Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Best seasonal job ever: Ghost-writer to Santa

Santa knows when you’ve been sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.

He also knows what a good sport you were about early-morning soccer practices all fall and which pet you brought to the Old Home Day pet contest. If you happen to be in third grade this year, he even knows which tribe you covered for your Native American project.
I know this because within the 01741 zip code, I’m Santa’s letter-writing adviser. The other eleven months of the year, I write newspaper articles under my own name and also ghost-write for a variety of clients who have plenty to say but don’t enjoy putting pen to paper themselves. But when December comes, I get to work with my favorite “ghost-writing” client of all, St. Nicholas himself.
I hope no one will be shocked to hear that Santa utilizes a professional consultant. When he approached me for help, it didn’t seem any more unusual than any of my other clients asking for assistance with writing. If you are the CEO of a biosciences company, a former NFL quarterback who wants to reminisce about Super Bowls past, or a doctor who knows how to perform surgery but not necessarily how to explain it in terms that make people flock to your office door -- to use just a few examples from my current client list -- you hire a writer to help with your materials. And if your expertise lies in overseeing a toy-making operation and flying a sleigh, there’s nothing to be ashamed of in recruiting some professional help when it comes to writing letters.
The first time I worked for Santa, I thought it would be easy. Santa’s reason for hiring locally rather than outsourcing to far-off countries where editorial labor is far cheaper is that he values familiarity with the local demographic. And that I have. Sure, he knows everyone by name and general behavioral profile, but he doesn’t have those intricate connections that those of us within small towns enjoy. When we opened his mailbox last year and the letters flooded out, there was hardly a name I didn’t recognize. Kids all over Carlisle had written to Santa, and happily for Santa, I knew most of them even better than he did.
That turned out to be not quite the advantage I expected it to be. In fact, it nearly resulted in the premature demise of my career as Santa’s literary consultant. As Santa explained to me, some kids are already a little alarmed by the concept of his omniscience, and my suggested responses to their letters were compounding the creepiness factor exponentially. “Great job in last week’s school concert, second only to your performance in the Rainforest Play last May!” I wrote enthusiastically to one first grader who had included none of this information in her letter to Santa. “I bet you’ll have a wonderful Christmas, playing with your two little brothers and your new puppy,” I wrote to another child who had stated in his letter merely that he wanted an Xbox. “Have a happy holiday season AND a happy birthday on January 2nd,” I cheerfully penned to a little girl whose birthday I happened to know.
And then I realized this wasn’t necessarily going so well. Santa told me I was going to scare kids by knowing so much about them. He in fact accused me of turning him into more of a Santa Stalker character than a jolly old elf.
As Santa and I continued through our pile of letters from kids with familiar names and addresses, I began to see why a little knowledge may in this case be a dangerous thing. “The reindeer love landing at your house because of that big open field right next door to you,” we wrote to one child. But farther down the pile we came to a letter from that same child’s younger brother, who wrote in block letters at the bottom of the page, “DON’T FORGET WE’LL BE AT OUR SKI HOUSE IN NEW HAMPSHIRE ON CHRISTMAS.” Oh no, I muttered as I scrabbled back through the pile to find the one I’d written to his sister, who I feared would now spend the remaining two weeks before Christmas certain that Santa would leave all her presents at the wrong house.
And there were also times when Santa had to rein in my tendency to lecture the kids a little. “Was it really sensible to wear shorts to school when it was thirty degrees out last week?” I wrote to one boy. Santa sternly explained to me that that simply isn’t the kind of thing he says to kids. He’s not anyone’s mother, he reminded me. He’s Santa.
It’s a little surprising Santa hired me for another season at all. But I’m grateful he’s giving me a second chance. Now that I know what I’m doing, I’ll exercise better self-restraint. Because it’s true: Santa does know when you’ve been sleeping; and he knows when you’re awake. But if he happens to also know that you left a crumpled sandwich wrapper on the table last time you ate at Ferns and ignored the recess aide when she said to put the balls back in the bin, it’s probably more in the holiday spirit if he keeps it to himself.



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