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From the Muse: Creativity at Christmastime

Are you revving up or shutting down this time of year?

As I sit down to write this, the holiday season almost upon us, what I want to say — or at least what I think I should say — is that I always feel a festive creative spirit calling this time of year.

But the truth is, the last thing I want do at the moment is write a song. And that’s odd because usually I can’t wait to get my hands on an instrument and start making music. It’s strange to not feel an impulse tugging at my sleeve. I should be inspired.

There’s a Christmas playlist resounding in every mall I enter, every restaurant in which I dine, every gas station, supermarket, nail salon. They’re inescapable. A guilty little voice in my head whispers: “Every songwriter on earth must be writing a holiday song today. Why aren’t you?” Yet I’d much rather shop. Or bake cookies. Or sit by a fire and read while Nat King Cole serenades me.

What’s wrong with me? Making music has never been work.

Still, for some reason, my creative brain needs to shut down at the end of the year. It simply runs out of gas.

To be sure, there are other holiday-related activities I do enjoy: wrapping gifts, decorating gingerbread houses, ornamenting trees, finding the quintessential balance of rum and nog, taste-testing my friend Fran’s Chanukah Latkes. But picking up my guitar? My journal? Sitting at the piano? Not so much.

For me, December is about reflection, taking stock, disengaging, rejuvenating, alphabetizing my spice rack (I actually just did that), cleaning out closets and giving away things I purchased in haste. You know, making room for the new.

Maybe taking time off is the best thing I can do for my creativity. After all, a recharge is an investment for the future.

After the holidays are over, when I take down my tree and put the box of ornaments back on the shelf where they’ll rest for the next 12 months (wasn’t it just yesterday that I put them away?), I’ll be more than ready to get to “work.”

Come January, I’ll be rested, my mind and heart ready for a fresh look at the world, at time flying by, at love and laughter. I’ll be ready to make peace with my demons, reacquaint myself with my better angel. The seasons they go round and round and so another year will begin.

But songs about cider on the stove, carolers at my door, reindeers, sleigh bells and mistletoe? I’ll leave that to my colleagues who can’t slow down.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no humbug. I adore dressing up and going to holiday parties. I love giving and receiving. I live for romantic holiday Rom-Coms set in New York City. (In fact, I wish I was at Rockefeller Center right now watching the ice skaters glide under the big Christmas tree.) I yearn for a long walk through Central Park in the snow, a hot chocolate nestled in fuzzy gloves. I miss the cold. I miss the stuff New Yorkers are sick of. Christmas isn’t the same in Los Angeles. 🙁

Songwriter Shelly Peiken on her patio in sunglasses playing her guitar.

Click on this picture to hear a song I wrote about Christmas in LA.

Uh oh — what’s this? I feel something shifting inside me — a flutter in my heart. Maybe it’s all the New York talk making me feel nostalgic. Where’s my capo? Where’s my pick? I think I’m tuning to an open D.

What is happening?

A song. A song is what’s happening. After all, no matter what we say, no matter how we may try to give it a rest, let’s face it: When lightning strikes, a writer writes.

Happy holidays, everyone. Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing. Whether you’re working or playing, revving up or cooling down, may next year bring you all the hope, the love, the laughter — whatever it is you need — to start again.

 

Photo courtesy of the author.

 

You can read a new From the Muse blog on the second Monday of every month. Check out Shelly’s other postings.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shelly Peiken has been a behind-the-scenes force in the music business for more than two decades. She is best known for penning female-empowerment anthems such as Christina Aguilera’s Number One hit “What a Girl Wants” and Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch.” Her book “Confessions of a Serial Songwriter,” a memoir that chronicles her journey from a young girl falling under the spell of magical songs to writing hits of her own, earned her a second GRAMMY nomination for Best Spoken Word Album. Shelly is a fierce advocate of creators’ rights with her grassroots organization, SONA (Songwriters of North America). She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, daughter and two cats.

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