Unmaking Christmas

Note: These daily blogs are intended to help me keep my hand in at writing. Also, notes for possible future articles and suchlike. Don’t look for finished work here. I’m experimenting!

Putting away the Christmas decorations is never a sad thing for me. It’s one last whirl of holiday glee. One last whiff of cinnamon, pine, sugar, and the many little bits of everything used to create ornaments. One last unwrapped gift, removing the lights, garland, and other trinkets and knickknacks, revealing the parched but still proud tree beneath. Yes, it needs to go, but also, yes, it can be ground up and mulched and spread to protect and promote growth elsewhere. One last goodbye, at least for a year, to a fleet of Santas, reindeer, snowmen, elves, angels, Krampuses, and other mythological creatures adorning the tree, mantel, furniture, and more. How can you be unhappy revisiting all that glamorous, glitzy, glittering ridiculousness? Plus, you can finally see the floor again, fercrissakes. Farewell, Christmas. Return from whence you came: the attic.

Remembering Regret

When I was younger, I was filled with a constant sense that I had to accomplish certain things, or else I’d regret it. I pictured my fifty-something self, fat and balding, half-mad, half-blind, and filled with hate, looking back and wishing I’d grabbed the gusto in my youth. Well, the view is different from here. I don’t remember any of the dares I declined, even after I was told by my friends that I’d regret not taking them. Most of the potential lovers’ names escape me, and the trysts I had were forgettable. I’ve achieved much of what I set out to do (though perhaps not as successfully as I might have liked), and I suspect that if you presented me with a list of the goals I made in my twenties, I wouldn’t recognize half of them. Finally, in my experience, the things I build up the most in my mind most often disappoint me. That probably goes for the aforementioned goals too. Regrets, I’ve had a few, as the song goes, but then again, too few to mention. Above all, let us give thanks for encroaching senility.

I Have Always Practiced Social Isolation—Pt. 2

My wife Michael pointed out to me how strange it is to read tweets and posts by people who claim to be bored already. I can’t speak for the rest of the world, or even all of America, but I feel fairly comfortable in thinking I represent the, well, fairly comfortable. Even if I wasn’t a homebody—not unadventurous, since I do enjoy road trips and travel; I’m just most comfortable at home—suggesting that my house lacks for mental stimulation is absurd. Even leaving the laptop and Internet behind, I have about 200 or more curated DVDs and subscriptions to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and the Criterion Channel (best Christmas gift I ever got). Between me and Michael, our shelves hold a possible thousand or more books. We have plenty of puzzles, kits, and video and board games; a lovely backyard and an even lovelier hometown that affords a short walk to a Lake Michigan beach; a plenitude of arts and crafts supplies and woodworking tools; and a home that, frankly, has never looked cleaner. Bored? I am inebriated on both pastimes and the actual time in which to perform them.

Of course, work life comes first, as well as the coaching and ride-herding of the children. The former has certainly been sufficient. If any of my bosses are reading this, believe me, I may be home but I’m earning the hell out of that paycheck, writing and editing and proofing and podcasteringing (that’s the verb, right?). I confess, I squeeze in a quick 20 minute nap sometimes because I’m getting old. My body seems to like it, and it repays me (and you) by making me more alert and creative. Just keep that in mind when I get back. Say…do I really have to come back?

As for the kids, they’re certainly happy to be home, but providing direction and suggestions is an ongoing task. As I mentioned we’ve been having “school” from about 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., which usually involves them checking their Chrome books to see what their teacher has posted, worksheets (Flynn likes doing math—let’s hope that keeps up), about an hour and a half of reading, and usually what are called “specials” in their schools (art, gym, etc.). We had art today. I took them outside to draw pictures and write pleasant messages in sidewalk chalk to the many folks who walk by the house every day with their kids or dogs or pathological need to run, even in shitty weather. On our walks Mike and I saw that other folks had done so. My favorite was the one from the neighbor who started with their address: “647 LOVES Our Neighbors” with the parenthetical note: “(From Six Feet Away).” We went with “Stay Happy.”, “Stay Healthy”, and Nate’s “Stay Positive”.

Now, let us be clear… I am not a ball of sunshine. I am frequently goofy or humorous in a deadpan way, and certainly not unfriendly, but I’m not touchy-feely. I despise glurge. I guffaw at trite blandishments. I don’t believe a decapitation can be fixed with a band aid—even one of those great big knee ones. But this is a very different time.

I bring this up because today I saw someone tweeting about how ashamed they were of the twee movement that took place in their youth during the early 2000s. The tweet appears to be gone now, but as I recall they rankled at public pillow fights, flash mobs, precious rock bands and naif lyrics, and so on. Mostly, they seemed to dislike whimsy and, perhaps, false bonhomie, such as that supposedly practiced by people conversing through posters in their windows.

I’m sure the tweeter had the best of intentions, but it was a useless sentiment—not to mention a touch cruel—in the current climate. (Not as blithely cruel as the writer who felt obligated to point out that many of us hugged and kissed our relatives for the last time without knowing it…but that’s another issue.) As I’ve grown older, I’ve discovered, to my annoyance, that unlike me, not everyone has learned when to be tough. I don’t mean they’re weak. I mean they never figured out how to suck it up and drain themselves of emotion in order to make the hurt go away (I got very good at that in my twenties). These people need the kindness, not the snideness, of the tough folks to carry on. So, that’s why my kids and I wrote silly, inspirational messages in chalk on the sidewalk and driveway. Oh, and a platypus.

Maybe nobody will notice, just pounding over our pictures with their trainers or standing on them while their dog diddles on the tree. But when you can’t do anything, it’s nice to feel like you’re doing something.

I Have Always Practiced Social Isolation—Pt. 1

IMG_9662A friend of mine, Eric Kirsammer, suggested I regularly post something during this period of social isolation. Some kind of online diary, “in your style” as he put it. Presumably he meant with an ironic, sarcastic, and semi-bitter tone, owing to the complete absence of that sort of writing from the Interweb.

Ohhhh, that’s what he meant. As the philosopher Britannia Jean Spears expounded, “Oops. I did it again.”

Very well then. I’ll try to share what my family and I have been up to during the days of social-distancing. One hopes all this social isolation and people avoidance will keep the body count way down, and my blog will remain a silly whimsical thing.

Starting March 16, my employer sent us to work at home, originally for two weeks. Supposedly, we’d be back in the office by the following Friday. Within a few days Illinois Governor Pritzker issued the first order to shelter in place, self-isolate, social distance, and all the other fun new terms and verbs, and it was decided we wouldn’t go back until the near-end of April, at least. It probably didn’t help that a few people in our building were diagnosed with COVID-19. I hesitate to use the phrase, “it’s all for the best”, but I suppose it is. My wife Michael, a teacher, and two kids, Nate (12) and Flynn (8), being Illinoisans, had their schools closed the Thursday before. Mike and I both hoped that I’d get to work at home, because the idea of her doing her job and minding and homeschooling the kids alone didn’t sit well with either of us. Working for a healthcare association, however, I knew they’d do the right thing, and lo and behold they did.

I work at home twice a month. That’s one of the cushy benefits of my job, something for which I am deeply grateful. I choose two Fridays to stay home so I can walk my daughter Flannery to school and be there to meet them both afterward. It’s a pleasant perk. Wish I could do it more often. As it turns out, the past few days showed that I could. As a copywriter and copy editor my job is all about creating and reviewing documents. With a laptop I can carry my office in my backpack. For the past year I’ve also produced podcasts for my association. Again, luckily, my recording studio is portable. Just saying, in case anyone is listening, working at home has been easy. I’ve participated in several meetings, and frankly they’ve been shorter and more to the point than all the in-person ones. Does a lack of an audience—beyond a grid of taking heads—encourage people to not perform or pad out a meeting? Maybe so.

I started this blog a couple of weeks ago, but I’ve really been too busy to maintain it.* And I mean busy-busy. My workload, praise Cthulhu, has been consistent enough to justify my paycheck. I know how damned lucky I am (so far) to have a job I can rely on. Again, it’s a healthcare gig, and I suppose today we’re enjoying(?) a bull market. I’ve also been taking every advantage of being home, with no need to commute and no social or child obligations (no soccer, basketball, Boy Scouts, swimming, etc. to take the kids to and from). I can read without interruption. I’ve had greater motivation to work up stuff for Third Coast Review and interact with a group of fine, generous writers. I’ve even been able to give that whole writing thing I basically abandoned over the years another look. In a plague year, knowing it can all blow to hell and having extra time is a powerful motivator to attack projects. Also, I seriously, desperately, frightfully need the distraction. Yet, as wonderful as it is to feel productive, I hope it doesn’t last long.

More later.


I Can Haz Cannibalizm Bacon?

Let’s imagine that through some set of circumstances, you end up attending a soda pop bottle collectors’ convention. Perhaps, like me, you collect soda pop bottles, and turning up at such a convention wouldn’t be a surprise to you (I haven’t attended any myself), but in this instance let’s assume you don’t give a damn about soda pop bottles. You don’t hate them, but they fail to set you afire, let’s say.

At first, as you walk around, you might be mildly impressed by the beauty of the bottles on display: some possess eye-catching art, others have pleasing shapes. Perhaps some of the collectors are perfectly lovely people, plainly excited about their hobby and willing to share the joy of soda-pop bottle collecting with you. Some are more exuberant and/or socially awkward than others, but mostly they seem to be a pleasant, harmless lot. You may not be able to follow their conversations about grading or ACLs, but it’s clear they’re enjoying themselves, and no one is buttonholing you to joyfully scream about the 1952 seven ounce Grapette bottle they discovered in a Muskegon landfill.

Still, after a time, you tire of hearing about bottles. That’s understandable. The convention center exits are clearly marked, and you’re not chained to a column, so there’s nothing keeping you there.

Yet, you remain, and you continue to walk about. But now the tone and endless onslaught of soda-pop bottle trivia and trading is growing grating. I must stress, you could leave, but instead you visit each table, hoping someone will start talking about flyfishing, SOPA, Artemisia Gentileschi, or Indian food. You bring up these subjects, and you generate a mild conversation or two about them, but soon you’re back to bottles, bottles, bottles. You exhale a sigh of disgust and walk off to another part of the center.

Eventually, you find a group of your friends—all of whom, for the purposes of analogy, are exchanging empty bottles that once contained Heep Good orange pop, Top Hat seltzer water, Kayo chocolate soda, O•So•Grape elixir, and others. They’re having a grand old time, and when they see you they wave you over.

“Aren’t you guys SICK of talking about bottles?” you ask.

Startled, they look to one another, and your best friend says, “Uh, no. It’s fun! what’s your favorite soda pop bottle?”

“But it’s NOT fun,” you gripe. “It’s just so overdone. I’m sick of hearing about it.”

They look at you sympathetically—these are your friends, after all—but ask, “Well… You do realize you’re at the annual soda pop bottle convention, right? And Bob and Jane over here, well, they’ve just gotten into it.”

“Yeah! It’s superduper fun!” says Bob, happily. You shoot him a withering glare.

“But you’ve been talking about it for days now. Isn’t it time to discuss something else?” you say.

One of your friends shrugs and says, “I… guess… but we’re really enjoying ourselves.”

“But I’m not!” you say. “I want to talk about something else! Like jai alai or French cinema or Anjelica Houston.”

“Hey, you’re in luck!” another friend says, cheerfully. She points to a staircase across the center. “Upstairs they’re holding the convention for aficionados of French movies starring Anjelica Houston as a jai alai player! And it’s free! Actually, I was thinking of going up there after this, so we could…”

You begin to stomp your feet and shake your little fists in the air.


Your friends look at you askance.

“Maybe you could go home for a little while and then come back later? You know, take a break. We’ll be done soon.” says your best friend.

“Yeah, let’s go to the bar next door and have a drink. And we’ll talk about whatever you like!” says your cousin. “Before we go though, check out this hilarious soda pop bottle I found! It has a kitty-cat on it!”

“NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!!!” You scream. You start overturning tables and breaking bottles like Christ cleansing the Temple.

“Everyone must talk about things according to my schedule! Everyone must cease enjoying a hobby when I declare it! Anyone who hasn’t laughed at a joke by a certain time and date MUST BE FORBIDDEN TO LAUGH AT IT EVER AGAIN!” you bellow. “Arrrgggh! This is why America is in danger! This is why people are stupid! Once things were good, but now they are bad! Argggh! Evil has a face, and it is soda pop bottle collectiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing!”

When you finish, you find yourself panting, sweaty, and standing on a mountain of glass, the collectors dazed and breathless and more than a few—your friends included—glaring and wondering why you’re so damned worked up.

Then you look across the center and see someone eating a ham sandwich. Except the ham isn’t stuck between two pieces of bread… IT’S STUCK BETWEEN TWO LARGE SQUARES OF GRAPE JELL-O!

“Ha ha ha! Hey, look guys!” you say, stumbling with bloodied feet across the field of glass. “A Jell-O sandwich! Ha ha! Well, if that isn’t the ever-living, ever-loving end!” You take a picture of it, intending to share it with everyone you meet on the way home. “Say, guys…” you ponder, turning back to your friends, “What other things could you make with Jell-O!?! Ha ha! Bacon Jell-O! Badger Jell-O! Zombie Jell-O! Lutefisk Jell-O! HA HA HA HA! Man, this is KOOKY!”

At once, everyone in the convention center forgives you, and you all begin amassing and sharing thousands upon thousands of Jell-O recipes and photographs.

Something you know you’ll never ever get tired of doing.


* I’ve dulled my hand at blogging, it seems. Self-exiled from all social media in order to finish my novel and accomplish other tasks, I decided it would be all right to keep “bloggeneringing” because it requires writing that was a bit lengthier, more thoughtful, and challenging. So lengthy, thoughtful, and challenging, my muse treated it as if she were attempting the King Pigeon pose.

“Wr-wr-write? Extended entries? I can’t be done! It shan’t be done! It negan’t be done!” she shrilly shrieked.


Then I recalled that during my Live Journal days I usual wrote in short bursts: longer than a tweet, shorter than a Facebook post.


* Like Sinistar, I live. When I handed off my passwords for Facebook, Twitter, and the rest to my friend Kathy, life didn’t stop. I’m still raising two lovely kids with my wife (no, really, they are quite lovely; the loveliest things ever), still punching the clock in the morning and evening, and still frittering away what little free time I have on writing, art projects, and my son’s increasingly esoteric requests (“Daddy, can you make me a ray gun that shoots a blue laser that makes elephant beans furious?” He didn’t actually say that, but sometimes the box cars in his train of thought are filled with oddities. I suspect Phineas and Ferb and Mythbusters have been strangely altered through his mind filter).

The baby girl sleeps longer during the night, but still wakes up at about 4 a.m. mewling for formula, striking the wife and myself with insomnia and, in my case, daytime hallucinations. I occasionally see black cats whipping by in the corner of my eyes. Good thing I rarely drive anywhere these days.

It is a good life, but…

* The novel isn’t finished. I wanted to finish it two weeks after the password hand-off, but certain circumstances whereof I cannot speak without getting ticked have emerged. Also, my writing hours are now confined to 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. during lunchtime and about 9:30 to midnight when all are asleep, and after the dishes are put away, the toys are picked up, the laundry is folded, and so forth. Not having social media to play with has freed up some time, but I still find myself frittering minutes away at this or that site when I should be writing. I’ve made progress, finally exiting a chapter that seemed inescapable and ever-growing, for instance. I’m risking similar literary quicksand in chapter 20 too, but I’ve slogged on, reaching for branch after branch and vine after vine overhead until I yank myself gasping back to dry land.

I recently read an interesting statement from a writer on another blog (I should have written down his name, sorry). He said something like, “Can’t bring yourself to write 1,000 words a day? Write 2,000 instead and edit them later.” Which reflects on a Wm. S. Burroughs quote I frequently drag out to prod myself into action: “The biggest obstacle for any writer is the knowledge of the amount of bad writing he’ll have to do before he creates any good writing.” I have produced a great deal of bad writing lately, I am proud to say.

But it’s not finished, and I’m still tormented (yes, genuine torment!) over the likelihood that the novel will go no further than my printer (or maybe lulu.com). Very well. On the day I write the final word, I’ll print out the entire book (I already printed out section one), photograph myself holding it and post it here, shove it into a large padded envelope, and then stick it on the closet shelf for a month, pretending it is dead. DEAD! For laughs, after I finish the final edit, I may set the first draft on fire in the backyard. CATHARSIS, I WORSHIP THEE.

* More later. maybe.

Things I Never Understood During My Tenure on LiveJournal

1. The large number of people who, whenever I posted admonishments against people who annoyed me in meatspace, thought I was speaking directly to them—against all evidence and even across state lines.

Me: Curse you, foul creature, for failing to submit those TPS reports before the 3 p.m. meeting. I damn thee!

Commenter: What? When did I do this? Why are you so mad at me?

Me: Beg pardon? You know I’m talking about work, right?

Commenter: Well, how am I supposed to know that?

2. The number of people who felt a need to fix my attitude about everything.

Me: Dammit! I hate it when people put piccalilli on my hamburger.

Commenter 1: Hey, that’s not fair, Dan. A lot of people LIKE piccalilli. Maybe you need to give it… and them… a chance.

Commenter 2: Yeah, Dan, I’m not sure what brought that on. Don’t you think you’re being a little unfair?

Me: Huh? I personally don’t like piccalilli. That’s all I’m saying.

Commenter 1: I’ve never heard of anyone who didn’t like piccallili.

Me: Sure you did. Me. Right now.

Commenter 2: No, I don’t think so.

3. Those who thought that when I offered an opinion on something they enjoyed immediately assumed I believed they were idiots.

Me: Man, fuck Kajagoogoo. Other people can like them, but I hate them. Fucking Kajagoogoo. And fuck bucatini pasta too.

Commenter: LOOK, I can LIKE Kajagoogoo and bucatini pasta if I want to, and your ARROGANT and ELITIST attitude has NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.

Me: All right. I’m just saying I personally don’t like Kajagoogoo and bucatini pasta, because…


4. The folks who felt the need to provide ongoing reviews of my posts.

Me: To get to the other side! And that’s why that chicken crossed the road. Chortle chortle!

Commenter: This wasn’t as funny as that post you made May 5, 2003. Why don’t you write posts like that anymore?

Me: Uh, because they already done been written, boss?

Commenter: Well, if you just want to sit back on your laurels I suppose that’s a good answer. Also, you know that post where you said, “Remember when candy bars were as thick as a baby’s torso?” Well, I don’t remember that.

Me: I figured some people wouldn’t since it didn’t happen.

Commenter: Yes, but how is that post relevant to me? To my needs and memories?

Me: You know, I’d love to help you find what you’re looking for, but I’m not sure what it is or where you lost it. In fact, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist.

Commenter: Also, this post is going on too long. And I know I never wrote this. In fact, there aren’t any posts that look exactly like this one, so I think none of this stuff happened.

Me: Um, sez you?

Commenter: I smugly sit back, now that I have made my point.

Me: What?