On the Seventh Day of Blogging, Just Dusty Blogged for Me…

…A throwback to 20/Infinityyyyy!

The blog I used to have, 20/Infinity, was dedicated to the theme of time travel: I imagined having a time machine and the ability to travel back in time and change past events in order to adjust the present or the future; the title was a reference to infinite hindsight. It was a good blog while it lasted. And since this is New Year’s Eve, a time when we look back on the past, I thought that I had two options: either I could recount the events of 2016 (he says with a shudder), or I could re-post one of my essays from an old blog. And even though I agree with Cat Jones and others that 2016 was not the worst year on record — 2014 was so much shittier for me, I can’t even express it — I’d rather not rehash it right now.

So instead, here is one of the very first blogs I ever wrote, almost ten years ago today; explaining in greater detail how I feel about New Year’s Resolutions. My favorite thing about this one? The phrase “rut jump.” And it’s fun to see how I nerded out to words with two u’s together.

Enjoy! Happy New Year!

 

Resolved

Happy new year! Tak a cup o’kindness, fer the sake of auld lang syne. Gather round and watch the Bowl Games. Drink champagne, watch the ball drop, kiss someone you love at midnight.

I hope that everyone got a chance to do any or all of those things on the last night of 2007, and the first day of 2008. But I also hope that nobody made a New Year’s Resolution. In fact, that will be my first use of the time machine: I will flirt with paradox and play footsie with the space-time continuum (How cool is it that there are words that have two u’s together? Continuum! Vacuum!) by going back to the same day, over and over and over again, doubling and trebling and quadrupling myself in order to catch everyone I can on New Year’s Eve, so that I can try to convince everyone: don’t.

Don’t promise to lose weight. Don’t swear off alcohol or cigarettes or chocolate. Don’t make that champagne-infused oath to be a nicer person, to be a meaner person, to work harder, to work less, to find a lover or to lose a dozen. That is, make any, all of those promises — just don’t do it on December 31.

The New Year is one of the more artificial demarcations there is — right up there with Leap Year and Daylight Savings Time. The old year vanishes, and there is a clean slate! We start fresh! Yeah, right: you go to sleep under a cloudy/rainy/snowy/sleety sky, and wake up under the same. The nights are still long, the days are still short; the air is still cold. Public school students are (generally speaking) returning to school still in the first semester, or halfway through the second trimester; university students are only halfway through their winter break. If you were 38 when 2007 ended, you are 38 when 2008 begins (Unless January 1 is your birthday, but that puts you into a different category. So siddown, nitpicker.). Tell me, please, other than your calendar (16-month calendars are hereby discounted — vile heresies they are.), what changes between December 31 and January 1?

When you make a life-changing resolution, when you decide that things are going to be different, it needs to feel like it. You need to feel as though things really are different, as though you have changed and now you are seeing the world through different eyes: now you are a non-smoker! An exerciser! A teetotaler! Things should not feel just as they did the night before — and a January 1 champagne hangover is not enough of a shift in perception. If you make a change in your basic daily routine, then the day after you make that change needs to be a new day — otherwise you will not feel the change, and as countless diet industry millionaires can attest, if you do not feel the change, you will not change. You may change for a little while, but slowly you will shift back into your former routine.

Life is a rut in the road. Most of the time, we run along in our little ruts, moving forward, pretty much content, occasionally jumping up to get a glimpse of what is outside the rut. Sometimes, when we decide we no longer enjoy this particular rut, we can try to jump out of the rut; this is what a resolution is, a rut jump. But if all you do is jump to the top of the rut and keep running along the edge of the same old rut, sooner or later you’re going to ooze right back in, and be right back where you started — probably just in time for New Year’s Eve, 2008, and a brand new, though equally futile, champagne-fueled guilt-charged rut jump. To get out of your rut and stay out, you have to find a new rut.

What this means is just that you have to change yourself before you can change your habits, and to change yourself takes real willpower. You have to want to be different, because if you don’t really want to be different, you’re not going to change. It seems so obvious, but vast self-improvement industries have been built on resolution recidivism, the tendency to change one’s life without really changing one’s self, an attempt that is almost always doomed to be repeated, over and over again, at great personal and financial cost.

If you want to change, then don’t wait for a new calendar. Change when the time feels right to you. Listen to your own will, your own heart and mind. Take that day, whatever day it is that you wake up feeling like a new person, and count from there; that is the beginning of your New Year, of your year as the person you want to be. The day that you choose, for yourself, is always more meaningful than the one that is chosen for you. Want proof? Think of the difference between Valentine’s Day, the artificially chosen Day To Prove Your Love (also known as Hallmark Day, also known as Day the Catholic Church Wanted to Take Away From Pagans Who Had Yet Another Fertility Festival That Week [cf. Roman feast of Lupercal and read the description from Plutarch], also known as Day To Be Jealous Of All the Kids With More Cards In Their Construction Paper Letter Box Than You, Those Jerkfaces) and your anniversary. Which day seems more precious? Which has more thought behind it, the heart-shaped box of chocolates or the anniversary gift? When do you feel a greater difference in your world view, on February 15 — or the day after your wedding night?

If you are one of those people who actually feel a difference between December 31 of one year and January 1 of the next, then please: ignore what I have said. Hold up a hand for silence, and point me back to my time machine: a New Year’s Resolution is perfectly valid for you. If your birthday falls on the first day of the New Year, then perhaps you, like millions of others, feel a real difference on the morning when your age officially rolls over to the next number; you, too, are free to resolve to change with the coming of the new year of your life. But for the rest of you, forget the New Year. Celebrate it, sure; reminisce about the old year, look forward to the new year. But don’t expect to change yourself as easily as you change the calendar. Pick your own first day, and look forward to your own chosen anniversary.

And by the way: if you picked February 14 as your wedding day, you need to get a life.

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On the Sixth Day of Blogging, Just Dusty Blogged for Me . . .

A political post; his specialtyyyyy!

Here’s the truth: we all know what’s coming.

The Republicans are coming.

It’s like watching a storm coming in: the clouds roll out across the sky like a cloth unfurling; first they are white, then grey, then black. The color leaches out of the world. The wind turns cold and biting, and then the first drops arrive: if it is a summer storm, then the big, fat splashes are refreshing, though the tang of ozone in the air is alarming.

But I don’t think this is a summer storm. It feels like winter. Those drops are cold. We are shivering.

When the storm hits in winter, it brings quiet. The wind may howl, but after it goes, everything is still. Frozen. Asleep, or dead.

That’s what I think this feels like. Like the storm is coming, and we need to get into shelter, and cover everything. Anything left out will freeze solid, will turn black, will die. We have to cover ourselves, we have to batten down the hatches. And ride it out.

But hang on: winter storms don’t kill everything. Yes, there will be some death: the EPA seems doomed, and Obamacare will be lobotomized, dissected, cut down into pieces too small to sustain itself any longer. Maybe the Department of Education, too, since the nominee for Education Secretary is against public education. Irrevocable harm will be done to the environment as new oil leases are sold, new mining contracts offered, coal dug and burned at will. Internationally, the day of the strong man is on the rise: the new administration will be a friend to Putin, and Netanyahu, and probably Assad and a dozen others who hold an iron grip with their right hand. America will no longer be the defender of freedom around the world. But then, we haven’t actually been that for a long time: we have defended our interests, and little else. That will continue, to the joy of the exceptionalists. Surely we will no longer fight against genocide or oppression: pity is the most delicate flower, and will be the first to freeze.

But not everything will freeze. It will get deathly cold, but our shelters run deep, and are well-protected. And though the storm will be bad, it will not last long. That’s the truth: it will not last long. At some point, perhaps in four years, perhaps in only two when the new Congress is elected, the storm will break, and the skies will clear.

Then we will have to see if there is another storm behind this one. It is possible, you know. This storm may last eight years. If it does, we’re going to have a lot of frostbite.

But think of this. No party has won three elections in a row since Bush followed Reagan. Before that, not since Truman followed Roosevelt. Twice in almost a century have we had a Democratic president after a Democrat, or a Republican after a Republican – Johnson following Kennedy and Ford following Nixon notwithstanding, for obvious reasons. Which means that things will change. The storm will end. Believe it.

Here’s what we hope for, between now and then.

Hope that the storm does some good. Storms do, you know. They wash things clean, they break away dead branches and scour away debris. I am a progressive, and I believe in the power of government to do good things; but the truth is that our government has a lot of debris stuck in its branches. And some dead branches, I think. It is entirely possible that, even while it harms and breaks good things, the storm will also clear away some of the bad. We have to hope so. Maybe there will be some positive effects.

The key for us – for all of us – is going to be objectivity. We must be dispassionate, and we must be rational. Reasonable people can agree, can compromise, and what was most noticeably absent from this last election was reason — and therefore agreement, and therefore compromise. To keep the weather metaphor: some people like cold weather, like storms, like the rain; other people prefer warm sunshine. But only unreasonable people claim that there is nothing good about cold, that only warm sunshine can ever be acceptable; only unreasonable people claim to hate it when the sky clears and the sun comes out, at least once in a while. Reasonable people realize that Arizona summers are too freaking hot, that New England winters are too freaking cold, that the Pacific Northwest is too overcast and rainy, and the Southeast is too muggy.

We have to be reasonable. If the Republican control of the government leads to some good things, leads to some reductions in unnecessary regulations (and there are such), leads to some reversal of government overreach and invasion into private lives (and there is such), then we must be happy that good things are happening. We must not make the same mistake that unreasonable people have made when they have claimed that, for instance, President Obama has been bad for the economy. Or that the First Family has been an embarrassment to the country. Hate Obamacare all you want, but the economy has turned around since the recession. (And I say Fie to anyone who claims that the economy would have grown faster had the president for the last eight years been Republican. Fie. Prove it. Show me where economic predictions have ever been reliable. If a simple cause and effect were provably true, the argument would be over. It ain’t. So fie.) The Obama family are a model of dignity and grace.

So let’s not make the same mistake. Let us be reasonable. Let us take the long view and see: if a thing is broken or taken away, was that thing actually necessary? Perhaps not. Perhaps when Obamacare is destroyed by the storm, we will come out of our shelters when the sky clears and build something even better.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, when Miss Maudie’s house burns down during the winter freeze, she simply says this:

Miss Maudie looked around, and the shadow of her old grin crossed her face. ‘Always wanted a smaller house, Jem Finch. Gives me more yard. Just think, I’ll have more room for my azaleas now!’ 

You ain’t grievin’, Miss Maudie?’ I asked, surprised. Atticus said her house was nearly all she had. 

Grieving, child? Why, I hated that old cow barn. Thought of settin’ fire to it a hundred times myself, except they’d lock me up.’

But—’ 

Don’t you worry about me, Jean Louise Finch. There are ways of doing things you don’t know about. Why, I’ll build me a little house and take me a couple of roomers and – gracious, I’ll have the finest yard in Alabama. Those Bellingrathsll look plain puny when I get started!’

There are ways of doing things. That’s how we have to see this. Like the burning down of an old house. It’s dangerous and damaging – and we have to try to fight the fire, and we have to try to save what we can from its flames – but we have to remember that after the storm, after the fire, life goes on. And maybe the new day will dawn even brighter. Anything that is destroyed that shouldn’t be, we can rebuild. Maybe we can even make it better.

Now: that is me being reasonable, because we should be, about Republican control of government. Republicans are not fools, and are not evil; though I think political parties are harmful to this country, it is certainly true that two parties are necessary, that one party alone, even my party, would be doomed. I think of when Frodo offers the One Ring to Galadriel, and she refuses it because she would become a queen, awesome and terrible — “All will worship me and despair,” she says, as she’s imagining it. Gandalf turns it down, too, for the same reason: nobody can use it safely, even if they mean to do good. The federal government is, in some ways, the Ring. The key to using it safely is in numbers: no one person can hold it for too long; no person can go it alone. Frodo never makes it to Mt. Doom without Samwise. Realize that, while we seem to have handed the Ring to Denethor, the madman on the throne of Gondor, it wouldn’t be any better if we hung on to it ourselves: we’d go mad like Frodo does, and decide to keep the Ring for ourselves. That is a fate to be feared no less because progressives have, I think, the right idea. I may write more about this another time.

For now, let’s talk about the other part of the winter storm scene from To Kill a Mockingbird: let’s talk about the Morphodite.

You remember the Morphodite, right? The snowman that Jem and Scout build, that is actually only a coating of clean snow over a big ball of mud? Right. Jem turns him into a caricature of their loud, obnoxious neighbor Mr. Avery, but at Atticus’s request, he changes it into a more innocent imitation of Miss Maudie, dressing it with her sun hat and hedge clippers. She, of course, takes it as an insult (though she doesn’t mind too much) and names it a morphodite, meaning a thing that changes its shape. The Morphodite melts in the heat of the burning house, and Scout and Jem have to clean up the muddy, filthy, sticky mess.

I think we all know what I’m talking about. I don’t, in theory, have a problem with the Republican party taking control of the government — though I am extremely nervous that, after they push through a conservative Justice for the Supreme Court, they will control all three branches of the Federal government — but we’re not just talking about conservatives or Republicans, are we? We’re talking about this guy:

You know — the Morphodite. See? Clean and white on the outside, nothing but sticky brown nastiness underneath. (And I’m not making a racial reference here, just using the symbolism of white snow=purity, and mud=shit=corruption.)

So here’s the thing with the Morphodite. He was picked largely as an alternative to a lot of bad choices, mostly (but not solely) on the Republican side. I still believe, absolutely, that he entered the race solely to increase his name recognition and give himself a veneer of patriotism; maybe to make some political connections he could use to his advantage for his business. I think nobody was more shocked than he when he started winning, and that state of shock continued all the way through the final victory. I mean, he’s been unprepared the whole way; it’s no less true now. And he’s filling his cabinet with people who are likely to support him and his ideas personally, with their own selfish interests in mind, rather than people who are civic-minded, or who will likely consider what is best for the American people before considering what is best for themselves. Just like him.

The man’s a narcissist, that much is clear. He acts like a spoiled child: and he seems happiest when he breaks things and gets attention, which he then turns into more attention as he mocks the people who chastise him for breaking things. He thrives on attention. It is why he entered the race, why he ran so hard and why he has acted the way he has since his election.

So what do you do with a spoiled child who acts out for attention?

You ignore him. Don’t give him the satisfaction. Don’t give him what he wants, because it is the only thing he wants, and he doesn’t care in the least if it is good attention or bad attention. All he wants is for people to talk about him.

So stop. Stop using his name. Fortunately there are a thousand alternatives, from John Oliver’s call to make Donald Drumpf again, to the various versions of orange-themed insults that plaster the internet. Any of those are fine; he wants to see his name, his actual name. I think he prefers The D_____, actually, though clearly the last name, associated with the business, is the #1 priority. But there are so many others, too: Rump. Dump. Chump. Chimp! Lump, Slump, Gump, Hump (Wait — not that one. Too close to home.), Bump, Thump, Clump. So many possibilities, and not a one of them will give him what he wants.

If you feel a call to protest, please do. But address your concerns to the part of the government that is actually still a government. And when the reality TV guy comes on stage — change the channel. Or better yet, just turn him off.

Let him melt back into a puddle of goo. Then we can have a couple of kids rake him up and throw him away.

On the Fifth Day of Blogging, Just Dusty Blogged for Me…

An introduction to his familyyyyyy!

 

My wife and I speak for our pets.

I know this isn’t unique; maybe not even unusual. And though it may seem like it is to other people, especially the petless and those on the lower end of the imagination spectrum, it isn’t even strange or nonsensical: our pets, like any sentient thing, have personalities, and the clearest way for humans to depict that is to put it into words. We also do pantomime and funny voices for all of the pets, but that isn’t something I’m prepared to re-create on this blog.

So just the words will have to do.

What I have noticed over the years of speaking for my pets is this: my pets are smart. Very smart. Also kind of insane, but still — smart. The things they have to say, when we humans try to step outside ourselves and solidify their apparent perspective, are often true and even insightful things. This may be exactly because the attempt to speak in another persona allows us to step outside our own egos, and gain a new and perhaps clearer perspective; it may be because animals don’t care about the same bullshit that humans care about, and when you are speaking for an animal, it is impossible to speak like a human. It may be because I actually like animals better than humans, and so when I am speaking for them I tend, consciously or not, to make them sound like better people than human people generally are.

Though that last one isn’t entirely true. Because I speak for Dunkie, too, and he’s crazy. But also very sweet. And he don’t take no shit off of nobody, which is something that is not true for me, and which I admire and envy.

Regardless, whether it is escaping my own ego, or escaping a human’s perspective and a human’s baggage, or even if it is just that I want to make my pets seem like good people, it seems to me that their advice is worth listening to. So I’m going to be giving them a regular sort of column on this blog, and asking them what they have to say about the world we all share.

First, let me have them introduce themselves.

 

Duncan the Cockatiel:

Theoden Humphrey's portrait.

This is Duncan. He insists on going first, because he’s the oldest, and because he believes he is the most important.

YOU’RE GODDAMN RIGHT I’M THE MOST IMPORTANT! Yeah, that’s right — because it’s all about Dunkie. Oh! Right, yeah, introduce myself. Okay, LISTEN UP! I’m Duncan. I am named for a king. KING DUNKIE! I bring beauty into this house.

 

My feathers are pure white, and very clean and neat, because I spend the majority of my wakey-time grooming myself. I have a beautiful gold crest and awesome orange cheeks, and I whistle and sing and make kissy noises when I feel like it. 

 

When I don’t feel like it, THAT’S WHEN I START SCREAMING!

 

I can be very loud. BUT ONLY WHEN THEY DON’T DO WHAT I WANT! I can’t help it. I’m very small and I’m stuck in a cage. I don’t have a lot of weapons. I can bite, and I threaten that a lot. Doesn’t seem to work, though. BUT THE SCREAMING DOES! Yeah, it works good. It gets a real response, you better believe it. They always think they can ignore me, BUT NOBODY IGNORES DUNKIE! Even though I’m a tiny little pretty bird, I AM A FOUNT OF RAGE! It never lasts very long, though. But the screaming can go on and on and on and on because nobody is as stubborn as a bird. But then they just cover me up. That makes me stop screaming.

But really, all they’re doing is making me swallow my rage. The screams don’t stop, they just go inside.

For now.

It’ll come back later. Rage always does. You better believe it, pal. Just as soon as you do something I don’t like. Yeah.

I’M DUNKIE!

Oh yeah — and I can be very sweet, sometimes, too. I picked Mama out special when she came into the pet shop where I was living when I was new. Birds are usually standoffish to strangers, but I walked right up to her and put my foot out, reaching for her shoulder so I could stand on her. I still like to cuddle and have her give me skritchies. And then I close my eyes and make the tiniest little peeping noise.

It’s almost enough to make you forget about the rage.

Almost.

 

after-grooming
This is Samwise. Samwise, also known as Sammy, also known as the Fox in Socks (the Spitz in Spats), is the middle child (we think — both his age and the tortoise’s age are somewhat in doubt.) and is the sweet one.

 
HEYYO!* I am Samwise! I am a goodwill ambassador, that’s what my persons say. These are my persons, my mom and my pop.

Toni DeBiasi's portrait.

DSCF1669

 

I call them that because they took me in when I was in the joint. See, I used to have different persons, but they abandoneded me, and then I had to live on the street for a while. I came pretty close to starving to death, and it made me very scared and anxious. Then I got picked up and put in the shelter — but the dogs call it the joint, because though it sort of is shelter because you get a roof and food and water and stuff, you’re still locked in a cage, and you’re alone and scared pretty much all the time, which is why all the dogs in the joint bark a lot and act really mad. Because they’re scared and they don’t know why they don’t have a home any more, because we all used to have homes and persons, and then all of a sudden we don’t, and we’re in the joint.

The joint changes a dog.

But it didn’t change me!** Because I am super sweet, and very friendly and curious. (Though I still get scared sometimes.) I like everybody. I greet everyone and let them all pet me — I am very soft and fluffy. I never ever growl or bark, and I am not afraid of strangers — I like to stand up and pat them on the tum, because I like tum rubs and I think everyone should have tum rubs. My mom and pop think it’s amazing that I’m still so friendly and sweet, because I have plenty of reasons not to be, from my early life before I came to live here. But they don’t understand: that was all in the past. Now I have a nice home, and lots of food and tasty treats, and two persons that love me and will always take care of me, even though I bit my mom on the first day she brought me home because I got anxious and freaked out like I do sometimes, but they didn’t bring me back to the joint like the persons who took me home before them who only kept me for a week and then brought me back, or the ones before them who did the same thing (Pop says it’s because people suck, and because I have this thing they call tick fever from when I was on the street and it means I need to go to the vet and get medicine and tests and stuff and it costs money and the persons who took me home didn’t want to pay for me, but I don’t know what money is and I don’t even like the vet because they poke me with owie things but then they give me treats so it isn’t too bad but still if I could I would skip the whole thing and I’d really rather just have persons even if they don’t take me to the vet because all I really want is a home. And I have one now. So the persons who didn’t keep me before, that was just because they weren’t the right persons. I had to wait for just the right persons. And I found them!). So now I have a home, where I get to sleep in the bed, and I get two walks a day, and I get treats all the time, and they always pet me when I want them to and rub my tum and everything.

So why shouldn’t I be happy? See how nice persons are? Just look at my mom and pop! I think they’re awesome!

Okay I have to go now! Now you get to say heyyo to my outside brother! He doesn’t live in the house because he poops everywhere. I don’t know what the problem is. His poop seems pretty easy to clean up. But then I guess I’m not the one who cleans it. Anyway, he lives outside and he seems to like it. Okay bye!

(*Sammy’s greeting is pronounced like “Hello” with a Spanish “ll,” pronounced as a “y,” like “La Jolla.” It does not sound like Ed McMahon’s response to Johnny Carson jokes.)

(**Actually, it changed him quite a bit. When we brought him home, he weighed 25 pounds; he is now almost twice that, and has three times as much fur. Before and after:)

1526792_709556565807081_2954433223766361570_nsam1first-day-2after-the-grooming

 

 
Neo is an African spurred tortoise. We named him Neo because he was a gift from our former landlady, and when I was looking up African names, I found that “Neo” is a gender-neutral name that means “gift” in Tswana. We pronounce it like the name of the Keanu Reeves character from the Matrix, though I am sure that the actual word is pronounced differently; but we love the Matrix movies, and I sort of like the idea that the tortoise is actually the messiah. The actual word for the tort is “calm.”

neo-peeking

Hello. I’m Neo. I like food. Especially grass.

Theoden Humphrey's portrait.

This was the new sod we got for him, and the fence that didn’t keep him out. (Photobomb by Sammy’s butt.)

 

Food is good. So is sleep. I like to hide so no one bothers me. Especially that furry guy (“HEYYO!”). He sniffs me a lot. He moves too much. And too fast. You have to take your time, because otherwise you might miss things. Like food. I eat pretty much anything. I can’t see very well, so I usually try to eat everything I can find. Then I sleep.

Sleep is good.

I have a shell because I don’t want to be bothered, but usually I walk around a lot and look for food. I can walk surprisingly fast, especially when one of the tall people come out and come near me, because they usually have food and I walk straight to them as quick as I can. Which is pretty quick. Not that quick.

 

Not as quick as the sniffer. I have an extra house, like a shell for my shell.

 

I sleep in there because it has a warm rock* that I like to sleep on. Warm is good. Sleep is good. I walk around every day and graze, and eat my plate of salad, and then I go and lie in the sun or lie on my warm rock and sleep.

*Warm rock=heated basking spot designed for tortoises. Basically a hard plastic tile with a heating coil inside.

 

Life is good.

On the Fourth Day of Blogging, Just Dusty Blogged for Me…

*This is an example essay I wrote for my students. I assigned them a narrative essay, after studying several other narratives, with a wide-open topic. They could write about anything that involved them personally, and which had a story with an actual plot involved; it was up to them whether or not it had a lesson.

I suppose this one does.

 

Confessions of a Sign Bandit

burr-park-old

Look close: see the small dark rectangle under the center window? That’s a bronze plaque.

burr-park-new

Same building, same window. No plaque.

 

It all started innocently enough. My schoolchum Charles and I (Names have been changed to protect the innocent – so very, very innocent) left my house one sunny summer day, on our way to play stickball with the fellows, or perhaps to frolic with the bullfrogs at the old fishing hole, when what should we come across but a signpost, lying on the ground. It had been pulled up or knocked down, and it lay, calmly and quietly, as if patiently waiting repair. Charles and I exchanged an impish look, both taken by a playful caprice, as we so often were in those days. We took up the fallen soldier and scampered homeward, to the basement workshop. There we carefully removed the signs – two street names and a Stop sign, the proud red octagon’s warning to us unheeded in our whimsical glee – and made up a sign of our own, which read, “THE GREAT SIGN BANDIT HAS STRUCK AGAIN!” Accenting this message were various ejaculations, “Ha Ha Ha,” and “You’ll never catch me!” among them. Then we returned the sign to its proper place, standing it upright in the ground once more, to tell our tale of tomfoolery to the world. Ah, the hijinks of youth!

 

But I soon found that I had a taste for it. I didn’t know why. The removal of the signs themselves from the metal post had been simplicity itself, the work of a hammer for the street names, and two wrenches for the stop sign. Their appearance, a mixture of urban metalwork with suburban lettering, lacquered white on green, appealed to me. The excitement of the illicit act, particularly the nose-thumbing to authority — I liked it.

 

I never did such things, you see. I was quiet, I was polite, I was shy. I would never rebel against anything. I would never refuse to do what was expected, what I was told, what was right. But I had done it.

 

I wanted to do it again.

 

But how?

 

That question was soon answered when, on a solo jaunt down the same street, I saw the same signpost — red stop sign and green street signs having been replaced by the local sign-wielding proletarians, bless their innocent hearts — once more lying prone, prostrate, fallen.

 

I took it home again. I took the signs off, again.

 

It was even easier the second time.

 

My friends, holders of all secrets, soon knew of this; my girlfriend — delighted, I now realize, by this teeny, tiny whiff of bad boy in the cherubic youth she liked, but was perhaps not enthralled by — asked me for a favor: would I get her the sign from her street? She would like to have it as a memento.

 

I walked home from her house that night, as I had done before. The street was dark, the sign was held in a bracket nailed to a telephone pole.

 

My girlfriend wanted that sign.

 

Really, was there any other choice?

 

Of course not: I climbed that pole, I stood on that sign, I knocked it down. I ran with it to my lady’s house, presenting her the head of her slain dragon. I was victorious. A champion.

 

Soon after, I was up late, watching television, alone in the house, my mother having gone to work, my father having gone to work 3,000 miles away (My father, a particle physicist, had taken a job in Boston unrelated to his field in order to support his family; when given an opportunity to actually do cutting edge particle physics, he had leapt at the chance — but had left his family behind where our roots were. He had an apartment in California and flew back to visit every month.), when I realized: it’s dark outside. Nobody would see me, if I were out there. And — this was the real revelation — I could go out. Not walk back, from somewhere else, going straight home as I usually did; I could leave home. Nobody would even know.

 

So I did. I went out. I walked down the street — nobody stopped me — and then down another street, and then down another. Past where the signpost had now vanished entirely, the sign-wielders twice bitten, thrice shy; I was disappointed.

 

But now I had a new system: signs held up with nails could be pulled down by my weight (As it turns out, I already knew this). Soon enough, I found one such — a No Parking sign, a lesser prize, perhaps, but a prize nonetheless, and the pole it was nailed to was beside a tree that made for easy climbing. I climbed. I kicked. I stole. I ran home with it under my jacket, next to my racing heart. The No Parking sign was no restriction for me, no command: no, it was freedom.

 

It wasn’t enough. I had to find a bigger prize. And at the city park near my house, I found it. The park had been deeded to the city nearly a century before by the farmers who had lived there once, long before the wealthy Bostonites moved in and raised the suburban property values; as the city had grown more and more developed, the family had given the land to the city for use as a public park. It was a lovely park — tennis and basketball courts, soccer and baseball fields, swings and slides, stone walls, wrought iron fences, elms and oaks and rhododendrons.

 

And a beautiful sign. A bronze plaque, three feet by two feet, attached to the wall of the park’s central clubhouse, commemorating the gift of the park to the city. Tarnished by years of weathering, but the black on the edges of the raised letters just gave it gravitas, and a kind of warm, homey beauty. It looked like history. It looked like pride.

 

Attached to the wall with four screws. Flathead screws.

 

I waited until 2am, that time, watching HBO movies slide by unnoticed. I had the screwdriver. I had a long coat that I would drape over it. That sign would be mine.

 

You know what? It was easy. Nobody saw me. Nobody even drove past me as I walked it the mile or so back to my house. Nobody was home when I left, nobody was home when I got back. Sure, it was heavy — but adrenaline makes you strong. I was young, I was free. I was — the Great Sign Bandit.

 

Right: until my father came home for his visit.

 

He went into my room looking for towels, which I had a bad habit of dropping on the floor after my showers and simply leaving where they lay. I did that a lot, actually — schoolwork, books, games, shoes, unfinished projects, stolen street signs; all lay scattered, strewn haphazardly around my room. And when he went in there, he found the signs — hard to miss them, five or six full-sized street signs propped up against the walls or flat on the floor.

 

“Oh, the shame of it! My son, the sign thief!” he said, poking his head into the computer room where I was playing video games. At first, my heart stopped. I turned to look at him, no doubt ashen; what was he going to do to me?

 

But he was kidding. “Just don’t do it again,” he said. I nodded, struck dumb. So . . . he wasn’t going to kill me? I got away with this?

 

Some background is called for. Before we moved to Boston, we lived on Long Island, in a small town called Bellport. (We believed it was because the Liberty Bell had stopped there while it was being smuggled past the British. Not true. But we believed it.) Our property there had been on the corner, and the street sign had been planted in our yard. And for some reason, the local teenagers thought it was funny to bend the sign down onto itself so it somewhat resembled a taco shell. The sign was freestanding, and they would jump up and hang on it, and bend it down so that the name looked down to the street and up to the sky, and then bend the ends down, rendering it entirely unreadable. My father, irritated by vandalism and feeling some civic responsibility, would take the sign down, bring it into his basement workshop, straighten it out, and put it back.

 

The next day or soon after, it would be bent again. So he would straighten and replace it again, this time with cursing at every step.

 

And it would get bent down again.

 

So he sharpened it. He filed the edges so that, when the hoodlums would jump up and hang their weight on the sign to bend it — well, let’s say the sign wouldn’t be the thing laying on the ground.

 

He didn’t go through with it. He thought better of it, took the sign back down, dulled it up again, and then replaced it. I don’t remember why the kids stopped bending it, but they did. No fingers lost. But an indication, I hope, of my father’s feelings.

 

So it was stunning that he let me off. For sign stealing. For vandalism.

 

I was bulletproof. I could do anything!

 

Except then he went back into my room to collect the towels — and under one of them was the bronze plaque.

 

“This is too much,” he told me. “We’re taking it back.”

 

To the Parks and Rec office: I’m carrying the 3’x2′ bronze plaque once more. A woman comes out from a back office as we enter, asks if she can help us. “We found this,” my father says, pointing at the sign propped up against my legs.

 

“Where?” she asks.

 

My father points at me. “In his room.”

 

“Oh,” she says.

 

I carried the sign where she indicated. We thanked her. We left. My father lectured me the whole way home about respecting property and the evils of vandalism.

 

And then he flew back to California.

 

You know what? That woman, at Parks and Rec? She never wrote down my name.

 

And when they put the plaque back up, they used four flathead screws.

 

 

The next time my father came home and caught me — and it wasn’t on his next visit, or the one after that — he “found” the signs where I had left them: in large piles in the sun room, directly off of the dining room, where he couldn’t possibly have missed them. He found there thirty-two street signs, six orange traffic cones, nineteen blinking hazard lights — and the bronze plaque. That time, he didn’t lecture me, and he didn’t take me to return what I had stolen: he called the police. I came home from school that day to find a police officer waiting in the living room with my father. It turns out that I had committed certainly one, and possibly three, felonies: since a stop sign alone was worth better than $500 (I had three of them — never mind the historic bronze plaque, about which there had actually been a story in the local newspaper), there were several counts of possession of stolen property in excess of $500; several potential counts of grand theft; and several counts of criminal mischief. The officer — very kindly, and very calmly — informed me that if my stealing of traffic direction signs had provably led to an accident, then I would be responsible for the damage done, up to and including manslaughter. Fortunately, no serious accidents had resulted; but it was not a good conversation. Or a good feeling.

 

I did have a moment of amusement when the truck from Public Works came and my father and I brought out all of my stolen swag to put in the back of the truck; I watched the PW worker’s eyes get wider and wider as we made trip, after trip, after trip. I wanted to smile at that. I didn’t.

 

And then they left. And I, the now-busted Great Sign Bandit, was alone with my father.

 

 

I’ve told this story often. I’ve usually laughed, and made my audience laugh, when I did. I was lucky, after all; nobody had been hurt by my vandalism. No strangers, at least. But then, that wasn’t who I had been trying to hurt, was it? I did the damage I meant to do, even if I hadn’t known at the time that I had meant to do that. Looking back, though, it’s hard to believe I didn’t know what I was doing. I remember my father sharpening that sign. I remember the anger he felt towards the kids who had vandalized it. I remember sitting alone in my house, because my mother was at work, my brother was in college, and my father was in California. I remember how dark and quiet and cold it was out in the streets at 2am. It was like there was nobody else in the world, and it didn’t matter what I did, and it didn’t matter what I stole, and it didn’t matter who was hurt or angered or inconvenienced by it. There was nobody out there but me.

On the Third Day of Blogging, Just Dusty Blogged for Me — A Book Review of Maguire,Gregoryyyyy!

After Alice

by Gregory Maguire

 

(If you don’t know: Gregory Maguire writes new novels set in classic fantasy worlds — Oz, mostly, but this one is in Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland.)

So the thing with Gregory Maguire seems to be: you have to absolutely love the original.

The man writes an excellent homage. I’ve read Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and the style and feel of this book is remarkably similar. He has the same imaginative twists (though not as many), the same absurdist humor mixed with Victorian understatement, the same satire of upper class manners and fashions, and of everything else that the author can think of. The writer’s voice is an excellent imitation, and I mean that as sincere flattery.

But I don’t love Lewis Carroll. I think the man was brilliant, and what he wrote was a watershed that led to Douglas Adams and Monty Python and Mel Brooks and Christopher Moore, all of whom I love or have loved – honestly, more than Carroll. So while I’m grateful for the existence of an Anglican mathematician with more imagination than either of those descriptors would imply, a whole world of imagination, I’d rather read (or watch) the others than him.

Consequently, I’d rather read them than Gregory Maguire.

I think this book also suffered for being too much outside of Wonderland. I mean, really: that’s the point of Carroll’s books. That’s why they’ve survived and are still beloved enough for Maguire to turn his hand to them. And half of this book by the chapters, and more than half of it by the pages, is set in Oxfordshire in 1861, following around Alice’s and Ada’s families as they search for the missing girls: and though Darwin is present, no time at all is spent with him; all that happens is that his old man’s needs – for help to the privy, to leave early – screw the day up for everyone else. Everyone else is just as annoying: it made me understand completely why Alice would want to follow a white rabbit down a hole, and why the heroine of this book,Alice’s friend Ada, would want to do the same.

If the book was just Ada in Wonderland, maybe finding new places and people rather than just following in Alice’s footsteps, I think I would have liked it more. But the Wonderland stuff was less about imagination and more about following a path, and that made it less interesting than the original. As I said, if I dearly, deeply loved the original, I’d probably like this book just for the sake of going back there again; but I didn’t love the original, and so I didn’t really like this book.

Well done, just not interesting.

On the Second Day of Christmas, Just Dusty Blogged for Me:

Top Ten Ways to Enjoy the Holidays

 

Before I begin the actual countdown, here are a few rules about my Top Ten lists. First, they are not in order. #10 is not the least, and #1 is not the most. #1 is not first, and #10 is not last. Second, they will not always be ten items long: I always try for ten, because it feels nice to hit the mark; but I am also obstinate and mischievous, far more than I am traditional and organized, so nine is certainly possible and eleven is likely.

Third, and most important: people determined to take these lists to heart do not have to accept the whole thing. The reason for itemized lists is that the items are not all required to accomplish the goal. If every item were required, this wouldn’t be a list, it would be a full essay, everything linked together and with an end result that is greater (hopefully) than the sum of its parts. But a list is only its parts.

So if you like what I say here, take one thing away with you. Or two, or three. Not all ten.

Especially not if there are only nine.

#1: Jolabokaflod.

This is also #8.

Here’s a lovely article on a lovely idea.

This year, Toni and I tried to do this Jolabokaflod thing (The above article has a link to the pronunciation, but it is pronounced pretty much like it looks. All of the o’s are long, so the word rhymes with the phrase, “Joel, a bloke, a toad.”), the Icelandic tradition where they give gifts of books on Christmas Eve. We went out and bought them on Christmas Eve, which was actually pretty fun; Barnes and Noble wasn’t absurdly crowded, and I enjoyed seeing that many people in a bookstore buying books. I liked buying a book for her, and I loved seeing the book she bought for me. I should have bought her a better book: I bought the one that was a gimme, a Stephen King novel – we both love Stephen King – but she had already bought me the same book for Christmas. She actually took her time and looked around for a book I would like but had never heard of; she found a collection of essays called How to Ruin Everything. I’m going to go back and exchange the one I got for something else. And in future – because this thing will happen again; it was too good not to keep doing – I will buy these books the way the Icelanders (Icelandish? Icelandiks? Icees?) do: I will look around in the months leading up to Christmas and find something she’ll like. And I’m going to enjoy giving her that one, too. I may try to wrap it.

Speaking of wrapping:

#2: Wrap presents however you want.

I wrap presents like the proverbial mutant T-Rex. I usually struggle with it, and try to make my presents as, well, presentable as possible; my father is a perfect wrapper, and Toni, of course, is a deft and capable wrapper, and so I feel the need to live up to their standards. I can’t. It usually frustrates the crap out of me when I realize that I cut the paper at a bad angle, or just a little too small, or that my corners aren’t crisp. And why is it that every time I fold up the ends, I get a bubble along the center seam? Why can’t the paper just lay flat?

So this year, I said screw it, and I embraced my crappy wrapping.

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It was both relaxing and fun. I mean, the point is to hide the present until the person is ready to enjoy each one, right? I understand the beauty of a finely-wrapped and beribboned present; but when that isn’t an option, why worry about it? Focus on what matters: the actual present. Oh no – I mean the thought. It’s the thought that counts.

Speaking of thoughts:

#3: Do something nice

Do something nice for someone you love. Then do something nice for someone you do not know. They can be things you do all the time. The person you love and do something nice for can be yourself. They can be holiday-themed, like putting money into the Salvation Army bell-ringers’ cans, or not, like donating blood to the Red Cross, which I will be doing this week or next.

Don’t overthink it. If you feel like the nice thing you’ve done isn’t quite nice enough, then do two things. Don’t do something so nice you regret the sacrifice you have to make. But do something nice.

#4: Listen to whatever the hell you want.

The Christmas music station here in Tucson really sucks. It’s terrible: they play two songs and then a pile of commercials; in the evening, when I’m in the mood for music, they have the most obnoxious sap-tastic hostess, who is constantly pulling that “Let’s hear everyone’s warmest wishes for the season,” and then taking calls from people who are grateful they got to have Christmas with their Aunt Buffina before she passed from the rheumatic cancer of the diverticulitis but at least they got to pray together one last time, and I just want to hear Blue Christmas, dammit.

But you know what I found this year? Hamilton. That is a badass musical. And the soundtrack is on Amazon Prime. (Want to know an excellent gift? A year of Amazon Prime. Don’t give me any shit about feeding the corporate monster: I buy local books, too. And Amazon Prime comes with free streaming, free shipping, a free E-book every month, and a streaming music player that lets you listen to albums without buying them. It is an outstanding service.) So this year, it’s been a very Hamilton Christmas for me. And I’ve been singing along, and enjoying it. I like that it has an uplifting element, and also a melancholy element, and that it is oustandingly, outlandishly cheesy.

And yes, I’m aware that I both celebrate the cheese in a musical about the Founding Fathers, and deride the cheese in the evening heart-warming radio call-in show. Everyone has their preferred cheese. Mine comes with speed-rapping about the Marquis de Lafayette.

Along with that: if you are a fan of Christmas movies, then go right ahead and watch It’s a Wonderful Life, or A Christmas Story. But if you are not, watch something else that you love but haven’t seen for a while. This year Toni and I will be watching both the Lord of the Rings extended editions and the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Because nothing says Christmas like pirates and Nazgul.

Hold on: imagine a Christmas-themed installment in either of those franchises. Hoo boy, there’s an image. Who plays Santa, Gimli, or Gandalf? Or maybe Elrond – Santa is called a jolly old Elf.

Speaking of weird Christmas mixtures:

#5: Eggnog Latte

The holidays should be a time for doing what makes us happy. The things I like about Christmas are enjoyable mainly because they aren’t things I do all the time. Like eggnog. I love eggnog. I would crawl a mile, over gravel and rusty nails, for a glass of good eggnog. But after a few quarts – okay, gallons – of eggnog, I get tired of it. Luckily: it goes away. And then when it comes back, I’m excited for it. And the best eggnog moment in the holiday season is when Starbucks brings back their Eggnog Latte. I can’t tell you how gorgeous it is to have a latte made with eggnog. If you are a fan of eggnog and of coffee, go get one, right now.

If you are not a fan of eggnog, that’s fine; turn this one into whatever treat you do love around the holidays. Sugar cookies, candy canes, fudge, roast turkey with all the trimmings, whatever. Eat it. Enjoy it. If you want to combine this with #3, do what my perfect wife did: bring someone an eggnog latte (or a roast turkey) while they are at work. A visit from a friend bearing goodies? Who wouldn’t love that?

#6: Whatever you do, no New Year’s Resolutions.

This may be a pet peeve of mine, but it’s also the truth. New Year’s Day is an invented holiday. It is not meaningful. (Well, this year it may be a little meaningful, because it will finally be the death of 2016. Hasta la vista, baby. Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker.) There is no particular reason to think of the first day of January as the beginning of the year: it has utterly no significance in the solar calendar, it is not the anniversary of a momentous occasion in history; it is the day we arbitrarily decided was first. It’s like someone having eight kids and deciding the third from the last is Kid #1. It makes no sense. And because it makes no sense, any feeling of renewal or a fresh start is entirely fabricated. Now, that isn’t a bad thing: I think it is good to decide that this day, this hour, is where it begins, whatever it is; but the only power in that is the act of deciding. And part of that is deciding that it is exactly, precisely, now. So I think when we base that decision on someone else’s arbitrary choice of starting point, it has only as much power as we think other people have over us – which, when it comes to breaking old habits or starting new ones, is not very freaking much. I did manage to quit smoking, almost exactly nine years ago – and I started on December 28th. Because I knew I was going to quit; why wait three more days and do it when the calendar says I should?

So: resolutions are fine and good. I have several myself, including blogging more regularly and getting back to the gym. But I’ll start them whenever I decide to. I recommend the same for everyone else.

#7: Decorate. But do it your way.

We all want to feather our nests, want to make the place where we spend the most time as comfortable and attractive as possible. So do it. The holidays offer a unique opportunity, because I think Christmas lights are beautiful. One of my favorite things is trying out new ways to hang the lights. Try new designs, new colors, hang them in different patterns or in different places, inside and outside. Along with that, the tree indoors is a splendid thing. Try for a living tree, maybe; the smell of pine is available through a wreath or cut branches, and living trees are often cheaper and reusable. While you’re at it, buy some knick-knacks that make you laugh; we have a Chris-Moose that always makes me smile. And a pair of holiday toads that hang on a doorknob that makes me laugh.

Now: if you have too many knick-knacks already, maybe the way you should decorate is by getting rid of them. At least some of them. Empty out one box, or one room – and I mean give them away or throw them out – and then thin the others to fill it back up again. But first, try sitting in a room with no knick-knacks at all; see how it feels. Whatever you do, if you have or want knick-knacks, don’t tell other people about it. If you tell people that you enjoy ceramic narwhals, you will never get anything else for birthdays or Christmas, and your house will look like a narwhal knick-knack museum within three years. Come look at my mother-in-law’s frog collection and you’ll see what I mean.

Along the same lines: a lovely way to decorate is to clean. Or to organize. Or both. Don’t try to do the whole house; pick one task that matters but is rarely or never done, and do it. Make it an accomplishment.

#8: Wear good socks.

New socks. Comfortable socks: ones that are the right size, that aren’t too stretched out to hold to your ankles and calves, but aren’t so tight they leave red lines on your skin. If you don’t have good socks: buy some. Don’t hold onto old socks. Don’t skimp on cheap socks. Nothing feels better than good socks. You want both thin and thick varieties to go with the weather, and if you can find ones that you think are funny or pretty, all the better. But wear them. And throw out the old ones.

I don’t know if these are comfy, but they’re awesome.

#9: Change razor blades

Similar to the socks, but this one is even more important. Don’t cut yourself on Christmas. Use new blades. If they feel too expensive, then get a safety-razor; the blades are cheap and the handle isn’t disposable, so you’re adding little to the landfills – and no plastic. But if you like a nine-bladed cartridge, great, use that. Use a fresh one. Have a good shave.

Mine’s about a 1950.

#10: Go out and take a walk.

One of the loveliest things about the holidays is that, on the actual day itself, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, most people stay inside, stay home, don’t work. That means the world is quiet. Go out and take a walk in it. Go someplace that is normally busy and crowded and chaotic, and enjoy the peace and quiet. Move your feet, breathe the air, listen to the silence. Take someone with you if they can be quiet while they walk. Don’t listen to music: listen to the world. It’s a nice place.

I got sunshine, here in Tucson; but even on a cloudy day, a quiet walk is lovely.

#11: Ask yourself why you don’t do these things every day.

On The First Day of Christmas, Dusty Blogged For Me . . .

Merry Christmas!

(I really like this one, too: )

No, really: Merry Christmas. And Happy Hanukkah. And Heri za Kwanzaa. And a joyous Milad un Nabi. And a blessed Solstice. Happy Holidays to everyone, for whatever reason you have to celebrate. (A special happy birthday to people born around the holiday season, since you normally get left in the cold. You rule the Yule.)

I’m saying this because I had trouble finding a reason to celebrate this year. No, that’s not true: I have a dozen reasons to celebrate; but none of them are related to Christmas. (My reasons: my wife, my dog, my bird, my tortoise; my family and friends; my house, my books, my favorite things; my health and the continued existence of this reality and this planet and this country; art and words and truth and beauty. Oh – and coffee. Always coffee.) So I had trouble getting into the holiday spirit this year. I didn’t want to sing along with the Christmas carols; I didn’t help decorate the tree; I didn’t wrap presents until Christmas Eve. I wore my holiday stuff and I put up lights on the outside of the house, but it didn’t really excite me. I wasn’t feeling it.

A little bit of that is that Christmas is not a particularly beloved holiday for my wife Toni, and so walking around belting out “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” is not the joyeaux occasion around here that it might be in other homes. But even if she was Santa’s favorite elf (Back off, Kringle – she’s mine), I wouldn’t have felt much like doing that.

Because it’s 2016. And John Glenn just died. And Trump will be president in less than a month. And civilians are being killed in Aleppo.

And for me personally, it’s been hard because I had school up until the 22nd, and was still fiercely grading and doing schoolwork on the 23rd, when grades were due. It’s hard to feel Christmas-y when you’re reading bad essays. It’s not much easier when you’re reading good essays, when you have to grade those essays.

Here’s my Christmas wish: I wish that I was permitted to write, on the papers of students who clearly didn’t read Fahrenheit 451 with the class but still write on the test that Bradbury’s dystopia won’t come to pass because people in our society still read, “You stink of lies.” Or maybe, “It’ll be your fault when it happens.”

See? Feelings like that have no place in Christmas.

But you know what I realized? They kinda do.

I’m not a religious man. I don’t actually care about the birth of Christ. Oh, I have no problem with it: Jesus was a good dude, as I understand it; he’s in a couple of my favorite books (Lamb and Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series – though his big one is not one of my favorites. Never read that. I hate it when they number paragraphs. Feels like a reading comprehension test.), and I like what I know about what he had to say. But it doesn’t put rum in my eggnog, if you follow me. Nor does the birth of the Prophet Mohammed matter to me, nor the miracle of the lamp, nor the longest night and the shortest day of the year. Though that last one is pretty cool. And I do like the idea behind Kwanzaa, namely community and cultural celebrations. But it’s pretty generic for me, not being African-American: my culture has never been threatened, other than by our own cynicism and sarcasm. And our exceptionalism and arrogance. And by – but we’re not talking about America here, we’re talking about the holidays. The holidays – including New Year’s, by the by, which annoys me much more than it pleases me – are not terribly meaningful occasions for me.

So the only thing the holidays really mean to me is: there is stuff in there that I like. More than anything, I like my vacation. So very, very much. I actually finished a book yesterday, for the first time in more than a month. Me. I haven’t been reading books. What does that say about my job? My time management? My choices in life?

No: we’re not talking about that crap, either. We’re talking about things I like about the holidays. I like singing along with the songs. I like knowing all the words. I like decorating my house, especially with lights. My neighborhood is very dark – no streetlights – and the Christmas lights really shine. I actually really like having a tree inside. I love giving presents, and I like sending greeting cards, though I’d rather be more selective and intentional with it (And I’m annoyed that all of my relatives sent my Christmas cards to the wrong address.), because sending a card with a canned comment about the holidays doesn’t make me happy; I’d rather send cards that I know people will like, with thoughts inside about that person, just because that person will like the card and I might have been thinking about them; whether it’s actually a holiday card or not is pretty irrelevant. I would like it more if it wasn’t, actually; if the person and the card were the only occasion necessary for the sending. I like wearing goofy holiday-themed clothes, though I kind of always wear goofy themed clothes, because I don’t really own any t-shirts that aren’t printed with either a pop culture reference, a bad pun, or something about books and reading and imagination.

Do you see what I see?

Here it is.

It doesn’t matter that it’s Christmas. I mean, Merry Christmas, especially if that is a day of great meaning and symbolism for you; but you know what? Happy December 26th, too. And March 9th: my very best wishes for that day. Oh – and the eleventh of June. That’s a good date. The 21st, too; of every month. It doesn’t matter that today is Christmas because it doesn’t matter what day it is. What matters is that this is a time of year when we stop our usual grind and do things that make us happy. People who love seeing their families make time to do it around now. We give presents, and cards, and wish people well. We actually use the mail, and get excited about things arriving in the box. We decorate, especially with bright colors and lights. We take vacations: we take time off from work and do things that we like to do, like bake, and sing, and watch favorite movies.

My God, we need those things more in our lives. Especially because it’s still 2016, and Carrie Fisher had a heart attack, and there’s a typhoon hitting the Philippines. And Trump’s going to be president in less than a month.

There’s an important thing that I have to say. Are you listening? Okay, here it is: I wish people happiness because happiness is good. But sadness is good, too. (I know this because I paid attention when I read Fahrenheit 451. You bunch of tools. My students are the tools, not people who are reading this. If you’re reading this, then you rock. You really are the reason we will hopefully avoid Bradbury’s dystopia, where the books are banned and the people don’t care.) Sadness is important. And not just because you need to feel sadness in order to understand happiness; I suppose that’s true, but I can’t say that I have any experience with being happy without being sad, so who knows? No: sadness is important because sadness is a genuine human emotion. When you are feeling sad, then that’s you, and that’s you feeling. Those are important. You have to be yourself. You have to feel. You have to experience all of your feelings, even the dark ones.

Christmas is a time of sadness. First just because it’s winter, and it’s cold, and it’s dark. Sometimes because we can’t do the things we want to do, because of job or money or circumstance. Sometimes because it reminds us of people who are gone. That last is a genuine feeling, and an important one. Don’t belittle grief just because everyone around you is wearing a light-up tie. It may be difficult to live with sorrow in the face of so much ostentatious cheer, but it’s better to do it than try to ignore what you feel or block it out. And your sorrow is not wrong, nor is it less important than someone else’s joy.

Here’s another reason why Christmas makes people sad: because of Christmas traditions. Because traditions become obligations, and then when we don’t keep them, we feel like we have failed. That’s why people risk their lives to drive through blizzards to be in a specific place on a specific day; because that’s their tradition. People put themselves deep into debt, and then spend the rest of the year fretting about it; because that’s their tradition. People whose traditions include things that are gone, and people that are gone, get to both grieve and feel like failures.

Bullshit. Traditions should only be maintained if it pleases you to do so. If it doesn’t, make up new traditions. Or screw tradition: do whatever the hell you want. That’s what the holiday spirit should be about: do whatever the hell you want, just because it makes you genuinely happy. Start with being nice to people. Every year, we all see the news stories about someone getting robbed, or mugged, or assaulted, and we all say, “You shouldn’t do that to someone during Christmas.” And then we all think, and maybe say, “Well, really, you shouldn’t do that to someone any time.” That’s right. The holiday season should be a time when we think about, and act with, kindness and generosity, more than any particular religious observance; and every day should be the same.

Because it doesn’t matter that it’s Christmas. A day for giving and for cherishing those that you love can be – should be – any day. Every day. And if today is a day when you feel sad, do that. Feel it. Go through it. And then make some cookies, and read a book, or call someone you haven’t talked to in a while. Feel better for having felt bad.

Have a happy today, everyone. I wish you all the very best.

And the same again, tomorrow.