The Fairy Ring

NOTE:  I need you to help me here.  This is a story I wrote years ago and sent out to several children’s book publishers.  One of them said they loved it but couldn’t sell a story told from an adult’s point of view.  Could I change it?  Well, no, I couldn’t.  I just couldn’t.

I don’t see this as a children’s story.  I see it as a beautiful picture book, illustrated by an artist like Duncan Long or Chris Van Allsburg.  (Dreaming. . .) 

There is–or was–a sequel in the works.  That project was abandoned when no one seemed to want the first one, but could be resurrected if there is some interest.

This is a case of blinding love.  I love this story, I love these characters, I love that I got to be a part of it–but it could be that there is nothing here.  It’s probably too long.  The language is probably too old-fashioned.  (Knapsack vs. backpack, though there is a difference.)  The boy’s name probably shouldn’t be Christian but it came to me that way and I haven’t been able to find the one that suits him.  The same with Esme.  I could use some suggestions, some support, or, if all else fails, some kindly letting-down.

(One more thing:  This story came out of watching my own woodswalkers, my daughter, Julie, and my grandson, Michael, grow up together and then, sadly, grow apart as Julie came into her teens.  It was as sad for them as it was for me.)

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

_____________________

 

The Fairy Ring

fairy ring magnetIf I were to tell you that once, not so very long ago, we three woods-walkers found a fairy ring under which real, live fairies had been gathering–would you find it hard to believe?

You would?

Think, then, how the three of us felt!

It happened just a week or two after the last and final thaw, when we were finally able to follow our favorite path without being up to our ankles in marshwater.

The sun was cordial that spring day, even in the woods. The budding leaves made the merest polka-dots of shade and it was warm—perfectly, wonderfully, jackets-nearly-off warm.

And so, because the path we followed was just cushiony enough,

and because the birds were just cheery enough,

and because the gnats were being especially polite,

we ambled, wandered, meandered deep into the trees—farther, in fact, than we had ever ambled or wandered or meandered before.

We started as always: Christian, the youngest of us (going on seven at the time) skipping on ahead.

Next came Esme. She had grown tall that past winter, in spite of all her good intentions, and if I closed my eyes half way (hard to do and still stay on the path) the person I saw up ahead could have been another me.

I, the slowest due to the knapsack I’d been forced to carry, kept to the rear.

We had been walking for a long, long time and I was trailing by a good length-and-a-half when Esme and Christian entered a golden-green meadow surrounded by a perfect circle of tall dark pines. I stopped and watched, for at this distance the meadow seemed very nearly enchanted.

It was the perfect place to hold our Spring dance.

By the time I arrived at the meadow, the two of them were already frolicking in the glistening grass, dancing to the spring song of the birds. (They may well have been singing “go away, go away,” but I would never. . .)

I dropped the knapsack and caught my breath. Then I began to dance. I moved more slowly, I noticed, than I had at last year’s dance to spring, but I twisted, I turned, I lifted my face to the warming sun. . .

. . . and felt myself being nudged quite emphatically out of the direction I was heading.

Christian had seen, just in time, that my clumsy feet were about to come down on a nearly perfect circle of toadstools. I had come this close to stepping on a fairy ring.

He gave me a look—a “tsk, tsk” look—and, though I assured him not the tiniest toe had even so much as touched those things, he nevertheless sank down to the level of the tiny toadstools, inspecting that strange circle for damage.

“Magnifier, please,” Christian said in a no-nonsense voice, waving his fingers in my direction, his eyes fastened to the largest of the toadstools.

I should tell you that that very morning I’d packed the following things into the knapsack I’d been carrying:

Three apples; two red and one green,

a packet of graham crackers,

a tin cup for brook water,

a pair of binoculars for looking up,

a magnifying glass for looking down.

By the time we’d reached the meadow, we’d used everything but the magnifying glass. I fished it out of the knapsack and handed it to him.

“Thank you very much,” he said. Then he lay flat on the ground, his nose practically inside the stalk of the largest of the tiny mushrooms.

“What?” I asked.

“What is it?” Esme asked.

“Shhh. . .”

“Shhh–?”  Esme and I said it together, and I remember thinking at the time that Esme must be standing on a slight hillock, for her eyes looked directly into mine.

“Whooo!” we heard Christian shout.

“WHAT?” we asked again.

“Wheee!” he yelled.

“Christian,” we laughed. “Tell us!”

He bounced up, flashing the broadest, widest grin we’d ever seen on that boy’s face.

“What is it?” we begged, “What did you see?”

But he left us, dancing off, skipping into the midst of the tree-bound circle, into the middle of that airy meadow, onto a hummock of green, green grass.

Where we never should have lost him.

But we did.

Christian was gone.

We blinked. We blinked again. We looked and blinked and looked and blinked.

We looked at each other, Esme and me.

And just as we began to run, our eyes filling with tears, our throats eeking out dreadful panic sounds, our chests clutching us from inside out, we looked again onto the circle of grass.

And then we really had to laugh. For, lying spread-eagled in the exact center of the circle, the exact place where we’d only just been looking, was Christian.

We really couldn’t have missed him.

But we did.

How in the world had we missed him?

As I went off to see about Christian, Esme, curious, went back to the fairy ring, dropped to the ground and lay flat on her stomach. She positioned the magnifier, which, even from that distance, caught the sun and sent off sparks that reflected in Christian’s laughing eyes.

I was nearly to the spot where Christian had seen whatever it was he had seen, when Esme sent up a whoop.

It shuddered the trees.

It send the birds squawking.

It stopped me short.

Again there was that smile. On Esme this time. The broadest, widest grin I’d ever seen on that girl.

“What?” I asked.

I ran back to where she was—or, rather, to where she had been, for she had already danced off, skipping into the midst of the meadow, onto the spot where Christian had seemed to disappear. She danced circles around Christian, who rested on both elbows now, watching her.

Esme danced.

And she danced.

Faster and faster she spun, until I began to get dizzy just watching.

Then, when I began to think she would never, ever stop, she slowed enough for me to see that her smile had eased away and disappeared.

She slid to the ground and lay quiet.

First, Christian began to cry.

Then Esme.

They fell into each others arms and sobbed.

The sound filled the circle.

It seeped into the forest.

The trees began to wail.

The brook began to weep.

The birds gave up their singing.

The sky itself began to pour down salty tears.

And I stood, wondering.

“What in the world–?” I said to myself.

Then, near the spot where Christian And Esme had taken up the magnifying glass, near the little toe of my right foot, I thought I heard a sound.

Yes! It was a sound. A tiny, tiny sound

The sound of paper flapping in the breeze.

It was coming from the tallest toadstool.

I knelt. I squinted. I lay as flat as I could on the soft, damp ground. I brought the magnifier into focus.

And there I saw, attached rather carelessly to the stalk holding up the umbrella of the tallest mushroom, a teeny, tiny poster.

I swear.

A leaflet. A playbill. With writing on it.

Oh, how I wished for better eyes! How I had to struggle to read those words:

HEAR YE!

Attention! Look at this!!

AN ESPECIALLY EQUINOXIFUL CELEBRATION

TODAY!!

IN THE RING! SUNUP TO SUNDOWN! COME AS YOU ARE!

TAKE A SPIN AND JOIN US!

Well! I blinked and looked again. I rubbed my eyes. Yes—that was exactly what it said!

But wait—what was this? Near the bottom, in much smaller letters—so small I could barely make them out, for Heaven’s sake—it read:

Children Only! No Grownups allowed!

 Well! And well again! The nerve!

As I struggled to get up, I noted that the wailing had run its course. It dwindled to a whimper. The sounds around us softened to a sigh. In the center of the circle in the meadow, Christian and Esme found soft leaves and dried each others tears.

“Christian,” I asked my son when all had quieted down, “Did you go. . .? Were you there. . .?”

Well of course I might as well have saved my breath. He wouldn’t have hurt Esme for the world. He shrugged his shoulders in a way that might have meant yes and might have meant no. And that was as much as we ever got from him about where he was and what he did.

________________

It is summer now and there is much to do. Gardens, even northern gardens, need tending. Today we picked thimbleberries for jam, and sunflowers for bird seeds. And now we sit, Esme and me, lining up hollyhock ballerinas along the porch railing.

The two of us, we must confess, spend a lot of time wondering about Equinoxical Celebrations. Esme thinks it’s a big coming-out party, with parades and promenades—to show off brand new outfits and brand new babies. She thinks there would be music everywhere, with fairies, elves, sprites, brownies and pixies each playing their own special tunes.

I see food. Lots and lots of food. Honey spun in a drum and gathered on leaf-cones, frozen into honey-sicles, baked into honey-pies. I imagine asparagus tips in acorn butter and crocus-violet soup.

In the course of the day prizes might be awarded—for the most intricately spun spider web, for the most beautiful pair of gossamer wings, for the best good-hearted magic tricks.

I close my eyes and see a midway—a roller-coaster looping-the-loop along sleek blades of new green grass; a merry-go-round with a bulrush reed calliope; a Tilt-aWhirl with tulip cup seats. . .

. . .or none of those things. We could be all wrong.

We have not been back to the meadow. We talk about it—even try to guess what path we would need to take to get there. But we know that Christian isn’t ready to return. Nor does he want to talk about the doings in the fairy ring. (One of the rules, I’m guessing, if one wants to be invited back.) His smile, though, when he thinks no one is watching, tells me everything. It’s that same grin, reserved for something special.

Esme, now. Ah, Esme. I look over at her and see that her chin is level with my nose. Her long legs threaten to spill on down the porch steps.

“Esme,” I tell her, “the world is full of special places. The thing is, dear, some of us just have to go on looking.”

And as I say my piece, across the valley the setting sun brushes lavish golden stripes upon the horizon.

From those golden stripes long orange fingers reach into the sky. Those long orange fingers paint rusty roses onto the clouds.

From those rusty roses comes a glow that rests full on Esme’s cheeks.

All at once, she sits up straight. Her smile turns to a grin.

I swear I never take my eyes off of her.

But nonetheless, quick as lightning, Esme, as we know her, disappears.

###

Posted in Art and Artists, Beauty and joy, Nature, On Writing and Media, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

William Zinsser: Writing Well is the Best Legacy

Zinsser On Writing WellI came to what I call professional writing fairly late.  I didn’t take it seriously until my real life eased enough for me to give some attention to what I might want to do with the rest of my days.

After dabbling in every artistic expression of my day–needlework, crochet, macrame, pottery, ceramics, drawing in charcoal and pastels, painting in oils, acrylics, and watercolor–none of which I did well, I finally realized that my early love, writing, was the creative outlet I had been looking for all along.

I joined a local writing group and there I found William Zinsser, their anointed guru.  They couldn’t stop talking about his book, “On Writing Well”.  It was their bible and I, more interested in hamper-free, no-rules writing, was having none of it.  I didn’t want to be told how to write, I wanted to be told I wrote well, even when I didn’t.  That was the whole point of joining a writing group.  Or so I thought at the time.

Zinsser, when I finally opened up to him, taught me otherwise.  Good writing takes skill.  There is no easy way to acquire it and the sooner the novice realizes it, the easier it is to look at the beginnings as school–lessons, grades, apprenticeships.  And then you go to work, where you find that you don’t know everything after all, and that, as in any other profession, the learning never stops.

I’m still a dummy when it comes to grammar and sentence structure.  I’m always imagining the “Oh, God, no” reactions from the more knowledgeable people who take on the task of reading what I write.  I don’t always get it–what can I say?  But William Zinsser gave me the reasons to write. Yes, he was a stickler for grammar and sentence structure, but his main focus was not so much on doing it right as on doing it well.

In honor of his life and skills, in sadness at his passing, here are a few passages from “On Writing Well” (Fifth Edition):

Trust your material if it’s taking you into unknown terrain you didn’t intend to enter but the vibrations are good.  Adjust your style and your mood accordingly and proceed to whatever destination you reach.  Don’t ever become the prisoner of a preconceived plan.  Writing is no respecter of blueprints–it’s too subjective a process, too full of surprises.

Writing is hard work.  A clear sentence is no accident.  Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time.  Remember this in moments of despair.  If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.  It’s one of the hardest things people do.

The good writer of prose must be part poet, always listening to what he writes.  E.B White continues to be my favorite stylist because I’m conscious of being with a man who cares about the cadences and sonorities of the language.  I relish (in my ear) the pattern his words make as they fall into a sentence.  I try to surmise how in rewriting the sentence he reassembled it to the end with a phrase that will momentarily linger, or how he chose one word over another because he was after a certain emotional weight.  It’s the difference between say, “serene” and “tranquil”–one so soft, the other strangely disturbing because of the unusual n and q.

Writing is not a contest.  Every writer is starting from a different point and is bound for a different destination. Yet many writers are paralyzed by the thought that they are competing with everyone else who is trying to write and presumably doing it better.

Decide what you want to do.  Then decide to do it.  Then do it.

Mr. Zinsser, I wish I had said this before, but you’ll understand if I feel the need to say it now.

Thank you.  It didn’t always take (living proof), but you gave it your best.  You never stopped trying.  And that’s what counts.

Posted in Art and Artists, On Writing and Media | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Yes, Virginia, There Are Unicorn Hunters

There is a real Unicorn Hunters Society in the United States, in case you hadn’t heard.  It was formed in 1971, even though, as you know, unicorns have been around forever.  The society is based at Lake Superior State University (hereafter known as LSSU) in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan (pronounced “soo saint Marie, hereafter known as The Soo).

The Soo is at the northern terminus of I-75, just beyond the 46th parallel, an hour north of where I live most of the year.   Up in the north woods hunting is a traditional activity, but until unicorn hunting was established only certain of us believed they existed.  The Unicorn Hunters Society, knowing what chaos would ensue once word got out about the mythical creatures’ activities, wisely set up a list of regulations.

From their Unicorn Quest list:

  • BAG LIMITS:
    1. Only one Unicorn per month. A success ratio higher than this often results in a form of euphoria, which of course requires a mental truss. This is highly undesirable.
    2. Female unicorns may not be taken. Since no one has ever sighted a female unicorn it is believed that males reproduce asexually.
  • TERM OF SEASON. All days of the year except St. Agnes’ Eve. This exception is to protect hares who limp trembling through frozen grass from being trampled by running unicorns. Bow and arrow season is Oct. 1 – Nov. 14, then Dec. 1 – Jan. 1.
  • APPROVED QUESTING DEVICES. Unicorns may be taken with:
    1. Serious Intent
    2. Iambic Pentameter
    3. General levity
    4. Sweet talk

(See complete list of regulations here.  Download a Unicorn Quest license here.)

The society was founded by W.T (Bill) Rabe,  a Public Relations mischief-maker from Detroit who later became the resourceful PR Director at LSSU.  He was looking for something unique that would put the obscure little university on the map, and, for reasons obscure, he came up with The Quest for Unicorns.

It got some attention.  Who could resist? But for Rabe it apparently wasn’t enough. At a New Year’s Eve party a few years later, in 1975, he and some of the other Unicorn Hunters got together and began writing down the words or phrases they most hated that year. (Must have been some party.)  They saw right then and there that unicorn hunters made the most perfect wordsnobs wordsmiths, and the idea for the First Annual Unicorn Hunters List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness was born. (Hereafter known as the Banished Words List. Or List.  Or list.)

Bill Rabe, old PR expert that he was, chose New Year’s Day, 1976, for the list’s debut date.  He knew from experience that January 1 is traditionally a slow news day, and the media, always hungry for tidbits on that day, would snap up the whimsical back story about the unicorn hunters and help to promote the Banished Words List.

Some of the words from that first list:  At this point in time, detente, macho, scenario.  (See 1976 list here.  See archive of all lists here.)  Now the voting is open to everyone and the words or phrases that show up most often will get to the top of the list.

Last year’s list included Selfie (no surprise), twerk/twerking, hashtag, Twittersphere (or Twitterverse, as someone corrected.) and Obamacare.

This year  they added BAE (a new word for me until my niece explained it), polar vortex, skill set, cra-cra, and my own favorite candidate, enhanced interrogation.

Well, certain people took umbrage (whoa–a candidate right there) with the Unicorn Hunters.  They didn’t see this as just so much fun; they saw it as a bunch of stuffy university types forcing people to stop using words or phrases of their choosing.   One commenter wrote, “Nobody is going to tell me what words I can use.  Not gonna happen. Bite me.”  (Oy.)banned-wordsI’ve perused (all right, read) the whole damn list from A to Z and I’m pretty sure I’ve used at least a third of those words and phrases.  (Except “bromance” and “chillaxing”. Typing them here for the first and last time.)

I literally (Literally! Ha!  Not on the list!) love lazy phrases and cliches, but only when I’m using them.  I hate it when other people take the easy way out and use them, too.  Amateurs!

I’ve followed the Unicorn Hunters for years and I love these lists, but at the end of the day (1999), they’re just words, right?  So far it’s not a crime to use them, right?  So will I try to mend my ways?

As if! (1997)

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An Education By Fits And Starts But Not Degrees

My formal “college” consists of 26 community college credits, half of them in ceramics.  I took two classes in cultural anthropology, fell in love with Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”, and decided anthropology was my life’s calling–until my husband called my attention to the want ads in our big city paper.  Not a single call for anthropologists anywhere, and since we were among the almost-poor, and I still had kids at home, I had to think inside the box.

I took a business class taught by a one-handed pianist who should have stuck to his night job.  He invited our class to his concert and, even with one hand, his performance was flawless.  When it came time to evaluate him, none of us could do the honest thing and point out his flaws as a teacher of business.  We gave him high marks for personality.

I tnouveau girl reading books 1909ook two creative writing classes taught by an old pot-smoking hippie who wore chains and earrings and orange tennis shoes and who told us right off that he didn’t care what we wrote as long as we wrote something.  I thought the guy himself was ridiculous, trying as he did to be George Carlin and Jack Kerouac, all in the same skin, so it took me a while to realize how much I had actually learned there.   It came to me much later, when I was putting together materials to teach my own adult-ed creative writing classes:  What he gave us was a setting where we could write and fail and get a huge kick out of what we were doing.  He was a teacher without judgement but with a knack for finding what could be fixed.

I took a modern literature class taught by a woman I don’t remember at all–not her name, not her face, not her teaching technique.  But through her I met Eudora Welty, Joseph Conrad, Langston Hughes, and Flannery O’connor–writers I might have overlooked if she hadn’t brought them (and so many others) to my attention.

And that was the end of my formal education.  Whatever else I’ve learned, I’ve learned either by happenstance or serendipity. Being in the right place at the right time.  Stumbling across something that got me curiouser and curiouser and led me to something else that led me to something else.  Unless I got distracted; then it was something else altogether.

Living near Detroit, I had the advantage of meeting some exceptional writers and thinkers and I latched onto them like a parasite on a host.  I tried to drain them of everything they had to give–quietly, of course, without drawing blood.  I went to readings and workshops and lectures.  I joined groups where professional writers gathered.

They taught me a trade, but it’s a haphazard way to get an education.  It’s not an education, in fact.  Whatever it is, it’s full of holes.  Great gaping holes.  Great gaping embarrassing holes.  (I couldn’t find Iraq on a map if you gave me a hundred bucks to do it. I don’t know what Pi is and I’m afraid I’m missing something meaningful.  I only recently found out that Goethe is pronounced “Gurt-uh”.  Good thing I never had occasion to say his name out loud.)

Now President Obama is pushing for free two-year community college for everyone.  It’ll be an uphill battle, but I’m right there beside him, rooting him on.  I don’t want anyone to have to take on the task of educating themselves.  It can’t be done.  They need teachers.  They need campus life.  They need to argue and debate, to be challenged, to be opened up to directions they might never have taken and ideas they might never have formed on their own.  They need to be pushed and pulled and exposed to a world wholly outside of themselves.

They need to prepare for jobs, and we as a country need to pave the way.  We need to build again, creating good-paying jobs for them to fill.  We need to smarten up, and the best way to do it is through education.

We know that now.

Pretty sure we do.

But I could be wrong.

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Vandals, I Don’t Get You. Can We Talk?

Van·dal

noun: vandal; plural noun: vandals
  1. 1.
    a person who deliberately destroys or damages public or private property.
    “the rear window of the car was smashed by vandals”
    synonyms: hoodlum, barbarian, thug, hooligan, delinquent, despoiler, desecrator, saboteur

    “vandals defaced the front steps of the church”
  2. 2.
    a member of a Germanic people that ravaged Gaul, Spain, and North Africa in the 4th–5th centuries and sacked Rome in AD 455.

_____________________

When I was around seven years old I wandered over to our neighbor’s roadside mailbox and stole the mail out of it.  There was a vacant lot between their house and ours and I remember sitting in the weeds opening that mail. (The mail that, at seven, I doubt I could even read) Then I got scared.  I tore it all up into little pieces.  I got caught–I don’t remember how–and my mother marched me over to our neighbors, where I had to apologize for stealing their mail and tearing it up.

What I learned through my tears was that one piece of that mail–the pretty one with the red and blue stripes around the edges–was a long-awaited letter from their soldier son who was fighting in the war overseas.   That was seven decades ago and I still cringe at the memory.  They were sweet people, those neighbors, and they were kind enough to accept my apology, but I’ve never forgotten how I felt when I had to admit, to them, to my mother, and to myself, that I did a terrible thing.  What was I thinking?  What would make me steal and then destroy something that didn’t belong to me?  I didn’t do it to deliberately hurt our neighbors but the end result was that I did hurt them.

But even though I was a vandal myself–no getting around it–I’ve never understood acts of vandalism.  I’ve heard all the excuses– pent-up rage, drunkenness, group dynamics, an extreme sense of privilege–but every act of vandalism is a criminal act.  Deliberate, wanton destruction is a crime.  It’s not cute, it’s not cool, it’s not ever justified, and it can’t be considered anything less than what it is, just because the people who do it aren’t your ordinary criminals.

So last week this happened:  University of Michigan frat members took over 45 rooms at a Michigan ski resort and over the course of a couple of days did more than $50,000 in damage:

Treetops Resort manager Barry Owens said the students were escorted from the premises by Michigan State Police last weekend after causing $50,000 in damage. The resort is in Dover Township near Gaylord.
Owens said Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity members caused significant damage to furniture, carpet, walls and ceilings.
Sigma Alpha Mu Michigan chapter President Joshua Kaplan says his members “are embarrassed and ashamed of the behavior” of some members. He says the chapter “accepts full responsibility” and “will be working with the management of the resort to pay for all damages and cleaning costs.”
“This behavior is inconsistent with the values, policies, and practices of this organization,” Kaplan said in a statement. “We will work within our own organization and with university officials to hold those who are responsible accountable for their actions.
Kaplan said there will be no further comment from his chapter or organization.
“They caused an excessive amount of damage,” Owens said. “The rooms were just a pigsty. Unfortunately, I’ve been in this business for 30 years and it’s the worst condition of rooms that I’ve ever seen. There were broken ceiling tiles in the hallway, broken furniture, broken windows. There’s carpet that’s going to need to be replaced.”
Owens said there were more than 120 people, men and women, in about 45 rooms.
“A lot of the rooms were just very, very dirty,” he said. “There were holes in the walls and different things like that. They were very disruptive to additional guests that were here.”
Owens said prior to the students being removed, resort staff attempted to rectify the situation.
“We tried to address it with them, but we made a mistake and took these people at their word when they said they would change their behavior,” he said.
The resort is considering its options, including pursuing criminal charges against the fraternity. Owens said the resort also has a meeting planned with university officials.

 

What about the criminal charges against the students? What happened after the Kids Just Want to Have Fun Gang were “escorted from the premises” by the State Police?  Were they fingerprinted and then thrown into as many cells as it took to fill?  Are they still there?

I haven’t heard, but you know they’re not still in jail up there in Gaylord. Who are they?  Give me their names.  Let me talk to them.  Let them try to explain why they did what they did.  I want to know how they’re feeling right now.  Not how they’re feeling about getting caught or being blamed or  about whether or not they’ll still have their fraternity.  I want to know how they’re feeling about themselves.

(And whether, at some future date, they’re going to be thinking about running for public office. . .)

vandal damage Treetops Resort

Vandals damage, Treetops Resort. Photo Credit: Detroit Free Press/Keith Wilkinson

(Cross-posted at Ramona’s Voices and elsewhere)

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Resolved: To Make 2015 A Year To Remember. If I Don’t Forget

Here it is 2015 (Where did the time go, right?) and let me say once again that New Year’s Resolutions are a fun way to pass the time but are meaningless in the real world.  Not meaning to burst your little bubble on the very first day of the new year;  just telling you, in case you woke up this morning actually believing that all it takes to do something life-changing before the year is out is to sincerely resolve to do it on New Year’s Day.

Some people believe a resolution is not legit unless you say it out loud to someone who might actually remember–and care–later on.  I’ve done it myself in the days when I couldn’t have started the year without a list of resolutions.  It was a good luck gesture I really believed in.  Sort of like not stepping on a crack to avoid breaking your mother’s back.

But over time I realized the surest way to disappoint myself in the worst way possible was to promise myself (most sincerely, because no other way would do) that I wouldn’t be a complete failure again.  This year I would finally do what I’ve been meaning to do, and this time I mean it.

Sometimes I would even make a list–actually write things down:

Lose 20 pounds.

Make a lot of money with my writing.

Travel to that place I’ve always wanted to go.

Okay, lose 10 pounds.

Okay, make any money with my writing.

Okay, at least get out of the state.

Then, thankfully, I would lose the list, and any remnants of any long ago resolution would drift away, never to be heard from again.

Well, okay, not never.  By the next New Year’s Eve those long-ago resolutions would come back and hit me like a ton of bricks.  I promised!  I resolved!  I said them out loud!  I didn’t do any of them!  (Except to get out of the state.  I did manage to do that.  But who couldn’t when you live 20 miles from the border?)

So this year you could follow my lead, save yourself a lot of headaches, and just bypass that tradition.  The world won’t come to an end.  The year will start, the days will go by, one by one, and nobody will notice that you didn’t make a resolution.

I didn’t know that when I was young.  I went along, sheep-like, because everyone else did.  I honestly thought I was the only one who didn’t keep her resolutions.  I know better now.  It’s the most freeing thing in the world to know my promises to myself are meaningless and therefore totally unnecessary.

You too can be free.  Just say no.  No resolutions!  (If you think you can’t do it, write me.  I’ll talk you down.  I’ve been there.  I know.)

So Happy New Year!  Health! Prosperity!  Love!  Joy!

Carry on. . .

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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It’s Hard to Be Merry At Christmas When It’s “Merry Christmas” Or Else

 The last time I wrote about Christmas I thought I was being pretty polite, considering the message I was getting from my friends and relatives and neighbors.  To wit:  How DARE you even THINK about not wishing me a Merry Christmas!  Which, of course, led me to respond by pleading “not guilty”–which caused me to tell a lie at Christmas since I didn’t feel the least bit guilty. Why would I?

I say “Merry Christmas” quite a bit at Christmas time.  I’ve been saying “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidchristmas-dream2ays” ever since I could say the words, which, I’m guessing, was around December, 1939, when I was just over two years old.  Sometimes I say “Have a great holiday!” without mentioning which holiday I mean when I say that.  There are times when I say “Happy New Year!”, forgetting to say “Merry Christmas”, even though it may be several days before Christmas.  I can’t help it.  It just comes out.

For weeks now I’ve been getting those admonishing Facebook posts and emails about keeping Christ in Christmas by saying “Merry Christmas”. (As if, if we don’t keep repeating those words, everyone will forget who Christ was.)

I hadn’t planned on writing yet another blog about the “war” on Christmas.  Even Bill O’Reilly himself is getting bored with it. I can tell.  (He has now declared the war is over and he won it.) But today I received the email that was the straw that finally broke it.

It was an email from a dear friend and the subject line read, ” MERRY CHRISTMAS!”  The picture that topped it was an old fashioned Currier & Ives etching with digital snowflakes falling, falling, falling.  A colorful “Merry Christmas” banner arched over the top with a bright red ribbon wreathed with holly and ivy.

So lovely. . .

And this is what it said:

I will be making a conscious effort to wish everyone
a Merry Christmas this year …
My way of saying that I am celebrating
The birth Of Jesus Christ.
So, I am asking my email buddies,
if you agree with me, to please do the same.
And if you’ll pass this on to
Your email buddies, and so on… maybe we can prevent one more
American tradition from being lost in the sea of “Political Correctness”.



What. On. Earth.  Really??  At risk of never receiving another Merry Christmas greeting from any of you ever again, I’m going to say this and I hope you will take it in the spirit in which it is given:

What is wrong with you people?

It’s Christmas!  Millions of us love this season.  We look forward to it, we read about it, we sing about it, we who are parents can’t wait to experience it with our children.  We plan, we decorate, we bake, we go shopping, we party.  We find a million different excuses to hug each other.  We hang mistletoe just so we can kiss under it.

We fill food baskets and donate money because it’s Christmas and there is nothing sadder than the thought of someone not enjoying the holidays.  Our happiness is so acute we smile at perfect strangers and wish them good tidings.  Joy, my friends, is busting out all over.

Many of us only go into a church at Christmas time;  some of us not at all.  I love the story of the baby Jesus.  I love Christmas carols. (Last night I watched the St. Olaf Choir Christmas Concert from Norway on PBS.  It was beautiful–a mix of the sacred and the secular–like Christmas.) I love the happy faces.  The candles.  Nice.  All nice.

But let’s talk about Christmas tradition:

December 25 is closer to the pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice than it is to Jesus’ birth, which most Christian scholars put nearer to summer, based on historic events.

The Christmas song “O Tannenbaum” was based on a 16th century tune, put to secular lyrics in 1824.

Charles Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol” in 1843. While it ends with, “God bless us, every one!”, it’s a morality tale about the rich holding terrible power over the poor.

Irving Berlin, a Jewish songwriter, wrote “White Christmas” in the late 1930s and it became the most popular Christmas song of all time.

Charles Schultz’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was released in 1965 and has been shown every year since.

We love “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Let It Snow” and “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas”.  We love red and green and silver and gold.  We love twinkly lights and Santa and snowmen.  And elves.  We love elves.  WE LOVE CHRISTMAS!

And you’re spoiling it for us.

It takes all the fun out of it when you think you get to decide for us how we’re supposed to spend Christmas.  For you, Jesus is the reason for the season. Amen to that.  For us, it’s a wonderful, happy holiday that is open to so many interpretations you could get the idea it’s mainly about peace on Earth, goodwill toward mankind.

But we would never know it now, what with this sudden ruckus about putting Christ back in Christmas–as if there were sinister factions out there trying to erase him for all eternity, the main weapon being two words: “Happy Holidays”.

If Christmas means Christ to you, there is no better time than the Yuletide to celebrate him.  But you simply cannot butt into our celebrations, Grinch-like, throwing wet blankets all over our happy days.  If there is a war on Christmas, it’s a one-sided battle and it’s coming from you. You can have it.  For me, it’s the happiest, happiest time of the year.  I feel love in the air and I plan on enjoying every minute of it.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, and a joyous New Year.

Posted in Beauty and joy, head-scratchers, Humor | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments