Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and the bah humbugs

I’ve been on a theater kick for the past couple of years and we are right now at the tail end of the 2015 Fall theater season in Houston.  I just have to say that the theater scene in Houston keeps getting better and better all the time.  Houston has gained a national reputation for its fine dining choices and I can see a time when it gains a name as a live theater mecca as well.

But anyways, some of the local troupes that I follow put on Christmas and holiday related plays to cap the year.  Stark Naked Theater put on “Ho Ho Humbug 2.0“, Bayou City Theatrics put on “The 12 dates of Christmas“, and the Classical Theater Company put on “A Christmas Carol“.

The last is of course the classic Charles Dickens story and I wanted to see it as I’ve never seen it performed live but the other two were contemporary stories set in or near present day America and dealt mainly with how we perceive and deal with this time of year.

For better or for worse, people in this country have come to associate this holiday season with certain things.

  • Religion of course.  This is a christian holiday and at one time this was a predominantly christian nation.  Whether you agree with it or not you can’t deny that there is an influence there.
  • Traditions that bind us to certain European countries where Americans originated from
  • Commercialism which is more of an american tradition.

From the late 19th century till about the Mid 20th century this was the Christmas season (the term “holiday season” wasn’t in widespread use).  Government, Church, and commercial interests helped spread and foster the season and developed it into what we came to know as Christmas time.

But then in the mid 20th century we began to see this change over time.  People started to notice that this time of year didn’t resonate with everyone.

One of the earliest examples was the Peanuts Christmas TV special where one of the characters proclaimed that Christmas was a racket and controlled by some company “back East”.  This illustrated the disconnect that some people had always felt around this time of year.

Mass media began to notice that besides the Christian majority that there were people from other faiths in this country and that more and more new Americans were arriving from non western European lands.

At the same time, commercial interests were moving to leverage the holiday for all it was worth.  Store displays are now put up as much as two months in advance and even though there has been some consumer backlash over this, they don’t seem to care that much.

I thought about all these points as I attended the plays I mentioned up above.

Christmas Carol is of course the original story about someone who has disconnected from the holiday.  Scrooge had consciously made a decision to set himself apart from humanity.  The spirits show him that this was not always the case and that he still had time to fix this condition.

12 dates of Christmas was a story about a woman who loses her fiance at Thanksgiving time and for the next 12 months has disastrous dates with various men.  She reflects on how “family centered” that the holidays can be and how single people can feel ostracized around the holiday season.

Ho ho Humbug 2.0 was the most poignant of the three.  A writer, that hates the holidays, needs a temporary job to make his rent and by accident winds up playing a store Santa Claus.  Through some soliloquies the writer explains that even as a child he had never connected to Christmas and that he felt that this job was a farce.

As the play progresses and he interacts with his co-workers and with the customers, he comes to see that Christmas means so much more than the commercialism, the decorations and customs, and even the religious aspect.  Christmas had a distinct meaning to everyone he met.  In the end he doesn’t embrace all the aspects of the holiday but he comes to find a way that he can celebrate the season and make it his own.

I think that last point is the most important.  I see some people decrying the holidays as being too commercial, too religious, too superficial.  But then I look around at people from other parts of the world cheerfully celebrating the holiday and pretty much just ignoring the bits that they don’t like or understand.

For example, Christmas is huge in Japan for the gifting aspect.  Not many Christians there.  I know some Jewish families that put up Christmas trees and focus in on the gift giving and celebration aspects.  Last year I was on vacation in the tropics at this time of year and I saw some of the locals decorating their hut with a Christmas tree.

I guess what I am trying to say is that you need to make the holiday your own in order to enjoy it.  Most people enjoy the season out of habit.  But for those that find the season to be a chore or a bother, I think that if you look more closely that there is something there for you to enjoy as well.

 

Merry Christmas

Lacuna

 

No, that’s not quite correct.  The word lacuna suggests a chasm or a cavity.  Something that was there but isn’t there now.

 

Break?  No. Much too pedestrian.

Coda would be an ending.

Discontinuity? Interim?

 

I suppose I will have to go with hiatus.  Which is what this is.  As of this post, this blog is going on an indefinite hiatus.

 

Why? Several reasons.

I began this blog as a way to express and collect ideas and thoughts, to explore and strengthen my writing muscle, to centralize bits and pieces of my writing that I’ve done over the last 20 or so years in one spot.  I think I have accomplished all of this.

However, I’ve been re-reading some of the posts in the last six months and I am less than satisfied.  In some cases I’m appalled that I published some posts.  Admittedly some posts have been very good but on the whole I don’t like what I’ve turned out in the last half-year.  Bad ideas, bad execution, and ultimately a bad return on the time invested.

I have over 450 posts written over the last two and half years.  I can’t really expect to stay at the top of my form and fresh for such a long period of time.

Staying fresh and relevant is another point.  I find myself thinking of old ideas and things that I previously wrote and then reviewing my posts and finding that I already wrote about this or that.

I find that taking the time and energy to write this blog on a regular basis has come to sap my will and strength to write other more meaningful and worthwhile pieces.  That, certainly was never the point of this blog.  It is in fact nearly the opposite of what I intended.

Lastly, I don’t feel the joy of writing this blog anymore.  It’s become a tedious chore that more often than not I have begun to dread.  That’s no way to carry on.

I need time to digest and process the last few years of my life and all the changes that have and are taking place. I also need to get out there and live a little.  Reflection is fine,  it’s necessary and I find that on the whole people don’t do enough of it.  Although reflection is a good thing, a mind needs new ideas, new experiences, and new perspectives from time to time.

So I’m taking time off from writing this blog.  Maybe a few weeks, a few months, a few years.  Well, doubtfully a few years.  But you never know.  I need time to find something new to say.  Maybe with time I will come to find the joy in blogging again. In the meantime I will drop in from time to time to answer any comments and clean up any spam.

 

Till then,

W

 

The story of your life

“We are the sum of our experiences”

I’ve heard this quote in several different versions in various books, movies, and plays.  Usually it is being offered up as advice by an older character to a younger character to take the long view of life and not just dwell upon a single event as the defining event of their life.

“When I asked for strength, God sent me hardships to make me grow stronger.”

Possibly a Hindi, native american, Jewish, or christian saying.  Possibly just some universal wisdom that transcends time and culture.

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.”

Shakespeare from As you like it.

I’ve had to think about and take some comfort in these sayings this year.  This has not been the year that I contemplated or planned for.  Don’t get me wrong, this has been far from a disastrous year but definitely not one that I would like to repeat and we’re not even done yet. But I’ve been trying to make sense and put a positive spin on what’s been going on.

So going in order:  “We are the sum of our experiences”

I am more than a mere biomechanical construct set down on this planet to move dirt around till I wind down.  At least I hope so.  The things that I have done and experienced, the things that have happened to me, the events that I’ve lived through, have shaped and changed my perspective over time.  More than that, the people I have met have altered my outlook on life and given me new things to think about.  I look back on the difficulties that I’ve lived through and see how they have prepared me for some of the challenges that I have or am living through right now.  Without those experiences and the people related to those experiences I would not be me.

Which leads me into the second saying; “When I asked for strength, God sent me hardships”.  I don’t see any of the bad times that I’ve had in my life as tragedies or pointless events or as some sort of punishment.  At least I try not to.  I mean I know it’s tempting to look for fault or to curse and spit when things are going wrong.  I know that I have succumbed to that temptation from time to time.  But over the long haul I see them as scars or marks of experience that remind me that I have survived in the past and that I can continue to survive no matter how much things change or what life throws at me.

And life does change which leads me to the last saying “All the world’s…”

Sometimes I think that life is like a book.  The experiences, the facets of life, are the chapters.  You are the protagonist and your life is the main plot line.  Of course you don’t get to guide or control the plot or the other characters.  Everything and everyone writes the totality of the story but it all comes together in the end.

The people you know are the other characters.  Just like in a long novel some characters make entrances, they affect the story, and then they leave and so ends a chapter.  None of them are truly evil or truly good.  They just play out their parts in your story while living out their own story, of which by the way you are a character in.  We affect and counter affect each other and the resulting mess is what we call life.

I am now trying to look at this year as a learning experience, something to grow and build upon, a facet of my life preparing me for the next chapter whatever that may be.  I have to believe that the people and experiences in the last year have imparted some sort of lesson or wisdom or something that will lead me to the next part of my life.  Which leads me to one final quote.

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” – Joseph Campbell

That’s the hardest part, letting go and stepping out into the darkness, possibly stepping out into nothingness.  You can get so wrapped up in your dreams and plans that letting go is physically painful.  Facing a new reality without a specific plan or a dream is frightening.

In the end though whether I want to or not, the chapter comes to an end and I have to turn the page and begin writing the next sentence.

The extremes

You can really get depressed reading articles about the upcoming national election.  Pedagogues and extremists are in style and everyone is competing to outdo everyone else in how far that they can push the national dialogue to the extreme edges of reason and good taste.  The most disturbing part is how much the public is eating it up.

Maybe it’s due to a change in perspective over the years or maybe the political environment has changed over time but I don’t believe that I have ever seen the politics of the nation as sharply divided as they are now.

I don’t see any spirit of cooperation or a genuine desire to do what’s best for the nation instead of finding advantage or benefit for the party or even just for single politicians.

Like I said it’s depressing.

The funny thing is that on the whole we need to have extremists out on the edges of the party.  You’ll never find new and innovative political thought in the center. Or at least not much.  It’s out on the extremes where new solutions or new approaches or new tacks are to be found that will solve problems that come up.  Usually we can derive great benefit from people along the edges as long as they’re controlled and their energies are channeled for the greater good.

Lately however there has been a dearth of leadership at the top of the large political parties and these extremists have taken the opportunity to seize power and to alter the trajectory of the political parties.  In true political fashion they have also taken care to keep themselves in power and in control.

So the longer that these extremists stay in power, the harder it will be to remove them.

I don’t hold out much hope for 2016.  I said previously that no new solutions or ideas can be found in the center.  For the most part this is true but one old idea may come back in vogue.  The idea of mutual cooperation and bipartisanship.  A rather old and not at all glamorous idea but I think if the old party leaderships want to oust the extremists that they will have to turn to each other and support each others bid to wrest power back from the new leadership.

Otherwise we will find ourselves in a gloomy future ruled by those that can spend enough money to get their candidates into power and by those that can yell the loudest.

Never be afraid to share

One of the guys on my Facebook feed always posts up quotes from a pop philosopher.  I suppose all of us have that friend, the one that’s not afraid to share posts from someone who inspires him.  Maybe we even are that person.

Most of the advice that my acquaintance posts is fairly generic stuff.  Things like “Don’t judge a book by its cover” or “Always be kind to one another”.  Of course it’s all delivered in this philosopher’s own style and for some reason that really spoke to this friend of mine so he thought he ought to share it with everyone else.

Honestly whenever I see one of these posts I just cruise past the post.  I don’t find it to be particularly sage-like or inspirational. But I don’t mind if this person posts this.

Someone did however.  Someone on this person’s friend list took him to task for posting these little inspirational memes.  My friend gave a very spirited and well thought defense of his posts.  He wasn’t shy about his beliefs and his need to share them and as he pointed out if this other person didn’t like those posts then he was always free to unfriend him.

What really struck me though is how my acquaintance stuck to his beliefs and showed that he wasn’t ashamed or afraid to share them.

I feel that in the modern age that we’ve become too apologetic and almost ashamed of the beliefs that we hold.  Whether those beliefs are religious or not doesn’t seem to matter.  We try to accommodate other people and their beliefs so much that we shy away from promoting what we believe.  I don’t advocate for those beliefs that are hurtful or exclude others.  I also don’t believe in being obnoxious and insisting on sharing my beliefs with those that don’t want to hear about it.  Don’t let me be misunderstood about that.

But I do think that there is a lot of good in the world that can be shared and we simply don’t because we are either too shy to express those beliefs or are in some weird way ashamed of them.

In The Merchant of Venice a character mentions that the quality of mercy blesses not only those that receive it but those that give it.  I think it’s the same with sharing your beliefs with others.

Hard truth

Sometimes people don’t listen.

You can be all logical and present your arguments in a well thought out fashion and still they won’t listen.  I’ve found that when people have an idea fixed in their mind that nothing will push them away from that idea.  No matter how well-reasoned out your statements are, no matter how large the preponderance of evidence.  They will stick to their position no matter what.

Maybe it’s an important matter, maybe it’s a difference of opinion.  But whatever the case may be, this person won’t listen to anything that you say.  So what to do?

Sometimes logic and reason just won’t do the job.  You have to think of this as a sort of sales pitch or a play or a presentation.  You have to think about the audience and what might motivate them.

Sometimes you might try a shocking statement.  Something to snap them out of their train of thought and make them take notice.  Sometimes humor will work.  Make them smile, put them at ease.  They might be more receptive this way.  Sometimes you might have to sneak your point in the back door through some convoluted logic or go the roundabout route to get them to see things your way.

Sometimes it’s fierce yelling that will do the trick.  Not very much in vogue these days but sometimes you have to do what works.

Again, not everyone is like you.  You need to consider the person or people who you are talking to and consider what their point of view is.  If they’re being defensive, what are they being defensive about?  Avoid that and go round.

They won’t all respond to the same stimuli or logic and if the matter really is that important and you really do need to get your point across, then isn’t trying an alternate method worth it?

understated

Being shy isn’t just an attitude.  It can be a lifestyle and even a great hindrance to getting what you want in life.

My parents and family tell me that as a young child that I was fairly forward and active.  Not at all shy and I always wanted to be in the thick of things.  So what happened?

I’m not sure exactly when it happened but surely somewhere in my pre-teens I started becoming more withdrawn and quiet.  I shunned being loud and drawing attention to myself.  I even began dressing down.  Not in a somber fashion like a goth but more in a plain fashion.  I started to fade into the background.  See my previous post.

I really didn’t care to stand out in any way.  If I did something praiseworthy I would try to play it down and minimize it as if it wasn’t anything special.

In my mid 20’s I began to notice that this wasn’t the best attitude to have in life.  People that I knew that were less talented than me but more boisterous began getting ahead in life and I was being left behind.  It turned out that self promotion wasn’t a sin.

For a long time I resisted any sort of change. To me, humility was the greatest of virtues and casually discarding that was unthinkable.

Eventually circumstances forced me to be more proactive.  My new position at work, in sales, demanded someone who was more proactive and forward and I started to come out of my shell.  Sometimes too much.  I had to learn just how much I could come out before I got obnoxious.

By my thirties I felt I had emerged sufficiently and I’ve tried maintaining myself at a comfortable level.  It is a struggle.  I have to admit that at times that I still don’t want to engage with the world.  But I also realize that life revolves around the other people in your life and that the only way that it is going to work is if I become more sociable and not less.

anonymity

I must have been 12 or so.

6th grade at Paul Revere middle school in any case.  A shiny new school at the time but already overcrowded.  Rather than build another school, the district decided to invest in “temporary buildings”.  Basically double wide trailer homes converted into classrooms behind the main building.

That’s where you might get in trouble.  At lunch time no one is supposed to be back there.  Everyone is supposed to wait and hang round the cafeteria till the bell rings.

As for me and my friends?  We just figured that was a polite suggestion and didn’t apply to us.  We would regularly sneak out of the cafeteria and hang out on the steps of the temporary buildings.

So there we are hanging out with other kids when we hear a commotion.  The vice-principals are out hunting.  Corporal punishment was very much in vogue back in the early 80’s.

We sneak behind the buildings and peek to see who’s coming.  There’s old man Brailsford.  A sadist that loved to wear a dark blue, three-piece, pin stripe suit and mirrored sunglasses in 90 degree heat.  Slowly swaggering down the road.

He seems to know exactly where to look.  He catches most of us, except….

I duck round the side of the building.  Nowhere else left to hide.  He just has to turn the corner to spot me.  My only chance is to go around him right in the open.  I take a deep breath and walk slowly and steadily around his right side. He’s busy browbeating my friends. I can’t believe this is working but I don’t dare stop walking. At most I’m 20 feet away from him and walking without any cover.

My friend Dean is there with the rest of the kids that got caught.  All the kids are lined up against the wall of a temporary building like criminals.  Dean looks right at me but doesn’t say a word.  One foot in front of the other.  I finally step out of sight and break into a run and make it back to the “safety” of the cafeteria zone.

I later catch up with Dean.  Everyone else got saddled with 3 days detention.  But rather than being mad at me, they celebrate my great escape.  I still can’t believe it.

This wasn’t the last time that this happened.  I’ve walked in front of people who I know in coffee shops and they’ve been totally oblivious to my presence.  Sometimes I have to obnoxiously wave to people for them to notice me.

I have “one of those faces”.  Nothing extraordinary about it.  At times I have been mistaken for almost every imaginable ethnicity.

In a culture where everyone wants to be distinct and individualized it can be a bit bothersome to think that I am totally indistinct.  But I suppose that I have to appreciate this gift for what it is.  The ability to blend into the background and not be bothered when I don’t want to.

find the real truth

“Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself? What is its nature?”

Not just a quote from Hannibal Lecter and Markus Aurelius but a useful tidbit of advice.  I think it’s the one question that all college professors should strive to implant into their students minds.  Unfortunately in today’s career driven college environment it’s often overlooked and passed by in order to instill “useful” lessons and information into a student’s mind.

Something that I see at work, in my off time and in my interactions on a daily basis is that people can identify the end goal and what they want but not how to get there or even where to begin.

At work I see clients who want to find gold, or oil, or manage forests or farms using satellite imagery.  A good solid goal.  But then you ask them how are they going to use the satellite imagery to do that and they get a blank look on their faces.  When you ask them if they even know what information a satellite image can provide and how that can be leveraged to get to their goal and then they really get bewildered.

I’ve had acquaintances ask me if an adjustable rate mortgage would be a good option to buy a house.  I ask them if they know the initial interest rate would be and how it will adjust over time and how much are they putting down and what are the other terms of the loan and they get a confused and persecuted look in their eyes.

I understand that you want a house but shouldn’t you make an effort to understand the loan that you will be dealing with for the next 15 to 30 years?

Goals are fine.  Goals are great.  They give us a direction to go and something to shoot for.  But before we get there shouldn’t we know something about the road that we’re traveling on?

 

The one guy you can’t live without

You’re doing your darnedest to impress the client or you’re trying to show off to competitors at a convention and suddenly you look for something inane like a pen or a post it pad or you simply hope that there’s paper in the bathroom.

You turn round and….. it’s all there where it’s supposed to be.  One of your support personnel busted their butt overnight or the week before as they always do and made sure everything was where it’s supposed to be.

We never notice them and we give them little to no praise.  It’s their job, right?  But we certainly notice when those little annoying details aren’t there.

Office managers, secretaries, personal assistants, administrators.  They don’t all do the same thing but their roles sometimes overlap and sometimes merge together in the modern office.

I’ve known a few in my time.  I think it takes a certain type of personality that wants to deal with all the petty and minor details that we take for granted.

We live in proposals, in presentations, in the glitz and glamour of the business world.  They read office depot catalogs, surf through business supply websites, and generally put up with complaints from their co-workers with a smile or at least an indulgent blank stare.

I know we don’t say it enough but thank you.