My Secret Source of Ideas

When I stepped onto the plane last week it was 70 degrees at LaGuardia.  Granted, it is the global warming apocalypse, but the point is I was leaving a pretty beautiful day in New York City.  When I stepped off it was in the 30s in Buffalo.  The next day the high was 13.  Thir. Teen.  Degrees.  Was the high.  Somewhere between scraping the ice off the dog (yes, the dog accumulates ice when she goes out, naturally) and figuring out how many layers of warm socks I can wear and still get my feet into my boots, I asked the question so many of us north-natives ask at the holidays: why on Earth do I do this to myself every Christmas?

Then I remember.  Right, I love my family.  And it’s tradition.  And it’s Christmas.  But there’s a more sinister, or at least utilitarian reason: no one provides me better material for my writing than my family.  Comic and dramatic.  Holidays with these people are creative goldmines.   I don’t need to write anything.   I just need to curate.  And remember.  Epic one-liners, biting insults, ridiculous plot twists, the occasional racist tirade – all better than I could ever write it.  I think for many of us our families provide us the most dynamic and multifaceted characters we will ever encounter.  They’re the people we’ve known the longest and the best, and they’re at their most raw and vulnerable and open around us and around each other.

This is especially true if you're related to the Dunphy family.

This is true even if yours is less extreme than the Dunphy fam.

I think there’s a little bit of one family member or another in every character I write, and I’m OK with that.  Whether they are or not is less clear, but beside the point.  That is, possibly, the greatest occupational hazard of having a writer in the family: anything you do or say that’s interesting will end up on a stage somewhere.  But fundamentally, our family members are some of our most important, if unwitting, theatrical collaborators.  So this holiday season let’s give thanks for our eccentric, neurotic, clever, unreasonable, hysterical families, and the endless material they continue to provide us each year!  We could never be the artists we are without them.

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