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 ?

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.


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


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


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.


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”.


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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One response …

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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


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


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

the process of dying
takes time and may
nevertheless bear

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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Jaren kissing me goodbye on his way to a Christmas Party

No, he doesn’t look a bit like the kindly grandfather-like figure in the 1951 movie version of “A Christmas Carol”, probably because I never had a grandfather. My Ghost of Christmas Past is a nebulous shape-shifter morphing around as he drags me from scene to scene. Since this isn’t about the guide, but the journey, it matters little since he does employ that cool fade technique.

Fade in:

Christmas morning. Suburban living room. 1950s.

An oval braided rug echos forest green drapes and the dark brown of a skirted sofa framed by blond wood side tables. Tree in one corner lit with bulbs the size of thumbs, some glowing white through scrapes and scratches in their paint and reflecting on massive amounts of tinsel. The sound and smell of percolating coffee invades from the kitchen. My maternal grandmother sits and smokes as we wait for Christmas to start.

Dissolve to:

Same day, different year, same house.

My brothers and I wear new flannel pajamas our mom made. A sewing basket sits beside the sofa. A sock with a light bulb stuffed in the toe awaits darning.

A walnut table has been added to the room. Intricately carved legs are my duty to dust. It had been in Grandma’s house before she died, now it is my mother’s.

A bicycle! What a beauty! Blue and white with a basket attached to the handlebars. Ribbons and bows.

Dissolve to:

Same day, different year, different house, different town.

Oak floors polished by some guy sliding my brothers and me around on towels to buff the wax. Much bigger tree, same strings of lights with more scratches. Dad promised French pancakes for breakfast. Christmas Eve dinner had been at the hotel with us running in and out of the kitchen and getting festive with the cooks and waitresses that worked for our dad.

We go to Mass. I’m in the fifth grade at St. Joseph’s and Sister Mary Stanislaus would not be happy if I didn’t put in an appearance. My father refuses to go through the motions … no genuflecting, no standing, no kneeling … and although I’m embarrassed by the idea that he doesn’t know what’s expected, he impresses me with scoffing. The music was nice, though, and I like to sing.

Dissolve to:

Same day, different year, different house, back to the first town, different family.

Crowded suburban house with a step-mother and five step-sibs in addition to me and two brothers. My mother sends fudge and a Barbie doll that looks like her. My brothers and I don’t share the fudge with the others.

Dissolve to:

Same day, different year, different town, apartment next to the freeway so new it smells like paint and plaster, just us again.

Tiny tree on a table in a small living room. Y.A. Tittle gives my little brother a football uniform. All our gifts are from someone famous. None say they are really from Dad, but we get the joke.

Dissolve to:

Same day, different year, different town, another new apartment.

Christmas dinner at a restaurant that makes great hot turkey sandwiches.

Dissolve to:

Same day, different year, different town, different family.

Chinese food with a new step-family.

Dissolve to:

Same day, different year, different town, different family.

Mom’s house in Small Town USA. Moronic step-father reads the paper upside-down … or might as well. Jenn and Jaren are little and my brothers wear out the batteries in their Star Trek communicators before Christmas Eve is over. I get a TV from Mom. A brother gets an ID bracelet.

A turkey neck simmers on a back burner, the grinder comes out from the bottom drawer and a turkey is stuffed with Grandma’s recipe. Green jello. Stuffed celery. Pumpkin pies on the washing machine.

Fade to: Calendar flipping through years …

Fade in:

Christmas Day, huge Victorian house in mid-town California city.

A tree stands fourteen-feet tall in the doorway, lights reflected in the oak floors. Burgundy walls and green rugs add a festive feel.

Husband once again has coerced me into letting him open one gift on Christmas Eve. As always, he chooses the BIG box with the fancy wrapping paper. As he does every year, he falls for the socks. Jenn is home from college. Jaren is living in the basement apartment. Brothers are there with girlfriends. Dad has written a poem and we give him a computer. Step-sisters come with Chinese food and their families. The guys play basketball in the living room once the mayhem of gift opening is cleared.

Dissolve to:

Same day, different, different house, different country, different husband.

Doors wide open to catch the morning breeze as the plastic tree rotates. Cj crawls around wearing Rudolf antlers. Sam waits for Christmas to start as the kettle boils. The mess from the annual Christmas Eve party has been cleared away. We open our gifts, smile, play with the kids and their new toys, then dress and head to Gay’s for Christmas lunch.

Dissolve to:

Same day, different year, same house, no husband.

Friends spend Christmas Eve with us and are still around in the morning to help open gifts and spread cheer. Fiance is on Skype from Mexico watching and commenting and hopes are expressed that the next year won’t see us so far flung. Kids play with their new stuff.

Fade to black.

If life is to follow Victorian fiction, these scenes should dovetail into a viz from a Ghost of Christmas Present where I learn yet more about the true meaning of this holiday.


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I have something I need to get off my chest, and I need to do that now if it’s going to be out of my system by Monday. If you’re not in the mood to listen to me whine and watch me wallow, click here now and come back in a few days when I’ve managed to pull myself out of my own ass long enough to write about something interesting.

If you decide to stay for the train wreck, it starts with:


The kids come home after a week with their dad day after tomorrow … that will be the 13th of December, more commonly referred to as 11 days before Christmas … and before they rush in all excited and ready to put up the tree I must exorcise the ghosts of Christmases past, work off my Grinchy Scrooginess, or Scroogie Grinchishness … whatevahhhhh … and be ready to put on some semblance of a show of festive cheer.

Oh, goodie.

Pathetic, aren’t I? And what a crap mom.

Guilt is only one ornament dangling from the just-slightly-too-green branches of the fake tree I’ll be un-boxing (Thankfully, the tree spins, so is tacky enough to be mildly amusing.), although its multifacets do make it impressive. From one angle it looks like memories and regrets over past Christmases, those occasions when Jenn and Jaren were small. From another, it’s Christmas present, this one right here, right now … the one Sam and Cj and I were supposed to be in Mexico for, but instead will find us opening gifts on the morning, then … who knows? Then there’s the future angle that will have me writing a summation of the year on Christmas night to go in the box when I take the tree down just in case this is the last one I’m around for.

Loneliness is another decoration pulled out for this fucking holiday, reminding me Christmas Eve will see me putting the gifts out, turning out the lights and sleeping alone … again.

Isolation, that dull, lead lump I’ll stick on a bottom branch, brings to mind the fact that all of my family but Sam and Cj and everyone I shared my life with before moving to this rock is thousands of miles away.

Worry is a particularly unattractive bit of fluff, but comes along with gift buying and the realization that the next Christmas will come around faster than a kettle boils.

Annoyance is bright and shiny and made in China. It hangs everywhere making shops here look like the aftermath of an attack of vomiting elves. What is it about this holiday that has people thinking astoundingly ugly sparkly shit all of a sudden has esthetic appeal? And what’s with that fucking music?

Yeah, yeah … I know how lucky I am. I have a roof over my head, wonderful children, amazing friends. I can walk and talk and write and drive. We’re not hungry. We don’t live in a war zone and aren’t likely to find ourselves forced into refugee status. I live in a beautiful place. And if I just focused on all that instead of the negative crap … if I quit indulging in self-pity … if I embraced the holiday … if I pulled myself out of my own ass and aimed my energy at Sam and Cj and at making this a joyful, happy time they will incorporate into their memories of a happy childhood … if I did all that stuff … this just might end up being a not-too-bad Christmas with some fun to be had with hugs and love and laughs going around.

But first I needed to get this out of my system. By Monday I’ll be ho-ho-fucking-hoing. In the meantime, please excuse me from the festivities.

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Is connectivity making people smarter?

I’m not talking about those with the inclination to investigate every innovation, develop platforms for interaction or keep track of what humanity is up to, although I do wonder what Julian Assange might have done with his smarts if the Internet didn’t exist and how many other brilliant minds might have gone to seed in the days before sitting around in your bedroom in smelly sweats for days on end allowed one to reach into the guts of power of all sorts.

No, I’m thinking about the reasonably bright lot for whom ease of access to information, one-click research and breakfasting on RSS feeds just might be growing brain cells or teaching the ones already there to shake hands more often.

Historically, availability of info has been proven to do just that, and along with the process of getting smarter shit happens, as this WSJ article illustrates:

As Gutenberg’s press spread through Europe, the Bible was translated into local languages, enabling direct encounters with the text; this was accompanied by a flood of contemporary literature, most of it mediocre. Vulgar versions of the Bible and distracting secular writings fueled religious unrest and civic confusion, leading to claims that the printing press, if not controlled, would lead to chaos and the dismemberment of European intellectual life.

These claims were, of course, correct. Print fueled the Protestant Reformation, which did indeed destroy the Church’s pan-European hold on intellectual life. What the 16th-century foes of print didn’t imagine—couldn’t imagine—was what followed: We built new norms around newly abundant and contemporary literature. Novels, newspapers, scientific journals, the separation of fiction and non-fiction, all of these innovations were created during the collapse of the scribal system, and all had the effect of increasing, rather than decreasing, the intellectual range and output of society.

I started blogging back in 2003 on a professional site that eventually saw my posts getting over 100,000 hits a month. It was new to a lot of people then, all this Internet interaction, but the site was topic-specific … adoption … and many came to it looking for information tailored to their issues, questions and needs. Approaching what was to many a new way of gaining knowledge with an agenda encouraged participation, and a jump into one pool of info prompted leaps into others.

In pursuit of fodder, I joined a bunch of groups … Yahoo first, then Google offered forums for exchange, and the give-and-take was often lively after people overcame their original shyness.

Most new members announced themselves as such, apologizing in advance for any blunders as they tiptoed into discussions, but soon gained confidence not only with the technology, but also in their ability to convey meaning through writing their thoughts.

Unlike in the time when written material was often a one-side lecture and responses took days or weeks to lob the discussion ball back over the net, hot debates started happening in real time with only seconds passing between one point and the next.

People not only began to type faster, they learned to frame thoughts in ways that could be typed fast and understood. Without the benefit of vocal tone, eye contact and body language, words needed to be well chosen and presented if one had any hope of having meaning comprehended by the target audience.

Online groups led to social networking, and chatting and typing got even faster. People grew beyond the fear of putting thoughts in writing … an ‘engraving in stone’ idea that had some concerned for a while about the written word … and began to converse comfortably with their fingers.

The global scope gets people from widely-flung countries and cultures talking, an opportunity that serves to extend the range of thought at the same time it encourages us to consider people geographically distant to feel like neighbors chatting over the back fence. With online translators … as crap as they are … we can even communicate across language divides.

Sure, a lot of what goes back-and-forth is inconsequential bollocks … flirty bullshit, schmooze, schmaltz and preaching to the choir … but it is back-and-forth, active, so has more likelihood of developing into something of interest than sitting in front of the TV. For those who think inconsequential bollocks is what it’s all about ….

The decade the pessimists want to return us to is the 1980s, the last period before society had any significant digital freedoms. Despite frequent genuflection to European novels, we actually spent a lot more time watching “Diff’rent Strokes” than reading Proust, prior to the Internet’s spread. The Net, in fact, restores reading and writing as central activities in our culture.

On a personal level all this connectivity has made life on a tiny island vastly more interesting, and, yes, it has made me smarter. Friends from all over the world share ideas and information freely and easily, so my perspective is wider. I can read news from just about anywhere, from the Red Bluff Daily to Al Jazeera, and although I often feel the overload I can click from link to link to link and examine any issue. When I have a question about anything I can find an answer … or 1,000.

Sure, I can also watch Bullwinkle pull a rabbit out of a hat … oops, wrong hat … and read all the stupid shit that floats, but even that keeps my brain working.

There is no going back … I hope, although today’s news on the ramping up of what is rapidly evolving into a war has me worried that we’re sure to see serious attacks designed to rein in freedom of information.

Those of us with Internet access … even me with my fucking unreliable Kokonet connection … have grown accustomed the routine of getting a bit smarter, or at least better informed, every day, and as more people connect the world gets smaller and smarter, both through reference sources and personal contacts previously impossible.

For example, I have a facebook friend in Niger, so can not only Wiki the country for info, I can write to my pal with questions on day-to-day living, his take on politics and events and a weather report.

When news happens … the recent tragedy in Cambodia comes to mind … it’s not difficult to get a first-hand account from someone there.

The option we have now of removing or ignoring filters placed by those with an agenda we may not see makes it possible to get closer to the bottom of any issue of interest, and as we get better at learning how to use our ‘connections’ to plumb depths we expand the concept of our place in the world.

Of course, there is a downside …

It’s a lot harder to find an excuse to be stupid.

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