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Archive for December, 2010

Christmas 2010 is history and we’re now at New Year’s Eve … the traditional day for making lists and checking them often, adding, subtracting, watching hopes multiply and dividing the wheat from the chaff.

MMX was not a great year, but since death didn’t intrude into my immediate world, it wasn’t terrible, either. It was what it was, and it’s over.

Before flinging my arms wide in welcome to 2011, I’ll say goodbye to the old year and dance with its ghosts for a while.

Although I love Burns’ Scots version, a translation into modern English helps make the point:

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne ?

CHORUS:
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup !
and surely I’ll buy mine !
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

CHORUS

We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine ;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.

CHORUS

We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine† ;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.

CHORUS

And there’s a hand my trusty friend !
And give us a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

CHORUS

To all dear friends, to those I love and who love me, to the casual reader who pops in on occasion, to everyone who wandered through my world over the past 365 days … although seas between us braid hae roar’d, I offer gratitude, my hand and a right good-will draught o’ kindness.

Adios 2010 …

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I wrote earlier today on the magic of belief in Santa Claus, the gift to the imagination that shiny bit of tinsel can hang on children before they reach the age when flying reindeer and fat men squeezing their bulk down chimneys to leave bikes and dolls no longer makes any sense and they face the realization that Mom and Dad are bigger benefactors than they’d figured.

We consider the progression to be in the natural order of things; hopeful frivolity gives way to information, knowledge, to familiarization with the way things really are. Also learned in time is a sense of history that serves to put traditions in context, to illuminate how one thing led to another to another and eventually to St. Nicholas morphing into Santa Claus.

Okay … so my eight-year-old is on the verge of twigging to the Santa gag, and even though I’m hoping he gets this one more year of the fantasy the writing is on the wall. He’s a smart, curious kid who loves to learn and wants to know stuff, and in the long run all that is a good thing.

I can’t help, however, but be amazed at the huge number of people who never get further than the fairy tales.

Those in this article for example:

A new Gallup poll, released Dec. 17, reveals that 40 percent of Americans still believe that humans were created by God within the last 10,000 years.

Yeah … I could have gone with the whole Holy Night tale, but although it is almost Christmas other angles came across my reindeer radar today, and the idea that only 16% of Americans buy the idea of evolution without divine guidance feels to me like a call for intervention.

Don’t get me wrong — I like Christmas music as much as the next indoctrinated American-raised harker of Harold the singing angel, and the idea of Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men (and women and children) is worth propagating. It does rather piss me off when the concept is hijacked once a year by peeps whose agenda is suspect and divisive.

When high on said agenda is keeping people stupid … well … even more reason to bah and humbug, and trotting out Eden as fact while science is swept up with the torn wrapping paper is doing exactly that.

The poll also revealed that beliefs in creationism and evolution are strongly related to levels of education attained. When results are narrowed to those with college degrees, only 37 percent of respondents maintain beliefs in creationism. Meanwhile, the belief in evolution without the aid of God rises to 21 percent.

Those numbers are still appalling, but do give some hope that education has some force against ignorance.

Lest anyone think I’m picking on Christians to put the Christ in Christmas, another story in today’s news made the same point, but in a bit more gruesome a manner. Titled “Koran Written In Saddam Hussein’s Blood Poses Problem For Iraqi Leaders”, it could be considered another candle on the holly branch …

The unique Koran’s creation took over two years:

It was etched in the blood of a dictator in a ghoulish bid for piety. Over the course of two painstaking years in the late 1990s, Saddam Hussein had sat regularly with a nurse and an Islamic calligrapher; the former drawing 27 litres of his blood and the latter using it as a macabre ink to transcribe a Qur’an. But since the fall of Baghdad, almost eight years ago, it has stayed largely out of sight – locked away behind three vaulted doors. It is the one part of the ousted tyrant’s legacy that Iraq has simply not known what to do with.

Slate notes that Saddam was never one for subtlety, and that this undertaking would serve propaganda purposes for when the dictator need to be seen as pious; he “decided to show the world that he was willing to literally sacrifice his blood for the sake of his religion.”

His blood. Nice. What a sacrifice, heh?

And to think Santa would have just left a lump of coal in his stocking and called it a day while assuming he’d made the point that genocide goes on the naughty list. Of course, if Santa was the issue, Saddam would have grown out if it by the time he was 10 or 12 … or 30.

So, why is it okay … normal, reasonable … to mature beyond the dude-in-red flying down from the North Pole, but Adam and Eve and Mohammed once ingested are to last a lifetime? Why is A Visit from St. Nicholas considered light verse, but the second chapter of Luke gospel? (Okay, bad choice of words, but you get my drift.)

But really, does this …

And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap —
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

… make any less sense than this …

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were
sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

… ?

Sure, the first quote rhymes and only has a couple of songs to go with, but more importantly it wasn’t shouted from pulpits in our direction, and I can’t help thinking that’s one big diff. That and the fact that Santa has little political clout and other than marketing not much economical sway, either.

As I said in my earlier post, I don’t see Santa as a dangerous illusion fostered by parents, but a bit of magic meant to stir imagination. The other stuff could be the same, but folks don’t seem to outgrow that shit.

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As part of my ongoing effort to create a warm fuzz around the Christmas holiday for my little kids, we sat together on my bed last night and watched “Miracle on 34th Street” on my Mac.

I knew this was a bit risky since Sam is now eight and beginning to question the whole Santa thing, but ended up figuring Natalie Wood’s conversion might be just what it takes to put off the doubts for one more year.

I was unprepared for how vehement his questions would be, how demanding he was to know how it would all turn out long before the film was anywhere near over, but given the fact that he’s been dealing with the inconsistencies of other 8-year-olds at school for the past weeks, it makes sense the boy wants answers. I, however, am not giving any.

Although I am not unlike the mother in the movie in much of my thinking that one major function of childhood is to learn life lessons that will be useful in the decades that follow, I don’t see the belief in Santa as a dangerous delusion. Like the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny, the jolly fellow is a little bit of magic, and we need magic. Magic is imagination, and although kids certainly benefit from the accumulation of practical skills, without imagination they are handicapped for life.

The day comes, though, when mental conjurings of reindeer on the roof … and that bowl-full-of-jelly thing that took my mind in strange directions as a kid … give over, often in some sort of epiphany prompted by discoveries made in the back of closets. The accompanying Hm … may be followed by feelings of distrust over being mislead, but most kids are smart enough to realize that being a nasty little git about that with Mom is an even worse idea this time of the year than it had been when Santa was assumed to be the provider of loot.

It’s a sadder day for Mom, though. For us it’s one of those watershed moments when our child takes a step away from childhood that forces us to wrestle with the fact that kids grow up way too fast.

What’s important to remember is that the step away is also a step toward, and even if we’d like to keep our kids little for as long as possible, they actually want to grow up. Since that’s the natural order of things, there’s no sense in trying to stop any flooding from any watershed.

So, from one Christmas to the next, all can change, and the child whose eyes shone with the wonder of Santa’s visit begin to glow with the avarice of gifts … and with an understanding of the joy of giving.

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In a move that was so predictable most would have thought it didn’t warrant actually happening, the Swedish police report on Julian Assange has been “leaked”.

Hilarious!

Can’t we all just hear the frustrated strains of “That’ll show the fucker!” oozing from slime lubricating the machinery haphazardly constructed to pull Julian in, chew him up, then spit out something much more digestible to the masses.

Here’s a bit of what the conversation leading to this might have sounded like:

Slimeball: Okay, Peeps, we’ve found him, got him to turn himself in on the bullshit sex charges, but can’t get a handle on the spin. Ideas?

Fuckwad: We are squirming through every possible loophole we can find, but until the Espionage Act gifts us something we can’t charge him. Poop!

Jerkoff: And now that that Aussie bitch has fucked us, they’ll be no help from down under.

Slimeball: This isn’t helping.

Fuckwad: Hey! How ’bout we turn the tables on him and LEAK the Swede’s police report? He’ll at least look like a jerk that says he’ll call, but never does. You know how that pisses women off.

Slimeball: Maybe that will get Biana Jagger to back off … hm. Great idea, FW!

Jerkoff: Can we do that?

Slimeball: Of course we can do that! We can do anything we want!

Jerkoff: No … I mean, does anyone here know how to leak stuff?

Group head scratching ensues …

Apparently, however, someone was found to pass the info along to newspapers:

The British newspaper The Guardian broke the news of the report on Saturday, and quoted extensively from what it said was an unredacted copy. The New York Times later obtained a redacted form of the report from another source in Swedish. It is a preliminary summary of the evidence taken by investigators when they met with the two women and with Mr. Assange, who left Sweden for Britain in early October but subsequently refused to return to Sweden for further questioning.

A “preliminary summary” … hm. That must mean further evidence that caused dropping of the charges and the further further evidence that saw that charges reinstated are not included. Tidy.

Read all about it at the link above for details on the two women who sought him out, fucked him gladly, then changed their tunes. No need here to go into possible reasons for going after the guy, but consideration should be made of the fact that charging him with anything real has proven difficult.

Michael Moore’s letter to the government of Sweden today gives a very clear picture of what’s up with the crap there:

… In fact, they say that all over Scandinavia, including in your country, rapists “enjoy impunity.” And the United Nations, the EU and Swedish human rights groups have come to the same conclusion: Sweden just doesn’t take sexual assault against women seriously. How else do you explain these statistics from Katrin Axelsson of Women Against Rape:

– Sweden has the HIGHEST per capita number of reported rapes in Europe.

– This number of rapes has quadrupled in the last 20 years.

– The conviction rates? They have steadily DECREASED.

Axelsson says: “On April 23rd of this year, Carina Hägg and Nalin Pekgul (respectively MP and chairwoman of Social Democratic Women in Sweden) wrote in the Göteborgs [newspaper] that ‘up to 90% of all reported rapes [in Sweden] never get to court.'”

Let me say that again: nine out of ten times, when women report they have been raped, you never even bother to start legal proceedings. No wonder that, according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, it is now statistically more likely that someone in Sweden will be sexually assaulted than that they will be robbed.

Message to rapists? Sweden loves you!

So imagine our surprise when all of a sudden you decided to go after one Julian Assange on sexual assault charges. Well, sort of: first you charged him. Then after investigating it, you dropped the most serious charges and rescinded the arrest warrant.

Then a conservative MP put pressure on you and, lo and behold, you did a 180 and reopened the Assange investigation. Except you still didn’t charge him with anything. You just wanted him for “questioning.” So you — you who have sat by and let thousands of Swedish women be raped while letting their rapists go scott-free — you decided it was now time to crack down on one man — the one man the American government wants arrested, jailed or (depending on which politician or pundit you listen to) executed. You just happened to go after him, on one possible “count of unlawful coercion, two counts of sexual molestation and one count of rape (third degree).” And while thousands of Swedish rapists roam free, you instigated a huge international manhunt on Interpol for this Julian Assange!

Time spent investigating him in Australia ended up with zip, zero zilch there:

Police in Australia have concluded that WikiLeaks and its Australian-born founder Julian Assange have not broken any laws in his home country by publishing classified U.S. documents, the government said Friday.

Wonder how many other countries wasted time and resources trying to figure out if Julian had, by any possible chance at all, done anything worth charging over.

Singapore might get him on that ‘chewing gum in public’ infraction. Quick! Someone call Interpol!

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Yeah, yeah … Christmas blahs and blah, blah, blah, but the fact of the matter is holidays like this are really nothing more than a bit of a spike on the blah chart and I have to admit I’m simply not the jolly type. Never have been. Never will be.

Sure, I have moments of great joy, and how I relish those, commit them to memory, drag them out, dust them off and roll around in them when I can … meaning when doing that doesn’t just make me sad.

But it’s not the Blue Christmas thing that prompts a post today, and I’m actually doing pretty well in putting on the happy face around the house; the tree goes up today and the kids and I will be rockin’ around it as we do the festooning.

No. Today I’m dwelling in the House of Blues for a short time this morning because a young writer friend is breaking out in spontaneous mental and emotional bruises and wondering if he should worry.

Well … yes. And no.

The connection between writers and depression is well documented … any quick Google of the topic gives more than six million links … as the condition has been well studied, as this from the NY Times illustrates:

Kay Jamison, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University and the author of “Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament,” said writers were 10 to 20 times as likely as other people to suffer manic-depressive or depressive illnesses, which lead to suicide more often than any other mental disorders do.

It is not surprising that these mood disorders seem most at home in the artistic mind. “The cognitive style of manic-depression overlaps with the creative temperament,” Ms. Jamison said. Researchers have found that in a mildly manic state, subjects think more quickly, fluidly and originally. In a depressed state, subjects are self-critical and obsessive, an ideal frame of mind for revision and editing.

This is not to say all writers face such issues. Writing news copy or discourses on quilting or self-agrandizingly embellished journals or anything meant simply to describe, boost ego or sell stuff can amount to skin scrapings, a slight grating of a surface that leaves a residue others can observe. I’m not suggesting journalists don’t often gouge deeply enough to draw blood or some aren’t passionate enough about handicrafts to work up a sweat.

Neither do I make allegations that writing about the mundane is in any way ‘less than’. In the same way that mechanical drawing isn’t fine art, mechanical writing may require no more connection than fingertips-to-keyboard, the results of which can be interesting, instructional, even entertaining.

It’s not only a difference between writing nonfiction and creating an entirely new world. There is such a thing as the formulaic masterpiece, bestsellers and box office blockbusters, all the outcome of dedicated linking of one word to the next to the next. In other words, writing.

It takes neither depth nor depression to write, as can be seen by the vast amount of shallow prose and numbers of jolly writers, and there is value in the light read, the contrived tale with the satisfying resolution, the amusing amble down familiar paths.

There is also, however, a shit-load of evidence that writing from the gut takes a toll … or is it the other way around? William Styron’s chronicling of his battle with depression, Darkness Visible, is a fascinating read for anyone, but for writers struggling through the paradox of “Do I write because I’m depressed, or am I depressed because I write?” … or any angle, actually … it resonates.

Perhaps because I deal with this shit, too, the man makes sense to me …

“The good writing of any age has always been the product of someone’s neurosis, and we’d have a mighty dull literature if all the writers that came along were a bunch of happy chuckleheads.” ~ William Styron

Happy chuckleheads. Yeah … well …

As Aldous Huxley put it well:

“There is something curiously boring about somebody else’s happiness.”

And perhaps it’s this attitude that keeps most writers from describing their profession as fun.

At the same time writing helps me process life, it also isolates me, a fact that makes processing a lonely endeavor that has me making it up as I go along. Stories and characters form and a need builds to put them to use, to flesh them out, to see where they’re going. This, of course, means I live in my head a lot, and since my head rather defines solitary space, even when it gets a bit crowded, it’s alone I face not only my own life, but the lives of all those stewing in my creative juices.

Even my thoughts need form, and since I’m a writer, not a painter or a musician, they take shape in words and words must be read, internalized, not simply reacted to. Sure, a bit of short verse can prompt a quick impression … a ‘that’s pretty’ or some toe-tapping … but anything longer requires some commitment from the audience, an arrogant demand on every level.

When I write for pay, I write for the person paying me. When I write for myself I may have hope others will take something from what I’ve written … a piece of me … but that’s not why I work toward the end. It ends when it’s done, when there’s no more to say than “The End”.

Like preparation for a great meal, much time is put into the effort and the consuming happens quickly, but it’s days or weeks or months of prep and what’s served up is more of a child I’ve gestated than a roast. Is there any wonder there’s stress in the process and hopes that what’s offered is appreciated?

Funny thing, but what began this morning as a brief look at writing has taken all day. Life and Christmas tree got in the way, but also the realization that this topic is a thorny slide down the brain stem, and that surprises me. The more I think about writing the less I like what I do, yet the more I feel I must do it.

The tree is now up and the kids want to get to the beach. Sounds good to me. Tomorrow, I’ll pick an easier blog topic for kick-starting the brain and fingers and get some work done, giving nary a thought to anything electro-chemical happening between my ears.

And that, peeps, is how I manage to get through a day and write.

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Wrapping my head around the holidays … looking happy about it … dwelling is not an option … cleaning out corners is …

My dog and stuff

My dog is called Mitzy
she’s ditzy
My cat is Diego,
hasta luego
The tortoise is Helmut
… the shell, mate …
I do with my critters,
their litter,
and fritter
away many minutes
with little else in it
My kids
are Sam, Cj and Jenn
and Jaren, of course,
although he’s now a “been”
I’ve a mother,
three brothers,
Larry, Tom and …
oh … Jim …
and, very thankfully,
a whole raft of friends.
There’s Andy and Gay
who both make every day
a tolerable passing of
whatever may
come hell or high water
show up when my daughter
the grown one (I miss her)
is beyond where I aughter
while I’m with her sister.
It’s life on this rock
that keeps me in hock
always missing someone
even as I keep stock
of those coming and going
I love them all, knowing
time passes so fast
What’s it mean? I could ask
my dog who’s called Mitzy

Cambodia in Seventeen Syllables
Always conflicted,
smiling through horror
Poison on the top shelf waits

X-mas

It’s ghosts I hang
on the Christmas tree
shades of all that
couldn’t be
Another year has
come and gone,
another season
thrust upon
all tinsel, balls and
shiny fluff
and meant to be
diverting stuff
but serving only to remind
of all that has been left behind

Leftovers

How does one finish with
stuff that’s not done
like a bird in the oven
still bleeding?

Can’t very well eat things
still moving now
can we? Not while it still keeps
its beating

It has stewed, it has baked
but no matter,
stlll kicking this thing’s not
completing

the process of dying
takes time and may
nevertheless bear
repeating

Hunger can’t rush it,
wishing won’t work,
but no worries.
We’re feeding

on scraps of leftovers
savouring each
it seems we are
still needing.

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