Monday, November 23, 2015

December - The Lost Month

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on……………………."

Thursday is Thanksgiving.  Wishing you all a very happy and safe Thanksgiving. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas (and I have included the Arts Christmas Carols at the end of this post)

And now it begins.  The monster that the holidays have become. Once upon a time, long, long ago, the holidays were a couple of weeks long.  True, they were hectic weeks with a lot going on, but you could still actually get some work done despite the clamor. That was back when the Presidential election cycle was four months or so - from the conventions to the election.  Neither of those realities exist anymore.

December is now increasingly a lost month.  Write if off.

It starts right after Thanksgiving with Black Friday - which now starts in most places a week or two before black Friday.  Soon Black Friday will start around Halloween, or maybe labor day. And Black Friday signals the shopping season.  Shop, shop, shop. Spend, spend, spend. The economy depends on us consumers. Everything is geared towards getting those gifts we are obligated to buy.  The decorations are up, the songs are starting to play, red and green are all of a sudden everywhere,  and to entice you to make those purchases, everything is on sale.  And what isn't on sale, soon will be.  So we have been trained to resist the clarion calls to do our duty and break out the credit cards - much to the frustration of the sellers.  So they - we know - will mark stuff down even further and we will play a game with them to see who blinks first.  We've got plenty of time, it's only Thanksgiving (the last words of so many).  And the hassles of shopping?  All those Tri-athletes out there, I'd like to see you keep up with three days of Christmas mall shopping.  Now that's an endurance test you wimps.

And this coming week is the countdown for making all the reservations for those of you who will go out of town for one reason or another during the holidays.  In fact, if you haven't already made those arrangements, you may well be too late to get the flights and reservations you want.  Your neighbor got a great flight and made her reservations in August.  It is increasingly clear why you never really liked her (note to self: give her that fruit cake you got back in 2009).  Oh and it turned out that the airlines weren't actually charging for each inch of leg room you wanted.  That was just a rumor, right?  There is nothing like flying, and the joys of an airport, to make for a festive and relaxing holiday.   This is particularly true if you have a couple of layovers before you get to your final destination.

Shopping for gifts and travel plans are but two of the stressors of December.  It's just a start.  Here's what we're in for:

The first week in December:  There is still time to get some actual work done the week after Thanksgiving.  Yes you will have eaten too much over the four day holiday, and though you really meant to get a lot of work done and cross some of the things off that December "To-Do" list, Monday morning you will likely discover more things on that list, not fewer.  One of the mysteries of life.  Oh joy indeed.

So you will begin, the week after Thanksgiving, to feel the guilt creeping in.  But not too much, because there is still a lot of time left.  The smart people among us will see the the writing on the wall and begin to prioritize.  The rest of us will smugly believe there is still time to get everything done and still attend to the holidays - and we eagerly embrace that fiction, despite years of experience to the contrary.  Yes, everything still seems relatively normal.  But you can begin to detect the monster out there that will make sinister demands on your limited and precious time, and you will be powerless to resist all those claims to your energy. This is technically the last week when you can really, rationally expect to be productive.  Most of us will unintentionally squander this last opportunity.  Who's afraid of the big bad wolf, the big bad wolf?

The second week of December starts the inexorable slide from getting anything accomplished.  You find yourself making lists and more lists as though the mere act of putting your obligations on a list will make them go away.  List making is now the thing you do best.   Note the irrational thinking that gives rise to this kind of behavior.  It will grow.  There should be plenty of time left to work at work, but the time seems to be taken up with invitations to this or that, more pressure regarding that unfinished shopping, plus you have to start thinking about the decorating and the meals and every other little thing the holidays demand. Then there is that colleague's birthday celebration.  Honestly, it's just a little bit inconsiderate for people to go having birthdays just two weeks before Christmas isn't it?  You're still pretty much in control, but you note that all the relentless playing of those Christmas Carols are starting to wear thin and even annoy you.  And the tree.  You have to get the tree AND decorate it this week.  Those strands of lights again.  Aaargghh.  Got kids?  They have Christmas celebrations too, and guess what?  You're part of all that.  Fortunately the only people who send Christmas Cards anymore are the local plumber and your auto repair shop (and thanks to you, the owner of that auto repair shop is spending this Christmas in Hawaii).  Those work projects you meant to catch up on at home go by the wayside, because you don't get home until eight or nine o'clock - and you're extra tired.  You rationalize the drinks and dinners and parties as "networking" and good for your career.  Sleep would be good for you career too, but that doesn't seem to be an option. The week goes by faster than the time between bouts of Ben Carson sticking his foot in his mouth.

In the third week of December, things become critical.  You have inexplicably said yes to way more invitations than you can possibly attend.  And you promised yourself you would say "no" this year.  Ah well.  Now it's difficult to extricate yourself from these events.  How on earth did this happen again?  You've been eating so many cookies and holiday sweets that the sugar rushes - and then collapses - are playing havoc with your thinking.  You've probably eaten the equivalent of a couple pounds each of sugar, butter and flour.  That's got to be good for the metabolism, huh?  And all that extra coffee isn't helping.  Did these clothes shrink or something?  You've got to work on that report, I mean you really do, but now you must get that shopping done that you've been postponing, and the stores are ridiculously crowded.  Truth be you can't even find a parking space in the mall lots.   You opt for online - but it still takes forever making a decision.  And you hope you can still get delivery of THE toy that Santa has to have under the tree (they promise you can, but they promised that last year didn't they).  OMG, why did you wait so long.  Remember, you've still got that report (yes, yes, thank you so much for reminding me) and a score of donor phone calls to make, and by now you begin to hate, yes hate, at least certain of the Christmas songs that ubiquitously play all the time.  Joy to the World to you maybe pal. The colors red and green are getting on your nerves and even starting to make your stomach ache.  And the crowds and traffic everywhere are unbelievable. These people need to stay home more.  Oh, and the Christmas budget you swore to adhere to?  You exceeded that two weeks ago.  There is no choice at work: you've just got to cut back to those things that absolutely, positively have to get done, no excuses.  You wonder if that is even possible. You suspect (correctly) that it's not.

The last few days before Christmas yield no breaks.  Still a last minute gift or two to buy perhaps,  and even if that's done, you got to wrap them and distribute them, and OMG did you get that Silent Santa gift for your work colleague yet?  You rush out at lunchtime.  Half your meals are at events, the other half are eaten standing up or at your desk.  You're eating too much you know, drinking a bit more often too (what exactly is in egg nog anyway?), and you are dog tired. Boy, the holidays are a lot of work.  By now if you are seriously considering that you can still finish the workload, you are faking it.  In the back of your head you are rationalizing that a lot of stuff can wait until next week (or maybe next year!)  That damn report.  Maybe a Christmas eve all nighter?

And then there is the day itself.  Family, friends, and too much of everything.  Hopefully the day goes by without incident - though there is no guarantee of that.  Somebody may get on somebody's nerves.  Remember no discussing politics or anything controversial!  You hope you can keep quiet.  You promise you'll try.  Once it's over, you can begin to recover.  Resolve to do better in the coming week.  But New Year's is on a Friday, and thus New Year's eve is on Thursday, and so your head won't be much into work from Wednesday on.  With Monday a kind of December Christmas season hangover day, that leaves you with Tuesday to actually get anything done.  Oh dear. So much to do in one day.  Your mind wanders.  If everybody would just leave you alone for the whole day, you know you could actually get a lot done on Tuesday, but there is little chance they will leave you alone.  It's December, you are in open season play.  Your time is simply not your own.  Deal with it.

Monday, January 4th:  With December gone, life can return to normal and you can again take some control of your life.  That comforting feeling is only interrupted by the realization of how much work you have on your plate.  Aaarrggg!!  We will all resolve to get healthy and to get organized in 2016.  A small percentage of us have any chance of staying that course.  Our intentions are good anyway.

It is after all, now an eleven month year.  December is just a holiday.

But despite the stress and the pitfalls of an unforgiving December, despite too much work, much of which doesn't get done, the holidays still bring to most of us some joy and magic of a season where people are kind, and humanity's better impulses are on display.  We celebrate moments of joy and find comfort anew in the smiles of people's good will.  And for those lucky enough to share these holidays with kids, the magic is apparent and it becomes obvious why we can cope with the bad stuff.  The hope and innocence of children is why we are able to steel ourselves against the cruelty and insanity of a world that sometimes seems hopeless.  The holidays and December may be a whirlwind, but there is much joy to embrace.  No, we don't get all the work done, but it's ok, it will still be there when we return.  It always is.

[Of course, for those out there who are the ultra managers who are organized and on top of it all, this Christmas season is likely a piece of cake and enjoyable on every level.  To all of you I can only say:  "Go Away."]

No matter what, or how, you celebrate at this time of year, I wish you all the happiest of holidays.

And so as to lighten your December burden, and get you in the holiday mood and spirit, I have taken the liberty of updating some Christmas Carols to more meaningfully relate to our nonprofit arts lives.

Sing along with me:

The 12 Days of Christmas:
On the first day of Christmas, my great staff gave to me
a Patron in a pear tree

On the second day of Christmas, my great staff gave to me
2  arts presenters
And a Patron in a pear tree

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my great staff gave to me
12 teaching artists
11 arts advocates
10 funders funding
9  data researchers 
8 arts administrators
7 bloggers blogging
6 service providers
     5 Golden Donors
4 board chairs 
3 development directors
2  arts presenters
And a Patron in a pear tree

Joy to the World
Joy to the world, the researchers have come
Let the arts receive their king
Let every E.D. prepare them room
And funders everywhere sing
And funders everywhere sing
And funders, and funders - everywhere sing

Data rules the world with numbers supreme
And makes the stories real
In strategies and plans, and all of our dreams
Repeat the complex schemes
Repeat the complex schemes
Repeat, repeat the complex schemes

Jingle Bells
Cold calling on the phone, oh please do let me say
We do important work
So please send a check our way
Our artists must be fed, Our accounts are in the red
Oh what fun it is to ride in this same old tired sled.

Jingle bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way
Oh what fun it is I'm sure to fund raise every day
Jingle bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way
Oh what fun it is I'm sure to fund raise every day

It's The Most Stressful Time of the Year
It's the most stressful time of the year
With deadlines approaching, and staff to be coaching
And everyone needing you near
It's the most stressful time of the year.

It's the crazy, craziest season of all
With those holiday greetings 
Making you late for your meetings
And projects that inevitably stall
It's the craziest season of all

There'll be working too late
Facebook to update
And emails into the night
And performances to go to
And too much more to do
While trying to make it all right

It's the most stressful time of the year
There'll be donors to coddle
And no time to dawdle
As you pretend to be of good cheer
It's the most stressful time of the year

Deck the Halls
Deck the halls with Kickstarter pleas
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Tis the season to get on our knees
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Begging for that grant we lost
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Hoping this time for overhead costs
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

I'm Dreaming of a Green Christmas
I'm dreaming of a green Christmas
Just like the ones I want to know
Where donor cash flows, to make our hearts glow
And make empty bank accounts grow

I'm dreaming of a green Christmas
With every grant app that I write
May your days be merry with all your dreams
And may all your Christmases be green

Silent Night
Silent night, empty seats
All's not calm, were feeling beat
Tickets don't sell, oh what can we do
Engaging our communities seems to yield so few
Back to the planning brainstorms 
Back to the planning brainstorms

Santa Funder's Coming to Town
You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Funder's coming to town

He's making a list
And checking it twice
Gonna find out Who's needy and nice
Santa Finder's coming to town

He sees you when you're working
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you're doing bad or good
So do good for goodness sake!

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Funder's coming to town

Rudolph the Red Nosed Place Maker
Rudolph the arts place maker
Had a great engagement plan
And if you ever saw it
You would even say its grand

All of the other funders
Use to laugh and call him names
They never let poor Rudolph fund any arts project frames

Then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say
Rudolph with your idea so right
Won't you guide your sector tonight

Then all the communities loved him
As they shouted out with glee
Rudolph the arts place maker  
You'll go down in history.

Winer Wonderland
Carolers singing
Are you listening
In the theater
Cash registers ringing
A beautiful sight,
We're happy tonight
Walking in a winter wonderland

Gone away, are the slackers
Here to stay, come the Nutcrackers
A profit for dance
To give us a chance
Walking in a winter wonderland

In the meadow we can build a snowman
And pretend that he supports the arts
He'll say are you funded
We'll say No Man
But you can do the job
And give us a start

Later on
We'll conspire
As we dream of staff to hire
To face unafraid
The plans that we've made
Walking in a winter wonderland

Have a great week, and good luck with those December lists.

Don't Quit