• Life

    Happy Solstice, Everyone!

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    I’m going to be honest with you, I hate Christmas.


    Oh, there’s the germ of several holidays still contained in it, but what our society has done to Christmas is more or less disgusting when you look at it with a little bit of objectivity, whether you want some version of the original pagan celebration, the Christianized version, the Roman Saturnalia, or some other standard that we’ve commercialized until all that’s left is that commercialism at a societal level, whatever anyone might think.

    Christmas is a financial transaction that dominates a full sixth of our calendar on its own and its aftermath pushes into the new year. We spend money we don’t have on things no one needs. Don’t forget to wrap things so that you can throw out the wrapping when it’s over. We push our electricity bills to light up decorations that will only be good enough until something better comes along, probably next year. We’ve built our basic retail economy around the Christmas “season” where that short span makes or breaks the entire year however little we pay our frontline employees.

    Buy, buy, buy. Consume, consume, consume.

    As individuals, we have a choice, though.

    And this year, my family has elected to make a choice that involves far less consumption. Less buy of things, less shopping. More family, more time, more together. This would have been the case without COVID, too. As it is, the coming lockdown will help enforce what I’ve got planned.

    Solstice was at 0502 this morning. Welcome to the Twelve Days of Yule. This is Day One.

    Each day, there’s a special food or event or drink or some combination of the three. I’ve stolen from traditions on both sides of the family for food and drink ideas. Mead and mulled wine and cider and even sloe gin. Roasted various things with vegan options and lots of baked goods. Events are going to be mostly relaxing family fun. Games night, movie night, bonfire night, and so on.

    It’s not our job to feed into the fallacy of eternal economic growth at all costs. But it is our job to maintain family ties and make sure we remember to love and care for each other.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

    And a joyous Yule to you all.

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  • Life,  Music

    My Christmas Play List

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    Whatever you’re celebrating this time of year, I hope it’s good. I hope it’s everything you need to be.

    I realize a previous post may lead you in the direction of me not liking Christmas. Actually, I’m fairly certain I said that I kind of hate it. I also explained, which only matters if you took the slightly misleading title of the post to heart, that what I hate is what our society has made of Christmas.

    I do, however, mostly hate Christmas music. Even once you peel out all of the blatantly religious songs that do still seem to get play everywhere, the majority of what you have left seems to be either blatantly materialist or designed to keep you mindlessly obedient. Get rid of that, and the children’s songs, and the pickings are starting to be slim. Peel out the humor and satire, which I do enjoy, and now you’re getting down to the things that are actually about stuff.

    And that’s where I her live, so my playlist is small. This year, it seems to have only 11 songs in it. Not any particular order, again, minus the humor and satire. Maybe I’ll do a list of those next year.

    White Wine in the Sun – Tim Minchin

    Making the very point that Christmas has been rebuilt on a foundation of consumerism, whatever else it might have meant to anyone else.

    Father Christmas – The Kinks

    Reminding us that not everyone has it good and that the season sucks for some people.

    Do They Know It’s Christmas – Band Aid

    In response to a famine in Ethopia. Millions of people starving in one country. At Christmas, who would have thought such a thing could happen?

    I Believe in Father Christmas – Greg Lake

    A protest song about the commercialization of the holidays. In 1975. I wonder what the songwriter thinks these days.


    You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch – Dr. Suess

    Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.

    Christmas Wrapping – The Waitresses

    Life is too damned busy. Even at Christmas. Especially at Christmas.

    Happy Christmas – John Lennon

    Also a protest song, one looking for peace.

    Merry Fucking Christmas – South Park

    You mean other people have different beliefs than I do? NSFW.

    Thank God It’s Christmas – Queen

    Maybe we can have a single, quiet night when we can forget all of our problems and worries.

    Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime – Paul McCartney

    Closest thing on this list to a mindless fluff piece, but you need to look a little closer. It’s about living in the moment at Christmas, something that’s hard for most of us anytime.

    Please Come Home for Christmas – The Eagles

    Missing someone at Christmas, maybe someone you can never see again.

    Be well, everyone.

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  • Opinion,  Philosophy

    I Kind of Hate Christmas

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    Is it worth it?

    Confession time: I kind of hate Christmas.

    Okay, maybe hate is too strong a word. And I don’t necessarily mean the basic concept of Christmas itself. Whatever religious significance you’d like to attach to the holiday, to me Christmas is the gatherings of family and friends, a sharing of thoughts and time, a reminder of the important things. Whatever particular version of a particular holiday you choose to celebrate this time of year, I’d be willing to bet that those things are somewhere close to its core.

    Unfortunately, that’s not what our society is trying to force down our throats, and hasn’t been for a really long time.

    What we have is Christmas decorations for sale starting as early as the long weekend in August. As the calendar advances, they take up more and more space, barely giving away anything to Thanksgiving, which, due to its nature of it primarily just being about being grateful for what we have, has a hard time completing, hence the spread of the black Friday plague. It grudgingly allows some space for Halloween, which people like to celebrate with a sugar overdose, but before those decorations can come down on the first of November, Christmas is in full swing. The music, the decorations, the moral outrage that the holiday isn’t what some people think it is, the public displays of over-consumption and conspicuous goodwill.

    No other holiday requires two full months to celebrate and three more to remind us that it’s coming.

    So yes, I hate Christmas. But what I hate about it, we’ve done to ourselves.

    If it makes you happy, if you find joy in it, you can have your annual debt increase and smoking credit cards. You can have your ridiculous pile of decorations and your inflated electric bill. You can have your rampant materialism and consumerism and all your shiny new toys. You can even have your table-breaking, seam-splitting, belly-bursting, enough calories to survive on for a month Christmas Day feast. I’m good, thanks. I’ve had enough.

    I’ll have my family, a quiet meal in a safe place, and as much time with them as I can manage. I’ll have my friends where I can find them, a shared drink, and a toast to warm memories.

    “It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?” (Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!)

    At least, he thinks it used to.

    Be well, everyone.

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  • Life

    I Think I Hate Christmas

    Facebooktwitterrssyoutubeby featherReally. Christmas sucks in a lot of ways and I’m just about as sick of it as I can get. Writing that, I’m fairly convinced I’ll be even more sick of it next year.

    Hear me out for a minute.

    Major retail outlets start having a Christmas section sometime in August, more than four months before the actual holiday itself. I (like everyone else) am supposed to spend hundreds of dollars on decorations and thousands of dollars on gifts every year, plus whatever the annual holiday feast is supposed to cost. Spend, spend, spend.

    To get me in the mood, those same retail outlets move to a Christmas music format the instant Halloween is over, in some cases before.

    Don’t forget cards and wrapping paper. And gift tags; those are far more important than you know. All single-use stuff.

    Open your wallet and spend.

    Extra events, extra travel. Did you notice the price of gas go up?

    Spend, spend, spend. Rack up a little more debt. Mortgage your future so you don’t look like a cheapskate this Christmas. You’ve got the rest of your life to pay it down.

    The forced togetherness. I want to get together with my friends and family because we want to, not because society tells me that’s what we have to do. I actually like my family even, though she may be shocked to learn it, my sister, in spite of the fact that we have to be very careful about the subjects that come up in conversation or we wind up arguing.

    The “War” on Christmas. Why does anyone think anyone else cares how they celebrate a holiday? I just need certain people to stop telling me how I need to celebrate it. While we’re on the subject, those same folks also need to stop whining about how no one can make them stop saying ‘Merry Christmas’ and force them to say ‘Happy Holidays’ instead. I hope you have a merry Christmas. I hope it’s everything you want it to be. But ‘Happy Holidays’ is more inclusive, takes in unknowns, and recognizes that there are huge numbers of people, even in the country I live in, who celebrate something other than Christmas. They deserve a little joy, too, don’t they?

    And every year, the Salvation Army trying to pass itself off as a charity. The Salvation Army is a church, as noted in multiple places on their website. Their mission statement contains the phrase “exists to share the love of Jesus Christ”. Their core values are “Salvation, Holiness and Intimacy with God”. Church. Religion. They may do charitable works, though they’re not accountable to anyone for how or how much they happen to deliver.

    All the money we spend could actually do something other than make the pile in our local landfill bigger. If you spend $1000 on Christmas crap (which is pretty light for a lot of families these days), how much good could you have done by getting it to an actual charity that does actual work to help actual people.

    Stop telling me I have to be cheerful because it’s Christmas. I don’t. Not today, not tomorrow, and not because it’s Christmas. Maybe I’ve got mental health issues and I don’t need you making me feel guilty because I’m not cheerful. Maybe my life situation is hard at the moment. Maybe I’m just not a cheerful guy.

    And no, by the way, I don’t want to go to your (or any) church or community centre for the special Christmas service/pageant/choir. I’m good, thanks.

    Christmas just digs us in deeper, individually and collectively. As it’s currently celebrated in our culture, it’s a blight on the face of our personal finances, our economy, and our society.

    So, yeah, I hate Christmas. More every year.

    But I totally want you to have a merry one, or Channukah, or Yule, or Kwanza, or Festivus, or whatever you happen to celebrate. Enjoy the season. Enjoy your celebration. Enjoy the people you spend it with. But I want everyone to be happy and healthy all the time, not just at Christmas, and I want us all to look out for each other and to make the world a better place.

    And that’s not always easy.

    But it’s always worthwhile.

    Be well, everyone.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

  • Movies

    What I’m Watching for Christmas

    Facebooktwitterrssyoutubeby featherOn this edition of “What I’m Watching”, we learn what my favourite Christmas movies are.

    I love Christmas, although mainly in a Tim Minchin “White Wine in the Sun” sort of way. It’s a secular Christmas and I don’t really care about presents. I want to spend time with my family, nuclear and extended, even the ones I don’t get along with (in fact, a lot of the presents are selected with this in mind). I also want to manage to visit with as many friends as possible, in person, by phone, or virtually.

    The decorations are fun, but it’s about decorating as a family. Parties are fun, even when I have to sing. Presents are fun, but unnecessary. Even the music is pretty good, although I have a preference for spoofs and parodies that doesn’t please everyone.

    But today, I’m going to talk specifically about movies. More specifically, about my favourite Christmas movies. And by movie, I mean feature length film. So, with apologies, you won’t find the Grinch, Frosty, or Charlie Brown anywhere on this list. Sorry.

    If you want to fight about any of these, discussion and reasoned argument is more than welcome, but it’s pretty unlikely you’ll get me to change my mind on any of them.

    To make it fun, it’s a top ten list, and I found it surprisingly easy to put them in order. Most of these get watched every single year. The time to do so has been harder to find this year, though.


    Home Alone

    #10 Home Alone (1990)

    This is the first thing I remember liking Joe Pesci in and the first time I remember Macaulay Culkin for acting ability. Great writing, great directing, and a lot of fun. The bad guys get what they deserve and there are happy endings for everyone who deserves them.



    #9 A Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

    Michael Caine is probably the best classic Scrooge since Alistair Sim. No, not probably. And as long as you have decent writing, the Muppets are always fun. Narrated by Gonzo and with appearances by most of the rest of the primaries, I particularly appreciated Statler and Waldorf as the Marleys.



    #8 National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

    So it’s not a secret that I’m a Chevy Chase fan, and he’s done a lot of hilarious work on TV and in movies, but this one stands out for me, and is certainly the best “Vacation” movie. With an array of situations and relatives that we can all relate to (and be thankful we mostly don’t have), you almost feel sorry for Clark, but it’s hard to through the laughing.



    #7 The Santa Clause (1994)

    I actually saw this in the theatre with my wife (then fiancée) when it first came out. The sequels declined in quality, but that’s not unusual, is it? Tim Allen is a lot of fun learning to be Santa and it’s a great story built on a neat idea.



    #6 A Christmas Carol (1951)

    This is the Alastair Sim version, but I like it colourized. Possibly the most true to the original Dickens story, but in any case it’s the best classic version to hit the screen, big or small.



    #5: Gremlins (1984)

    Of course this is a Christmas movie. It’s all about the fallout from an early Christmas and Christmas serves as an important backdrop as well as being key to a couple of bits of character development. A comedic horror movie, it’s got a pretty happy ending, plus it’s a lot of fun.



    #4 Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

    Memories of childhood. This movie wasn’t that old when I first saw it, but you might not have realized that it’s 2014 now, which makes this a 50th anniversary for this Rankin/Bass Christmas classic. Ah, the Island of Lost Toys, Bumbles, and noisy, glowing noses.



    #3 White Christmas (1954)

    Which also means this is the 60th anniversary of “White Christmas”. This movie was made in a different time. Some might say simpler, but if you were an actor, you had to have far more skills than just looking good on camera. Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera Ellen all looked great on camera, but they also acted, sang, and danced, and did all of those things well. This is an awesome story about two friends bringing people together to do something awesome for someone they respect. And they happened to fall in love with a pair of awesome ladies along the way.



    #2 Die Hard

    Not everyone agrees, but I’ll argue as long as anyone likes that this is a Christmas movie, in spite of its original July release date. Why? The action all takes place around Christmas as the hero takes a flight to visit his (somewhat estranged) wife and kids for Christmas, and a group of high end thieves impersonating terrorists crash the office Christmas party. And I love Bruce Willis. This is a great action-adventure story with a holiday theme, bad guys you can hate, and a hero who’s just trying to do the right thing and save his wife. Yippee kai yay.



    #1 Scrooged (1988)

    It’s not lost on me that there are three versions of “A Christmas Carol” on this list. These are the three best, imho, and most of the rest don’t measure up. And they don’t measure up to the degree that I really wish people would stop. Please, stop.

    But Bill Murray brings it in every moment as Frank Cross (Scrooge) and so does every other member of this star-filled cast. This is the same story, except it isn’t, giving the same message and moral against a completely different, and far more bizarre, setting: 1980s television production. A wacky romp with the heartwarming ending you want from a Christmas story, and on multiple levels. Christmas Eve watching every year.


    Feel free to point out something I’ve missed.

    Be well, everyone.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

  • Life,  Writing

    A Quick Writing Update

    Facebooktwitterrssyoutubeby featherSo I haven’t blogged much lately, but I have been getting some stuff done. Christmas, mostly, but a little bit of writing and related activities as well.

    I’ve done most of the pre-writing I want to do for Dreams of Freedom and expect to start writing it somewhere between now and Christmas. The story is taking shape pretty well in my head and I hope that’s a good thing. Previous experience with detailed plotting has had me lose interest pretty quickly once I start writing. I’m usually better off only plotting three or four chapters ahead at most. Trying things a little differently this time, so we’ll see how it works.

    I might have mentioned “Klaatu Barada Nikto, Baby!” somewhere, probably on Twitter. It’s a long novelette (or possibly short novella) pulling several ancient SF clichés together with a character who can only speak in slightly mangled SF TV and movie quotes. This is from an idea I had at least five years ago, and even wrote a little bit of at the time. The story has shifted but character never went away and I feel like it’s finally time to tell Klaatu’s story. So far, I’m about 6600 words in and feel like I’m at the midpoint, but we all know how good I am at projecting story length lately.

    A couple of years ago, I wrote Warforge: Caledonia, calling it a novel made up of three interlinked novellas. It was fun to write, had concepts and characters I enjoyed, and seemed pretty good at the time. I put it away for a couple of months after the first draft and didn’t like it when I pulled it out again. Fast forward a couple of years, and it’s not nearly as bad as I thought, but needs work. I spent a little bit of time untangling the novellas before reading through critically to make revision notes for each. As part of the process, I added notes at a high level to fill in what I perceived to be the missing bits. The project needs some significant changes and additions, totally 30-50,000 words at a guess. Which <counting on fingers> is going to put all three stories outside novella range and into short novel territory at 40-50k. And when do I plan on doing this? An excellent question. Yes, I’m crazy.

    You might have heard me complain on Twitter that I was having trouble with a story I intended to submit to an anthology. Well, I didn’t submit it and not because the story didn’t turn out well (I think it did), but because I beat the high end of the submission guidelines by 2,000 words. Natural Order has gone through two more drafts, and is better for both, but still comes in at just over 6,800 words. Considering my rough estimate for the original story was for 3.5-4k, that’s still on the long side. And I didn’t submit it; not because it wasn’t done on time (it could have been, but I let things go when it became clear I had no possibility of coming in under the max word count), but because I couldn’t justify to myself even asking the editors if they’d still like to see it. “Hey, I know your guidelines say you’d like things around 3-3.5k and will look at things up to 5, but my story is so good you should give it the space you’re planning to devote to two other stories.” Sure, that’ll go over well.

    Perhaps it’s a sign of encroaching middle age, but I’m finally committing to keyboard some of the philosophical thoughts I’ve slowly developed over the course of almost forty-two years on this planet. I don’t expect them all to remain static, but there are a lot of small points I seem to feel the need to make more concrete. The Book of Lance so far contains about 2,000 words worth of point form notes. Eventually, it will encompass 40-ish short chapters. I don’t intend it for public consumption, but who knows.

    So that’s what I’ve been up to in the last few weeks, aside from work, family, and getting Christmas organized (it’s a slam dunk this year, if I do say so myself).

    Be well, everyone.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather