Dec 05 2014

“How TV Holiday Specials Made Me a Better Writer.” by Greta Heinemann

When the end of the calendar year comes around, I am always especially happy to live in America. Back home in Bavaria, the holiday season always seemed to be a dreadful death march of the year that I, the lonely misfit, spent alone in front of the TV, watching countless US TV Christmas specials. They all seemed to involve a happy family inviting a lonely misfit to their table and getting a more colorful, emotional holiday in return. Colorful? Emotional? It’s not exactly what I, as Bavarian, knew.

Believe me, Bavarians are truly genuine people. We work hard, we like beer and Bretzen (pretzels) and once you win us over, we’ll have your back for good, but we are also raised to keep to ourselves and live… well there’s no nice way of saying it… “uniform” (which is the opposite of “diverse” so you know where I’m going with this…) My fiancée probably sums it up in the most accurate way: You’re all white, you don’t say hello and you never smile.

Celebrating Rosh Hashanah, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas here in the States always reminds me that my life has changed, since I came to the US, stopped being just white, started saying hello and smiled even more (I’d be lying if I said I didn’t smile back home).

Six years ago, I jumped heads first into a diverse crowd of lovely misfits (in the most positive sense) and call them now my friends and chosen family. Gay or straight, of color or not, Jewish, German, Israeli, Palestinian, Mexican, American… last year we had two boys at the Thanksgiving table who only spoke broken English and the year before, an older Australian lady who my friend invited to join when she found her – lonely and three drinks in – crying at a bar.

Probably the single most important advice given to young writers is to live an interesting life so you have stories to tell. If you’d ask me how, aside a slew of non-blog-suited tips, I would tell you to invite a bunch of diverse “misfits” to your (metaphorical Christmas special) table. Learn from each other. Embrace difference. Listen. Watch. Observe. You might end up watching VHS videos of your friend swimming in alligator-invested Louisiana swamps before you were even born, or you might end up the only (white) person under 50, drinking with African American Jazz musicians in a South Central dive bar, you could find yourself at a dinner table with the Italian mob, or at a grocery store with the Mongols (Motorcycle Club)… you could do a lot of fun, exciting and new things, and to me that is the reward that comes with embracing diversity — something fascinating and beautiful that brings us together, broadens our horizons, makes our lives more colorful and gives us many more stories to tell.