Ten Ways It's Beginning to Feel a Lot Like Christmas

Ten ways it's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas: 1) The tree sellers are back in Chelsea.  They were my inspiration for Silver Bells, a Holiday Tale.  From the first page: "Everyone knew the best Christmas trees came from the north, where the stars hung low in the sky. It was said that starlight lodged in the branches, the northern lights charged the needles with magic."

2) Pandora has a Classical Christmas station as well as good old Christmas radio with at least twelve versions (and counting) of Baby, it's Cold Outside.  My mother's favorite song was Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.  "Through the years we all will be together..."  I miss her and am feeling nostalgic.

3) Yesterday I brought home a tiny boxwood tree and decorated it with white lights.  While Maggie looks very sweet and Christmassy here, the photo was taken ten seconds before she began chewing on the leaves.  Maisie has taken to batting the ornaments around.  Only Mae-Mae keeps her distance (SO FAR.)

4) The days are getting shorter.  I know about SAD and send love and support to those who suffer from it.  But I love this time of year leading up to the solstice, when darkness covers the earth and drives us inward, to consider our lives, and to draw together--to actively need each other, as a way to chase the shadows...  The stars are bright in the sky, and I dream of going far north to see the aurora borealis.

5) I attended the New York City Ballet's Nutcracker for the first time in many years with the young, beautiful, and graceful Nyasha.  Here we are with Ashley, one of the Snowflakes.

Lincoln Center is always magical, perhaps most so in winter.

6) The lobby of my apartment building is beautiful and festive, and emil and jose (shown here) and the rest of the staff are as always kind, generous, and wonderful.

7a) Festivus.  Our family will celebrate soon in Newport, RI.  Twigg plays an integral role in this holiday.  To keep the spirit alive, we have a festivus pole here in NYC.  It's actually a hollow tree with an owl's roost hole, transported from the Maine woods to my apartment, but I wrapped it with colored lights, et voila.  (That's Maggie, of course, on the sofa.)

7b) I made a pomander ball for the first time in forever.  My grandmother always had one hanging in her closet, usually made by one of my sisters, Rosemary and Maureen.  We had this set-up in the bedroom we shared (or sometimes the basement)--Santa's workshop, and my sisters were the best at making presents for the family.  For a pomander ball you take an orange, a bunch of whole cloves, and some pretty red and green plaid ribbon.  Create swirly patterns by sticking the cloves into the orange.  Or you can cover the whole thing, or make stars or whatever you like.  It smells good but, yikes, my fingers sting.

8.The Empire Diner is no more, and Dan's Chelsea Guitars has moved into smaller quarters a few feet down in the Hotel Chelsea.  The neighborhood is changing, and that makes me sad.  I miss the Diner, one of my favorite neighborhood places, and all the people who worked there.  Renate, I'm thinking of you...

9)  My fingers sting from the pomander ball, but also from playing my baby Martin guitar, on which I'm attempting to write a song, or maybe more like a story set to music.  It involves snow, stars, the tallest spruce in the world, a very wayward cat, and snowflake fairies.  It will be a huge hit on Pandora next year.  There are a lot of C and E Minor chords.

10) I'm giving away Silver Bells--novel and DVD--on my Facebook fan page.  If you haven't already, please friend me, then "like" the fan page to win.  We have lots of fun and giveaways on Facebook...it's a bit more interactive than this site.

If you are on Facebook, I'll be asking about your top ten reasons and hoping you'll let me know.  I'm so appreciative of my readers and all visitors to this site.  I hope that you are enjoying the season as much as I am, and if  you have cats (or dogs) they limit their love and attention for your holiday decorations to the occasional walk-by or curious gaze.

* The painting of of Santa in his magical swan sleigh is by William Holbrook Beard, ca. 1862.   It's on display at Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art.  When I lived in Providence, the image graced my Christmas cards.  Now, saving trees, this serves as my Christmas card to all of you.

Portrait of the Writer as a Young Chelsea Girl

Portrait of the Writer as a Young Chelsea Girl by Luanne Rice

When I first moved to New York City, I lived on Tenth Avenue just north of Fourteenth Street, over a speakeasy that used to be frequented by the Irish mob.  My mentor, a writer at The New Yorker, had helped me find a room in an SRO.  He’d told me that all writers had to live in New York, preferably in squalor, and since I had basically no money but many dreams, I was on board with that.  Chelsea was the Wild West then—gunshots were a common way to be awakened at two in the morning.  I got so I would dial “911” in my sleep.

My mentor suggested I live as stable a life as possible, writing all the time and not falling into the temptations of drink, parties, and a messy love life.  Soon I married, and moved to an actual apartment in the same neighborhood.  My then-husband was a young lawyer.  We had no money, but big dreams.  I published my first short stories and wrote my first novel in New York—Angels All Over Town.

Throughout this time, the Empire Diner was my café.  I went there for coffee every morning, and until it closed last spring, continued to do so over the last twenty-plus years.  Back then Paulina Porizkova and Elle Macpherson were roommates, and I would see them at the next table.  There were lots of clubs in the neighborhood, and half the diner would be filled with people just waking up, half with people on their way home.

But the part of Chelsea I’ve always loved best has been the seminary block.  West 20th St. between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.  Built on land owned by Clement Clark Moore (author of “A Visit From St. Nicholas,”) it seems very alive with ghosts.  I’ve always felt them there, and I wrote about them in Silver Bells.

Back when I first lived here, West 20th St. was home to two of my favorite writers—Ann Beattie and Laurie Colwin.  It was like a literary mecca for me—to walk down the street on the off-chance of seeing them.  Which I often did…

In spite of his admonition to not become distracted by the literary life, my mentor used to take me to lunch at the Algonquin, where we would sit one banquette away from Mr. Shawn, and to the theater, and opening night parties, and literary soirees.  Once I sat at a table with him, Norman Mailer, John Updike, William Styron, and George Plimpton.  Then I came home to write and try not to feel daunted.

I’ve been a writer my whole life, and I still live in Chelsea.  What a solitary time it was when I first lived here—my husband worked all the time, and I hardly ever saw him.  I just wrote.  My friends were artists, writers, and musicians.  Eventually I did fall prey to all I'd been warned against, and certain things fell apart, and others seemed to come together.   My husband and I divorced.  Hearts were broken and broken again.  I became a wild child, which was inconvenient because by then I was in my thirties.  Chelsea saw me through.

Galleries took over, and the streets became not so gritty.  New places opened.  I found an apartment with two views: a sliver of the Hudson River to the west, and the historic district of Chelsea to the east.  Directly across the street is an old warehouse that sports billboards advertising self-storage with messages such as the one I'm looking at right now: "Material Possessions Won't Make You Happy or Maybe They Will."  Most days I have lunch or at least coffee at the Half King, a café owned by Sebastian Junger and Scott Anderson.  There is a sidewalk terrace, back garden, and black leather couches under slanting ceilings.  On Monday nights there is a wonderful reading series.

After a more recent divorce than the first one, I went into Dan’s Chelsea Guitars and bought an acoustic guitar.  I began to take lessons from Mark Lonergan, a great guitarist who lives in the building next to the Hotel Chelsea.  He’s taught me a lot, but I don’t practice enough.  Even so, I write songs and have formed a band with two women from the neighborhood.  They’re both really good: Dianne plays bass, and Ali plays keyboards.  We’re all in the arts and do so much work from home, we call ourselves “House Arrest.”

Chelsea has been home for so long, it hurts to see the major changes occurring.  Fancy new buildings going up.  Where are all the young writers, musicians, artists, actors supposed to live if all the cheap apartments get torn down so “luxury high-rises” can go up in their place?

It confuses me, but I have faith in young writers.  I found my own inspiring patch of squalor here in New York City, and I trust that they will, too.  They’ll find their way to a Chelsea all their own.

Silver Bells

On a quaint, snowy Chelsea street, librarian Catherine Tierney and a widowed Christmas tree seller from Nova Scotia will rediscover the magic of the season where they least expect it: in a chance encounter that leads to a holiday surprise of love and hope powerful enough to last a lifetime.

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