Year-end Miscellany

This will possibly be my one and only post for December. I have been in a pensive mood of late, observing the world as writers normally do, trying to understand its subtext: another mass shooting down south, a man•made fiscal cliff looming with both sides being intransigent, an old calendar ending without the predicted ending of our world, having to dig deeper for survival in an age when stable institutions we once relied upon (i.e. corporations and governments) have seemingly abandoned us. The tea leaves tell me that it is a tough, overcrowded world out there and it ain’t going to get any easier in the next little while.

I completed writing another novel this year (my sixth yet•to•be•published one, in addition to the four already published and the hundreds of shorter pieces published in various magazines, blogs and e•zines). I’m reconciled to being a posthumous writer if my estate will summon the energy to publish my unpublished tomes after I have made the Great Exit. I have learned that there is a time for mining, and that rich veins of imagination do run their courses, and that to be distracted by trivialities (like earning a living) at these times can interfere with this flood that comes from the “other side,” a God•given gift. And for me, that time is now. I also realize the cost that comes with heeding the words Jesus spoke to his twelve buddies when he said, “Come follow me.” He never mentioned a rose garden or a fat purse at the end of the line. By taking up the cross (or the pen, in this instance) we signed on for lean times, rich only in personal growth.

I’ve seen the younger generation in my family move on and expand their horizons this year – a point of pride, given that theirs is the generation we robbed with our grandiose plans of “Me First, and damn everything else, including the environment” – by buying houses, upgrading jobs, moving countries even, to where the prospects are brighter. And it reminds me of when I took this same trek through the desert from the third world to the first world in search of greener pastures, a long time ago it seems now. And I too moved this year, right into the heart of downtown Toronto, in the hope of new horizons opening for me. Moving ever so often is good, for it clears the cobwebs. And hope is a good thing to have, always.

I’ve seen old friends start to falter, even die, reminding me of the long, lonely journey we must all make one day, a journey that converts our daily pre•occupations into trivial pursuits and calls into account the most important things we did or should have done, and makes us gnash our teeth for not having done them when we should have. These friends at the head of the curve give us pause, and we are richer for having known them, for in their passing they have given us the gift of self•examination.

I’ve seen artists flourish this year when we published an anthology of writers, poets and painters. It gave us an opportunity to go into the small towns and villages in our part of eastern Ontario and present our audiences with a calling card that was welcomingly received. And I have seen writers look up in hope when I stood before them and said that technology has not doomed us but liberated us from the slush pile. There may be no more money, but there is no more waiting.

It is always good to pause at this time of the year and look back on what we accomplished and what we did not. A time for understanding the incompleteness of life, which in itself gives us the fuel to go on and dot some of those “i”s and cross some more of those “t”s. Yes, the world is a rough place but humans are resilient beings, and those who roll with the punches will survive.

Dear friends, thanks for continuing to read my blog. I wish you and your loved ones a joyous Christmas and much wisdom in 2013.

Christmas Over the Years

Christmas brings out mixed feelings in me. Will it be good or bad, white or green this year?

There were the Christmases of childhood when I cradled a lonely Roy Rogers annual while my more fortunate cousins flashed multiple gifts received from doting parents. The Christmases of Pyrotechnics followed, when my bachelor uncle would buy a car load of fireworks each year and appoint me master organizer of the Christmas•eve “firing schedule,” when I became the envy of the neighbourhood kids. The fireworks•less Christmas followed in the year my sister was born—our Christmas baby, who now as an adult walks the land preaching salvation to the uninitiated, just like the original Christmas baby did—when everyone was pre•occupied with Mum’s long labour, and when the kerosene canon, a poor replacement for the fireworks, was created by me and a buddy to prove that “necessity is the mother of invention.” Midnight on Christmas•eve in the old country was a cacophony of exploding fireworks until that sound morphed into a more deadly kind—civil war—causing us to leave seeking safer pastures.

Our first Christmas in the Middle East was terrible: no fireworks, no friends, no family and no carols on the radio. Christmases in the desert got better afterwards when the “tribe,” (comprising family and friends chasing safety, petro•dollars and immigration nest eggs), began to grow, and when we built our own collections of Christmas music. The first Christmas in Canada was a wonderland of falling in the snow and making angels and snowmen – activities we had only imagined and read about in fairy tales. Now, we could not get the sound of Christmas music out of our ears – it was everywhere, 24/7, from the time Halloween ended. The tribe followed us to Canada when their nest eggs were sufficiently grown, and they increased and multiplied and Christmas parties got grander and it was no longer sufficient to give (or receive) a solitary gift per person, and January was a blah month when the credit card bills came in.

There were the sad Christmases too, when illness visited the family and mortality checks registered for the first time and relatives brought gifts and food for us, the homebound, because Christmas was never to be missed, come whatever. There was the Christmas when a marriage ended and my family never sat down to its turkey dinner as a unit ever again. And there was also the Christmas when I looked upon my first unemployment insurance cheque and wondered how one could live on such a measly sum, and questioned where all my taxes and contributions in previous years had gone. Those were the times when I did not look forward to Christmas.

But good times return, just like the bad ones do, and this year we are seeing family members celebrate their own Christmases as their circles expand, and given the numbers now in the tribe, we are assured of at least reasonably sized gatherings at any one place for the next few years. And the ones coming to visit this Christmas are driving long distances on planes, trains and automobiles to get here (well, maybe not on planes this year).

Above all, Christmas reminds me of the passing of time and of the human condition, replete with good times, bad times, wins, losses; of giving and receiving. Maybe Christmas is an annual check point to see if we are truly living life in all its diversity. Poor is the man (or woman) to whom Christmas has always been a procession of joy or an unending saga of misery. They have been short changed. Christmases should be like eggnog cocktails, with equal or alternating infusions of sorrow and joy, which we must partake of annually in order to be truly alive.

The Facebook Family

I remember the old days when we wrote letters to relatives and friends in distant lands, when we phoned the ones nearby to “keep in touch” and when we read the obituary notices to find out who had died.

I have to admit I do not do any of that today. All my friends and most of my far•flung family are now on Facebook. If I don’t see them on the newsfeed, there must be something wrong. Time to “poke” them. Now, you have to be worried if your “friend count” suddenly drops – did someone die? Or did they “un•friend” you because of something you said (or did not say) on your wall or heavens forbid) on his wall? Have I overstayed my welcome by posting my gossip and self•promotion on my friend’s walls? Click – and I am history!

I find out about new births when baby pictures start appearing on my friends’ Facebook pages; or of people moving homes when the backgrounds of those pictures change. “And why are you putting on so much weight, guy – sitting in front of the computer too much?” “What’s with the glasses? Eye strain?” Join the club.

Do I need to send greetings cards anymore? How about a poke instead • “Happy birthday, man, how’s it hanging?” Simple! No need to go to a wedding or birthday party any more – just have my friends upload grainy photographs from the party, captured on a cell phone camera, so that I could check them out and “be there.” No need to come to my parties either, I’ll just post pictures of myself on my Facebook page, blowing out umpteen candles on a $10 supermarket cake, with only me in attendance.

You know, despite all this networking, it feels kind of lonely out in Facebookland. We seem to have networked ourselves into obscurity. To feel guilty when you phone someone and get the real person instead of his voice mail is now becoming a common human reaction. Who would rather be sitting with their spouse or significant other on the same couch and texting each other instead of conversing? I mean, we do it at the office, why not at home? We may get some peace and quiet after all (other than for those tic•tic sounds of keyboards or phone pads). And in ten years from now, our vocal chords would have atrophied and we will have ended up with a circumscribed vocabulary heavily populated with “LOL, Hi, OMG, Hi5” and other acronyms that I am trying hard not to learn.

I don’t know, man – especially in these days of cheap long•distance phone calls and free video conferencing, I think we need the face•to•face more than the face•book. I wonder when the tide will change; when our keyboarding fingers will ache for a rest, our vocal chords thirst for exercise, and our souls hunger for the presence of other souls to remind us that we exist, and are defined, only in relation to community

Celebrity Conundrum

When the sad tale of the greatest golfer’s fall from grace, or more aptly, fall from the stereotype, broke recently, I was glad that I was not in his cleats.

Just the other day, I was lamenting the fact that my books weren’t best•sellers, yet (you see, I am ever hopeful, and vain). But with best•seller status comes celebrity and intrusion and conformance to publicly held standards that the public themselves have difficulty attaining. The celebrity becomes the de•facto symbol of all that we (Joe Blow Public) have been unable to accomplish in our lives – our dream, our mirage. And when that bubble pops, the fallen celebrity is attacked with venom that is unjustified. How dare he burst my bubble?

The public spotlight is a lonely one, especially when that spotlight is conferred by corporate sponsorship and brand imagery that the celebrity is supposed to enhance. One wonders if the emerging celebrity’s own brand is neutered to become a subset of the sponsor’s existing brand, and never really stands on its own.

And what about his competition: the ones who can now jump in and fill the void, and who have been waiting impatiently to grab at some of the spoils, albeit under visages of equally clean living gentlemen who have never transgressed?

And what about immediate family members? Do they circle the wagons and protect the fallen one, or do they also pounce and pick at what pieces are left, lining their own pockets and leaving the carcass to the next level of celebrity: the notorious tabloids that will make our former celebrity weekly faire for the next few months, linking him with scandals true and untrue, until they have milked him for every bit of news and turned him into the monster they have portrayed him to be?

So this poor celebrity is shouldering quite a few weights already: the need to keep winning in his chosen field of endeavour, the need to behave in a manner that supports and enhances corporate sponsors, the need to portray an image of success that his public following can never emulate, the need to suppress his own desires and aspirations should they ever digress from all of the above. And while doing all of that, he can never totally rely on family support as he desperately tries to stay out of the hands of the tabloids. By Jove, that’s a heavy load! No wonder the Risk•Reward diagram is like a see•saw and not a circle, as I had once though it to be. What goes around does not necessarily come around in equal measure for celebrities; it comes around accompanied by either a sack full of dough or a millstone.

So, as the New Year is upon us, I am secretly glad that I am not a celebrity – yet (I told you I was vain!) And I wonder, if that day ever comes, whether I would have the energy to withstand a PR faux pas, however innocuous it may be? Or whether I would long for these days when even if I had jumped off the CN Tower, I may not have warranted more than a footnote in the local rag— “Fruitcake Tries to Fly Off Tall Building.”