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Shaking Off the Negative

“The best way of removing negativity is to laugh and be joyous.”

– David Icke

I chose the above quote for my first blog of the year (indeed, the first blog on this site in two years) because it perfectly expresses two particular sentiments: first, the most obvious meaning of the quote, to embrace joy and let go of negativity. The second is more in my choice of author. David Icke is partly known for espousing government conspiracy theories, the majority of which I don’t personally agree with. Yet here we are, finding common ground when it matters.

I spent most of 2013 in something of a hazy, angry rage. The rage was often silent, but ubiquitous. I was frustrated about a great many things, and for much of the year, I believed those things to be external. Every time I turned around, there was a new report or article talking about how religious liberty was being threatened, how Obamacare was ruining the health care of hard working Americans, how the liberal culture was slowly seeping into how the nation is governed such that it is practically unrecognizeable anymore.

These things upset me because I care about our country. I care about the freedoms we enjoy. I am vehemently oppossed to a nanny state, to spreading the wealth, to limiting individual rights. The notion of big government makes me absolutely nauseous. Our nation is being run by a man who has never had a day of real work in his life, who was educated by the hippies and idealists of the previous generation, people who embrace ideas and philosophies that sound great on paper, but that fail miserably when implemented in reality. The incessant “I had no idea” rhetoric, the disdain with which he and his administration treats the founding principles of this nation (ideals that enabled him to get elected in the first place)…I’ve had my fill and then some.

The problem is not that these things upset me. The problem is what I do with my anger and frustration over them. For the past year, I’ve just raged on endlessly about it, complained about, pointed out the million reasons why it’s all going to fail. I stand by all of those arguments. They’re valid. I see it. A lot of other people see it. But – I let that anger just fester and change me, until I couldn’t see any good in anything. And that is where I went wrong.

Now, I admit, another source behind the “rage” was a personal issue or two that I’ve been dealing with. Questioning my faith, that sort of thing. I think most people face that kind of existential crisis. When it’s over, you’re either more certain than ever, or you have an epiphany that changes your worldview completely. In my case, it was the former. I’ve changed the way I think about some things. Or more accurately, my understanding of things has evolved, and said thought process changes came about organically because of that evolution.

We’ve got a lot of crazy things coming up in 2014. Creative projects will at long last reach fruition. Others will begin, and even on the homefront, things are set to change and evolve. It’s an exciting time. Thankfully, the holidays somehow managed to lift my spirit, to make me remember that life isn’t just all about the negative, even when it seems like that is all that surrounds us. I see signs of my fellow countrymen waking up, in light of a number of victories for Christian employers who don’t have to cover abortion-inducing drugs in their health plans, and in the reinstatement of the Robertson patriarch in Duck Dynasty (and prior to that, Cracker Barrel’s putting the Duck Dynasty products back on the shelves). I’m pleased to see more conservative Americans making some noise.

As I always do, I hope to post more frequently here and establish a more consistent routine for my writing, both fiction and non-fiction. I’m sitting on some cool ideas for screenplays and stories that I wouldn’t mind getting out there and selling. And of course, projects dear to me, such as Shepard, will be coming to fruition this year. Very excited about getting that out there!

But be warned: no topic is too big or small, to politically correct or risque. Read future entries at your own risk. And if I happen to offend you: stop what you’re doing, head down to Target, and buy a sense of humor.

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Reflections: 2012 Edition

I hadn’t planned on doing a year-end blog this year. But as I sit here at my desk on New Year’s Eve, it’s hard not to reflect on things. 2012 seems to fit the mold of the ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” So, I figured I’ll go ahead and do a brief retrospective.

The Maley kids continue their tendency of growing up way too fast. 2012 saw my oldest two finish up at elementary school and being their sojourn in middle school. My youngest three are now in third grade (the twins) and second grade (Alyssa). The boys enjoyed another season of baseball this year, while Alyssa became a cheerleader (though I’m pretty sure she was one from birth, and merely formalized it this year with a uniform).

I finally decided to get off my arse and back behind a camera, as my web series, “Shepard,” finally began to take shape. Auditions began in May and continued into June. In this, I was blessed with tremendous good fortune. The cast is stellar, better than I could have hoped for. We began filming in late July and continued on through August and September. Filming on the first season will complete in the spring and we will hopefully be able to release the season shortly thereafter.

This year wasn’t without loss, either. We bade farewell to “Grandma” Barber and her sister, Betty. Isabelle Barber was a strong and forceful presence, who was never afraid to let you know what she thought. I’ll never forget the early days of my relationship with Kim, how she was constantly sizing me up to see if I was good enough for her granddaughter. She was less than impressed at first, I think. Even so, she and her husband invited us to various functions with their church, and took us to Tionesta for the Indian festival. I’ve got a lot of fond memories of her, and she and Aunt Betty are both very missed.

2012 was also a year where I struggled with some things. A lot of times, these struggles went unnoticed by the world at large (and I’m sure Mrs. Grimm wishes they could have gone unnoticed by her, too). I won’t bother with the details here as they are of a personal nature, but I’d like to think I’ve made some progress and growth as a human being this year. I’ve let go of a lot of selfish inclinations, and in doing so I have come to realize how truly self-centered our culture is.

As I’ve struggled to become a better person, I’ve also accepted the fact that the world in which we live has changed dramatically for the worse, and will continue to do so. I’m not talking about the tragic, horrid shootings in Newtown, CT or Aurora, CO. Those are heinous and evil acts, but such things have been with us forever.

I’m referring to the fact that our nation has decided to turn its back on long-standing values in favor of systems and ideals that have never, and will never, work. We are marching boldly and foolishly towards our own demise, gladly begging the government to take care of us, feed us, and cloth us, because it’s easier than doing it ourselves. We no long value hard work, commitment, or anything that doesn’t give us something tangible and immediate as a reward. I shudder to think of the kind of world my kids are going to live in when they’re adults. We’re trying to demonstrate the value of hard work, of not getting a free ride, of taking personal responsibility for your own actions, treating others with respect even when you don’t feel like they deserve it. By the time they’ve grown into adults, those concepts may well be utterly alien to this entire country. The world may not have ended in 2012, but this country is on the right path.

Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” This is happening, right now. Some want to call it “progress” but it is not. It’s a culture of entitlement, arrogance, and failing morality. It’s “what I can I get” and “I deserve it” – with none of the work, effort, or courtesy and decency to other human beings. These are ideals that our nation is embracing, and it will eventually do just what Mr. Lincoln foretold.

But, this is a year-end retrospective, not a political sermon. As pessimistic as I am about the direction of our country under its current leadership and its woefully naïve, self-absorbed, uneducated citizenship, I do feel a degree of personal optimism. I feel as though I’ve made some decent progress with all the hats I wear: dad, husband, writer/director, Christian, and human being. I’ve grown in each of these areas, and more, and have become truly grateful for what I have.

2013 holds a lot of things in store. The Maley clan heads to Florida in March for a greatly anticipated visit to every kid’s paradise, Disney World. We’ve been trying to go for years now, and are finally able to make it a reality. My current contract ends in July, leaving me with new and exciting opportunities to explore. Shepard’s first season will completely wrap, and season two will be filmed, along with a short I’ve been working on.

And of course, I’ll also be memorizing a new series of kid-ages: 12, 11, 9, 9, and 8.

It’s hard to say what else may in store. And while I don’t look at New Year’s with the same blind, naïve optimism I’ve had in years past, I am grateful for the opportunity to try and make things better next year in whatever ways I can, for myself and for others.

I wish everyone a happy and safe celebration tonight, and a great start to 2013!

 

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To the Grave

Well, here we are.

Doomsday week. images

Is everyone ready for Friday? Evidence to the contrary, this is the date most crazy people whackadoos nutjobs people of questionable little no certain intelligence have earmarked for the end of the world, as foretold by the Mayans.

It grieves me a little, that so many accept so much on so little evidence. It grieves me further when those many, can’t even be bothered to get their own facts straight.

For the sake of argument, here’s a crash course in the Mayan calendar system. It’s way more complicated than the calendar we follow. Think of it more like an odometer than a calendar. Unlike our simplistic date system (MM/DD/YYYY), the Mayans had a whole string of numbers that represented things like baktuns, katuns, and plain, simple tuns. An example Mayan date looks like this: 12.19.19.3.11 (for the record, that’s March 7, 2012).

If you follow those numbers through to their natural progression, guess what happens on December 21? The odometer rolls over. The date on Friday will look like this: 13.0.0.0.0. That’s it, folks. In layman’s terms, what people are so afraid of is the Mayan version of Y2K. Fortunately, no computers run on the Mayan long-count calendar, so there will be no technological meltdowns, like we experienced on Y2K.

Oh, wait…

My morning reading today was replete with articles about people indulging in luxury bunkers, contemplating suicide, even contemplating killing their family to “spare” them the end of the world.

On a normal day, we might look at these people like they’re nuts.

But three days after a roomful of little kids is shot to death by a very sick individual fucking psycho, I think the mental state of these people warrants a closer look.

My wife and I have five kids. We know there’s not a parent on the planet that doesn’t want to reach out and hold onto the parents of Newtown, CT. My heart has broken a hundred times for each precious little child lost, and for the six brave adults who tried to protect them. It has also broken every time some idiot politician wants to talk about gun control. Of course something needs done about this. But other things need done first. Like grieving. Burying those who perished.

There’s something wrong with people. Something very wrong. And we, as a culture, as a society, as a race of people, have ignored it for too long. The root cause of this destructive, evil, senseless behavior is not going to be handled by taking away weapons or buying bunkers. It won’t be achieved through fear-induced mass suicide. The problem is depravity of spirit. People value other people too little, and value themselves (and their “stuff”) too much.

You have only to walk out your front door to witness firsthand the atrocities that humans commit against other humans. How many people in cars tailgate you until you move, then speed by and flip you the bird? What possible reason could they have for being in such a hurry? They don’t need a reason. That they’re in a hurry is sufficient, and damn the poor fool who gets in front of them.

How many battles have you waged to find a parking space in the mall, especially at this time of year? Hell, how many times have you been walking towards the door to Target, and suddenly people rush past you, so they can get there first?

Our culture is incredibly self-centered. Community doesn’t matter anymore. People don’t matter. All that matters is the list of things we need to cram into our busy day. All that matters is meeting our own needs. And if you get in our way, screw you. Because we are entitled to be happy and to have the things we want for ourselves.

Yet for all the cool stuff we have, I’ve never seen a more miserable, unhappy, depressed group of people than those out there, right now. Depression. Anxiety. Mental health issues. These things are rampant – rampant! Take stock: how many people do you personally know who take some kind of anti-anxiety medication, or anti-depressant? Who knows the difference between Zoloft and Ativan? Who has taken one or the other?

We have created a world that is morally ambiguous, bereft of any higher meaning or calling than our own self-interest. Where we place such importance on meaningless work and the meaningless acquisition of meaningless stuff, thereby creating a value system that is – you guessed it – meaningless. We open the door for people to feel stress, anxiety, and depression when life doesn’t work out like they think it should, because it is impressed upon us that we are entitled to be healthy, wealthy, and wise.

And these days, it’s worse. These days, we love to flaunt our wealth and happiness all over the internet, don’t we? And those who haven’t achieved what they feel they should have, those who don’t have what they think they deserve, get even more depressed looking at photos of their friends, colleagues, and former classmates on beaches and in exotic locations. We paint a picture of ourselves that makes it look like we have it all – even when we don’t. And many of us get depressed over seeing the “success” of others. Gee, I wish I could go to Hawaii. I wish I had a house that nice. Why can’t I take trips to Florida every year? Those folks fail to realize that pictures are a moment in time, and having stuff or going places doesn’t mean someone is happy. Smiles are easy to fake.

I’m not trying to assault those with depression or anxiety. In fact, I’m one of those who suffer. My anxiety is health-related, not stemming from Facebook envy. I wish my friends every success and honestly, I hope at least half of them are actually as happy as they make themselves out to be. Personally, I’m comfortable with where I am. Don’t need to flaunt. But I have major anxiety problems, mostly health-related, that have ironically led to actual health problems. I’m not ashamed of the anxiety, but I am frustrated with the world that has allowed such things to take root. I empathize with those who suffer, because I’ve spent many years suffering. To a degree, I still do.

Which is why I feel I’m uniquely qualified to point out that, hey, these things are real. As real as cancer, as real as heart disease, as real as influenza. Which means they are also treatable, when they’re identified. Therein lies the rub, though. Most people are content to explain away strange behavior in loved ones. Most people wait too long to seek treatment, or to intervene and recommend treatment for someone they know is having problems. “Oh, it’s just stress.” Well when “just stress” is left unchecked, it can push people into developing real health problems. Or push people into taking a weapon and taking a life (including their own). But we are content to ignore it, until it’s too late. Which shows that we have not yet reached the point where it is socially acceptable to have a mental illness.

Folks, there are people out there in this country, maybe in your town, who are thinking about ending their lives, and the lives of their families, THIS WEEK! This. Week. Because they are afraid. And they are depressed. They have no hope. And there are others out there who are contemplating taking a gun into a crowded place and opening up on people (already there have been 2 incidents since the awful tragedy in Newtown, CT. One was an averted crisis, the other took place at a shopping mall [no deaths, thankfully]).

This isn’t about weapons. It’s about a broken world. A broken race of people whose priorities are so skewed and distorted, that the idea of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a luxury bunker to assuage their own paralyzing fear, is more important to them than the suffering of an entire community whose children were just brutally slaughtered. In the midst of a very real, heartbreaking tragedy, in the midst of death and pain, people are still thinking about themselves. About killing themselves, or others, to avoid some imaginary apocalypse, popularized by self-absorbed, fear-mongering idiots and spread like wildfire by a culture over-exposed to information without context and obsessed with only looking out for themselves.

The human race is sick. If you are a believer, you know what that sickness is. You know it has a name. If you’re not, then perhaps it shall suffice to simply say, that it is sick. People do not value other people. They only value themselves, their own happiness, their own gain, their own safety. Community, unity, brotherhood are failing, replaced with “I’m entitled. It’s my right.” For those who disagree or stand in the way of what I believe and what I want, there is no compromise. There is only hatred – cries of heretic and traitor and idiot and how dare you! If your beliefs don’t align with mine, you’re a moron unworthy of life, and I hope you die. I’ve seen comments like this. Heard them. It’s disgusting. Self-focus in the extreme, often disguised as being “progressive.”

This is hard for me to write. I’m a product of this culture, too. I’m self-centered. I hate crowds. I tend to think people are idiots unless they prove otherwise. But you know what? That’s not a healthy attitude. It’s the predominant one, but that doesn’t make it healthy. It’s arrogant, pretentious, and judgmental, and it says a lot more about me than it does about the people who feel its wrath.

We once thought it was better and nobler to take the high ground, to be kind to others just for the sake of it. How much more noble is it now, that so many take the easy road? Anyone can hate. There’s nothing special there. But it does take something special to show kindness when you are shown none. To show mercy when none is granted you. To show love to those deemed unlovable. Because even that fucking psycho very disturbed person once sat in a Kindergarten class room, and came home to his mommy and daddy to tell them about his day. Would gun control laws have stopped him, as an adult? No. But maybe understanding what was wrong with him could have.

We are a sick nation, and right now we’re a grieving nation. These little ones deserved better than to be cut down at the very beginning of their lives. Those six adults demonstrated that more noble ideals do still exist out there, laying down their very lives for their beloved students. And our brothers and sisters on this rock deserve better than to be scared out of their wits by a fictional apocalypse. We’re all humans, for crying out loud. We’re all people. Fellow travelers toward the grave, as Dickens so eloquently wrote. We have to watch out for each other.

Just days away from the end of the world, and you know what? Things are looking pretty dark. Maybe it really is time for the end. After all, what is an ending, but a new beginning? And what better time than Christmas, a season that for many denotes the birth of new life?

Even the contemporary Mayans (yes, they still exist, and they’re laughing at the doomsayers) look to this Friday as a day of renewal. The start of a new cycle, and the end of the old. It’s an important time, yes. But not because it’s the end of all things. Rather, because it’s a new beginning for all things.

So, yes. Perhaps it’s time for the world to end. Perhaps it’s time for the people of this rock to start thinking differently. Because this sickness is killing us. This self-centered, ego-centric, “don’t care about anyone but me” attitude is going to destroy this country and this world eventually.

So, let the world as it is end. And let us have a new beginning, where people matter to each other. Where we watch out for each other out of respect, and can coexist as people with different ideologies and faiths. Reach out to those who are hurting. Remember the parents of Newtown, whose Christmas morning will be the hardest they’ll ever face. Remember those who face this weekend with fear. They don’t need our ridicule for being stupid, they need our support to heal and understand. Start recognizing that mental illness is real illness, and that those people need help – BEFORE it comes to shooting up a roomful of children, or teenagers, or a campus of college students, or themselves.

There will always be evil. And preventing every tragedy is impossible. But in the world we’ve created for ourselves now, without a moral compass, without absolutes, is a world in which evil can thrive more fully. Remove that, and you remove much of its power. And the only way to do that is to realize that the thousands of faceless people you see every day are just like you – they have their own lives, stories, and struggles. They are not worthy of your scorn or irritation. Their lives are more valuable than your Christmas list and your to-do list and your fancy new car with leather seats and a built-in MP3 player with GPS. Even though you’ve never met them. Even though they may not have even existed to you five minutes ago. Even though they may disagree with you on religion, politics, or any number of other things, their lives are still precious. Even if they don’t hold the same courtesy towards you.

Perhaps this is a tall order. Perhaps the dream is too big. But it is Christmas, and I’m just a big kid at heart. And kids dream big at Christmas. (Trust me, I know, I’ve got 5 of them dreaming bigger dreams than we’ll ever be able to afford!) Besides, when we aim high – even too high – the mark we do hit is much greater than when we lower our standards. So, let the end of the world (as we know it) commence. And if, all evidence to the contrary, the apocalypse does come on Friday, at least we’ve all got a front-row seat to the end of it all. That’s one hell of a Christmas gift.

Merry Christmas to those who observe it, happy holidays to those who don’t! Here’s a little parting gift to my more conservative-leaning friends. Enjoy!

Mayan_Cartoon3

 

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Back to Basics

The new year is always a great time to think about starting fresh.  It’s an arbitrary and sometimes rather silly human custom to attach such significance to a date.  Dates aren’t “real” per se, but man-made constructs to help denote the passage of time.  Marking time goes all the way back to the beginning of human history (and some believe even before), although I grant you it wasn’t as extreme as it is today.

I’ve never been a “New Year’s Resolution” kind of person.  I’ve never really believed you need a new year to make a chance in your life.  And this is coming from a guy whose day of birth was actually ON New Year’s Day (January 1st, 1979 to be precise).  Nevertheless, the end of the holiday season does seem to be an appropriate time to re-examine things.  For one thing, it involves a degree of cleaning, as the Christmas tree comes down and the decorations are put away from another year.  It’s time to set things back the way they were (or change them, if need be) and, basically, “get on with it.”

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past month reading and reviewing some of my creative efforts.  I can honestly say that a lot of what I’ve written has held up pretty well.  But then I look at more recent writings and already they seem flat, stale, uninteresting.  In fact it’s hard to tell they were even written by the same person.

Life stresses have come and gone and changed me as a person – but I have let too many things get in the way of one of the greatest pleasures I have ever known.  I love writing – I love creating and crafting, of taking vague ideas and giving them form, structure, substance.  Writing is at the core of almost all communication, be it professional or amateur, for entertainment or personal enjoyment.  There’s not a single aspect of the process I don’t enjoy.  I even get a rush from clacking on a keyboard and seeing the letters appear on the screen.

Yeah, I’ve got it bad.

But I’ve also gotten away from that.  I’ve let other obsessions get in my way.  I’ve let life stress and other problems get in my way.  I stopped giving myself time each day to write.  (Okay, so I’ve always been terrible at writing to a deadline; I said I was good, I didn’t say I was perfect).

So yes, as the title of this entry suggests rather non-discreetly, it is high time I not only go back and focus on my original creative passion, but it’s also time I improve it.  Writing pretty words only gets you so far if you can’t do it consistently.  My personal lethargy (or perhaps laziness would be a better term) has been nipped in the bud on several levels in my life – including, now, this one.  I’ve had a screenplay that I’ve been writing off and on for about twelve years, now.  Twelve years!  (Its history predates that; it had been a prose story way back in Jr. High.)  It’s time for that screenplay to get finished, to see life again.  My VS, Frontiers, has stagnated severely thanks to an inconsistent release schedule (that was almost entirely the fault of yours truly).  The fanbase has sadly dwindled a bit, but a few have stayed on and for them, I will make sure this show gets done.  (Got a few plans in motion to gain a bigger readership, too.)

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions.  But what I am going to do is make a commitment to myself to become a better writer.  To stay focused on it.  To wrap up Frontiers, to get Clash done once and for all, and then to move on to projects I actually intend to film, like Eternia and The Way of Seeming.

It won’t be easy.  I’ll probably stumble, or get bored.  But things worth doing are often the most difficult to achieve.

Oh yeah, one more resolution: to stop using so many darn cliche’s.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2011 in Uncategorized, Writing

 

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Reconciling Christmas: Part the First

Ah, Generation X.  The children of the baby boomers.  We lived through Reagan and Bush, survived Black Monday, and saw the nascence of the home computer and video game industries.  War was something we read about

Baby Boom

Baby Boom! No... not that one.

in history books, or that our grandparents (the so-called “Silent Generation” who survived the Depression) would talk about.  We witnessed the tragedy of the Challenger, the inexplicable rise of hair rock bands, and the birth of MTV (back when the M stood for Music, instead of Mindless).

Our childhoods were unique because we grew up in a time of relative peace that enabled the innovations we witnessed throughout our younger years.  Heck, I still remember our first VCR, and how amazing the concept of “renting” movies when I first heard about it.

On the downside, our parents also had a pretty high divorce rate.  A lot of GenXers come from broken homes, absent one parent or another due to divorce (or lack of marriage in the first place).  This seems to have led to a shift in cultural paradigms, because our generation began a trend that GenY continued (and often gets credited for): not getting married young.  There was a sharp rise in premarital sex when GenX hit our teen years, ostensibly because we saw what trouble marriage was when people jumped into it too quickly and didn’t want to repeat that.  This, of course, led to an upswing in teen pregnancies and STD’s.

Obviously, the point of this blog is to talk about Christmas, not delve into a sociological discussion about Generation X.  I’m trying to lay the foundation to explore why Christmas seems to have become so watered down and overhyped.  As GenXers continued to age and GenYers gained more prominence and representation, the more liberal ideas of the latter began to take center stage.  Probably due in part to the uncertainty and transitional state of their GenX forebears, GenY has forsaken many traditional and conservative values, but for the most part have not replaced those values with anything of substance.

Since the typical premium marketing demographic is in the (very vague and unofficial) range of 18-30,  most marketing and business have adapted to GenY’s more liberal leanings.  Suddenly we see fewer nativity scenes, a rise in prominence for other religious holidays in December, and the secularization of what is, by virtue of its very name, a religious holiday: “Cristes maesse” derived from the Greek “Christos” and the Latin “missa” – in other words, Christ’s Mass (interesting side-note: the abbreviation for “Christos” is – guess what? – the letter X; so simply writing X-mas is not, technically, taking the Christ out of Christmas).

I believe this is primarily why the holiday seems to hold less meaning for us today.  It’s all pomp and no circumstance, lots of glitter and red and green but bereft of its original substance and meaning.  (And when I say “original” in this context, I mean Christmas itself; not its predecessor, the pagan festival Saturnalia, or the German counterpart, Yule).

But Santa, what if I can't pay my mortgage?

So the struggle we face, especially since many of us are now raising our own kids, is what to do about Christmas.  It’s just not the same anymore.  Sure, in part it’s that we grew up.  Significant moments of childhood are often inconsequential as in adulthood.  But part of it is that Christmas has changed.  We look around now and see ridiculous sales and an increased focus on spending money and buying gifts, and we think… wow, that’s not what I remember at all.  Your memory isn’t faulty, folks.  That’s not how it was.

What was once a grand time of year is now frustrating.  It brings out the absolute worst in people.  Don’t believe me?  What about the Wal-Mart associate that was trampled to death under the heels of rampant Black Friday shoppers in 2009?  How many of you have been fortunate to actually have someone back off and give you a parking space, instead of racing you to it?  Shoppers prowl malls and stores on the lookout for the best deals, and they’ll knock you over and step on you to get there without a second thought.  The very concept of being a friendly, courteous, good neighbor is completely lost on them.

And the impatience and stupidity of people!  Everyone is in a hurry to get absolutely nowhere.  I’ve been tailgated on slick roads with my kids in the car by people who clearly have no concept of what ice does to traction.

And let’s not forget our own negative experiences with Christmas itself.  Do any one of you have a parent who had a clue how to tie the Santa story all together?  Or could provide a meaningful answer as to who the jolly one was in relation to this Jesus kid who was supposedly born on this day?  Probably not.  And as GenXers, we questioned our parents about everything.  Thanks to the relative peace and prosperity of our youth, we developed a culture of entitlement and expectation that the older GenY members have broken down into a science by now.  We knew better, right?  We could do better.

I’m going to examine three big elements of the holiday season over the next three days (well, nights), and offer some thoughts about how we can reclaim this holiday from its current, meaningless iteration.  Let’s reconcile then and now, and make the future, for our kids, a brighter one than we have ever known.  I’ll be starting with the path of least resistance, the simplest piece of this puzzle, the jolly red one himself, Santa Claus.  Or at least, that intangible ideal that is Santa, as one of the two big symbols of Christmas.


Reconciling the Symbols: Providing Context

Our generation is one of the first to really experience a massive influx of Santa culture, thanks to the advent of cable television in our youths, and the ever-evolving mass marketing methods.  We saw him everywhere – on billboards, on television (in commercials and in his own Christmas specials).  Who could forget the loose continuity of the Rankin Bass Christmas specials, like Rudolph and The Year Without a Santa Claus?  The big guy was everywhere, even more than in previous generations.

Sadly, this media explosion led to a ton of inconsistencies in his “origin story” if you will.  For one thing, most of us got name brand toys and electronics for Christmas, so the whole “elves making toys in a workshop in the north pole” thing kind of goes out the window.  Unless, of course, Sony had subcontracted some elves to produce a Santa-exclusive series of Walkman radios.

For another thing, our awareness of the world at large had evolved.  It was a big place!  How is it possible that Santa delivered toys to the entire planet?  And why did he always use the GMT -500 time zone that the eastern US utilizes?  When it’s midnight here, it’s already daylight in Japan.

And where did he come from?  Rankin Bass had their own theories, of course.  So did Clement Clark Moore in his classic poem, A Visit From St. Nicholas (better known to us as The Night Before Christmas).  Of course, Mr. Moore was likely onto something with that title.  A bit of rudimentary history reading will show you that there really was a St. Nicholas, who was born in Turkey sometime around 270 A.D.

Historically, Nicholas was a prominent and highly generous figure in the church (yes, even the “Santa” element of Christmas has religious roots).  His wealthy parents died at a young age, and Nicholas spent his inheritance to see the world.  He entered service to the church because he wanted to help others, and eventually became known as the patron saint of children, sailors, even thieves.

Yes, Virginia, there WAS a Santa Claus.

Of course, the man was only mortal and he eventually died.  Many stories arose about Saint Nicholas after his death.  It’s impossible to tell which are true and which are not, but the man’s selfless, generous life in service to others obviously provided the basis for the figure we know as Santa Claus.

In our house, Nicholas’ involvement in the church is at the forefront of what we teach our kids.  It’s real history – and it helps connect them to the very real history of Christ’s birth.  We’ve always tried to keep the stories of Santa sufficiently vague, explaining to the kids “they say” as opposed to stating it as a cold, hard fact.  We have a book we read near the start of each Christmas season, called, “A Place for Santa.”  It’s a cute little book that touches on “Santa’s” life as St. Nicholas.  I’ve seen other efforts made by the faithful to bridge the gap too, including a new VeggieTales video about him.

So why bother with Santa in the first place?  Speaking as a realist: try to avoid him.  It’s practically impossible.  He’s too much a part of our culture, and he’s not going away.  The kids are going to hear about him, from television, from their friends at school… heck my daughter’s Kindergarten teacher had her class write letters to Santa and he “wrote” them back.  No parents were consulted or warned prior to this so they could opt out or express concerns.

There’s no avoiding Santa, so the best thing you can do is educate yourself about him, and be prepared to answer any questions honestly.  Or tell them from the start who he really was.

You should also be prepared to deal with unintentional connections between Santa and Jesus – if “Santa” isn’t real, young (or naïve) minds may apply similar logic to Christ as well.  Every parent should be well-versed in apologetics if they intend to share their faith with their kids.  Understand the various evidence out there in support of Christ.  Understand any so-called counter-evidence; it’s kind of an implied mandate (see 1 Peter 3:15 – good advice, there).

Yes, I just referenced a Scripture verse – which is a great segue into part two of this blog: Reconciling the Religious and the Secular: To Believe or Not To Believe.  Stay tuned!  And remember, no matter how you handle this element of Christmas, remember that  whatever you tell them, is theirs for life, and it may color their own feelings about Christmas for years to come.  Don’t underestimate your influence.

Note: If you do wish to let your kids share in the Santa legends, there’s a nice little book we’ve read to our kids called, “A Special Place for Santa” – it’s available here.

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2010 in Writing

 

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Grateful

“Never let day nor night unhallowed pass but still remember what the Lord hath done.”
– William Shakespeare

Christmas is such a surreal time of year, and not just because of the “magic” in the air.  It tends to evoke strong emotions – from one side of the tracks or the other – in many people.  There are those who go overboard and follow the “Clark Grizzwald” path; typically well-meaning folk who get a little extreme and even competative in spreading their version of Christmas spirit.  There are those who loath the holiday because it seems like more and more the media and our retail businesses cram it down our throats.  And there are many subtle variations in between.

I feel a little different this Christmas.  This year has been one of change, growth, surprise, and probably a dozen other things that you could generically lump at the end of one of those “end of the year” family letters (mine will be posted in a week or so!).

Life, of course, is change.  You change, or you die (in a metaphysical sense).  This year, I faced a pretty drastic change, and it’s a change I am still in the process of making.  It’s a change in attitude, and the surprisingly long-running struggle to make sense of it all.

For those who don’t know (if you do know, feel free to skip over this part), I had a rather… traumatic experience this year.  Like many right-brain, creative folk (not to discriminate against you left-brainers, I know it applies to you too) I deal with a pesky thing called anxiety.  Lots of people do – probably many more than will ever admit it.  I found out the extent of it when I went to the ER for chest pains one night, which kicked off a week long event that ended with a CT scan “just to be sure” all was well.  I was told I had an aortic dissection (a tear in the interior of the aortic artery) and that I had to immediately have open heart surgery.  At age 30.  For a condition that people don’t usually get until well into their golden years.

Here comes the part I am thankful for.  Ready?  Despite the overwhelming evidence that had presented itself on it CT scan (examined by several very reputable doctors and surgeons), when they went in to do a closer examination (after collapsing my lungs and just before they were about to put me on the bypass machine) they discovered… Nothing. Was. Wrong.

Aside from gaining me the status of local celebrity for a few weeks in the corridors of the medical center, this frightening experience with a happy ending has left its mark on me.  Does it mean that I instantaneously transformed into a goody-goody?  No – though some may argue I’ve always been that (ha!).  But it started an agonizing process of transformation that has sometimes been almost more terrifying than staring down the blade of a scalpel.  It started a battle I didn’t know I needed to fight, but one I intend to win.

I won’t get into the details and intracasies of all that today.  What I took away from the whole experience can be summed up with an eloquent quote I heard on a television show after that experience: You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die. 

So this Christmas, I am extremely thankful.  I’m thankful to be alive at all.  I’m thankful that I didn’t have to undergo open heart surgery and the resultant consequences (blood thinners, lengthy recovery, lots of pain and a partly Borg-ified ticker).  I’m thankful that, just weeks later, I was able to land a job with a solid company that, despite some questionable values, has proven to be a blessing.  Most of all, I am thankful that next Friday, I will get to wake up early and watch as my kids experience all the magic that this morning, and this season, holds.

So if you’re one of those who grumbles because you have to spend time with family, or travel, or any of those things, I admonish you: be thankful you have family to visit.  Not for my sake.  For yours.

I may try to squeeze another entry in prior to Christmas.  Big plans for entries in January, too – including a short story I’ve been working on.  Until then…!

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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Grimm’s Top Ten Christmas Carol Countdown

I’ve always been very passionate about music.  I can’t play a note to save my soul, but I love it.  It moves me, inspires me, and reaches me on a level I cannot even describe in words, as if it bypasses my brain, my flesh, my bones, and reaches out to my very core directly.

I love orchestral and classical music.  I adore the music of Amy Lee and Evanescence (which reaches me on an even deeper level than what is described above) as well as many degrees in between.  Music inspires me in ways that defy explanation.

It is little wonder, then, that a 30 year old kid who grew up as an only child and for who Christmas has always been a very special time (perhaps moreso than most) that the music of this festive season is also very dear to me.  It is tragic to see how maligned Christmas music has become in recent years.  Overexposure to anything is never a good thing, and the fact that many retail chains play Christmas music at the stroke of midnight on October 31st really doesn’t help things.

Nevertheless, if you take the time to examine some of these songs you may find that you can appreciate them better.  Not only do they help set the tone for this season (something no other holiday/season can boast of, to this degree) but the lyrics are often very touching and surprisingly insightful.  Overexposure has dulled their meaning to many ears – so I wanted to examine my ten favorite Yuletide tunes and explore what makes them so moving.  Some are classics and some you may really wonder about – but all should be interesting to you.  This list is completely subjective, based on the things about this season that I personally find value in.  So without further adieu, I give you…

Grimm’s Top Ten Christmas Carol Countdown

(Editor’s note: Not all of these songs are “carols” in the literal sense [i.e. a festive religious song] but I think you’ll agree they all fit in with the spirit of the season!)

10.  Winter Wonderland

Writers: Felix Bernard (C) / Richard B. Smyth (L)

What better way to start off the festive list with a festive song about being… uh… festive?  The catchy tune also captures the fun of a northern hemisphere Christmas and the magic that seems intrinsic to a landscape covered in nothing but white.  It evokes some very fond memories from my childhood, when all there was to do when it snowed was… play in it!

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening, 
In the lane, snow is glistening
A beautiful sight,
We’re happy tonight.
Walking in a winter wonderland.

Gone away is the bluebird,
Here to stay is a new bird
He sings a love song,
As we go along,
Walking in a winter wonderland.

In the meadow we can build a snowman,
Then pretend that he is Parson Brown

He’ll say: Are you married?
We’ll say: No man, 
But you can do the job
When you’re in town.

Later on, we’ll conspire,
As we dream by the fire
To face unafraid, 
The plans that we’ve made,
Walking in a winter wonderland.

In the meadow we can build a snowman,
And pretend that he’s a circus clown
We’ll have lots of fun with mister snowman,
Until the other kids knock him down.

When it snows, ain’t it thrilling,
Though your nose gets a chilling
We’ll frolic and play, the Eskimo way,
Walking in a winter wonderland.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDCjHN8vFcc&feature=related

9.  Thank God For Kids

Writer: Eddy Raven

Technically, this song has nothing to do with the holiday of Christmas, but rather celebrates children and childhood from the perspective of a loving parent.  In this season that celebrates the birth of a child, and contains to much magic and wonder for children, this song is perfectly at home on my list.

If it weren’t for kids have you ever thought,
There wouldn’t be no Santa Claus,
Or look what the stork just brought
Thank God for kids.
And we’d all live in a quiet house
Without Big Bird or a Mickey Mouse
Or Kool-aid on the couch
Thank God for kids.

Thank God for kids there’s magic for a while
A special kind of sunshine in a smile
Do you ever stop to think or wonder why
The nearest thing to heaven is a child.

Daddy, how does this thing fly?
And a hundred other where’s and why’s
I really don’t know but I try
Thank God for kids.
When I look down in those trusting eyes
That look to me I realize
There’s love that I can’t buy
Thank God for kids.

Thank God for kids there’s magic for a while
A special kind of sunshine in a smile
Do you ever stop to think or wonder why
The nearest thing to heaven is a child.

When you get down on your knees tonight
And thank the Lord for His guiding light
And pray they turn out right,
Thank God for kids.
Thank God for kids.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-o3rbZxUlY

8.  O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Writer: John Neale (translator)

I first heard this one when we performed for it for a concert back at good old BVCA.  Our version was slightly different than the mainstream one, and I liked it more.  Nonetheless, one gets a sense of the importance of Christ’s birth in this brooding yet beautiful song.  The sorrowful longing seamlessly transitions into a hopeful yearning for the promised Messiah.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times did’st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBfPnUZh-Bc

7.  Hark!  The Herald Angels Sing

Writer: Charles Wesley

A truly versatile song, I’ve heard soft and pleasant arrangements and bombastic, heroic arrangements and both work very well.  It is the glad proclamation of Christ’s birth and all that his birth represents.  My favorite line can be found just below in the first paragraph (“join the triumph of the skies”) – what gorgeous and poetic imagery.

Hark the herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ by highest heav’n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin’s womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtqWRsnDBOM

6.  Joy to the World

Writer: Isaac Watts

Another triumphant and joyous celebration of the coming of Christ, this song is fantastic with or without the lyrics.  The powerful arrangement evokes images of the long-awaited Messiah finally coming.  I’ve used orchestral versions in productions I have worked on to great effect, though the joyful lyrics are just as moving.

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the Earth! the Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5iRUABBiko

5.) Mary, Did You Know?

Writer: Mark Lowry

We take a contemporary turn heading into the top five.  “Mary, Did You Know” is a beautifully written song that posits the incredible whirlwind of thoughts that must surely have been going through Mary’s mind as she bore her unborn child to Bethlehem.  Not only this, but it puts his birth in the larger context of his life and ministry by hinting at what lays in store for this baby boy who is destined to do so many amazing things.  The play on words at the conclusion of the first verse is heart-wrenching.  It’s a gorgeous and chill-inducing song and a modern classic in its own right.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?

Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?

Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

The blind will see, the deaf will hear and the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb.

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?

Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfpK6cNPF7Y&feature=related

4.) O Holy Night

Writer: Adolphe Adam

One of the most eloquent songs about the human experience of the salvation that Christ brings.  This is a soft and reverent piece that perfectly captures the humble coming of the Savior, but with an almost epic subtext to the lyrics and arrangement that excites the soul at what this sleeping child means for mankind.

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of Our dear Saviour’s birth.

Long lay the world In sin and error pining,
‘Til He appear’d And the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope The weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks A new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees! O, hear the angels’ voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;

O night divine, O night, O night Divine.

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts By His cradle we stand.

So led by light of A star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men From Orient land.

The King of Kings Lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials Born to be our friend.

He knows our need, To our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!

Behold your King, Behold your King.
Truly He taught us To love one another;

His law is love And His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break For the slave is our brother;

And in His name All oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy In grateful chorus raise we,

Let all within us Praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,

His power and glory Evermore proclaim.
His power and glory Evermore proclaim.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZ-8jYpa1-o

3.) Grown-up Christmas List

Writers: David Foster (C) and Linda Thompson Jenner (L)

Another contemporary classic, this beautifully crafted piece shows that even adults can have fantasies that seem childish – only instead of presents and bows, the singer’s poignantly selfless pleas are for an end to the evils of this world and healing for those who are hurting.  That is the heart of this season even for many of the secular persuasion.  Perhaps I am betraying my own childish dreams by admitting that I can scarcely hear this song (or read its lyrics) without letting a few tears slip.  After all, this Christmas list is identical to my own.

Do you remember me
I sat upon your knee
I wrote to you
With childhood fantasies

Well, I’m all grown up now
And still need help somehow
I’m not a child
But my heart still can dream

So here’s my lifelong wish
My grown up Christmas list
Not for myself
But for a world in need

No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
and wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end
This is my grown up Christmas list

As children we believed
The grandest sight to see
Was something lovely
Wrapped beneath our tree

Well heaven surely knows
That packages and bows
Can never heal
A hurting human soul

No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end
This is my grown up Christmas list

What is this illusion called the innocence of youth
Maybe only in our blind belief can we ever find the truth
(there’d be)

No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end, oh
This is my grown up Christmas list

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAWhfBrJ4iA&feature=related

These final two songs are the culmination of everything this holiday means to me on a personal level, and it’s absolutely impossible for me to name one over another.  So I give you my top two:

Silent Night

Writers: Josef Mohr (L) and Franz Xaver Gruber (C)

There is something about the sheer simplicity of this piece that carries with it the very essence of this season.  Hearing this song, one is transported to the calm, quiet of Bethlehem that night.  I can’t say much more about it.  The lyrics say it all.

Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
round yon Virgin Mother and Child,
Holy infant so tender and mild,
sleep in Heavenly peace!
sleep in Heavenly peace!

Silent night! Holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight;
glories stream from Heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia,
Christ, the Saviour, is born!
Christ, the Saviour, is born!

Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God, Love’s pure light
radiant, beams from Thy Holy face,
with the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JtQr81k3TSk

Little One

Writer: Shirley Watson

Even when I was a raucous teen, this song moved me.  It moves still, now that I have my own kids.  Now that I have seen the excitement of Christmas morning from the other side of the wrapping paper.  Not only does it celebrate the joys of being a little one at Christmas time, it celebrates the Little One that we honor at this time of year.  It brings to mind memories of when my oldest was young, looking down on him as he slept and wondering what the future would bring.  Few songs cut to the heart of this season as deftly and beautifully as this one.  If it’s not part of your Christmas playlist, it should be.

She sat by the fireside ’til her eyes became too heavy,
and she wandered off in dreams with elves at play.
Daddy found her sleepin’ and took her up to bed,
where she would spend the night in Santa’s flying sleigh.
Christmas was a whisper in her ear
Sounds that only children’s hearts can hear.

Little one, in the morning when you waken
You’ll find your every dream has taken form
There’ll be joy…
Christmas day will come to life because of you
you are loved, little one!

Mary lay and pondered until her eyes became too heavy
and she finally found the rest she’d struggled for.
Joseph sat in silence, watched the baby sleeping
wondered what the future held in store.
Angel voices whispered in his ear
Reaching down, he drew the baby near.

Little one, in the morning when you waken
the world will find that God has taken form.
They’ll be joy…
And the earth will have new life because of you
You are loved, little one.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWPsN-vAt00&feature=PlayList&p=3EF3662D00DF39B4&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=66

I should note that it was VERY hard to find a copy of “Little One” and I don’t think the link above does it justice entirely as it’s slightly faster paced and not as atmospheric.  Still, it gets the idea across. 

And there we are.  What are some of YOUR favorite Christmas songs?  I’d love to hear them.

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2009 in Writing

 

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