The past six weeks have been a time of intensive writing and reflection for me. My previous post proclaimed my intent to undertake the daunting, but exhilarating challenge of writing 50,000 words of new fiction during National Novel Writing Month. I fell short of that goal by half, but I benefitted tremendously from the effort. The NaNo imperative of getting down a first draft of a novel, always moving forward by ignoring the inner critic and resisting the urge to edit the embryonic manuscript, helped me push past the point where I normally would abandon a project in disgust. As a result I produced around 25,000 words (90 pages) and a title for my work in progress (that didn’t come until about the 24K mark), and I can see the arc of the story from here. I continue to work on that manuscript daily. That, I reckon, is a win.

Mind you, writing at that level of intensity, for me, came with a price. I needed to work in my writing sessions around my full-time job and family responsibilities. I drank a lot of coffee. A lot. Heart-palapitation-inducing quantities. I have learned that drinking coffee by the gallon and eating like a freshman during finals week is not conducive to wakefulness or productivity. I thought that approach worked when I was 19, but now I see it was sheer youth, more than anything else, that propelled me through those all-nighters.

Writing that intensively also meant a lot more time sitting, in addition to the eight hours I already spend sitting at my desk at work, and therefore a lot less time moving. I gave up my usual lunchtime strolls to squeeze in a few more words. By the third week of November, my body was fairly wrecked. So I’ve spent the first two weeks of December taking stock of my writing practice and trying to figure out how to strike a happy, healthy balance. Part of that taking stock has involved evaluating the role of my blog in achieving my broader writing goals: more time spent on the novel and developing submittable short nonfiction pieces means less time spent blogging.

Huckie gets his hygge on.
Huckie gets his hygge on.

A few posts back I wrote of seeking out coziness wherever one can find it. (By the way, I thoroughly enjoyed Scrapped, #2 in the Cumberland Creek Mystery series by Mollie Cox Bryan, and while waiting for #3 have started Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series.) Coziness, I have discovered, is an essential component to my mental and physical wellbeing. So I was delighted to come across this article about the Danish concept of hygge, which transcends our usual notion of coziness to encompass not only physical comforts, but also the comforts afforded by slowing down and cultivating intimacy and warm feelings with others. Whether sitting by the fire or enjoying the sunshine of a beautiful day with a few treasured companions, we can create a sense of hygge any time of year.

With the winter holidays nearing and having just marked the one-year anniversary of that heart-shattering day in Newtown, on the heels of yet another school shooting, I’m sure I don’t need to convince you of the value of hygge. We can, and should, seek to create it for ourselves and others, especially for our activist friends who often forgo their own comfort and security to make the world a safer, more humane place for the rest of us humans and for animals. Today, hygge for me means trimming the tree with my family, taking my old dog Huckie for a walk in the sun after yesterday’s cold rain, and later, leafing through Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf, maybe sharing it with my newly Star Wars-besotted son. After all, wasn’t it Grendel’s exclusion from the hygge of human society that drove him to such destruction?

It harrowed him to hear the din of the loud banquet every day in the hall, the harp being struck and the clear song of a skilled poet telling with mastery of man’s beginnings…So times were pleasant for the people there until finally one, a fiend out of hell, began to work his evil in the world. Grendel was the name of this grim demon haunting the marches, marauding round the heath and the desolate fens; he had dwelt for a time in misery among the banished monsters, Cain’s clan, whom the Creator had outlawed and condemned as outcasts.

That book, a cup of grog, and a warm fire would be just the ticket today. And to any Danes out there who would like to school me on the finer points of hygge, I welcome your comments.

I would like to leave you with one more bit of hygge. Today is the tenth anniversary of the passing of the great Scots fiddler, Johnny Cunningham. A fan of Johnny’s music since my teens, I had the pleasure of meeting him when I arranged for him and the fabulous Irish singer/songwriter Susan McKeown to bring their “A Winter Talisman” tour to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in December of 2002. They returned again the following year, just a week before Johnny’s death. Johnny was hygge on two feet–warm and funny, a great storyteller who could make you laugh one moment and fiddle a tune so sweetly the next that your tiny, shriveled heart would grow a minimum of three sizes. The world is an emptier place without his bright presence, but a little more magical for his having passed through it.