more drained than filled up with the true spirit of the season.

Today, especially. When my list of things to do out numbers the amount of time I have in which to accomplish my set goals…I had to sit down and take a breath and remind myself of the lesson I took to heart a few years ago, when my family was coming to town and I read that article.

To celebrate the holidays was “to stop trying to live up to my own…preconception of how or what the day ought to be. Rather than chase Christmas (Thanksgiving) like a lover that must be wooed or lost, I have found it much easier to sit still and let it find me…The secret of celebrating…is to empty oneself of all expectations so that there is room for the unexpected, or even the miraculous…” – Phyllis Theroux

I’m soothed with those words. And what is able to finally seep in is what I have been continually thankful for over the past few years. An ideal that is both tangible and intangible at the same time The kitchen table. My table.

I’ve spoken of this several times now. I’m given to sigh-worthy contemplation this time of year and my table is often the sentimental centerpiece.Ever since I read the romanticize words – life happens at the kitchen table.

The past four years we’ve nourished our bellies and souls at my table. My table has been infused with life; with laughter and tears. With confessions and conversation. My table has scars from artwork, homework, and game score keeping. It’s been wiped down from playdough, pasta rolling, sushi making, and dinner time. It’s been dusted of glitter and paint and construction paper.

Friends old and new have rested their elbows upon my table. Family has gathered often around my table.

This year, my table is missing grandpa; my husband’s father. But he left his mark on my table; he might not physically be there, but his indentation is.

And isn’t that what we’re all trying to do in the long run. Leave our indentation on this world so that we leave it a little better than it was when we found it?

There is one “always tradition” that I will continue this year. It’s one of my favorite. Growing up, on the holidays, we always set an extra place at the table for those who couldn’t be with us that year; for those that had left us; for those we remember fondly.

Deep breath.

I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving my friends. I’m gonna let go of expectations to make room. And while I do that, I’d like to leave you with my favorite poem that I’ve shared several times but still seems so apropos to me this time of year.

Perhaps the World Ends Here 

By Joy Harjo

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

“Perhaps the World Ends Here” from The Woman Who Fell From the Sky by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 1994 by Joy Harjo.

For art sake…

Art for the sake of art. In Latin it’s: Ars Gratia Artis. That’s the motto of MGM, if you look at their logo of the roaring tiger, above his head is a ribbon with those words written across it.

I’ve always loved that idea. Art for the sake of art.

As a writer, my art, the moment I know I’m creating art, is when the world falls away. Once that happens, when I’m in the thick of a story, skies open up, the sun twists and turns; I own the light and the stars and the shadows. I allow the elements to frame what I’m doing in just the right way. That’s when my art comes alive for me. That’s when I’m writing for the sake of writing.

Art however…oh art for the sake of art. Not for the almighty dollar, not for the fame, the notoriety, but to make tangible the way an artist sees the world. I love that.

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Idea 543…

I recently read the essay “One Hundred False Starts” by F. Scott Fitzgerald which was published in The Saturday Evening Post on March 4, 1933. It is an interesting insight to his process. The false starts are snippets he’d written down on pieces of paper that floated around him, on his desk, in his pockets. Bits of paper with bits of a story line written on them. Most of the ideas, he claims, he’ll never run down and make anything out of.

Of course, that had me thinking about my own process. There are big ideas, bull-ish ideas that won’t let go until they are satisfied their story has been properly writ. However, when I need a break from the books, I write short stories. Some ideas come to me quickly, but sometimes I skim through my archive of ideas to find inspiration. And my archive of work, it’s pretty large. I have a whole file on my computer dedicated to documents named “just an idea” “idea22” “Idea on a Sunday evening” “Idea 543”. The file folder is bulging with my random thoughts, my angst, and sometimes it seems just writing for the sake of putting words on paper. I also have note books called “works in progress”, the tactile version of my own one hundred false starts. Bits and pieces of paper with ideas jotted down. Ideas that seemed interesting at the time, that seemed like something worth following through with. Like something worth holding onto. Continue reading

To Recap…

The fall school year is in full swing. The smoke that hung low and choked us for too many weeks has loosened its hold around our necks, and a glance at the ten-day weather forecast shows highs in the seventies after we fight the next two days of 95-degree heat.

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Mortality and bathroom renovations…

Here’s a whole bunch of jumbled thoughts and oversharing for a Wednesday morning.

My mortality has been a mirror held up to my face lately, and no matter how I keep trying to ignore it, it’s not going away.

It’s not that I was trying to ignore it in the first place, I just wasn’t trying to be overly attentive to my mortality. Yet, here we are. The beast mortality has been my strange bedfellow for several months now. I guess we got used to each other.

Have we become friends? No, that’s not quite right. We’ve become pen pals who sit next to each other yet refuse to speak to one another aloud. To be honest, I kind of like the long drawn out contemplative conversations we have via letters.

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Going home…

Have you seen the movie Grosse Pointe Blank, where John Cusack (Martin Blank) a freelance assassin goes back to his home town for his twenty-year high school reunion? There are some awesome quotes in that movie, and when I went to my own twenty-year high school reunion, I used that movie as inspiration. (I didn’t go trying to assassinate anyone, I mean more along the lines of the quotes. The quotes became a crutch of hilarious inspiration.)

Well, I’ve come back to my childhood home for a visit and I find myself recalling Martin Blank’s words once again. At one point in the movie he leaves a message on the answering machine of his therapist. “Dr. Oatman, please pick up, pick up! It’s Martin Blank. I, I’m standing where my, uh, living room was and it’s not here because my house is gone and it’s an Ultimart! You can never go home again, Oatman…but I guess you can shop there.”

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Writing journeys…

I’ve been writing again. I know this is a thing where, if you’re reading this, you aren’t shocked. I mean, I’m a writer after all and isn’t a writer supposed to write?

Well, I’ve had some fun news and I finished a book which threw me off track and stalled me for a bit.

If you recall, a while back I was having a difficult time trying to figure out who I was all because of a question asked on the Grant application I was filling out. Well, I heard back from the grant people and was awarded a bit of money for my writing! This is the first time I’ve applied for a grant and was accepted into the community. (Insert momentary celebration here.) Continue reading

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