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January 10, 2007 - Image 9

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 2007-01-10

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Th e M ichigja n DaiIy -W Wedesd a y ,Ja n u aryl 0, 20 7

0 0

The little known art of the family holiday letter

In 2007, everything is art: the home vid-
eos you post on YouTube, your Facebook
interests, your weepy blog. Time magazine
told you that a while ago.
What they didn't tell you - what I'm
about to scoop them on, if you're into that
sort of thing - is that there's another art
form that's gaining on 18th century literature
and French sculpture and those other things
Residential College students pretend to like
more than Grey's Anatomy.
Holiday letters - those 1,000-word mass
mailings your mother writes around Christ-
mas time with the play-by-play of your
family's accomplishments - are gaining on
Shakespeare's sonnets.
Naturally, some holiday letters are closer
to "Gigli" than "Citizen Kane." Consider an
excerpt from a bad one my family received
this year: "I'm a year and a half now, can hold
my bladder pretty well, and have grown to
a hearty 25 pounds. As the adoring dogger
(doggy daughter), I have taken it upon myself
to pry the computers from their laps to write
this quick update on our lives this past year."
Let us now stop and discuss what we've
learned.
Especially if you're like the authors of the

letter, who are working toward doctorates
and have attended more classes in their col-
legiate careers than Van Wilder, please do
not write your family holiday letters from
the perspective of the family dog. It's not
cute. It was, once, when the first person did
it. It hasn't been since and won't be again.
If that one reads like it was written by a
pre-pubescent Faulkner, another one my fam-
ily received this year reads like it was written
by a prime-of-his-career Hemingway.
Excerpt: "Frank is a junior in high school.
He played strong safety in football. They had
an 8-1 season, making it to the second round
of the state playoffs. He has been a success-
ful wrestler through the years and is off to
a good start this year. He recently placed
first in a 15 school tournament in Wisconsin.
Frank still loves to hunt and fish. He killed
his first deer with a bow this year."
Simple. Good.
The letter-writer does not have a doctorate.
He's a farmer in Waukon, Iowa. The letter
begins with a couple of paragraphs about the
number of pigs they bred (28,000) and the
number of full-time employees who work for
them (four). It goes on to talk about his son's
football career at Division III Coe College

(he accumulated 18 tackles, forced a fumble,
intercepted a pass and recorded a sack in a
game against Central). It also says that his
son proposed and got married. And that's the
order, by the way: business, football, love.
However, writing clearly is not the true
art of the holiday letter. Like a Hemingway
short story or an iceberg, the critical part is
what's left out.
Here's an example. Let's say Johnny broke
both his legs jumping from one balcony to
another while on an acid trip at whatever
public directional college (Southwestern
State U) he is close to failing out of.
In the vernacular of the holiday letter,
this becomes: John had another success-
ful semester at the university. He is work-
ing hard to graduate and is considering a
career in health care after spending some
time in the hospital. He is also having a lot
of fun! Who says college isn't the best time
of your life?r?!
Or let's assume father was convicted of a
white-collar accounting crime, lost his CFO
job and spent five months in a minimum-
security prison.
Anthony was away on businessfor a while
this year. Boy did we miss him! It gave him

a little perspective, though, and he's decided
to try out a new line of work!!! Anyone know
of any openings?
Or 16-year-old Jane is impregnated by a
23-year-old out-of-work pizza delivery boy/
budding heavy metal guitarist with a tattoo
(he showed you) of a topless Little Mermaid
on his left pectoral muscle.
Our little Jane is becoming interested in
boys. She's been on afew dates with someone
who's ver' interested in music and film! It's
hard to believe she's growing up sofast!!!
A few years ago, my family got a letter
that didn't follow the rules of disclosure.
Every sordid detail of the parents' divorce
and its devastating psychological effects on
the children was articulately recounted for
posterity.
It was a stunning read. Entertaining. Mem-
orable. Poignant. Daring. Like good art, it
broke the rules and still worked. A little more
Faulkner than Hemingway, to be sure.
It is worth noting, though, that Faulkner
died a natural death of a heart attack in 1962
at the age of 64. A year earlier, Hemingway
put a double-barreled shotgun to his head
and pulled the trigger.
- Karl Stampfl

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