Sunday, December 26, 2004

And to all a good night.

Here it is, the day after Christmas...I have almost survived another year. If nothing else, I have accomplished that.

Most informed thought I have encountered or read agrees that the Holidays are the most stressful time of the year. More suicides, divorces, et cetera. Yeah, well I can dig it. Fortunately most of my extended family has the Christmas routine down to the point where most holiday angst is minimal at best. Seeing each other throughout the year, we express our weirdness gradually over the course of the 12 months, rather than all at once.

My 18 year old has been struggling with Christmas this year. He's incredibly perceptive and cyncial: a dangerous combination. He sees the bullshit surrounding Christmas, but has not learned to filter it out.
Here's the deal: Christmas has been morphed into the cult of the Baby Jesus's Birthday Party.

It's all well intentioned, and often produces much social good. But the Christmas story is (at least to me) in the same category as Romulous and Remus suckling on the Mama Wolf. Illustrative of some important ideas, full of symbolism, but not to be taken at face-value.

I saw a full page newspaper ad yesterday by some well-meaning local businessman prompting...well, I'm not even sure what. It featured an illustration of the Holy Family doing the manager scene. The Holy Family was this White, Suburban Family (the Virgin Mary looked like she had lipstick and eyeshadow on) lounging in the hay. I was appalled and amused. The thing is, it's all noise.

Combine all this with the cult of Jolly-ness that seems go with Christmas these days. Say "Bah Humbug" and Homeland Security is liable to be knocking on your door.

I heard an interesting commentary on the radio the other day. The speaker said that many people said the problem was we needed to get more Christ in Christmas. He had the radical notion of going ahead and eliminating Christ altogether -- let Easter be the holiday that celebrates the sacrifice and meaning of the Christ, and Christmas go back to being the quasi-pagan end of the year Solstice celebration from which it sprang.

What has happend is that we've shrink-wrapped Christmas to contain a few bullet-pointed cultural and religious values, and expect that an off-the-shelf Christmas is all you need. Retailers (whether selling Barbie dolls or salvation) like shrink-wrapped stuff; it's easier to market.

If you want to make the Holiday season meaningful, you have to fill it with your own meaning, not someone elses. Otherwise it's like buying a picture frame from the store and displaying it with the model shot it came with rather than your pictures.

Example -- this was my most meaningful Christmas:

The fall of 1979 was arguably one of my worst. I was living in Santa Barbara at the time. My grandfather died back in Texas and I couldn't get to the funeral. Right after my birthday, my girlfriend of three years moved out. A month later, the ad agency I worked for got word that their biggest client (2/3rds of their billing) was bought out. New owner already had an agency in New York City.

Oh my.

The economy was in the toilet, and despite all the upbeat talk, the agency was in a death march. By Halloween the account was gone, and we were scrabbling to find a replacement or replacements for that income.

No replacements.

We were all out interviewing (I applied for a job with Saul Bass in Los Angeles, applied for a job with my old employer in St. Louis, applied for jobs EVERYWHERE) but jobs were tight. The second week of December about 40 of us got laid off (pre-disaster we were about 60 -- 2/3rds of the billings gone, 2/3rds of us gone: it was very mathematical).

So in this happy world the Christmas Season comes. No job, no money, no tree, no HoHoHo.

That fall I had made a new friend named Kevin. His family lived in the Greater Santa Barbara area. Christmas Eve I had nothing else to do, so I tagged along with Kevin to his family's Christmas celebration. We sat down to a great meal, drank wine and relaxed. We left, headed back to Kevin's apartment where we sat, drank beer, then coffee, shot the breeze and discussed life until the sun came up. About 7:30 we headed out and grabbed a dozen donuts and more coffee.

Meaningful to me. Primarily because it was not a Santa Claus/Presents/Baby Jesus/Holy Family Christmas. But it was one of the Christmases I remember best of my adult life. Whenever I get tired or frustrated by Christmas, that's the one I turn to in my memory. Bittersweet is often preferable to sickly-sweet.

I hope you have a meaningful Christmas, whatever the meaning is.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Why I'm glad I don't subscribe to Time

Sunday morning I was awakened to the news on Weekend Edition (NPR) that George W Bush was named Person of the Year -- AGAIN!-- by Time Magazine.

Oh please.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Reading...

Finished, earlier this year, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon, about a couple of guys who create comics during the 1930's and 40's. I found it on the discount table at the Kellogg Ave Barnes and Noble in Wichita, Kansas, during my tenure up there last year. It went on to win a Pulitzer prize. A good book, by turns funky and moving, written by the guy who wrote Wonder Boys.

Currently attempting to read Neal Stephenson's CRYPTONOMICON, which is a great read for the likes of me -- lots of geeky in jokes and the like -- but hard to get a lot of momentum with, since I'm trying to write my own geeky novel (see previous posts).

Oh yes, (sigh) The Novel. I've made scant progress since the end of November (now up to ~54,000 pages). I have made numerous handwritten notes, attempting to figure out how I will wrap this thing up.

Last night's interruption was watching 'Shaun of the Dead' with Ed and John, a very amusing film. Not high art, but I've gotten somewhat tired of high art. Must be why I don't paint anymore.

My goal is to be more or less finished with the first draft by the first of the year. Potentially doable. Probably hard, given the fact that, unlike November, I will NOT be able to be a recluse over the Christmas break, working on the book. Of course, I am choosing not to think about the reality of what happens after the first draft: editing, seeking comment from friends, more editing, and then....well, the thought is enough to make a person uninstall their word processor.

Still, one day at a time.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

A Plan For Escape

...is the title of a book by Adolfo Bioys-Casares I read some years ago (back when I was cultured and well-read). According to a review reprinted on Amazon.com, the "relationship between prisoners and keepers is a dominant theme." It was, as I recall a very strange, but interesting book.

It came to mind since we are all attempting to escape something or other.

This week is turning into a hellish mess. Yesterday I was depressed. This morning while sitting in traffic on my way into my office I had an epiphany concerning my job.

The reason this sucks is that I need to be encouraged to do something else. The ONLY reason I am doing what I do right now is for the money. Once I realized I was only being pushed to make a change, it all took on a new context.

Here I am trying to be a Project Manager in an IT department. While it is slightly ego-boosting to know that I can more or less pull this off, it's not what I want to do, was trained to do, have any interest in doing. So obviously it is time to start to do some planning. A plan for escape.

I love epiphanies, don't you?

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Gingerbread

Last night we (some of we, anyway) went to a gingerbread house building party. This was hosted by a good friend, a woman (hospitality minister at our church) and her husband. She supplied pre-baked gingerbread walls and roof slabs, and the builders stuck these together and decorated the heck out of them with candy and goo. I know a lot of subdivisions that operate on this principle.

The first step is always to cement the pre-baked parts together. This is accomplished by using a substance made from marshmallow cream and God knows what else. All I can tell you is that it is gooey when first made and like mortar when dry.

Getting the walls and roof to stay together is a bit of a feat, since the goo takes a while to set up, and the would-be gingerbread contractor is usually eager to get on to the real task: globbing as much candy and stuff on the house as is possible. Adding all this of course makes the pieces heavier, so it is a fairly common event to have the house collapse under it own carbohydrate-induced weight before the goo has had a chance to adequately harden.

To most of the kids involved, this initially is about seeing how much candy can be piled up, to be later eaten. It's the grownups who are fun to watch, since they tend to be the ones most concerned with actual esthetics of the architecture. Dorothy (my wife) and one of her girlfriends did a house that was in no way even remotely a kid's house.

As for me, my interest is in one thing and one thing alone. Once all the candy is picked off the house (which always, ALWAYS happens after the construction ends), the slow consumption of the underlying structure begins, one wall at a time. Breaking off a corner, eating it, chewing on a hunk of roof: it's like a North Dallas teardown.

I love gingerbread.

Yum!

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Compliant

As one of the countless tiny cogs within the wheels of the American Economy, I find myself doing many useless things. Once I did mostly useful things, but as I continue to navigate the twisty little paths of the Corporate Life, I find myself engaged in more and more meta-work. Work about work.

Today, between participating in phone conferences and editing documents that no one in their right mind would read, I did compliance modules.

For those of you who have never enjoyed these, they are little web-based self-paced slide shows that are supposed to teach Right Thinking on various topics like: sexual harrassment, ethical behavior, and careful corporate communications (one of my personal favorites).

The worker bees (like me) flip through these and then take a 10 question quiz at the end. That way, when the worker bee goes and does some unthinkable thing, the Queen bee can throw up her hands and say: "I did everything I could. I gave them training."

So, the reality of it is that these are for CYA. Still, they are occasionally amusing in unintentional ways. The best from today:

"One day Fred was on the loading dock when he noticed the Divisional Vice President and a colleague out in the alley drinking beer and smoking a joint. Fred is afraid if he reports this to his supervisor he will be fired or put on the graveyard shift. What should he do in this difficult situation?"

My favorite incorrect response: "Report only the colleague, and not the Vice President, to his supervisor."

I showed this to one of my co-worker bees and he responded, "How do I get transferred to that Division?"

Indeed.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

My Shame

Okay, true confession: I am deeply ashamed of my website. Not my blog - I mean my personal website. I've been doing web-related stuff for 10 years now (yikes), and yet my personal site is a piece of crap. Old, dead links, all those terrible things.

I should know better.

Blame it on busyness, blame it on business. Whatever. This is my vow to you. Over the Holidays, I am going to facelift my site, fix the dead stuff, prune everything else back, make it....managable. And skin my blog with the design.

And finish my book, watch the rest of the Alias DVDs, and....

Never mind.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Score
Blogger: 2
LiveJournal : 0

John (18 year old) found out I was keeping a blog and did not disparage it (much) when he saw it. "How does it work?" he asked. I showed him and he pronounced it much superior to LiveJournal where, he revealed, he had started a blog a while ago. Started and later abandoned, as is common with blogs.

So, having set up his new Blogger fueled blog, he refused to reveal what it was called, since he didn't want me reading it.

Hell of a note.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Noble

Well, Christmas is finally in the air. I sang (selections from) Handel's Messiah last night (I'm a lowly member of the choir, which is fine with me).

The day before snagged a Christmas tree. I was instructed to bring home a Noble Fir, instead of the Douglas Firs I routinely bought. Noble: is this because they cost a King's ransom?

By the way, if any one in the financial community ever mentions a "wasting asset" and you have a hard time grasping the concept, think of Christmas trees as a prime example.

Before Christmas: 7 foot Noble Fir = $89.
After Christmas: 7 foot Noble Fir = Land Fill.

The local Optimist's Club was a little short on the 7-8 foot trees, which meant hard decisions, since I had borrowed my Dad (and his pickup truck) to bring home said tree. I didn't especially feel like talking him into driving all over the West Side of Ft Worth in search of the perfect tree, since they're all landfill at the end of the month.

After much debate with Ed (my 13 year old, acting in his capacity as tree advisor) we settled on a pretty good looking tree. Well, other than the gap (or as Ed put it, "the Chomp") a third of the way from the top. Paid for it (I had remembered, after last year's false start, the Optimists are not too optimistic when it comes to credit cards, and had brought a checkbook instead) and got it home with nary a hitch.

I got this thing into the tree stand and wrestled it into the living room. By the way, it is a fact of nature that trees are at least a foot taller inside than outside. Spike the cat then raises his tail as if to water it.

Finally, John (the 18 year old) shows his face and says "It has a chomp out of it."


I love the Holidays.

Friday, December 03, 2004

It's Friday

It's Friday.

As I work on how to resolve the colossal mess that is brewing in my novel, I was reminded of one of my many mantras of IT work: our biggest problems in IT tend to be at their heart political issues, not technical issues.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Novel Update

The so-called novel continues to progress. One thing that now comes to mind is this: without the pressure of "30 days - 50,000 words" I am more acutely aware of the bits of flakiness that need to be resolved in the 2nd draft. Bummer. I'm also thinking, oh right - I need a way to wrap all this up.

Now at approximately 51,500 words and counting (another interesting factoid: different word processors give different word counts)

Distraction: I am back to watching Alias on DVD.

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